The Aryan-Dravidian Controversy

By David Frawley

The British ruled India, as they did other lands, by a divide-and-conquer strategy. They promoted religious, ethnic and cultural divisions among their colonies to keep them under control. Unfortunately some of these policies also entered into the intellectual realm. The same simplistic and divisive ideas that were used for interpreting the culture and history of India. Regrettably many Hindus have come to believe these ideas, even though a deeper examination reveals they may have no real objective or scientific basis.

One of these ideas is that India is a land of two races - the lighter- skinned Aryans and the darker-skinned Dravidians - and that the Dravidians were the original inhabitants of India whom the invading Aryans conquered and dominated. From this came the additional idea that much of what we call Hindu culture was in fact Dravidian, and later borrowed by Aryans who, however, never gave the Dravidians proper credit for it. This idea has been used to turn the people of south India against the people of north India, as if the southern ers were a different race.

Racial Theories

The Nineteenth century was the era of Europeans imperialism. Many Europeans did in fact believe that they belonged to a superior race and that their religion, Christianity, was a superior religion and all other religions were barbaric, particularly a religion like Hinduism which uses many idols. The Europeans felt that it was their duty to convert non-Christians, sometimes even if it required intimidation, force or bribery.

Europeans thinkers of the era were dominated by a racial theory of man, which was interpreted primarily in terms of color. They saw themselves as belonging to a superior 'white' or Caucasian race. They had enslaved the Negroid or 'black' race. As Hindus were also dark or 'colored', they were similarly deemed inferior. The British thus, not surprisingly, looked upon the culture of India in a similar way as having been a land of a light-skinned or Aryan race (the north Indians), ruling a dark or Dravidian race (the south Indians).

About this time in history the similarities betweeen Indo-European languages also became evident. Sanskrit and the languages of North India were found to be relatives of the languages of Europe, while the Dravidian languages of south India were found to be another language family. By the racial theory, Europeans natuarally felt that the original speakers of any root Indo-European language must have been 'white', as they were not prepared to recognize that their languages could have been derived from the darker-skinned Hindus. As all Hindus were dark compared to the Europeans, it was assumed that the original white Indo-European invadors of India must have been assimilated by the dark indigenous population, though they left their mark more on north India where people have a lighter complexion.

Though the Nazis later took this idea of a white Aryan superior race to its extreme of brutality, they did not invent the idea, nor were they the only ones to use it for purposes of exploitation. They took what was a common idea of nineteenth and early twentieth century Europe, which many other Europeans shared. They perverted this idea further, but the distortion of it was already the basis of much exploitation and misunderstanding.

Racial Interpretation of Vedas

Europeans Vedic interpreters used this same racial idea to explain the Vedas. The Vedas speak of a battle between light and darkness. This was turned into a war between light skinned Aryans and dark skinned Dravidians. Such so-called scholars did not bother to examine the fact that most religions and mythologies including those of the ancient American Indians, Egyptians, Greeks and Persians have the idea of such a battle between light and darkness (which is the symbolic conflict between truth and falsehood), but we do not interpret their statements racially. In short, the Europeans projected racism into the history of India, and accused the Hindus of the very racism that they themselves were using to dominate the Hindus.

European scholars also pointed out that caste in India was originally defined by color. Brahmins were said to be white, Kshatriyas red, Vaishyas yellow, and Shudras black. Hence the Brahmins were said to have been originally the white Aryans and the Dravidians the dark Shudras. However, what these colors refer to is the gunas or qualities of each class. White is the color of purity (sattvaguna), dark that of impurity (tamoguna), red the color of action (rajoguna), and yellow the color of trade (also rajoguna). To turn this into races is simplistic and incorrect. Where is the red race and where is the yellow race in India? And when have the Kshatriyas been a red race and the Vaishyas as yellow race?

The racial idea reached yet more ridiculous proportions. Vedic passages speaking of their enemies (mainly demons) as without nose (a-nasa), were interpreted as a racial slur against the snub-nosed Dravidians. Now Dravidians are not snub-nosed or low nosed people, as anyone can see by examining their facial features. And the Vedic demons are also described as footless (a-pada). Where is such a footless and noseless race and what does this have to do with the Dravidians? Moreover Vedic gods like Agni (fire) are described as footless and headless. Where are such headless and footless Aryans? Yet such 'scholar- ship' can be found in prominent Western books on the history of India, some published in India and used in schools in India to the present day.

