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Indo-Aryan migration theory

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Scheme of Indo-European migrations, of which the Indo-Aryan migrations form a part, from c. 4000 to 1000 BCE according to the Kurgan hypothesis.
* The magenta area corresponds to the assumed Urheimat (Samara culture, Sredny Stog culture) and the subsequent Yamna culture.
* The red area corresponds to the area which may have been settled by Indo-European-speaking peoples up to c. 2500 BCE.
* The orange area to 1000 BCE.[1]

The Indo-Aryan migration theory[note 1] describes how the Indo-Aryan speaking people arrived in the Indian subcontinent, by proposing a migration from BMAC (present-day northern Afghanistan) into northern ancient India (modern day India and Pakistan). These migrations started approximately 1,800 BCE, after the invention of the war chariot, and also brought Indo-Aryan languages into the Levant and possibly Inner Asia. It was part of the diffusion of Indo-European languages from the proto-Indo-European homeland at the Pontic steppe, a large area of grasslands in far Eastern Europe, which started in the 5th to 4th millennia BCE, and the Indo-European migrations out of the Eurasian steppes, which started approximately 2,000 BCE.

The theory posits that these Indo-Aryan speaking people may have been a genetically diverse group of people who were united by shared cultural norms and language, referred to as aryā, "noble." Diffusion of this culture and language took place by patron-client systems, which allowed for the absorption and acculturalisation of other groups into this culture, and explains the strong influence on other cultures with which it interacted.

The idea of an Indo-Aryan immigration was developed shortly after the discovery of the Indo-European language family in the late 18th century, when similarities between western and Indian languages had been noted. Given these similarities, a single source or origin was proposed, which was diffused by migrations from some original homeland. This linguistic argument[3] is complemented with genetic,[4] archaeological, literary, and cultural evidence, and research and discussions on it continue.

The proto-Indo-Iranians, from which the Indo-Aryans developed, are identified with the Sintashta culture (2100–1800 BCE),[5] and the Andronovo culture,[6] which flourished ca. 1800–1400 BCE in the steppes around the Aral sea, present-day Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. The proto-Indo-Iranians were influenced by the Bactria-Margiana Culture, south of the Andronovo culture, from which they borrowed their distinctive religious beliefs and practices. The Indo-Aryans split off around 1800-1600 BCE from the Iranians,[7] whereafter the Indo-Aryans migrated into the Levant and north-western India.

The debate about the origin of Indo-Aryan peoples is controversial, resulting in political agitation and inflamed sentiments.[8] Some have rejected the theory of Indo-Aryan origins outside of India, maintaining that the Indo-Aryan people and languages originated in India.


Description of the Indo-Aryan Migration theory

Scheme of Indo-European migrations from ca. 4000 to 1000 BCE according to the Kurgan hypothesis:
* The magenta area corresponds to the assumed Urheimat (Samara culture, Sredny Stog culture, Yamna culture).
* The red area corresponds to the area which may have been settled by Indo-European-speaking peoples up to ca. 2500 BCE.
* The orange area cooresponds to 1000 BCE.
Source: Christopher I. Beckwith (2009), Empires of the Silk Road, Oxford University Press, p.30.

The Aryan Migration theory is part of a larger theoretical framework. This framework explains the similarities between a wide range of contemporary and ancient languages. It combines linguistic, archaeological and anthropological research.[9][10] This provides an overview of the development of indo-European languages, and the spread of these Indo-European languages by migration and acculturation.[10]

Linguistics: language change

The linguistic part traces the connections between the various Indo-European languages, and reconstructs proto-Indo-European. This is possible because the change of vowels is not random, but follows standard patterns. This makes it possible to see smiliarities between languages which are at first sight different.[10]

Archaeology: migrations

The archaeological part posits an "Urheimat" at the Pontic steppes, which developed after the introduction of cattle at the steppes around 5,200 BCE.[10] This introduction marked the change from foragist to pastoralist cultures, and the development of a hierarchical social system with chieftains, patron-client systems, and the exchange of goods and gifts.[10] The oldest nucleus may have been the Samara culture (late 6th and early 5th millennium BC), at a bend in the Wolga.

A wider "horizon" developed, called the Kurgan culture by Marija Gimbutas in the 1950s. She included several cultures in this "Kurgan Culture", including the Samara culture and the Yamna culture, although the Yamna culture (36th–23rd centuries BCE), also called "Pit Grave Culture", may more aptly be called the "nucleus" of the proto-Indo-European language.[10] From this area, which already included various subcultures, Indo-European languages spread west, south and east starting around 4,000 BCE.[11] These languages may have been carried by small groups of males, with patron-client systems which allowed for the inclusion of other groups into their cultural system.[10]

Eastward emerged the Sintashta culture (2100–1800 BCE), from which developed the Andronovo culture (1800–1400 BCE). This culture interacted with the BMAC (2300–1700 BCE); out of this interaction developed the Indo-Iranians, which split around 1800 BCE into the Indo-Aryans and the Iranians.[7] The Indo-Aryans migrated to the Levant, northern India, and possibly south Asia.[12] The migration into northern India was not a large-scale immigration, but may have consisted of small groups[13][note 2] which were genetically diverse. Their culture and language spread by the same mechanisms of acculturalisation, and the absorption of other groups into their patron-client system.[10]

Anthropology: elite recruitment

See also: Language shift

Small groups can change a larger cultural area.[15][10] Michael Witzel refers to Ehret’s model[note 3] "which stresses the osmosis, or a "billiard ball," or Mallory’s Kulturkugel, effect of cultural transmission."[15] According to Ehret, ethnicity and language can shift with relatively easy in small societies, due to the cultural, economic and military choices made by the local population in question. The group bringing new traits may initially be small, contributing features that can be fewer in number than those of the already local culture. The emerging combined group may then initiate a recurrent, expansionist process of ethnic and language shift.[15]

David Anthony notes that the spread of the Indo-European languages probably did not happen through "chain-type folk migrations," but by the introduction of these languages by ritual and political elites, which are emulated by large groups of people.[16][note 4][note 5] Anthony gives the example of the Luo-speaking Acholi in northern Uganda in the 17th and 18th century, who's language spread rapidly in the 19th century.[18] Anthony notes that "Indo-European languages probably spread in a similar way among the tribal societies of prehistoric Europe," carried forward by "Indo-European chiefs" and their "ideology of political clientage."[19] Anthony notes that "elite recruitment" may be a suitable term for this system.[19][note 6]

Witzel notes that "arya/ārya does not mean a particular "people" or even a particular 'racial' group but all those who had joined the tribes speaking Vedic Sanskrit and adhering to their cultural norms (such as ritual, poetry, etc.)."[21] According to Witzel, "there must have been a long period of acculturation between the local population and the "original" immigrants speaking Indo-Aryan."[22] Witzel also notes that the speakers of Indo-Aryan and the local population must have been bilingual, speaking each other's languages and interacting with each other, before the Rg Veda was composed in the Punjab.[23]

Development of the Aryan Migration theory

Similarities between Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, Persian, Celtic and German

When the British started to colonize India in the 18th century, they had to impose a legal system on both the British merchants and the Indians. The Indians already had a legal system, which was unknown to the British colonizers. To integrate these systems, the British had to learn Sanskrit, a task which was given to Sir William Jones. He learned Sanskrit, and studied Sanskrit texts, at the ancient Hindu university at Nadiya. He noted the similarities of Sanskrit with Persian, English, Latin, Greek and Gothic. After three years of studies, in an announcement to the Asiatic Society of Bengal, he made the famous statement:

The Sanskrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either, yet bearing to both of them a stronger affinity, both in the roots of verbs and in the forms of grammar, than could possibly have been produced by accident; so strong indeed, that no philologer could examine them all three, without believing them to have sprung from some common source, which, perhaps, no longer exists: there is a similar reason, though not quite so forcible, for supposing that both the Gothic and the Celtic, though blended with a very different idiom, had the same origin with the Sanskrit; and the old Persian might be added to the same family, if this were the place for discussing any question concerning the antiquities of Persia.[24][web 1]

Jones concluded that all these languages originated from the same source.[24]


Most scholars assumed a homeland either in Europe or in Western Asia, and Sanskrit must in this case have reached India by a language transfer from west to east.[25][26]

