Indo-Aryan migration hypothesis

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The Indo-Aryan migration hypothesis or theory argues that there was a migration of Indo-Aryans into northern India and Anatolia, after the split of the Indo-Iranians into Indo-Aryan and Iranic peoples. It was part of the larger Indo-European migrations.

The idea of an Indo-Aryan immigration was developed shortly after the discovery of the Indo-European language family in the late 18th century. Languages spread across much of Eurasia had a common source in a single ancient tongue; therefore, speakers of that language (or its descendents) must have moved out of some original homeland, carrying their languages with them to the vast area they now occupy. Hence there must have been a movement of "Aryans" into India (and of course into many other places) - unless the homeland was in India itself, as some thought. The same reasoning underlies contemporary hypotheses of Indo-Aryan migration, [1] together with (much debated) genetic,[2] archaeological, literary, and cultural evidence.

The debate about the origin of Indo-Aryan peoples in northern India is highly controversial, relating to the indigenous origin of peoples and culture, thus inflaming political agitation and sentiments. Throughout the history of the theory, some have rejected the claim of Indo-Aryan origin outside of India entirely, claiming that the Indo-Aryan people and languages originated in India.

Development of the Aryan Migration Theory

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. 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, in a movement often described in terms of invasion. 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.[3][4]

The Indus Valley civilization (IVC) was discovered in the 1920s. The discovery of the Harappa, Mohenjo-daro and Lothal sites changed the theory 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. 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 the linguistic scenario. This argument is associated with 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. Despite, no evidences were found, and the skeletons were found to be hasty interments, not massacred victims.[5]

In the later 20th century, ideas were refined along with data accrual, and migration and acculturation were seen as the methods whereby Indo-Aryans spread into northwest India around 1500 BC. 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).


The Indo-Aryan migration was part of the Indo-Iranian migrations from the Andronovo culture into Anatolia, Iran and South-Asia. 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 descendants of the Proto-Indo-Europeans known as the Sintashta culture and the subsequent Andronovo culture within the broader Andronovo horizon, and their homeland with an area of the Eurasian steppe that borders the Ural River on the west, the Tian Shan on the east.

The Indo-Iranian migrations took place in two waves.[6][7] The first wave consisted of a migration into Anatolia, founding the Hittite empire and Mittani kingdom, and a migration south-eastward, over the Hindu Kush into northern India. The second wave

Anatolia - Hittites and Mittani

They left linguistic remains in a Hittite horse-training manual written by one "Kikkuli the Mitannian". Other evidence is found in references to the names of Mitanni rulers and the gods they swore by in treaties; these remains are found in the archives of the Mitanni's neighbors. The time period for this is about 1500 BC.[8] In a treaty between the Hittites and the Mitanni, the deities Mitra, Varuna, Indra, and Nasatya (Ashvins) are invoked. Kikkuli's horse training text includes technical terms such as aika (eka, one), tera (tri, three), panza (pancha, five; compare with Gr. pente), satta (sapta, seven), na (nava, nine; compare with Lat. novem), vartana (vartana, turn, round in the horse race; compare with Lat. vertere, vortex). The numeral aika "one" is of particular importance because it places the superstrate in the vicinity of Indo-Aryan proper as opposed to Indo-Iranian or early Iranian (which has "aiva") in general.[9]

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 1]

Kochhar argues that there were three waves of Indo-Aryan immigration that occurred after the mature Harappan phase:[10]

  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,[11][dubious ] cultural and social constructs such as caste,[12] and technology such as chariots[13][dubious ] and weaponry.

Spread of Vedic-Brahmanic culture

Map of northern India in the later Vedic age. River Indus is shown by its Sanskrit name Sindhu. The location of Vedic shakhas is labelled in green. Thar desert is in orange.
Main article: Vedic period

During the Early Vedic Period (ca.1500-800 BCE[web 1]) the Vedic culture was centered in the northern Punjab, or Sapta Sindhu.[web 1] During the Later Vedic Period (ca.800-500 BCE[web 2]) the Vedic culture started to extend into the western Ganges Plain,[web 2] centering around Kuru and Panchala,[14] and had some influence[15] at the central Ganges Plain after 500 BCE.[web 3] 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 2][14]

The Central Ganges Plain, were Magadha gained prominence, forming the base of the Mauryan Empire, was a distinct cultural area,[16] with new states arising after 500 BCE[web 3] during the socalled "Second urbanisation".[17][note 2] It was influenced by the Vedic culture,[15] but differed markedly from the Kuru-Panchala region.[16] It "was the area of the earliest known cultivation of rice in South Asia and by 1800 BCE was the location of an advanced neolitgic population associated with the sites of Chirand and Chechar".[18] In this regio the Shramanic movements flourished, and Jainism and Buddhism originated.[14][note 3]

Linguistic evidence

Contemporary claims of Indo-Aryan migrations are drawn from linguistic,[1] literary, cultural, archaeological and genetic[2] sources.