This idea was taken further and Hindu gods like Krishna, whose name means dark, or Shiva who is portrayed as dark, were said to have originally been Dravidian gods taken over by the invading Aryans (under the simplistic idea that Dravidians as dark-skinned people must have worshipped dark colored gods). Yet Krishna and Shiva are not black but dark blue. Where is such a dark blue race? Moreover the different Hindu gods, like the classes of Manu, have diffe- rent colors relative to their qualities. Lakshmi is portrayed as pink, Saras- wati as white, Kali as blue-black, or Yama, the God of death, as green. Where have such races been in India or elsewhere?

In a similar light, some scholars pointed out that Vedic gods like Savitar have golden hair and golden skin, thus showing blond and fair-skinned people living in ancient India. However, Savitar is a sun-god and sun-god are usually gold in color, as has been the case of the ancient Egyptian, Mayan, and Inca and other sun-gods. Who has a black or blue sun-god? This is from the simple fact that the sun has a golden color. What does this have to do with race? And why should it be racial statement in the Vedas but not elsewhere?

The Term Aryan

A number of European scholars of the 19th century, such as Max Muller, did state that Aryan is not a racial term and there is no evidence that it ever was so used in the Vedas, but their views on this were largely ignored. We should clearly note that there is no place in Hindu literature wherein Aryan has ever been equated with a race or with a particular set of physical charac- teristics. The term Arya means "noble" or "spiritual", and has been so used by Buddhists, Jains and Zoroastrians as well as Hindus. Religions that have called themselves Aryan, like all of these, have had members of many different races. Race was never a bar for anyone joining some form of the Arya Dharma or teaching of noble people.

Aryan is a term similar in meaning to the Sanskrit word Sri, an epithet of respect. We could equate it with the English word Sir. We cannot imagine that a race of men named sir took over England in the Middle Ages and dominated a different race because most of the people in power in the country were called sir. Yet this is the kind of thinking that was superimposed upon the history of India.

New Evidence on the Indus Culture

The Indus Civilization - the ancient urban culture of north India in the third millenniem BC - has been interpreted as Dravidian or non-Aryan culture. Though this has never been proved, it has been taken by many people to be a fact. However, new archaelogiocal evidence shows that the so-called Indus culture was a Vedic culture, centered not on the Indus but on the banks of the Saraswati river of Vedic fame (the culture should be renamed not the Indus but the "Saraswati Culture"), and that its language was also related to Sanskrit. The ancient Saraswati dried up around 1900 BC. Hence the Vedic texts that speaks so eloquently of this river must predate this period.

The racial types found in the Indus civilization are now found to have been generally the same as those of north India today, and that there is no evidence of any significant intrusive population into India in the Indus or post-Indus era.

This new information tends to either dismiss the Aryan invasion thoery or to place it back at such an early point in history (before 3000 BC or even 6000 BC), that it has little bearing on what we know as the culture of India.

Aryan and Dravidian Races

The idea of Aryan and Dravidian races is the product of an unscientific, culturally biased form of thinking that saw race in terms of color. There are scientifically speaking, no such things as Aryan or Dravidian races. The three primary races are Caucasian, the Mangolian and the Negroid. Both the Aryans and Dravidians are related branches of the Caucasian race generally placed in the same Mediterranean sub-branch. The difference between the so-called Aryans of the north and Dravidians of the south is not a racial division. Biologically bo th the north and south Indians are of the same Caucasian race, only when closer to the equator the skin becomes darker, and under the influence of constant heat the bodily frame tends to become a little smaller. While we can speak of some racial differences between north and south Indian people, they are only secondary.

For example, if we take a typical person from Punjab, another from Maharash- tra, and a third from Tamilnadu we will find that the Maharashtrians generally fall in between the other two in terms of build and skin color. We see a gradual shift of characteristics from north to south, but no real different race. An Aryan and Dravidian race in India is no more real than a north and a south European race. Those who use such terms are misusing language. We would just as well place the blond Swede of Europe in a different race from the darker haired and skinned person of southern Italy.

Nor is the Caucasian race the "white" race. Caucasians can be of any color from pure white to almost pure black, with every shade of brown in between. The predominent Caucasian type found in the world is not the blond-blue-eyes northern European but the black hair, brown-eyed darker skinned Mediterranean type that we find from southern Europe to north India. Similarly the Mongolian race is not yellow. Many Chinese have skin whiter than many so-called Cauca- sians. In fact of all the races, the Caucasian is the most variable in its skin color. Yet many identification forms that people fill out today in the world still define race in terms of color.

