Indian History Carnival–72: Aryan Invasion Theory, Buddha, Ramayyan Dalawa

Painting of the parinirvana of Gautama Buddha. Sanskrit Astasahasrika Prajnaparamita Sutra manuscript written in the Ranjana script. Nalanda, Bihar, India. Circa 700-1100 CE.
Painting of the parinirvana of Gautama Buddha. Sanskrit Astasahasrika Prajnaparamita Sutra manuscript written in the Ranjana script. Nalanda, Bihar, India. Circa 700-1100 CE.
    1. Koenraad Elst writes about the Vedic Conference that happened in Kozhikode in January and how the Aryan Invasion Theory still lives on

      Having spent time in the real world, interacting with real scholars, I know the real situation, which is that the AIT is still taught from all the important platforms. People who tell you diferently, live in a fantasy world and only interact with village bumpkins who accept their word for it; so as feedback they ultimately only hear their own opinions. Fortunately, we can ignore recent history including these Hindu will-o-the-wisps, and start work on the really available testimonies to ancient history.

    2. GeoCurrents has the third part of the series of posts on the Vexatious History of Indo-European Studies. The latest one has a section on how it is dealt in India.

      Meanwhile, the legacy of Müller and his peers have came under increasing attack from another quarter altogether, that of Indian nationalism. This school is epitomized in D. N. Tripathi’s edited collection of 2005 entitled A Discourse on Indo-European Languages and Cultures. The various contributors to this volume understandably object to the old narrative of the Aryan invasion of the sub-continent, a story that emerged in the 19th century from a combination of philological inquiry and racial science. According to this account, superior Aryans invaded South Asia in the Bronze Age, conquering and ruling over the indigenous dark-skinned people and then creating the caste system to ensure that the two groups remained distinct and unequal. Support for this theory was supposedly found in the Rigveda, one of humankind’s oldest text. Yet as Trautmann shows, this neat and simplistic narrative of Aryan invasion had actually been opposed by most of the leading European Sanskritologists of the 19th century. It has also been rejected by modern mainstream scholars, who deny stark racial divisions and tend to posit plodding infiltrations of Indo-European speakers into the Indian subcontinent, along with a gradual and complex development of caste ideology. And regardless of the seemingly clear division of South Asia into an Indo-European north and Dravidian south, it has long been recognized that the entire region shares numerous linguistic features, making it a Sprachbund or linguistic convergence zone.

    3. Few months back, there was a popular news article which claimed that new clues from Lumbini pushed back the date of Buddha. Jayarava, after reading the original paper, writes

      There is no doubt whatever that the find at Lumbini is significant and fascinating. But Coningham et al (and Coningham himself) have overstated the claims for what this find signifies. In particular it tells us nothing whatever about the dates of the Buddha. What it tells us about is the dates of human occupation and use of the site at Lumbini. This is intrinsically interesting, but is only an outline that requires considerable filling in. Specifically it tells us nothing about who the occupants were. The authors of the article seem to have been carried away by the minutiae of the discovery and the assumption that all archaeology on an Asokan site is ipso facto Buddhist.

    4. A while back I did a post on the origins of Aviyal. Maddy writes that in Travancore it was also known as Ramayyar kootu and has a post on Ramayyan Dalawa, who was Chanakya and Shakuni rolled into one.

      If you were to study the successful reign of Marthanda Varma, you will quickly notice that there was one person who faithfully tended to him and guided him through those hectic days. In fact that person had been around even before MV took the throne, rightly or wrongly, from his uncle Rama Varma. The shrewd man was not only a Shakuni and Chanakya rolled in one, but also a very able administrator. Krishnan Raman or Ramayyan, that was his name, of Tamil Brahmin stock, was a good cook and a person of stern behavior, great logical outlook and acute intellect. Well, if you were to look at his story, you would be surprised at the involvement he had with the illustrious king, and not only that but you will also come across a large number of anecdotes attributed to him and retold even today. He is also considered to be the inventor of the Malayali dish Aviyal or what is sometimes termed as Ramayyar kootu in Travancore.

That’s the 6th anniversary of the carnival. If you have any links that are to be featured, please send them by any of these channels. The next carnival will be up on Feb 15th.