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.[19]



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.[20] 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.[21]

Both mainstream Urheimat solutions locate the Proto-Indo-European homeland in the vicinity of the Black Sea.[22]

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.[23] 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',[24] 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.[25]

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 4] 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.[26] 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 the several of the innovative traits in Indic better than any internal explanation that has been proposed.[27]

A pre-Indo-European linguistic substratum in South Asia would be a good reason to exclude India as a potential Indo-European homeland.[28] 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,[29] or as adstratum effects.[30]

Textual references


The earliest written evidence for an Indo-Aryan language 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.[31]

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.[32]

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 5] The presence of some BMAC loan words in Mitanni, Old Iranian and Vedic further strengthens this scenario.[34]


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,[11] 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 6] 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)[35] 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 7][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 4] while quotations such as a ship with a hundred oars in 1.116.5[web 5] and metal forts (puras ayasis) in 10.101.8 all occur in mythological contexts only.[web 6]

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[36] or to a migration.[37][note 8] Later Hindu texts, such as the Brahmanas, Mahabharata, Ramayana, and Puranas, are centred 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,[38][need quotation to verify] as they are connected with what he assumes are Iranian peoples (e.g. the Pakthas, Bhalanas).[39] 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.[40]

Most scholars agree that at least some of the references to the Sarasvati in the Rigveda refer to the Ghaggar-Hakra River,[41] while the Afghan river Haraxvaiti/Harauvati Helmand is sometimes quoted as the locus of the early Rigvedic river.[42] 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 7] 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.[43] Non-Indo-Aryan names are, however, frequent in the Ghaggar and Kabul River areas,[44] 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 8]

Kalpasutra notes that Pururavas had two sons by Urvasi, named Ayus and Amavasu, Ayus went east and Amavasu went west.[web 8]

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.[45]

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.[46]

There is mention in the Avesta of Airyanəm Vaējah, one of the '16 the lands of the Aryans' as well as Zarathustra himself.[citation needed] 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.[47]

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.[48] 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.[49] In much later texts, Manu was said to be a king from Dravida.[50] In the legend of the flood he stranded with his ship in Northwestern India or the Himalayas.[51] The Vedic lands (e.g. Aryavarta, Brahmavarta) are located in Northern India or at the Sarasvati and Drsadvati River.[52] 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."[53] The legends of Ikshvaku, Sumati and other Hindu legends may have their origin in South-East Asia.[54]


The Puranas record that Yayati left Prayag (confluence of the Ganges & Yamuna) and conquered the region of Sapta Sindhu.[55] 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.[56][57]

Archaeological evidence

The extent of the BMAC (after EIEC).

Attempts have been made to supplement the linguistic evidence with archaeological data.[58] 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.[59]

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.[60] Archaeological artifacts may not prove or disprove migrations an sich,[note 9] and it may not be possible to identify language within material culture,[61] but archaeological remains can reflect cultural and societal change,[61] 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.[61]

According to Erdosy, the postulated movements within Central Asia can be placed within a processional framework, replacing simplistic concepts of "diffusion", "migrations" and "invasions".[62]

Population movements

Erdosy, testing hypotheses derived from linguistic evidence against hypotheses derived from arcaeological data,[59] states that there is no evidence of "invasions by a barbaric race enjoying technological and military superiority",[63] 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."[58]

Shaffer & 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.[64]

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.[65]

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.[13]

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.[66]

Jarrige and Hassan (as cited in Bryant 2001:215–216) 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."

Either way, the exclusively Central Asian BMAC material inventory of the Mehrgarh and Baluchistan burials is, in the words of Bryant (2001:215), "evidence of an archaeological intrusion into the subcontinent from Central Asia during the commonly accepted time frame for the arrival of the Indo-Aryans". However, archaeologists like B.B. Lal have seriously questioned the BMAC and Indo-Iranian "connections", and thoroughly disputed all the proclaimed relations.[web 9][citation needed]

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.[67]

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 10] although Mohenjodaro was distinct from the other areas of the Indus Valley.[note 11] [note 12]

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,[70][note 13] 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.[71][note 14] Kenoyer notes that no biological evidence can be found for major new populations in post-Harappan communities.[72][note 15] 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 16]


The debate about the origin of Indo-Aryan peoples is highly controversial, relating to the indigenous origin of peoples and culture, thus inflaming political agitation and sentiments.