North and South Indian Religions

Scholars dominated by the Aryan Dravidian racial idea have tried to make some Hindu gods Dravidian and other gods Aryan, even though there has been no such division within Hindu culture. This is based upon a superficial identifi- cation of deities with color i.e. Krishna as black and therefore Dravidian, which we have already shown the incorrectness of. In the Mahabharat, Krishna traces his lineage through the Vedic line of the Yadus, a famous Aryan people of the north and west of India, and there are instances as far back as the Rig Veda of seers whose names meant dark (like Krishna Angiras or Shyava Atreya).

Others say that Shiva is a Dravidian god because Shaivism is more prominent in south than in north India. However, the most sacred sites of Shiva are Kailash in Tibet, Kashmir, and the city of Varanasi in the north. There never was any limitation of the worship of Shiva to one part of India.

Shiva is also said not to be a Vedic god because he is not prominent in the Rig Veda, the oldest Vedic text, where deities like Indra, Agni and Soma are more prevalent than Rudra (the Vedic form of Shiva). However, Rudra-Shiva is dominent in the Atharva and Yajur Vedas, as well as the Brahmanas, which are also very old Vedic texts. And Vedic gods like Indra and Agni are often identi- fied with Rudra and have many similar characteristics (Indra as the dancer, the destroyer of the cities, and the Lord of power, for example). While some differences in nomenclature do exist between Vedic and Shaivite or Vedic and any other later teachings like the Vaishnava or Shakta - and we would expect a religion to undergo some development through time - there is nothing to show any division between Vedic and Shaivite traditions, and certainly nothing to show that it is a racial division. Shiva in fact is the deity most associated with Vedic ritual and fire offerings. He is adorned with the ashes, the bhasma, of the Vedic fire.

Early investigators also thought they saw a Shaivite element in the so-call ed Dravidian Indus Valey civilization, with the existence of Shivalinga like sacred objects, and seals resembling Shiva. However, further examination has also found large numbers of Vedic like fire-altars replete with all the tradi- tional offers as found in the Hindu Brahmanas, thus again refuting such simplistic divisions. The religion of the Indus (Saraswati) culture appears to include many Vedic as well as Puranic elements.

Some hold that Shaivism is a south Indian religion and the Vedic religion is north Indian. However, the greatest supporter of Vedanta, Shankaracharya, was a Dravidian Shaivite from Kerala. Meanwhile many south Indian kings have been Vaishnavites or worshippers of Vishnu (who is by the same confused logic considered to be a north Indian god). In short there is no real division of India into such rigid compartments as north and south Indian religions, though naturally regional variations do exist.

Aryan and Dravidian Languages

The Indo-European languages and the Dravidian do have important differences. Their ways of developing words and grammer are different. However, it is a misnomer to call all Indo-European languages Aryan. The Sanskrit term Aryan would not apply to European languages, which are materialistic in orientation, bacause Aryan in Sanskrit means spiritual. When the term Aryan is used as indicating certain languages, the term is being used in a Western or European sense that we should remember is quite apart from its traditional Sanskrit meaning, and implies a racial bias that the Sanskrit term does not have.

We can speak of Indo-European and Dravidian languages, but this does not necessarily mean that Aryan and Dravidian must differ in culture, race or religion. The Hungarians and Finns of Europe are of a different language group than the other Europeans, but we do not speak of them as of a Finnish race, or the Finns as being non-Europeans, nor do we consider that their religious beliefs must therefore be unrelated to those of the rest of Europe.

Even though Dravidian languages are based on a different model than Sanskrit there are thirty to seventy per cent Sanskrit words in south Indian languages like Telugu and Tamil, which is much higher percentage than north Indian languages like Hindi. In addition both north and south Indian languages have a similar construction and phraseology that links them close together, which European languages often do not share. This has caused some linguists even to propose that Hindi was a Dravidian language. In short, the language compart- ments, like the racial ones, are not as rigid as has been thought.

In fact if we examine the oldest Vedic Sanskrit, we find similar sounds to Dravidian languages (the cerebral letters, for example), which are not present in other Indo-European tongues. This shows either that there were already Drvidians in the same region as the Vedic people, and part of the same culture with them, or that Dravidian languages could also have been early off-shoots of Sanskrit, which was the theory of the modern rishi, Sri Aurobindo. In addition the traditional inventor of the Dravidian languages was said to have been none other than Agastya, one of the most important rishis of the Rig Veda, the oldest Sanskrit text.