Some scholars favoured an Indian "homeland". In 19th century Indo-European studies, the language of the Rigveda was the most archaic Indo-European language known to scholars, indeed the only records of Indo-European that could reasonably claim to date to the Bronze Age. This "primacy" of Sanskrit inspired some scholars, such as Friedrich Schlegel, to assume that the locus of the Proto-Indo-European Urheimat (primary homeland) had been in India, with the other dialects spread to the west by historical migration. This was however never a mainstream position even in the 19th century.[25][26]

Aryan invasion

A 1910 depiction of Aryan's entering India from Huthinson's History of the Nations

With the 20th-century discovery of Bronze-Age attestations of Indo-European (Anatolian, Mycenaean Greek), Vedic Sanskrit lost its special status as the most archaic Indo-European language known.[25][26] The excavation of the Harappa, Mohenjo-daro and Lothal sites of the Indus Valley Civilization (IVC) in the 1920,[27] showed that northern India already had an advanced culture when the Indo-Aryans migrated into the area. The theory changed from a migration of "advanced" Aryan people, towards a "primitive" aboriginal population, to a migration of nomadic people into an advanced urban civilization, comparable to the Germanic migrations after the Fall of Rome, or the Kassite invasion of Babylonia.[28]

The extreme position was the notion a hostile "invasion" into northern India. The decline of the Indus Valley Civilisation at precisely the period in history for which the Indo-Aryan migration had been assumed provides independent support of such an "invasion theory". This argument was developed by the mid-20th century archaeologist Mortimer Wheeler, who interpreted the presence of many unburied corpses found in the top levels of Mohenjo-daro as the victims of conquest wars, and who famously stated that the god "Indra stands accused" of the destruction of the Civilisation.[28] This notion of an "Aryan invasion" was criticised for its racist and colonialist undertones:

The theory of an immigration of IA speaking Arya ("Aryan invasion") is simply seen as a means of British policy to justify their own intrusion into India and their subsequent colonial rule: in both cases, a "white race" was seen as subduing the local darker colored population.[2]

Scholarly critics noted that no "evidence" was found, and that the skeletons were found to be hasty interments, not massacred victims.[28]

Aryan migration

An early 20th century depiction of Aryans settling in agricultural villages in India

In the later 20th century, ideas were refined along with data accrual, and migration and acculturation were seen as the methods whereby Indo-Aryans and their language and culture spread into northwest India around 1500 BC. The term "invasion" is only being used nowadays by opponents of the Indo-Aryan Migration theory.[2] Michael Witzel: has been supplanted by much more sophisticated models over the past few decades [...] philologists first, and archaeologists somewhat later, noticed certain inconsistencies in the older theory and tried to find new explanations, a new version of the immigration theories.[2][note 7]

These changes were thought to be in line with changes in thinking about language transfer in general, such as the migration of the Greeks into Greece (between 2100 and 1600 BC) and their adoption of a syllabic script, Linear B, from the pre-existing Linear A, with the purpose of writing Mycenaean Greek, or the Indo-Europeanization of Western Europe (in stages between 2200 and 1300 BC).

Stages of migrations

About 6,000 years ago the Indo-Europeans started to spread-out from their proto-Indo-European homeland in Central Eurasia, between the southern Ural Mountains, the North Caucasus, and the Black Sea.[11] About 4,000 years ago Indo-European speaking peoples started to migrate out of the Eurasian steppes.[29][note 8]

Diffusion from the "Urheimat"

Yamna culture

Most scholars regard the middle Wolga, which was the location of the Samara culture (late 6th and early 5th millennium BCE), and the Yamna culture, to be the "Urheimat" of the Indo-Europeans, as described by the Kurgan hypothesis. From this "Urheimat", Indo-European languages spread throughout the Eurasian steppes between ca. 4,500 and 2,500 BCE, forming the Yamna culture.

Three stages of Indo-European migrations out of the Eurasian steppes

The migration out of Central Eurasia proper took place in three distinct stages.[1]

The first stage occurred at the end of the third millennium.[1] Indo-European speakers spread to the Caucasus and the Black Sea regions, which were lready inhabited by non-Indo-European speaking peoples.[31] Other groups moved out of Central Eurasia, and are the ancestors of the Tokharians and the Anatolians.[31]

New dialects arose in Central Eurasia, among them proto-Indo-Iranian.[31] The Proto-Indo-Iranians are commonly identified with the Andronovo culture,[6] that flourished ca. 1800–1400 BCE in an area of the Eurasian steppe. Proto-Indo-Iranian was influenced linguistically by a non-Indo-European people, from whom the Indo-Iranians also borrowed their distinctive religious beliefs and practices.[31] This interaction took place in the area of the Bactria-Margiana Culture, south of the Andronovo-culture, in what is nowadays northwestern Afghanistan and southern Turkmenistan.[31] When the Proto-Indo-Iranian dialect had formed, the speakers of the Greek, Italic, Germanic and Armenian dialects, which would subsequently migrate west, and some speakers of the Indo-Iranian dialect, were in turn influenced by another non-Indo-European language.[32] In time, the Indo-Aryans and the Iranians were split not only by language, but also became enemies.[32]

The second stage occurred around the 17th century BCE, with migrations both to western Europe, and to the Middle East and India.[33] Indo-European speaking people established themselves in part of Europe, the Near East, India, and China.[1] The Indo-Aryans split-off around 1800-1600 BCE from the Iranians,[7] where-after they were defeated and split into two groups by the Iranians,[34] who dominated the Central Eurasian steppe zone[32] and "chased [the Indo-Aryans] to the extremities of Central Eurasia,"[32] to the Levant and India.[35][36]

The third stage occurred late in the second millennium, or beginning of the first millennium BCE.[1] It consisted of the Celtic, Slavic, Albanian, and Iranian peoples.[37]

Formation of Indo-Iranians

Indo-Iranian peoples are a grouping of ethnic groups consisting of the Indo-Aryan, Iranian, Dardic and Nuristani peoples; that is, speakers of Indo-Iranian languages, a major branch of the Indo-European language family.

The Proto-Indo-Iranians are commonly identified with the Andronovo culture,[6] that flourished ca. 1800–1400 BCE in an area of the Eurasian steppe that borders the Ural River on the west, the Tian Shan on the east. The older Sintashta culture (2100–1800), formerly included within the Andronovo culture, is now considered separately, but regarded as its predecessor, and accepted as part of the wider Andronovo horizon.

The Indo-Aryan migration was part of the Indo-Iranian migrations from the Andronovo culture into Anatolia, Iran and South-Asia.[31]

Sintashta-Petrovka culture

Main article: Sintashta culture
Map of the approximate maximal extent of the Andronovo culture. The formative Sintashta-Petrovka culture is shown in darker red. The location of the earliest spoke-wheeled chariot finds is indicated in purple. Adjacent and overlapping cultures (Afanasevo culture, Srubna culture, BMAC) are shown in green.

The Sintashta culture, also known as the Sintashta-Petrovka culture[38] or Sintashta-Arkaim culture,[39] is a Bronze Age archaeological culture of the northern Eurasian steppe on the borders of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, dated to the period 2100–1800 BCE.[40] Its immediate predecessor in the Ural-Tobol steppe was the Poltavka culture, an offshoot of the cattle-herding Yamnaya horizon that moved east into the region between 2800 and 2600 BCE.[41] The Sintashta culture is probably the archaeological manifestation of the Indo-Iranian language group.[5]

The earliest known chariots have been found in Sintashta burials, and the culture is considered a strong candidate for the origin of the technology, which spread throughout the Old World and played an important role in ancient warfare.[42] Sintashta settlements are also remarkable for the intensity of copper mining and bronze metallurgy carried out there, which is unusual for a steppe culture.[43]

Because of the difficulty of identifying the remains of Sintashta sites beneath those of later settlements, the culture was only recently distinguished from the Andronovo culture.[39] It is now recognised as a separate entity forming part of the 'Andronovo horizon'.[38]

Andronovo culture

Main article: Andronovo culture
Archaeological cultures associated with Indo-Iranian (Iranian and Indo-Aryan)(after EIEC). The Andronovo, BMAC and Yaz cultures have often been associated with Indo-Iranian migrations. The GGC, Cemetery H, Copper Hoard and PGW cultures are candidates for cultures associated with Indo-Aryan movements.