Indian History Carnival–62: Indo-Europeans, Muchunti Mosque, Joao Da Cruz, Christoph Clavius

Muchundi Mosque (via Wikipedia)
Muchundi Mosque (via Wikipedia)
  1. At his blog at Discover, Razib Khan presents his hypothesis for West Asian migration to India
  2. Second, Reich agrees that the ANI (West Eurasian, “Ancestral North India”) admixture into the India population exhibits at least two admixture events. There were hints of this in the original 2009 paper, and looking more closely at the South Asian data others have suggested this more explicitly. This seems the best explanation for why non-Brahmin upper castes in South India do exhibit distance on the ANI-ASI cline from lower castes, but without clear connection to many ancestral components with a “northern” affinity present at non-trivial levels in Indo-European speaking groups and South Indian Brahmins (or those groups which have admixed with Brahmins, such as Nairs).

    The hypothesis I prefer is that there was an initial wave of West Asian agriculturalists who arrived in the Indian subcontinent <10,000 years B.P., and admixed with the ASI (“Ancestral South Indian”) substrate. Then, there was at least one further substantial demographic wave of West Eurasians, probably bringing the Indo-European languages. This population had more northern affinities (though not exclusively; the Basque vs. non-Basque difference in European seems to be a West Asian element), which explains the subsidiary minor explicitly European-like element found in many upper caste populations, and to a lesser extent Indo-European speaking South Asians generally. Finally, I do suspect that some groups in the Northwest, such as Jatts, were shaped by later migrations.

  3. Giacomo Benedetti has a post on a similar theme of Indo-Iranians, Aryan invasion etc. and writes

    I have the impression that the Aryan Invasionism follows the same method as Creationism. The supporters of the Indo-Iranian invasion from the European steppes of Central and South Asia have no sacred text to defend, although sometimes they use the Vedas or the Avesta with biased (often racial) interpretations. They have a sort of preconceived faith, maybe based on a secret, obstinate Eurocentrism: Europeans must be the conquerors of the Indo-European world, and not the conquered or colonized, they must be the origin of the change, not the recipients.So, they already firmly believe that the Indo-Aryans must have arrived there in the 2nd millennium BC, and so we have to find, in one way or another, the facts able to support that dogma. I think that we should rather start from the archaeological facts, and build a theory from there, seeing if we find a harmony with linguistics and textual traditions, and also genetics. Someone could object (with Nietzsche) that there are no facts, only interpretations, particularly in the realm of prehistoric archaeology, but still, there are worse and better interpretations. The evolution and connections of material cultures can give a reliable picture, which can be mirrored by the linguistic and textual tradition.

  4. One of the oldest mosques in Calicut is called Muchunti Mosque because it may have been found by a person named Muchiyan. But shouldn’t it be Muchanti (junction) mosque.? Calicut Heritage investigates

    Sure enough we found an alternative possibility on the streets of faraway Penang in Malyasia. On Pitt Street to be exact, named by the British after the Prime Minister, William Pitt, the Younger. The street is now called Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, after a mosque built by a South Indian Captain of a ship. Down the street one finds the Tamil area of Chulia Street, formerly called Muchanti (junction). A little away from this junction on the Penang Road, we come across a notable Malabar monument, in Kampung Malabar (the Malabar colony), named after a faith healer from Calicut named Syed Mustafa Idris Koya. The entire Penang Road is known in Tamil locally as Ezhu Muchanti (the junction of seven roads). Muchanti in Tamil means a junction and perhaps meant the same in 13th century Malayalam, too. Muchunti Palli in Calicut is also situated on a junction where three paths meet. Did Muchanti Palli become Muchunti Palli in due course?

  5. Maddy revises his earlier tale of Joao Da Cruz or John of the Cross with some new information. If you have not read this story of the Nair boy who went to Lisbon, met King Manuel, converted to Christianity, and became responsible for the conversion of the Paravas in Tuticorin, you should

    It was on such a tense day in Tuticorin during 1534, when as usual, a Parava woman went out to sell her home made Paniyarams. As it appears from the texts of Teixeira, a Muslim insulted her and the lady promptly went home and complained to her husband. The enraged man went out and a fight ensured with the Muslim, during which the Muslim cut off an earlobe of the Parava, a great insult indeed for they wore large ornaments on their ears which extended down to their shoulders. So the honor of the entire community was compromised, as Schurhammer reports. The two groups went at each other’s throats and a great many were killed. The Muslims of neighboring towns joined the fracas and the Paravas were systematically decimated (in fact a bounty of 5 fanams per head were initially paid to the mercenaries, but as the heads piled up, this was reduced to one fanam). The Paravas had nowhere to go and were in a dire situation with no hope (A little exaggeration can be seen in these accounts – since the Muslims needed the Parava to eventually go out to sea and continue with their business and pay them the taxes).It was into this mess that the indebted Joa Da Cruz strayed. The Paravas talked to him and explained their desperate plight. Seeing an opportunity to redeem himself, Da Cruz suggested that they convert and get allied to the Portuguese to save themselves. The Paravas, seeing no other alternative, agreed.