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.[73] 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.[74][note 17]

Hindu nationalism

Nationalistic movements in India oppose the idea that Hinduism has partly endogenous origins.[1][75][76][note 18] For the founders of the contemporary Hindutva movement, the Aryan migration theory presented a problem.[77] The Hindutva-notion that the Hindu-culture originated in India was threatened by the notion that the Aryans originated outside India.[77] Later Indian writers regarded the Aryan migration theory to be a product of colonialism, aimed to denigrate Hindus.[78] According to them, Hindus had existed in India from times immemorial, as expressed by M. S. Golwalkar:[78]

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)[78][note 19][note 21]


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.[91][92]

Concurring views

According to Bryant, archaeologists in India remain quite skeptical:

The vast majority of professional archaeologists I interviewed in India insisted that there was no convincing archaeological evidence whatsoever to support any claims of external Indo-Aryan origins. This is part of a wider trend: archaeologists working outside of South Asia are voicing similar views.[93]

Within India, alternative visions on the origins of the Aryan language and culture have been developed, which emphasize indigenous origins.[1] They are rejected by mainstream scholars, since they neglect linguistic research,[1] and are contradicted by a broad range of research on Indo-European migration.[94]

"Indigenous Aryans"

The notion of Indigenous Aryans posits that speakers of Indo-Aryan languages are "indigenous" to the Indian subcontinent. 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]

Shaffer - Continuity

Jim Shaffer has noted several problems with the arguments that the ancient Harappans were Aryans.[95] 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.[96][note 22] 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.[98][note 9]

Lal - Fire altars

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.[106] S.R. Rao found similar "fire altars" in Lothal which he thinks could have served no other purpose than Vedic ritual.[107] 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.[108]

Out of India Theory

Main article: Out of India Theory

In recent years, the concept of "Indigenous Aryans" has been increasingly conflated with an "Out of India" origin of the Indo-European language family. This contrasts with the model of Indo-Aryan migration which posits that Indo-Aryan tribes migrated to India from Central Asia. Some furthermore claim that all Indo-European languages originated in India.[note 27] These claims remain problematic.[note 28]

See also


  1. ^ 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]
  2. ^ The "First urbanisation" was the Indus Valley Civilisation.[14]
  3. ^ 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 20] Hinduism itself is "a fusion of Arian and Dravidian cultures".[82] Among its roots are the historical Vedic religion of Iron Age India,[web 10] but also the religions of the Indus Valley Civilisation,[83][84][85][86] the Shramana[87] or renouncer traditions[88]of north-east India,[87] and "popular or local traditions".[88] The "Hindu synthesis" emerged around the beginning of the Common Era.[89][90]
  4. ^ 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)".
  5. ^ 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."[33][page needed]
  6. ^ 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 R. C. Majumdar and A. D. Pusalker (editors): The history and culture of the Indian people. Volume I, The Vedic age. Bombay : Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan 1951, p.315, with reference to F.E. Pargiter.
  7. ^ 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."
  8. ^ According to Cardona, "there is no textual evidence in the early literary traditions unambiguously showing a trace" of an Indo-Aryan migration.[37]
  9. ^ 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 23] Archaeological continuity can be supported for every Indo-European-speaking region of Eurasia, not just India.[note 24][note 25] 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 26]> As [105] sums up, "archaeology can verify the occurrence of migration only in exceptional cases".
  10. ^ 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 [68]
  11. ^ Kennedy: "Have Aryans been identified in the prehistoric skeletal record from South Asia? Biological anthropology and concepts of ancient races", in ,[58] at p. 49.
  12. ^ 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 [69]
  13. ^ 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...",[70]
  14. ^ 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 [71]
  15. ^ Kenoyer: "there was an overlap between Late Harappan and post-Harappan communities...with no biological evidence for major new populations." Kenoyer as quoted in [72]
  16. ^ 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
  17. ^ See also Breaking India
  18. ^ See also "Dr. S. Kalyanaraman, Harvard University’s international scandal unravels a global Hindu conspiracy.
  19. ^ See also "Savarkar, Essentials of Hindutva, and Edwin Bryant, The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture: The Indo-Aryan Migration Debate
  20. ^ 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."[81]
  21. ^ 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.[79] Nevertheless, Jainism and Buddhism have distinct origins.[80][note 3]
  22. ^ 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[96] as cited in [97]
  23. ^ Häusler, as cited in [99]
  24. ^ Mallory, in [100]
  25. ^ Bryant: "India is not the only Indo-European-speaking area that has not revealed any archaeological traces of immigration." As [101]
  26. ^ ,[102][103][104] as cited in [101]
  27. ^ Bryant: "It must be stated immediately that there is an unavoidable corollary of an Indigenist position. If the Indo-Aryan languages did not come from outside South Asia, this necessarily entails that India was the original homeland of all the other Indo-European languages."[109]
  28. ^ Bryant: "There is at least a series of archaeological cultures that can be traced approaching the Indian subcontinent, even if discontinuous, which does not seem to be the case for any hypothetical east-to-west emigration."[110]