The Andronovo culture is a collection of similar local Bronze Age Indo-Iranian cultures that flourished ca. 1800–1400 BCE in western Siberia and the west Asiatic steppe. It is probably better termed an archaeological complex or archaeological horizon. The name derives from the village of Andronovo (55°53′N 55°42′E / 55.883°N 55.700°E / 55.883; 55.700), where in 1914, several graves were discovered, with skeletons in crouched positions, buried with richly decorated pottery. The older Sintashta culture (2100–1800), formerly included within the Andronovo culture, is now considered separately, but regarded as its predecessor, and accepted as part of the wider Andronovo horizon.

Sub-cultures have been distinguished:

The geographical extent of the culture is vast and difficult to delineate exactly. On its western fringes, it overlaps with the approximately contemporaneous, but distinct, Srubna culture in the Volga-Ural interfluvial. To the east, it reaches into the Minusinsk depression, with some sites as far west as the southern Ural Mountains,[44] overlapping with the area of the earlier Afanasevo culture.[45] Additional sites are scattered as far south as the Koppet Dag (Turkmenistan), the Pamir (Tajikistan) and the Tian Shan (Kyrgyzstan). The northern boundary vaguely corresponds to the beginning of the Taiga.[44] In the Volga basin, interaction with the Srubna culture was the most intense and prolonged, and Federovo style pottery is found as far west as Volgograd.

Towards the middle of the 2nd millennium, the Andronovo cultures begin to move intensively eastwards. They mined deposits of copper ore in the Altai Mountains and lived in villages of as many as ten sunken log cabin houses measuring up to 30m by 60m in size. Burials were made in stone cists or stone enclosures with buried timber chambers.

In other respects, the economy was pastoral, based on cattle, horses, sheep, and goats.[44] While agricultural use has been posited, no clear evidence has been presented.

Most researchers associate the Andronovo horizon with early Indo-Iranian languages, though it may have overlapped the early Uralic-speaking area at its northern fringe, including the Turkic-speaking area at its northeastern fringe.[46][47]

Bactria-Margiana Culture

Main article: BMAC
The extent of the BMAC (after EIEC).

The Bactria-Margiana Culture, also called "Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex", was a non-Indo-European culture which influenced the Indo-European groups of the second stage of the Indo-European migrations.[31] It was centered in what is nowadays northwestern Afghanistan and southern Turkmenistan.[31] Proto-Indo-Iranian arose due to this influence.[31]

The Indo-Iranians also borrowed their distinctive religious beliefs and practices from this culture.[31] According to Anthony, the Old Indic religion probably emerged among Indo-European immigrants in the contact zone between the Zeravshan River (present-day Uzbekistan) and (present-day) Iran.[48] It was "a syncretic mixture of old Central Asian and new Indo-European elements",[48] which borrowed "distinctive religious beliefs and practices"[31] from the Bactria–Margiana Culture.[31] At least 383 non-Indo-European words were borrowed from this culture, including the god Indra and the ritual drink Soma.[49]

Two waves of Indo-Aryan migration

See also: Indo-Iranians

The Indo-Iranian migrations took place in two waves,[50][51] belonging to the second and the third stage of the Indo-European migrations.[52] The first wave consisted of the Indo-Aryan migration into the Levant, founding the Mittani kingdom in northern Syria[35] (ca.1500-1300 BCE), and the migration south-eastward of the Vedic people, over the Hindu Kush into northern India.[36] Christopher I. Beckwith suggests that the Wusun, an Indo-European Europoid people of Inner Asia in antiquity, were also of Indo-Aryan origin.[53] The second wave is interpreted as the Iranian wave.[54]

First wave - Indo-Aryan migrations


Map of the Near East ca. 1400 BC showing the Kingdom of Mitanni at its greatest extent
Main article: Mitanni

Mitanni (Hittite cuneiformKURURUMi-ta-an-ni), also Mittani (Mi-it-ta-ni) or Hanigalbat (Assyrian Hanigalbat, Khanigalbat cuneiform Ḫa-ni-gal-bat) or Naharin in ancient Egyptian texts was an Hurrian-speaking state in northern Syria and south-east Anatolia from ca. 1500 BC–1300 BC.

Founded by an Indo-Aryan ruling class governing a predominately Hurrian population, Mitanni came to be a regional power after the Hittite destruction of Amorite[55] Babylon and a series of ineffectual Assyrian kings created a power vacuum in Mesopotamia. At the beginning of its history, Mitanni's major rival was Egypt under the Thutmosids. However, with the ascent of the Hittite empire, Mitanni and Egypt made an alliance to protect their mutual interests from the threat of Hittite domination.

At the height of its power, during the 14th century BC, Mitanni had outposts centered around its capital, Washukanni, whose location has been determined by archaeologists to be on the headwaters of the Khabur River. Their sphere of influence is shown in Hurrian place names, personal names and the spread through Syria and the Levant of a distinct pottery type. Eventually, Mitanni succumbed to Hittite and later Assyrian attacks, and was reduced to the status of a province of the Middle Assyrian Empire.

The earliest written evidence for an Indo-Aryan language is found not in Northwestern India and Pakistan, but in northern Syria, the location of the Mitanni kingdom.[56] The Mitanni kings took Old Indic throne names, and used Old Indic technical terms were used for horse-riding and chariot-driving.[56] The Old Indic term r'ta, meaning "cosmic order and truth", the central concept of the Rig Veda, was also employed in the mitanni kingdom.[56] And Old Indic gods, including Indra, were also known in the Mitanni kingdom.[57][58][59]

North-India - Vedic culture

Migration into northern India

The standard model for the entry of the Indo-European languages into India is that Indo-Aryan migrants went over the Hindu Kush, forming the Gandhara grave (or Swat) culture, either into the headwaters of the Indus or the Ganges (probably both). The Gandhara grave culture is thus the most likely locus of the earliest bearers of Rigvedic culture, and based on this Parpola (1998) assumes an immigration to the Punjab ca. 1700-1400 BC, but he also postulates a first wave of immigration from as early as 1900 BC, corresponding to the Cemetery H culture. [note 9]

Kochhar argues that there were three waves of Indo-Aryan immigration that occurred after the mature Harappan phase:[60]

  1. the "Murghamu" (BMAC) related people who entered Baluchistan at Pirak, Mehrgarh south cemetery, etc. and later merged with the post-urban Harappans during the late Harappans Jhukar phase (2000-1800 BCE);
  2. the Swat IV that co-founded the Harappan Cemetery H phase in Punjab (2000-1800 BCE);
  3. and the Rigvedic Indo-Aryans of Swat V that later absorbed the Cemetery H people and gave rise to the Painted Grey Ware culture (to 1400 BCE).

Among proponents of Indo-Aryan origin outside of the Indian Subcontinent, there is varying opinion on whether the migrants originated Indic literature such as the Rig Veda,[61] cultural and social constructs such as caste,[62] and technology such as chariots[63] and weaponry.

Spread of Vedic-Brahmanic culture
Main article: Vedic period

During the Early Vedic Period (ca.1500-800 BCE[web 2]) the Vedic culture was centered in the northern Punjab, or Sapta Sindhu.[web 2] During the Later Vedic Period (ca.800-500 BCE[web 3]) the Vedic culture started to extend into the western Ganges Plain,[web 3] centering around Kuru and Panchala,[64] and had some influence[65] at the central Ganges Plain after 500 BCE.[web 4] Sixteen Mahajanapada developed at the Ganges Plain, of which the Kuru and Panchala became the most notable developed centers of Vedic culture, at the western Ganges Plain[web 3][64]

The Central Ganges Plain, were Magadha gained prominence, forming the base of the Mauryan Empire, was a distinct cultural area,[66] with new states arising after 500 BCE[web 4] during the socalled "Second urbanisation".[67][note 10] It was influenced by the Vedic culture,[65] but differed markedly from the Kuru-Panchala region.[66] It "was the area of the earliest known cultivation of rice in South Asia and by 1800 BCE was the location of an advanced neolithic population associated with the sites of Chirand and Chechar".[68] In this region the Shramanic movements flourished, and Jainism and Buddhism originated.[64][note 11]