  6. Mughal India blog writes about knowledge circulated during Aurangzeb’s time

    Clavius’ work, which responded to and was inspired by Arabic mathematicians and scientists in Latin translation, here a generation after its publication is translated back into Arabic to be read, presumably by elites at the court of Aurangzeb, where the work’s translator and his son were courtiers. This translation demonstrates the complexity of knowledge flows – that they were synchronic as well as diachronic, and also involved a process not just of translation, but of re-translation, re-interpretation and development as they travelled. Furthermore, the inscriptions taken in tandem, one in English made by an East India official, the other in Arabic by a Mughal courtier, open the possibility that already in Aurangzeb’s reign, Mughal elites travelled to Europe perhaps to study. In the case of Mu‘tamid Khan, the translator of this text, he mastered the technical idiom of geometry and mathematics in Latin, and then translated it into an equally complex scholarly language, Arabic. Not an uncommon intellectual feat at the Mughal court, this process of scientific translation remains to be studied in depth. It is also possible that the presence of the Jesuits at Goa had an influence on the production of this translation, but firm evidence remains to be found.

  7. The next Carnival will be up on March 15th. If you have any blog links, please send it to

Nail, Coffin, Aryans

This one does not need any commentary.

Widely believed theory of Indo-Aryan invasion, often used to explain early settlements in the Indian subcontinent is a myth, a new study by Indian geneticists says. “Our study clearly shows that there was no genetic influx 3,500 years ago,” said Dr Kumarasamy Thangaraj of CCMB, who led the research team, which included scientists from the University of Tartu, Estonia, Chettinad Academy of Research and Education, Chennai and Banaras Hindu University. “It is high time we re-write India’s prehistory based on scientific evidence,” said Dr Lalji Singh, former director of CCMB. “There is no genetic evidence that Indo-Aryans invaded or migrated to India or even something such as Aryans existed”. Singh, vice-chancellor of BHU, is a coauthor.[Indians are not descendants of Aryans, says new study]

Here is a link to the paper.

Summing up, our results confirm both ancestry and temporal complexity shaping the still on-going process of genetic structuring of South Asian populations. This intricacy cannot be readily explained by the putative recent influx of Indo-Aryans alone but suggests multiple gene flows to the South Asian gene pool, both from the west and east, over a much longer time span. We highlight a few genes as candidates of positive selection in South Asia that could have implications in lipid metabolism and etiology of type 2 diabetes. Further studies on data sets without ascertainment and allele frequency biases such as sequence data will be needed to validate the signals for selection.

The point is that nothing exciting happened following the decline of the Harappan civilization. The Dravidian folklore is just that – folklore. Migrations did happen to the region, but they date to much earlier period before there were Dravidian and Indo-European languages.

