In Quest of the Origins of Vedic Culture: The Indo-Aryan Migration Debate

In Quest of the Origins of Vedic Culture: The Indo-Aryan Migration Debate

In Quest of the Origins of Vedic Culture: The Indo-Aryan Migration Debate

In Quest of the Origins of Vedic Culture: The Indo-Aryan Migration Debate

Synopsis

Western scholars have argued that Indian civilization was the joint product of an invading Indo-European people--the "Indo-Aryans"--and indigenous non-Indo European peoples. Although Indian scholars reject this European reconstruction of their country's history, Western scholarship gives little heed to their argument. In this book, Edwin Bryant explores the nature and origins of this fascinating debate.

Excerpt

The solution to the Indo-European problem has been one of the most consuming intellectual projects of the last two centuries. It has captivated the imagination and dedication of generations of archaeologists, linguists, philologists, anthropologists, historians, and all manner of scholarly, and not so scholarly, dilettantes. Predicated on the deduction that cognate languages necessitate an original protoform spoken by a group of people inhabiting a reasonably delineated geographic area, the problem has resulted in a massive amount of scholarship attempting to reconstruct this protolanguage, locate the original homeland where it was spoken, and conjecture on the social and cultural life of the protospeakers. Although the endeavor has very much been a preoccupation of European scholars, the belief in and pursuit of the origins of European civilization have required scholars to attempt to reconstruct and reconfigure the prehistory and protohistories of other civilizations whose languages happen to belong to the Indo-European language family.

The publicization, in Europe, of the Sanskrit language and of its connection with the classical languages of Europe was the catalyst for the whole post-Enlightenment quest for the Indo-Europeans that continues, unresolved, to this day. This “discovery” of Sanskrit resulted in the earliest history of the Indian subcontinent also being subsumed by the problem of European origins. Although India was initially entertained as the homeland of all the Indo-Europeans, various arguments were raised against this proposal, and Indian civilization was construed as the joint product of an invading IndoEuropean people—the Indo-Aryan branch of the family—and indigenous non-IndoEuropean peoples. Yet although taking it upon themselves to determine the history of the Indian subcontinent in accordance with the currents of scholarship that have ebbed and flowed in academic circles in Europe over the decades, Western scholars have generally been unaware, or dismissive, of voices from India itself that have been critical over the years of this European reconstruction of their country's history. In the words of one of the scholars who will be featured here, “However well-meaning such [scholars] … and their publications are, they have taken it upon themselves the task of interpreting the past heritage of a very large number of people who belong to various nation states and may like to formulate their own ideas of the past” (Chakrabarti 1997, 207).

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