Inner Asia - Wusun

Christopher I. Beckwith suggests that the Wusun, an Indo-European Europoid people of Inner Asia in antiquity, were of Indo-Aryan origin.[69] From the Chinese term Wusun, Beckwith reconstructs the Old Chinese *âswin, which he compares to the Old Indic aśvin "the horsemen," the name of the Rigvedic twin equestrian gods.[69] Beckwith suggests that the Wusun were an eastern remnant of the Indo-Aryans, who had been suddenly pushed to the extremeties of the Eurasian Steppe by the Iranian peoples in the 2nd millennium bc.[70]

The Wusun are first mentioned by Chinese sources as vassals in the Tarim Basin of the Yuezhi,[71] an Indo-European Europoid people of possible Tocharian stock.[72][73] Around 175 bc, the Yuezhi were utterly defeated by the Xiongnu, also former vassals of the Yuezhi.[73][74] The Yuezhi subsequently attacked the Wusun and killed their king (Kunmo Chinese: 昆彌 or Kunmi Chinese: 昆莫) Nandoumi (Chinese: 難兜靡), capturing the Ili Valley from the Saka (Scythians) shortly afterwards.[74] In return the Wusun settled in the former territories of the Yuezhi as vassals of the Xiongnu.[74][75] The son of Nandoumi was adopted by the Xiongnu king and made leader of the Wusun.[75] Around 130 bc he attacked and utterly defeated the Yuezhi, settling the Wusun in the Ili Valley.[75] Soon afterwards they became independent of the Xiongnu, becoming trusted vassals of the Han Dynasty and powerful force in the region for centuries.[75] With the emerging steppe federations of the Rouran, the Wusun migrated into the Pamir Mountains in the 5th century ad.[74] They are last mentioned in 938 ad when a Wusun chieftain paid tribute to the Liao dynasty.[74]

Second wave - Iranians

The first Iranians to reach the Black Sea may have been the Cimmerians in the 8th century BC, although their linguistic affiliation is uncertain. They were followed by the Scythians, who are considered a western branch of the Central Asian Sakas. Sarmatian tribes, of whom the best known are the Roxolani (Rhoxolani), Iazyges (Jazyges) and the Alani (Alans), followed the Scythians westwards into Europe in the late centuries BCE and the 1st and 2nd centuries of the Common Era (The Age of Migrations). The populous Sarmatian tribe of the Massagetae, dwelling near the Caspian Sea, were known to the early rulers of Persia in the Achaemenid Period. In the east, the Saka occupied several areas in Xinjiang, from Khotan to Tumshuq.

The Medes, Parthians and Persians begin to appear on the Iranian plateau from c. 800 BC, and the Achaemenids replaced Elamite rule from 559 BC. Around the first millennium of the Common Era (AD), the Kambojas, the Pashtuns and the Baloch began to settle on the eastern edge of the Iranian plateau, on the mountainous frontier of northwestern and western Pakistan, displacing the earlier Indo-Aryans from the area.

In Central Asia, the Turkic languages have marginalized Iranian languages as a result of the Turkic expansion of the early centuries AD. Extant major Iranian languages are Persian, Pashto, Balochi and Kurdish, besides numerous smaller ones.

Linguistic evidence

Accumulated linguistic evidence points to the Indo-Aryan languages as intrusive into South Asia, some time in the 2nd millennium BC. The language of the Rigveda, the earliest stratum of Vedic Sanskrit, is assigned to about 1500–1200 BC.[76]



According to the linguistic center of gravity principle, the most likely point of origin of a language family is in the area of its greatest diversity.[77] By this criterion, India, home to only a single branch of the Indo-European language family (i. e., Indo-Aryan), is an exceedingly unlikely candidate for the Indo-European homeland, compared to Central-Eastern Europe, for example, which is home to the Italic, Venetic, Illyrian, Albanian, Germanic, Baltic, Slavic, Thracian and Greek branches of Indo-European.[78]

Both mainstream Urheimat solutions locate the Proto-Indo-European homeland in the vicinity of the Black Sea.[79]

Dialectical variation

Indo-European isoglosses, including the centum and satem languages (blue and red, respectively), augment, PIE *-tt- > -ss-, *-tt- > -st-, and m-endings.

It has been recognized since the mid-19th century, beginning with Schmidt and Schuchardt, that a binary tree model cannot capture all linguistic alignments; certain areal features cut across language groups and are better explained through a model treating linguistic change like waves rippling out through a pond. This is true of the Indo-European languages as well. Various features originated and spread while Proto-Indo-European was still a dialect continuum.[80] These features sometimes cut across sub-families: for instance, the instrumental, dative and ablative plurals in Germanic and Balto-Slavic feature endings beginning with -m-, rather than the usual -*bh-, e.g. Old Church Slavonic instrumental plural synъ-mi 'with sons',[81] despite the fact that the Germanic languages are centum, while Balto-Slavic languages are satem.

The strong correspondence between the dialectical relationships of the Indo-European languages and their actual geographical arrangement in their earliest attested forms makes an Indian origin for the family unlikely.[82]

Substrate influence

Dravidian and other South Asian languages share with Indo-Aryan a number of syntactical and morphological features that are alien to other Indo-European languages, including even its closest relative, Old Iranian. Phonologically, there is the introduction of retroflexes, which alternate with dentals in Indo-Aryan; morphologically there are the gerunds; and syntactically there is the use of a quotative marker (iti).[note 12] These are taken as evidence of substratum influence.

It has been argued[by whom?] that Dravidian influenced Indic through "shift", whereby native Dravidian speakers learned and adopted Indic languages.[citation needed] The presence of Dravidian structural features in Old Indo-Aryan is thus plausibly explained, that the majority of early Old Indo-Aryan speakers had a Dravidian mother tongue which they gradually abandoned.[83] Even though the innovative traits in Indic could be explained by multiple internal explanations, early Dravidian influence is the only explanation that can account for all of the innovations at once – it becomes a question of explanatory parsimony; moreover, early Dravidian influence accounts for several of the innovative traits in Indic better than any internal explanation that has been proposed.[84]

A pre-Indo-European linguistic substratum in South Asia would be a good reason to exclude India as a potential Indo-European homeland.[85] However, several linguists, all of whom accept the external origin of the Aryan languages on other grounds, are still open to considering the evidence as internal developments rather than the result of substrate influences,[86] or as adstratum effects.[87]

Textual references


The oldest inscriptions in Old Indic, the language of the Rig Veda, is found not in India, but in northern Syria in Hittite records regarding one of their neighbors, the Hurrian-speaking Mitanni. In a treaty with the Hittites, the king of Mitanni, after swearing by a series of Hurrian gods, swears by the gods Mitrašil, Uruvanaššil, Indara, and Našatianna, who correspond to the Vedic gods Mitra, Varuṇa, Indra, and Nāsatya (Aśvin). Contemporary equestrian terminology, as recorded in a horse-training manual whose author is identified as "Kikkuli the Mitannian," contains Indo-Aryan loanwords. The personal names and gods of the Mitanni aristocracy also bear significant traces of Indo-Aryan. Because of the association of Indo-Aryan with horsemanship and the Mitanni aristocracy, it is presumed that, after superimposing themselves as rulers on a native Hurrian-speaking population about the 15th-16th centuries BC, Indo-Aryan charioteers were absorbed into the local population and adopted the Hurrian language.[88]

Brentjes argues that there is not a single cultural element of central Asian, eastern European, or Caucasian origin in the Mitannian area; he also associates with an Indo-Aryan presence the peacock motif found in the Middle East from before 1600 BC and quite likely from before 2100 BC.[89]

Most scholars reject the possibility that the Indo-Aryans of Mitanni came from the Indian subcontinent as well as the possibility that the Indo-Aryans of the Indian subcontinent came from the territory of Mitanni, leaving migration from the north the only likely scenario.[note 13] The presence of some BMAC loan words in Mitanni, Old Iranian and Vedic further strengthens this scenario.[91]


Geography of the Rigveda, with river names; the extent of the Swat and Cemetery H cultures are indicated.

The Rigveda is by far the most archaic testimony of Vedic Sanskrit. Bryant suggests that the Rigveda represents a pastoral or nomadic, mobile culture,[61] centered on the Indo-Iranian Soma cult and fire worship. The purpose of hymns of the Rigveda is ritualistic, not historiographical or ethnographical, and any information about the way of life or the habitat of their authors is incidental and philologically extrapolated from the context.[note 14] Nevertheless, Rigvedic data must be used, cautiously, as they are the earliest available textual evidence from India.