The Biblical Migration Theory

The discovery of skeletons in Mohenjo-daro in 1920s led Sir Mortimer Wheeler to opine that Harappa was overthrown by invaders, inspired by the Vedic god Indra.[1] Now archaeology and genetic studies have discredited Sir Mortimer Wheeler’s  Aryan invasion theory, which originated in the twentieth century. The external origins of Aryans is now being kept alive by “sporadic migration and occasional contacts” theory[2]. But much before the Aryan invasion theory, there used to be a migration theory of Biblical proportions[3] whose originator was Jean-Antoine Dubois, a French-Catholic missionary, who spent time in Pondicherry, Madras Presidency and Mysore from 1792 to 1823.
The French revolution started in 1789 and Dubois fled in 1792 at the age of 27, which turned to be a wise decision, for if he had stayed back he would have been killed. In India he adopted the local dress and habits like the Tuscan Jesuit missionary Roberto de Nobili, the Roman Brahmin, who did this almost two centuries before Dubois. This technique worked well, for he was welcomed by people of all castes.
In 1799, when Seringapatam fell, Richard Colley Wesley who was the Governor General of India, invited Dubois to organize the Christian community of Mysore which had been forcibly converted to Islam by Tippu Sultan; he reconverted 1800 people.
His greatest accomplishment was writing a book — Hindu Manners, Customs and Ceremonies — based on his experience, important books and various records he obtained. It is in this book that he came up with his theory for the origins of the Brahmins.
He was aware that Hindus claimed Brahmins originated from Brahma’s head and that they were from near Maha-Meru and Madara Parvata. He was aware of the concept of the seven rishis, recognized in the Great Bear and the flood story in Indian mythology.
For Dubois, these Hindu fables were absurd. Before presenting his theory, he first dismissed two other ideas. The first one claimed that  Egyptian king Sesostris conquered land till the Ganges; the second, that the caste system was obtained from the Arabs.
Once these were out of the way, Dubois presented his thesis. After the flood, the whole world was repopulated again. For this, Noah and his  sons dispersed around the world. One group went West, while the others under the guidance of Magog, Noah’s grandson, went to the Caucasian range. From there they came via the North into India and populated it. He even has a date  for this migration – nine centuries before Christian era. Thus the Brahmins, according to Dubois, were descendants of Magog’s father Japheth.
By the time Dubois wrote his manuscript, comparative linguistics had just arrived on the scene in a big way. In 1786, Sir William Jones published his The Sanscrit Language in which he observed that Sanskrit resembled Greek and Latin and suggested a common source, which would be called proto-Indo-European. Dubois decided to dabble in a bit of linguistics himself.
For Dubois, Magog and Gotama sounded the same. He suspected that they were the same person. He also found similarities between  Prometheus and Brahma (say Brema and Prome aloud few times and you will get it. Or may be not). If you think that this Brahma = Prometheus thing does not add up, here is the clincher. Like how Prometheus asked Hercules for help, Brahma also asked Vishnu for help, not once, but many times. As I found myself nodding in agreement, he ruined it for me with the statement that Prometheus could be Magog himself.
With our current understanding it is easy to dismiss the work as fanciful narrative, but in the 19th century it was taken seriously; Dubois’ work was influential. He gave the French manuscript to Mark Wilks, the British Resident of Mysore, who in turn sent it to the Madras government. In 1816, it was translated to English. The prefatory note to the English edition was  by none other than F. Max Muller, who wrote that Dubois, though a missionary, was free from theological prejudices. Lord  William Bentinck, who would later become the Governor General and would play a part in Macaulay’s education in India, recommended the book highly. Bentinck praised the book saying that it would help the East India Company employees a great deal in their conduct with the natives. The East India company paid 2000 star pagodas for the manuscript.
While everyone — Wilks, Bentick, Muller — praised the book for the observations on the caste system, no one found the Biblical connection objectionable. Even preface to the 1906 edition which I read did not question it. Thus Indian history of the 19th century combined Sir William Jones’ comparative linguistics, Dubois’ Biblical Migration theory and Max Muller’s arbitrary dating of the Vedas. The impact of Sir William Jones and Max Muller are still present in the same form, while Dubois’ migration theory is present in a modified version.
The path taken by  Indo-Europeans of the Aryan Migration Theory 2.0 is the same as that proposed by Dubois: from the Caucasus to India. A group of Indo-Europeans would go West, like Noah’s sons, to be the Mittani.[1]
Though he came to covert, by his own account, Dubois was not a successful missionary[4].
Text not available
Dubois later wrote a controversial pamphlet — Letters on the state of Christianity in India — in which he declared that it is next to impossible to convert Indians. He went back to Paris on Jan 15, 1823, never to return again. He  kept a low profile and Max Muller who visited Paris in 1846 did not know that Dubois was well and alive at that time. Dubois died two years later.
Postscript:  Dubois was paid well and he lived off the money for some time. There is a controversy that the original manuscript was not written by Dubois, but was based on something written by Pere Coeurdoux in 1760s[5].

  1. The Wonder That Was India by A L Basham
  2. Indo-Aryan Controversy: Evidence and Inference in Indian History; By Edwin Bryant, Laurie L. Patton
  3. A Survey of Hinduism by  Klaus Klostermaier
  4. Debate Transactions of the Royal Historical Society  By Royal Historical Society
  5. Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India. By Nicholas B. Dirks
  6. Hindu Manners, Customs and Ceremonies by Abbe J. A. Dubois