  1. ^ a b c d e Bryant 2001.
  2. ^ a b Wells 2002.
  3. ^ "Read Indussian", by Senthil Kumar A S, - Page 123
  4. ^ "Tense and Aspect in Indo-European Languages", by John Hewson, Page 229
  5. ^ Gregory L. Possehl (2002). The Indus Civilization: A Contemporary Perspective. Rowman Altamira. p. 238. ISBN 9780759101722. 
  6. ^ Burrow 1973.
  7. ^ Parpola 1999.
  8. ^ Mallory, Mair & 2000 257.
  9. ^
  10. ^ Kochhar 2000, p. 185-186.
  11. ^ a b Bryant (2001:91)
  12. ^ Bamshad (2001)
  13. ^ a b Anthony & Vinogradov (1995)
    Kuzmina (1994), Klejn (1974), and Brentjes (1981), as cited in Bryant (2001:206)
  14. ^ a b c d Samuel 2010.
  15. ^ a b Samuel 2010, p. 61.
  16. ^ a b Samuel 2010, p. 48-51.
  17. ^ Samuel 2010, p. 42-48.
  18. ^ Samuel 2010, p. 49.
  19. ^ Mallory & Mair (2000)[page needed]
  20. ^ Sapir (1949:455)
    Latham, as cited in Mallory (1989:152)
  21. ^ Mallory (1989:152–153)
  22. ^ Mallory (1989:177–185)
  23. ^ Hock (1991, p. 454)
  24. ^ Fortson (2004, p. 106)
  25. ^ Hock (1996), "Out of India? The linguistic evidence", in Bronkhorst & Deshpande (1999).
  26. ^ Erdosy (1995:18)
  27. ^ Thomason & Kaufman (1988:141–144)
  28. ^ Bryant (2001:76)
  29. ^ Hamp 1996 and Jamison 1989, as cited in Bryant 2001:81–82
  30. ^ Hock 1975/1984/1996 and Tikkanen 1987, as cited in Bryant (2001:78–82)
  31. ^ Mallory & Mair (2000)[page needed]
    Mallory (1989)[page needed]
    StBoT 41 (1995)
    Thieme, as cited in Bryant (2001:136)
  32. ^ Bryant 2001, p. 137.
  33. ^ Mallory 1989.
  34. ^ Witzel 2003
  35. ^ Rau 1976
  36. ^ R. C. Majumdar and A. D. Pusalker (editors): The history and culture of the Indian people. Volume I, The Vedic age. Bombay : Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan 1951, p.220
  37. ^ a b Cardona 2002, p. 33-35.
  38. ^ Talageri 2000
  39. ^ e.g. MacDonnel and Keith, Vedic Index, 1912
  40. ^ e.g. RV 2.12; RV 4.28; RV 8.24
  41. ^ "Encyclopaedia of Ancient Indian Geography, Volume 2", by Subodh Kapoor, p.590
  42. ^ "Discovering the Vedas: Origins, Mantras, Rituals, Insights", p. 7, by Frits Staal
  43. ^ Bryant (2001)
  44. ^ Witzel (1999)[page needed]
  45. ^ Burrow as cited in Mallory (1989).
  46. ^ Bryant (2001:131)
    Mallory (1989)
    Mallory & Mair (2000)
    Burrow, as cited in Mallory (1989)
    Boyce and Gnoli, as cited in Bryant (2001:132)
  47. ^ Bryant (2001:133)
    Gnoli, Boyce, Skjaervo, and Witzel, as cited in Bryant (2001:133)
    Humbach and Gnoli, as cited in Bryant (2001:327)
    Mallory & Mair (2000)
  48. ^ (Bryant 2001: 64)
  49. ^ Elst 1999, with reference to L.N. Renou
  50. ^ e.g. Bhagavata Purana (VIII.24.13)
  51. ^ e.g. Satapatha Brahmana, Atharva Veda
  52. ^ e.g. RV 3.23.4., Manu 2.22, etc. Kane, Pandurang Vaman: History of Dharmasastra: (ancient and mediaeval, religious and civil law) — Poona : Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, 1962-1975