Views on Rigvedic society (pastoral or urban?)

Fortifications (púr), mostly made of mud and wood (palisades)[92] are mentioned in the Rigveda. púrs sometimes refer to the abode of hostile peoples, but can also suggest settlements of Aryans themselves. Aryan tribes have more often been mentioned to live in víś, a term translated as "settlement, homestead, house, dwelling", but also "community, tribe, troops".[note 15][not in citation given] Indra in particular is described as destroyer of fortifications, e.g. RV 4.30.20ab:

satám asmanmáyinām / purām índro ví asiyat
"Indra overthrew a hundred fortresses of stone."

This has led some scholars to believe that the civilization of Aryans was not an urban one.

However, the Rigveda is seen by some as containing phrases referring to elements of an urban civilization, other than the mere viewpoint of an invader aiming at sacking the fortresses. For example, in Griffith's translation of the Rigveda, Indra is compared to the lord of a fortification (pūrpati) in RV 1.173.10,[web 5] while quotations such as a ship with a hundred oars in 1.116.5[web 6] and metal forts (puras ayasis) in 10.101.8 all occur in mythological contexts only.[web 7]

There are other views such as, according to Gupta (as quoted in Bryant 2001:190), "ancient civilizations had both the components, the village and the city, and numerically villages were many times more than the cities. (...) if the Vedic literature reflects primarily the village life and not the urban life, it does not at all surprise us.". Gregory Possehl (as cited in Bryant 2001:195) argued that the "extraordinary empty spaces between the Harappan settlement clusters" indicates that pastoralists may have "formed the bulk of the population during Harappan times".

Views on Rigvedic reference to migration

Just as the Avesta does not mention an external homeland of the Zoroastrians, the Rigveda does not explicitly refer to an external homeland[93] or to a migration.[94][note 16] Later Hindu texts, such as the Brahmanas, Mahabharata, Ramayana, and Puranas, are centered in the Ganges region (rather than Haryana and the Punjab) and mention regions still further to the south and east, suggesting a later movement or expansion of the Vedic religion and culture to the east. There are also references in later literature to tribes moving to the north and west. Talageri speculates that some of the tribes that fought against king Sudas and his army on the banks of the Parusni River during the Dasarajna battle have migrated to western countries in later times,[95] as they are connected with what he assumes are Iranian peoples (e.g. the Pakthas, Bhalanas).[96] However, there is no clear indication of general movement in either direction in the Rigveda itself; searching for indirect references in the text, or by correlating geographic references with the proposed order of composition of its hymns, has not led to any consensus on the issue.

Rigvedic Rivers and Reference of Samudra
Cluster of Indus Valley Civilization site along the course of the Indus River in Pakistan. See this for a more detailed map.
Main articles: Sarasvati River and Samudra

The geography of the Rigveda seems to be centered around the land of the seven rivers. While the geography of the Rigvedic rivers is unclear in some of the early books of the Rigveda, the Nadistuti hymn is an important source for the geography of late Rigvedic society.

The Sarasvati River is one of the chief Rigvedic rivers. The Nadistuti hymn in the Rigveda mentions the Sarasvati between the Yamuna in the east and the Sutlej in the west, and later texts like the Brahmanas and Mahabharata mention that the Sarasvati dried up in a desert.[97]

Most scholars agree that at least some of the references to the Sarasvati in the Rigveda refer to the Ghaggar-Hakra River,[98] while the Afghan river Haraxvaiti/Harauvati Helmand is sometimes quoted as the locus of the early Rigvedic river.[99] Whether such a transfer of the name has taken place from the Helmand to the Ghaggar-Hakra is a matter of dispute. Identification of the early Rigvedic Sarasvati with the Ghaggar-Hakra before its assumed drying up early in the second millennium would place the Rigveda BC,[web 8] well outside the range commonly assumed by Indo-Aryan migration theory.

A non-Indo-Aryan substratum in the river-names and place-names of the Rigvedic homeland would support an external origin of the Indo-Aryans.[citation needed] However, most place-names in the Rigveda and the vast majority of the river-names in the north-west of South Asia are Indo-Aryan.[100] Non-Indo-Aryan names are, however, frequent in the Ghaggar and Kabul River areas,[101] the first being a post-Harappan stronghold of Indus populations.[citation needed]

Srauta Sutra of Baudhayana

According to Romila Thapar, the Srauta Sutra of Baudhayana...

... refers to the Parasus and the arattas who stayed behind and others who moved eastwards to the middle Ganges valley and the places equivalent such as the Kasi, the Videhas and the Kuru Pancalas, and so on. In fact, when one looks for them, there are evidence for migration.[web 9]

Kalpasutra notes that Pururavas had two sons by Urvasi, named Ayus and Amavasu, Ayus went to east and Amavasu went to west.[web 9]

Iranian Avesta

The religious practices depicted in the Rgveda and those depicted in the Avesta, the central religious text of Zoroastrianism—the ancient Iranian faith founded by the prophet Zarathustra—have in common the deity Mitra, priests called hotṛ in the Rgveda and zaotar in the Avesta, and the use of a ritual substance that the Rgveda calls soma and the Avesta haoma. However, the Indo-Aryan deva 'god' is cognate with the Iranian daēva 'demon'. Similarly, the Indo-Aryan asura 'name of a particular group of gods' (later on, 'demon') is cognate with the Iranian ahura 'lord, god,' which 19th and early 20th century authors such as Burrow explained as a reflection of religious rivalry between Indo-Aryans and Iranians.[102]

Most linguists such as Burrow argue that the strong similarity between the Avestan language of the Gāthās—the oldest part of the Avesta—and the Vedic Sanskrit of the Rgveda pushes the dating of Zarathustra or at least the Gathas closer to the conventional Rgveda dating of 1500–1200 BC, i.e. 1100 BC, possibly earlier. Boyce concurs with a lower date of 1100 BC and tentatively proposes an upper date of 1500 BC. Gnoli dates the Gathas to around 1000 BC, as does Mallory (1989), with the caveat of a 400 year leeway on either side, i.e. between 1400 and 600 BC. Therefore the date of the Avesta could also indicate the date of the Rigveda.[103]

There is mention in the Avesta of Airyan Vaejah, one of the '16 the lands of the Aryans'.[104] Gnoli's interpretation of geographic references in the Avesta situates the Airyanem Vaejah in the Hindu Kush. For similar reasons, Boyce excludes places north of the Syr Darya and western Iranian places. With some reservations, Skjaervo concurs that the evidence of the Avestan texts makes it impossible to avoid the conclusion that they were composed somewhere in northeastern Iran. Witzel points to the central Afghan highlands. Humbach derives Vaējah from cognates of the Vedic root "vij," suggesting the region of fast-flowing rivers. Gnoli considers Choresmia (Xvairizem), the lower Oxus region, south of the Aral Sea to be an outlying area in the Avestan world. However, according to Mallory & Mair (2000), the probable homeland of Avestan is, in fact, the area south of the Aral Sea.[105]

Later Vedic and Hindu texts

Texts like the Puranas and Mahabharata belong to a much later period than the Rigveda, making their evidence less than sufficient to be used for or against the Indo-Aryan migration theory.


Later Vedic texts show a shift[citation needed] of location from the Panjab to the East: according to the Yajur Veda, Yajnavalkya (a Vedic ritualist and philosopher) lived in the eastern region of Mithila.[106] Aitareya Brahmana 33.6.1. records that Vishvamitra's sons migrated to the north, and in Shatapatha Brahmana 1:2:4:10 the Asuras were driven to the north.[107] In much later texts, Manu was said to be a king from Dravida.[108] In the legend of the flood he stranded with his ship in Northwestern India or the Himalayas.[109] The Vedic lands (e.g. Aryavarta, Brahmavarta) are located in Northern India or at the Sarasvati and Drsadvati River.[110] However, in a post-Vedic text the Mahabharata Udyoga Parva (108), the East is described as the homeland of the Vedic culture, where "the divine Creator of the universe first sang the Vedas."[111] The legends of Ikshvaku, Sumati and other Hindu legends may have their origin in South-East Asia.[112]


The Puranas record that Yayati left Prayag (confluence of the Ganges & Yamuna) and conquered the region of Sapta Sindhu.[113][114] His five sons Yadu, Druhyu, Puru, Anu and Turvashu correspond to the main tribes of the Rigveda.

