"ARYAN" – No single aspect of ancient Indian history has so dominated historical discourse as the so-called 'Aryan problem'. In the 19th century, European scholars, new to the study of India, proposed an 'Aryan invasion' that was supposed to have brought the Vedic civilization and the 'Aryan language' (Sanskrit) to India from the Aryan west. The theory led to the illusory idea of an Aryan race, generally blond and blue-eyed which fuelled a pathological attempt to recreate an Aryan nation years later in, of all places, Germany!
Even archaeology has not escaped the Aryan obsession, with scholars claiming that the Harappan civilization was non-Aryan, destroyed by the invading Aryans. Mortimer Wheeler, one of the early Harappan archaeologists, went so far as to try to read an Aryan massacre into skeletal remains he found at Mohenjodaro, which he highlighted with great drama and which has entered into many textbooks, still used to the present day. Through later archaeology disproved Wheeler's finding as a case of imagination gone wild, showing that the skeletons showed no evidence of violent deaths, and no Harappan sites have ever been found that were destroyed by outside invaders, archaeologists still talk about the incoming Aryans, hoping to find them eventually, somewhere! Meanwhile the depiction of the Aryans has retreated from massive destructive hordes to small groups of undetectable migrants, hoping to preserve the theory even if no evidence in favor of it can be found. The Aryan idea appears more like an article of faith for western historians than anything inherent in the facts coming out of India. What is the reality?
In the whole world of the Rig Veda, consisting of ten books and more than a thousand hymns, the word 'Arya' appears fewer than 40 times. It may occur as many times in a few pages of a modern European work like Hitler's Mein Kampf, where there is no doubt about its racial meaning. As a result, any modern book or even discussion on the 'Aryan problem' is more likely to be a commentary on recent European thought on the Aryans than anything really relevant to ancient India of many thousands of years ago.
The use of the term Aryan can be compared with the fear of the Swastika as a symbol of racism and hatred, which it is often falsely combined. The Swastika is an old Vedic symbol of good fortune, found in the oldest archaeological sites in India. It is found among other people also, including in pre-Columbian Native American tribes. The Nazis probably got their swastika symbol from ancient Roman ruins like Pompey where also it is found rather than directly from India. It is a solar symbol of enlightenment that the Buddhists and Jains also adopted. Other than the gross misuse by the Nazis, the Swastika – more popularly the Svasti – has been used as a symbol of goodwill and well-being all over the world. Except for the fleeting period of Nazi misuse, the Swastika has been a universal symbol of peace and prosperity.
The Rig Veda and all of Sanskrit literature that followed never refer to Aryans in this modern sense of the word. Aryan was an important title of respect, roughly comparable to the English word 'sir' or 'gentleman'. It was used to symbolize nobility and refinement of behavior and character, not a pattern of bias and prejudice to which it has been turned into by modern writers! The ancient Sanskrit lexicon Amarakosha identifies it as a synonym for honorable or praiseworthy conduct.
There is no reference to any 'Aryan' type, race or tribe as a term of ethnicity in Sanskrit literature. There is only Aryan as certain type of high culture or lofty code of conduct. Even the Buddha called his religion 'Arya dharma' in this manner. We cannot imagine Aryans conquered ancient India and took over all titles of respect in the country, any more than we can imagine that a tribe of Englishmen named 'sir' took over all main positions of power in England!
The Vedic deities or Devas were regarded as forces of light and their enemies were regarded as forces of darkness, just as was the case for many ancient solar religions, from America and Egypt to Europe and India. But this was not meant as a racial statement, but just the natural symbolism of light and darkness.
Yet the truth is that after two hundred years and many books on the subject of the Aryans, scholars are still unclear what the Aryan identity is. At first the Aryans were supposed to be a race of distinguished by physical traits like white skin, blond hair and blue eyes, but given the lack of any evidence for such types in India or Iran, countries of the most ancient Aryan cultures, this has largely been given up. Other scholars have gone so far to identify Aryan as Caucasian, though there are many Caucasian groups that have darker skin and many others who do not speak so-called Aryan languages. Scientists, too, have no use for the 'Aryan race'. As far back as 1939, Julian Huxley, one of the great biologists of the 20th century, dismissed it as part of "political and propagandist" literature.
Genetics is a new science that is adding important new information about human origins, but even with it some initial data has been distorted by the Aryan obsession. A recent study conducted by Bamshad et al. al the University of Utah claims to have found evidence of western, possible Indo-European or Aryan peoples in the DNA of some South Indian peoples (actually too small a group to prove the point). Their claims that they have identified genes relating to tribes and even castes (and sometimes language!) make NO scientific sense. Their study resembles Wheeler's imaginary massacre at Mohenjodaro. This genetic study has similarly been discredited by more important thinkers in the field. Eminent geneticists like L. Cavalli-Sforza and Stephen Oppenheimer have rejected it. See: Genetic Evidence on the Origin of Indian Caste Populations by M.Bamshad, T.Kivislid, W.S. Watkins, M.E. Dixon, C.E. Ricker, B.B Rao, J.M Naidu, B.V.R Prasad, P.G Reddy, A. Raganagam, et al. 2001, Genome Research 11, pp 994-1004. According to them the M17 genetic marker, which is supposed to distinguish the 'Caucasian' type, occurs with highest frequency and diversity in India, showing that among its carriers, the Indian population is the oldest.
Archaeologically speaking, the search for Aryan skeletons in India has not come up with anything either. There are to date no ruins, remains, encampments or settlements of any invading Aryans that anyone has ever been able to show or prove to have existed apart from indigenous developments.
Sensitive to the disrepute that race theories have fallen into, some scholars hold on to the Aryan term but as referring to a linguistic group. This began with the German-born Indologist Max Muller, one of the main proponents of Aryanism, who made a celebrated switch from Aryan as a race to Aryan as a language. Yet the vast body of Indian literature on linguistics, the richest in the world going back to yaska, Panini and Vedic texts, knows nothing of any Aryan language as the dialect of a particular group of people. When used relative to language, Aryan refers to noble or cultured speech, like well-educated individuals who speak good Sanskrit, similar to people speaking good English versus those speaking common or vulgar forms. This does not means that those speaking unrefined speech are speaking a different language or are of a different ethnicity!
The 'Aryan Nation' or Aryan racial purity was the battle cry of German nationalists, not ancient Indians. To look at ancient Sanskrit terms in light of their modern European redefinitions cannot lead us anywhere in understanding the ancient world, however much political passion it may arouse.
All this means that the 'Aryan problem' is mainly a non-problem – an aberration of wrong history and inaccurate semantics. It has been kept alive by certain historians, who have taken the Sanskrit term to mean what they would like it to. According to its advocates, because of linguistic similarities with languages of Europe and central Asia, the Vedic language and literature must be of non-Indian origin, and so must have been brought in by a different ethnic group, whom these propose was the invading or migrating Aryans. This proved not by any evidence of these incoming Aryans, but by the linguistic requirements of modern theories.
In other words, certain scholars have invented the Aryans as a people to give justification of their own theories. The idea of the invading Aryans was proposed even before any major archaeological finds relative to ancient India were made, and continued long after archaeology contradicted the invasion idea. It has ignored or distorted those finds that came later. Aryans are needed because without them there can be no Aryan invasion (or migration) needed to justify certain linguistic theories. In the face of all this it is best to ignore labels and look simply at the record of the people who lived in India and created her unique civilizations.