  53. ^ Talageri 1993, The Aryan Invasion Theory, A Reappraisal
  54. ^ Elst 1999, chapter 5, with reference to Bernard Sergent
  55. ^ Talageri 1993, 2000; Elst 1999
  56. ^ Bhagavata Purana 9.23.15-16; Visnu Purana 4.17.5; Vayu Purana 99.11-12; Brahmanda Purana 3.74.11-12 and Matsya Purana 48.9.
  57. ^ see e.g. Pargiter [1922] 1979; Talageri 1993, 2000; Bryant 2001; Elst 1999
  58. ^ a b c Erdosy 1995.
  59. ^ a b Erdosy 1995, p. 24.
  60. ^ Erdosy 1995, p. 2.
  61. ^ a b c Erdosy 1995, p. 5.
  62. ^ Erdosy 1995, p. 5-6.
  63. ^ Erdosy 1995, p. 23.
  64. ^ Erdosy 1995, p. 139.
  65. ^ Klejn (1974), Lyonnet (1993), Francfort (1989), Bosch-Gimpera (1973), Hiebert (1998), and Sarianidi (1993), as cited in Bryant (2001:206–207)
  66. ^ Allchin 1995:47–48
    Hiebert & Lamberg-Karlovsky (1992), Kohl (1984), and Parpola (1994), as cited in Bryant (2001:215)
  67. ^ Mallory (1989)
  68. ^ Erdosy 1995, p. 49.
  69. ^ Holloway 2002.
  70. ^ a b Bryant 2001, p. 190.
  71. ^ a b Erdosy 1995, p. 54.
  72. ^ a b Bryant 2001, p. 231.
  73. ^ Saraswathi. Towards Self-Respect, pp. 89 & 90.
  74. ^ Fosse 2013, p. 454.
  75. ^ Witzel, Michael (2006), "Rama's realm: Indocentric rewritings of early South Asian History", in Fagan, Garrett, Archaeological Fantasies: How pseudoarchaeology misrepresents the past and misleads the public, Routledge, ISBN 0-415-30592-6
  76. ^ Gupta 2007, p. 108-109.
  77. ^ a b Gupta 2007, p. 108.
  78. ^ a b c Gupta 2007, p. 109.
  79. ^ Springer 2012.
  80. ^ Zimmer 1951.
  81. ^ Zimmer 1951, p. 217.
  82. ^ Lockard 2007, p. 50.
  83. ^ Narayanan 2009, p. 11.
  84. ^ Lockard 2007, p. 52.
  85. ^ Hiltebeitel 2013, p. 3.
  86. ^ Jones 2006, p. xviii.
  87. ^ a b Gomez 2013, p. 42.
  88. ^ a b Flood 1996, p. 16.
  89. ^ Hiltebeitel 2002.
  90. ^ Larson 2009.
  91. ^ Thapar, Romila (January 1, 1996), "The Theory of Aryan Race and India: History and Politics", Social Scientist (Social Scientist) 24 (1/3): 3–29, doi:10.2307/3520116, ISSN 0970-0293, JSTOR 3520116 .
  92. ^ Leopold, Joan (1974), "British Applications of the Aryan Theory of Race to India, 1850–1870", The English Historical Review 89 (352): 578–603, doi:10.1093/ehr/LXXXIX.CCCLII.578 .
  93. ^ Bryant 2001, pp. 231 ff.
  94. ^ Anthony 2007.
  95. ^ Kennedy 2000, p. 371.
  96. ^ a b Shaffer 1984.
  97. ^ Bryant 2001, p. 232.
  98. ^ Bryant 2001, p. 192.
  99. ^ Bryant 2001, p. 141.
  100. ^ Blench & Spriggs 1997.
  101. ^ a b Bryant 2001, p. 235.
  102. ^ Anthony 1986.
  103. ^ Sinor 1990, p. 203.
  104. ^ Mallory 1989, p. 166.
  105. ^ Cavalli-Sforza 2000.
  106. ^ B.B. Lal. Frontiers of the Indus Civilization. 1984:57-58
  107. ^ (S.R. Rao. The Aryans in Indus Civilization.1993:175)
  108. ^ "Advent of the Aryans in India", p. 24, by Ram Sharan Sharma, year = 1999
  109. ^ Bryant 2001, p. 6.
  110. ^ Bryant 2001, p. 236.


Published sources


External links