The Puranas also record that the Druhyus were driven out of the land of the seven rivers by Mandhatr and that their next king Gandhara settled in a north-western region which became known as Gandhara. The sons of the later Druhyu king Pracetas are supposed by some to have 'migrated' to the region north of Afghanistan though the Puranic texts only speak of an "adjacent" settlement.[115][116]

Archaeological evidence

The extent of the BMAC (after EIEC).

Attempts have been made to supplement the linguistic evidence with archaeological data.[117] Erdosy notes that

... combining the discoveries of archaeology and linguistics has been complicated by mutual ignorance of the aims, complexity and limitations of the respective disciplines.[118]

The two disciplines focus on two different problems: linguistics tries to explain the linguistic map of south Asia, while archaeology tries to understand the transition between the Indus Valley Civilisation and the Gangetic Civilisations.[119] Archaeological artifacts may not prove or disprove migrations an sich,[note 17] and it may not be possible to identify language within material culture,[120] but archaeological remains can reflect cultural and societal change,[120] which may correspond to changes in the population:

Evidence in material culture for systems collapse, abandonement of old beliefs and large-scale, if localised, population shifts in response to ecological catastrophe in the 2nd millennium B.C. must all now be related to the spread of Indo-Aryan languages.[120]

According to Erdosy, the postulated movements within Central Asia can be placed within a processional framework, replacing simplistic concepts of "diffusion", "migrations" and "invasions".[121]

Population movements

Erdosy, testing hypotheses derived from linguistic evidence against hypotheses derived from arcaeological data,[118] states that there is no evidence of "invasions by a barbaric race enjoying technological and military superiority",[122] but

...some support was found in the archaeological record for small-scale migrations from Central to South Asia in the late 3rd/early 2nd millennia BC."[117]

Jim Shaffer and Lichtenstein contend that in the second millennium BCE considerable "location processes" took place. In the eastern Punjab 79,9% and in Gujarat 96% of sites changed settlement status. According to Shaffer & Lichtenstein,

It is evident that a major geographic population shift accompanied this 2nd millennium BCE localisation process. This shift by Harappan and, perhaps, other Indus Valley cultural mosaic groups, is the only archaeologically documented west-to-east movement of human populations in South Asia before the first half of the first millennium B.C.[123]

Associated cultures

The Andronovo, BMAC and Yaz cultures have been associated with Indo-Iranian migrations, with separation of Indo-Aryans proper from Proto-Indo-Iranians dated to roughly 2000–1800 BC. The Gandhara Grave, Cemetery H, Copper Hoard and Painted Grey Ware cultures are candidates for subsequent cultures associated with Indo-Aryan movements, their arrival in the Indian subcontinent being dated to the Late Harappan period.

It is believed that Indo-Aryans reached Assyria in the west and the Punjab in the east before 1500 BC: the Hurrite speaking Mitanni rulers, influenced by Indo-Aryan, appear from 1500 in northern Mesopotamia, and the Gandhara grave culture emerges from 1600. This suggests that Indo-Aryan tribes would have had to be present in the area of the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex (southern Turkmenistan/northern Afghanistan) from 1700 BC at the latest (incidentally corresponding with the decline of that culture).


early 2nd millennium introduction of the chariot to India is consistent with the overall picture of the spread of this innovation (Mesopotamia 1700, China 1600, N Europe 1300).
Main article: Andronovo culture

The conventional identification of the Andronovo culture as Indo-Iranian is disputed by those who point to the absence south of the Oxus River of the characteristic timber graves of the steppe.[124]

Based on its use by Indo-Aryans in Mitanni and Vedic India, its prior absence in the Near East and Harappan India, and its 19-20th century BC attestation at the Andronovo site of Sintashta, Kuzmina (1994) argues that the chariot corroborates the identification of Andronovo as Indo-Iranian. Klejn (1974) and Brentjes (1981) find the Andronovo culture much too late for an Indo-Iranian identification since chariot-wielding Aryans appear in Mitanni by the 15th to 16th century BC. However, Anthony & Vinogradov (1995) dated a chariot burial at Krivoye Lake to about 2000 BC and a BMAC burial that also contains a foal has recently been found, indicating further links with the steppes.[63]

Mallory (as cited in Bryant 2001:216) admits the extraordinary difficulty of making a case for expansions from Andronovo to northern India, and that attempts to link the Indo-Aryans to such sites as the Beshkent and Vakhsh cultures "only gets the Indo-Iranian to Central Asia, but not as far as the seats of the Medes, Persians or Indo-Aryans". However he has also developed the "kulturkugel" model that has the Indo-Iranians taking over BMAC cultural traits but preserving their language and religion while moving into Iran and India.

Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC)

Some scholars have suggested that the characteristically BMAC artifacts found at burials in Mehrgarh and Baluchistan are explained by a movement of peoples from Central Asia to the south.[125]

Jarrige and Hassan argue instead that the BMAC artifacts are explained "within the framework of fruitful intercourse" by "a wide distribution of common beliefs and ritual practices" and "the economic dynamism of the area extending from South-Central Asia to the Indus Valley."[126]

According to Bryant, the exclusively Central Asian BMAC material inventory of the Mehrgarh and Baluchistan burials is "evidence of an archaeological intrusion into the subcontinent from Central Asia during the commonly accepted time frame for the arrival of the Indo-Aryans".[127][note 18]

Gandhara grave culture

Geography of the Rig Vedic culture, with river names; the extent of the Swat and Cemetery H cultures are also indicated.

About 1800 BC, there is a major cultural change in the Swat Valley with the emergence of the Gandhara grave culture. With its introduction of new ceramics, new burial rites, and the horse, the Gandhara grave culture is a major candidate for early Indo-Aryan presence. The two new burial rites—flexed inhumation in a pit and cremation burial in an urn—were, according to early Vedic literature, both practiced in early Indo-Aryan society. Horse-trappings indicate the importance of the horse to the economy of the Gandharan grave culture. Two horse burials indicate the importance of the horse in other respects. Horse burial is a custom that Gandharan grave culture has in common with Andronovo, though not within the distinctive timber-frame graves of the steppe.[128]

Indus Valley Civilization

Indo-Aryan migration into the northern Punjab is approximately contemporaneous to the final phase of the decline of the Indus-Valley civilization (IVC).


According to Erdosy, the ancient Harappans were not markedly different from modern populations in Northwestern India and present-day Pakistan. Craniometric data showed similarity with prehistoric peoples of the Iranian plateau and Western Asia,[note 19] although Mohenjodaro was distinct from the other areas of the Indus Valley.[note 20] [note 21]

Many scholars[citation needed] have argued that the historical Vedic culture is the result of an amalgamation of the immigrating Indo-Aryans with the remnants of the indigenous civilization, such as the Ochre Coloured Pottery culture. Such remnants of IVC culture are not prominent in the Rigveda, with its focus on chariot warfare and nomadic pastoralism in stark contrast with an urban civilization.

Decline of Indus Valley Civilisation

The decline of the IVC from about 1900 BC is not universally accepted to be connected with Indo-Aryan immigration. A regional cultural discontinuity occurred during the second millennium BC and many Indus Valley cities were abandoned during this period, while many new settlements began to appear in Gujarat and East Punjab and other settlements such as in the western Bahawalpur region increased in size.

Kenoyer notes that the decline of the Indus Valley Civilisation is not explained by Aryan migrations,[131][note 22] which took place after the decline of the Indus Valley Civilisation.

According to Kennedy, there is no evidence of "demographic disruptions" after the decline of the Harappa culture.[132][note 23] Kenoyer notes that no biological evidence can be found for major new populations in post-Harappan communities.[133][note 24] Hemphill notes that "patterns of phonetic affinity" between Bactria and the Indus Valley Civilisation are best explained by "a pattern of long-standing, but low-level bidirectional mutual exchange."[note 25]


The debate about the origin of Indo-Aryan peoples is controversial in the Indian subcontinent, relating to the indigenous origin of peoples and culture, thus inflaming political and religious sentiments.

"Indigenous Aryans"

Opponents of the Indo-Aryan migration theory have questioned it, defending the notion of Indigenous Aryans, which posits that speakers of Indo-Aryan languages are "indigenous" to the Indian subcontinent.[134] Within India, alternative visions on the origins of the Aryan language and culture have been developed, which emphasize indigenous origins.[3] They are rejected by mainstream scholars, since they neglect linguistic research,[3] and are contradicted by a broad range of research on Indo-European migration.[10]

The proposing "Indigenous Aryan" scenario are based on specific interpretations of archaeological, genetic, and linguistic data, and on literary interpretations of the Rigveda.[135] Standard arguments, both in support of the "Indigenous Aryans" theory, and in opposition the mainstream indo-Aryan Migration theory, are:

  • Questioning the Indo-Aryan Migration theory:
  • Presenting the Indo-Aryan Migration theory as an "Indo-Aryan Invasion theory";[2][note 26]
  • Questioning the methodology of linguistics;[136][137]
  • Reinterpretation of the linguistic data, arguing for the ancient, indigenous origins of Sanskrit;[138][136]
  • Pointing to the supposed lack of genetic and archaeological evidence to support such an "invasion" into North West India;[136][note 32]
  • Contesting the possibility that small groups can change culture and languages in a major way;[153]
  • Redating India's chronology, re-establishing the Vedic-Puranic chronology:
  • Dating the Rg Veda and the Vedic people to the 3rd millennium BCE or earlier;[154]
  • Identifying the Sarasvati River with the Ghaggar-Hakra River, which dried-up at ca. 2000 BCE;[155]
  • Identifying the Vedic people with the Harappan Civilisation;[156]
  • Equating the Harappan Civilisation, Vedic Culture and the Vedic-Puranic chronology.[157]

These ideas have been answered and rejected in mainstream scholarship.[158][9][159]

Hindu nationalism

Nationalistic movements in India oppose the idea that Hinduism has partly endogenous origins.[3][160][161][note 33] For the founders of the contemporary Hindutva movement, the Aryan migration theory presented a problem.[162] The Hindutva-notion that the Hindu-culture originated in India was threatened by the notion that the Aryans originated outside India.[162] Later Indian writers regarded the Aryan migration theory to be a product of colonialism, aimed to denigrate Hindus.[163] According to them, Hindus had existed in India from times immemorial, as expressed by M. S. Golwalkar:[163]

Undoubtedly ... we Hindus have been in undisputed and undisturbed possession of this land for over 8 or even 10 thousand years before the land was invaded by any foreign race. (Golwakar [1939] 1944)[163][note 34][note 36]


Main articles: Aryan and Aryan race

The debate inflames issues around racism and the idea of race, as the origin of the theory was intertwined with the desire of many in the Western world to find the origin of a pure Aryan race, the division of castes by racial basis, and the idea of an Indo-Aryan and Dravidian relating to language families rather than race.[176][177]

Dravidian response

The Dravidian Movement bases much of its identity on the idea of the indigenous origin of Dravidians as opposed to transgressing Indo-Aryans.[178] This in turn lead to further responses from Indian nationalists:

From a nationalist point of view, it is clear that the concept of an Aryan-Dravidian divide is pernicious to the unity of the Hindu state, and an important aim for Hindutva and neo-Hindu scholarship is therefor to introduce a counter-narrative to the one presented by Western academic scholarship.[179][note 37]

See also


  1. ^ The term "invasion" is only being used nowadays by opponents of the Indo-Aryan Migration theory.[2] The term "invasion" does not reflect the contemporary scholarly understanding of the Indo-Aryan migrations,[2] and is merely being used in a polemical and distractive way.
  2. ^ Michael Witzel: "Just one "Afghan" IA tribe that did not return to the highlands but stayed in their Panjab winter quarters in spring was needed to set off a wave of acculturation in the plains, by transmitting its 'status kit' (Ehret) to its neighbors."[13]
    Compare Max Muller: "why should not one shepherd, with his servants and flocks, have transferred his peculiar dialect from one part of Asia or Europe to another? This may seem a very humble and modest view of what was formerly represented as the irresistable stream of mighty waves rolling forth from the Aryan centre and gradually overflowing the mountains and valleys of Asia and Europe, but it is, at all events, a possible view; nay, I should say a view far more in keeping with what we know of recent colonisation."[14]
  3. ^ Michael Witzel: Ehret, Ch., 1988. "Language Change and the Material Correlates of Language and Ethnic Shift," Antiquity, 62: 564–74; derived from Africa, cf. Diakonoff 1985.[15]
  4. ^ David Anthony (1995): "Language shift can be understood best as a social strategy through which individuals and groups compete for positions of prestige, power, and domestic security [...] What is important, then, is not just dominance, but vertical social mobility and a linkage between language and access to positions of prestige and power [...] A relatively small immigrant elite population can encourage widespread language shift among numerically dominant indigenes in a non-state or pre-state context if the elite employs a specific combination of encouragements and punishments. Ethnohistorical cases [...] demonstrate that small elite groups have successfully imposed their languages in non-state situations."[17]
  5. ^ Compare the process of Sanskritization in India.
  6. ^ Another example Anthony gives of how an open social system can encourage recruitment and language shift, are the Pathans in estern Afganistan. Traditionally status depended on agricultural surpluses and landownership. The neighbouring Baluch, outnumbered by the Pathans, were pastoral herders, and has hierarchical political system. Pathans who lost their land, could take refuge among the Baluch. As Anthony notes, "chronic tribal warfare might generally favor pastoralism over sedentary economics as herds can be defended by moving them, whereas agricultural fields are an immobile target."[20]
  7. ^ Michael Witzel: "In these views, though often for quite different reasons, any immigration or trickling in – nearly always called "invasion" – of the (Indo-)Aryans into the subcontinent is suspect or simply denied. The Arya of the RV are supposed to be just another tribe or group of tribes that have always been resident in India, next to Dravidians, Mundas, etc. The theory of an immigration of IA speaking Arya ("Aryan invasion") is simply seen as a means of British policy to justify their own intrusion into India and their subsequent colonial rule: in both cases, a "white race" was seen as subduing the local darker colored population.
    However, present (European, American, Japanese, etc.) Indologists do not maintain anything like this now [...] While the "invasion model" was still prominent in the work of archaeologists such as Wheeler (1966: "Indra stands accused"), it has been supplanted by much more sophisticated models over the past few decades (see Kuiper 1955 sqq.; Thapar 1968; Witzel 1995). This development has not occurred because Indologists were reacting, as is now frequently alleged, to current Indian criticism of the older theory. Rather, philologists first, and archaeologists somewhat later, noticed certain inconsistencies in the older theory and tried to find new explanations, a new version of the immigration theories.[2]
  8. ^ Steppe herders, archaic Proto-Indo-European speakers, spread into the lower Danube valley as early as 4200-4000 BCE, either causing or taking advantage of the collapse of Old Europe.[30]
  9. ^ However, this culture may also represent forerunners of the Indo-Iranians, similar to the Lullubi and Kassite invasion of Mesopotamia early in the second millennium BC.[citation needed]
  10. ^ The "First urbanisation" was the Indus Valley Civilisation.[64]
  11. ^ a b Jainism and Buddhism did not originate from the historical Vedic religion, but are indigenous to India itself, just like Yoga and Samkhya.[note 35] Hinduism itself is "a fusion of Arian and Dravidian cultures".[167] Among its roots are the historical Vedic religion of Iron Age India,[web 12] but also the religions of the Indus Valley Civilisation,[168][169][170][171] the Shramana[172] or renouncer traditions[173]of north-east India,[172] and "popular or local traditions".[173] The "Hindu synthesis" emerged around the beginning of the Common Era.[174][175]
  12. ^ Krishnamurti states: "Besides, the Ṛg Vedas has used the gerund, not found in Avestan, with the same grammatical function as in Dravidian, as a non-finite verb for 'incomplete' action. Ṛg Vedic language also attests the use of it as a quotation clause complementary. All these features are not a consequence of simple borrowing but they indicate substratum influence (Kuiper 1991: ch 2)".
  13. ^ Mallory: "It is highly probable that the Indo-Aryans of Western Asia migrated eastwards, for example with the collapse of the Mitanni, and wandered into India, since there is not a shred of evidence — for example, names of non-Indic deities, personal names, loan words — that the Indo-Aryans of India ever had any contacts with their west Asian neighbours. The reverse possibility, that a small group broke off and wandered from India into Western Asia is readily dismissed as an improbably long migration, again without the least bit of evidence."[90][page needed]
  14. ^ Leach (1990) as cited in Bryant (2001:222)
    "Ancient Indian history has been fashioned out of compositions, which are purely religious and priestly, which notoriously do not deal with history, and which totally lack the historical sense.(...)." F.E. Pargiter 1922. However "the Vedic literature confines itself to religious subjects and notices political and secular occurrences only incidentally (...)". Cited in Majumdar & Pusalker 1951, p. 315
  15. ^ Mallory (1989)[page needed] "...the culture represented in the earliest Vedic hymns bears little similarity to that of the urban society found at Harappa or Mohenjo-daro. It is illiterate, non-urban, non-maritime, basically uninterested in exchange other than that involving cattle, and lacking in any forms of political complexity beyond that of a king whose primary function seems to be concerned with warfare and ritual."
  16. ^ According to Cardona, "there is no textual evidence in the early literary traditions unambiguously showing a trace" of an Indo-Aryan migration.[94]
  17. ^ a b Archaeological evidence of continuity need not be conclusive. A similar case has been Central Europe, where the archaeological evidence shows continuous linear development, with no marked external influences.[note 28] Archaeological continuity can be supported for every Indo-European-speaking region of Eurasia, not just India.[note 29][note 30] Several historically documented migrations, such as those of the Helvetii to Switzerland, the Huns into Europe, or Gaelic-speakers into Scotland are not attested in the archaeological record.[note 31]> As [149] sums up, "archaeology can verify the occurrence of migration only in exceptional cases".
  18. ^ Nevertheless, archaeologists like B.B. Lal have seriously questioned the BMAC and Indo-Iranian "connections", and thoroughly disputed all the proclaimed relations.[web 10]
  19. ^ Comparing the Harappan and Gandhara cultures, Kennedy states: "Our multivariate approach does not define the biological identity of an ancient Aryan population, but it does indicate that the Indus Valley and Gandhara peoples shared a number of craniometric, odontometric and discrete traits that point to a high degree of biological affinity." Kennedy in [129]
  20. ^ Kennedy: "Have Aryans been identified in the prehistoric skeletal record from South Asia? Biological anthropology and concepts of ancient races", in ,[117] at p. 49.
  21. ^ Cephalic measures, however, may not be a good indicator as they do not necessarily indicate ethnicity and they might vary in different environments. On the use of which, however, see [130]
  22. ^ Kenoyer: "Although the overall socioeconomic organization changed, continuities in technology, subsistence practices, settlement organization, and some regional symbols show that the indigenous population was not displaced by invading hordes of Indo-Aryan speaking people. For many years, the 'invasions' or 'migrations' of these Indo-Aryan-speaking Vedic/Aryan tribes explained the decline of the Indus civilization and the sudden rise of urbanization in the Ganges-Yamuna valley. This was based on simplistic models of culture change and an uncritical reading of Vedic texts...",[131]
  23. ^ Kennedy: "there is no evidence of demographic disruptions in the north-western sector of the Subcontinent during and immediately after the decline of the Harappan culture. If Vedic Aryans were a biological entity represented by the skeletons from Timargarha, then their biological features of cranial and dental anatomy were not distinct to a marked degree from what we encountered in the ancient Harappans." Kennedy in [132]
  24. ^ Kenoyer: "there was an overlap between Late Harappan and post-Harappan communities...with no biological evidence for major new populations." Kenoyer as quoted in [133]
  25. ^ Hemphill: "the data provide no support for any model of massive migration and gene flow between the oases of Bactria and the Indus Valley. Rather, patterns of phonetic affinity best conform to a pattern of long-standing, but low-level bidirectional mutual exchange. "Hemphill 1998 "Biological Affinities and Adaptations of Bronze Age Bactrians: III. An initial craniometric assessment", American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 106, 329-348.; Hemphill 1999 "Biological Affinities and Adaptations of Bronze Age Bactrians: III. A Craniometric Investigation of Bactrian Origins", American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 108, 173-192
  26. ^ The term "invasion" is only being used nowadays by opponents of the Indo-Aryan Migration theory.[2] The term "invasion" does not reflect the contemporary scholarly understanding of the Indo-Aryan migrations;[2] and is merely being used in a polemical and distractive way.
  27. ^ Shaffer: "Current archaeological data do not support the existence of an Indo-Aryan or European invasion into South Asia any time in the pre- or protohistoric periods. Instead, it is possible to document archaeologically a series of cultural changes reflecting indigenous cultural developments from prehistoric to historic periods". Shaffer[140] as cited in [141]
  28. ^ Häusler, as cited in [143]
  29. ^ Mallory, in [144]
  30. ^ Bryant: "India is not the only Indo-European-speaking area that has not revealed any archaeological traces of immigration." As [145]
  31. ^ ,[146][147][148] as cited in [145]
  32. ^ Arcaeological arguments:
    • Scholars like Jim G. Shaffer and B.B. Lal note the absence of archaeological remains of an Aryan "conquest", and the high degree of physical continuity between Harappan and Post-Harappan society.[web 11] They support the controversial[web 11] theory that the Aryan civilization was not introduced by Aryan migrations, but originated in pre-Vedic India.[web 11]
    • Jim Shaffer has noted several problems with the arguments that the ancient Harappans were Aryans.[139] According to Shaffer, archaeological evidence consistent with a mass population movement, or an invasion of South Asia in the pre- or proto- historic periods, has not been found. Instead, Shaffer proposes a series of cultural changes reflecting indigenous cultural developments from prehistoric to historic periods.[140][note 27] Shaffer contends:

    There were no invasions from central or western South Asia. Rather there were several internal cultural adjustments reflecting altered ecological, social and economic conditions affecting northwestern and north-central South Asia.[142][note 17]

    • Lal notes that at Kalibangan (at the Ghaggar river) the remains of what some writers claim to be fire altars have been unearthed that are claimed to have been used for Vedic sacrifices, although the presence of animal bones does not seem consistent with Vedic rites. In addition the remains of a bathing place (suggestive of ceremonial bathing) have been found near the altars in Kalibangan.[150] S.R. Rao found similar "fire altars" in Lothal which he thinks could have served no other purpose than Vedic ritual.[151] The sites in Kalibangan are dated back to pre-Harappan times i.e. 3500 BC, well before any likely date for the Indo-Aryan migrations, so this may suggest that Vedic rites are indigenous to India and not brought in from outside.[152]
  33. ^ See also "Dr. S. Kalyanaraman, Harvard University’s international scandal unravels a global Hindu conspiracy.
  34. ^ See also "Savarkar, Essentials of Hindutva, and Edwin Bryant, The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture: The Indo-Aryan Migration Debate
  35. ^ Zimmer: [Jainism] does not derive from Brahman-Aryan sources, but reflects the cosmology and anthropology of a much older pre-Aryan upper class of northeastern India - being rooted in the same subsoil of archaic metaphysical speculation as Yoga, Sankhya, and Buddhism, the other non-Vedic Indian systems."[166]
  36. ^ Hindutva-theory faces other challenges as well. It includes Jainism and Buddhism into its notions of 'Hinduness', as part of the Indian heritage. A recent strategy, exemplified by Rajiv Malhotra, is the use of the term dhamma as a common denominator, which also includes Jainism and Buddhism.[164] Nevertheless, Jainism and Buddhism have distinct origins.[165][note 11]
  37. ^ See also Breaking India


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  5. ^ a b Anthony 2009, p. 390 (fig. 15.9), 405-411.
  6. ^ a b c Anthony 2009, p. 49.
  7. ^ a b c Anthony 2007, p. 408.
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  16. ^ Anthony 2007, p. 117.
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  18. ^ Anthony 2007, p. 117-118.
  19. ^ a b Anthony 2007, p. 118.
  20. ^ Anthony 2007, p. 118-119.
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  96. ^ e.g. MacDonnel and Keith, Vedic Index, 1912
  97. ^ e.g. RV 2.12; RV 4.28; RV 8.24
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  104. ^ Abbas Amanat, Farzin Vejdani. Iran Facing Others: Identity Boundaries in a Historical Perspective. p. 189. 
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    Mallory & Mair (2000)
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  107. ^ Elst 1999 with reference to L.N. Renou
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  130. ^ Holloway 2002.
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  147. ^ Sinor 1990, p. 203.
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  149. ^ Cavalli-Sforza 2000.
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Further reading

External links