Dravidians in Vedic/Puranic Lore

Some Vedic texts, like the Aitareya Brahmana or Manu Samhita, have looked at the Dravidians as people outside of the Vedic culture. However, they do not look at them as indigenous or different people but as fallen descendants of Vedic kings, notably Vishwamitra. These same texts look upon some people of north India, including some groups from Bengal, as also outside of Vedic culture, even though such people were Indo-European in language.

Other texts like the Ramayana portray the Dravidians, the inhabitants of Kishkindha (modern Karnataka), as allies of Aryan kings like Rama. The Vedic rishi Agastya is also often portrayed as one of the progenitors of the Dravid- ian peoples. Hence there appears to have been periods in history when the Dravidians or some portion of them were not looked on with favour by some followers of Vedic culture, but this was largely temporary.

If we look through the history of India, there has been some time when almost every part of India has been dominated for a period by unorthodox traditions like Buddhist, Jain or Persian (Zoroastrian), not to mention outside religions like Islam or Christianity, or dominated by other foreign conquerors, like the Greeks, the Scythians (Shakas) or the Huns. That Gujarat was a once suspect land to Vedic people when it was under Jain domination does not cause us to turn the Gujaratis into another race or religion. That something similar happened to the Dravidians at some point in history does not require making something permanently non-Aryan about them. In the history of Europe for example, that Austria once went through a protestant phase, does not cause modern Austrians to consider that they cannot be Catholics.

The kings of south India, like the Chola and Pandya dynsties, relate their lineages back to Manu. The Matsya Purana moreover makes Manu, the progenitor of all the Aryas, originally a south Indian king, Satyavrata. Hence there are not only traditions that make the Dravidians descendants of Vedic rishis and kings, but those that make the Aryans of north India descendants of Dravidian kings. The two cultures are so intimately related that it is difficult to say which came first. Any differences between them appear to be secondary, and nothing like the great racial divide that the Aryan-Dravidian idea has promoted.

Dravidians as Preservers of Vedic Culture

Through the long and cruel Islamic assault on India, south India became the land of refuge for Vedic culture, and to a great extent remains so to the present day. The best Vedic chanting, rituals and other traditions are preser- ved in south India. It is ironic therefore that the best preservers of Aryan culture in India have been branded as non-Aryan. This again was not something part of the Aryan tradition of India, as part of the misinterpretation of the term Aryan fostered by European thought which often had a political or religi- ous bias, and which led to the Nazis. To equate such racism and violence with the Vedic and Hindu religion, the least aggressive of all religions, is a rather sad thing, not to say very questionable scholarship.

Dravidians do not have to feel that Vedic culture is any more foreign to them than it is to the people of north India. They need not feel that they are racially different than the people of the north. They need not feel that they are losing their culture by using Sanskrit. Nor need they feel that they have to assert themselves against north India or Vedic culture to protect their real heritage.

Vedic and Hindu culture has never suppressed indigenous cultures or been opposed to cultral variations, as have the monolithic conversion religions of Christianity and Islam. The Vedic rishis and yogis encouraged the develop- ment of local traditions. They established sacred places in all the regions in which their culture spread. They did not make everyone have to visit a single holy place like Meca, Rome or Jerusalem. Nor did they find local or tribal deities as something to be eliminated as heathen or pagan. They respected the common human aspiration for the Divine that we find in all cultures and encouraged diversity and uniqueness in our approach to it.

Meanwhile the people of north India also need not take this north-south division as something fundamental. It is not a racial difference that makes the skin of south Indians darker but merely the effect of climate. Any Caucasian race group living in the tropics for some centuries or millennia would eventually turn dark. And whatever color a person's skin may be has nothing to do with their true nature according to the Vedas that see the same Self or Atman in all.

It is also not necessary to turn various Vedic gods into Dravidian gods to give the Dravidians equality with the so-called Aryans in terms of the numbers or antiquity of their gods. This only gives credence to what is superficial distinction in the first place. What is necessary is to assert what is truly Aryan in the culture of India, north or south, which is high or spiritual values in character and action. These occur not only in the Vedas but also the Agamas and other scriptures within the greater tradition.

The Aryans and Dravidians are part of the came culture and we need not speak of them as separate. Dividing them and placing them at odds with each other serves the interests of neither but only serves to damage their common culture (which is what most of those who propound these ideas are often seek- ing). Perhaps the saddest thing is that modern Indian politicians have also used this division to promote their own ambitions, though it is harmful to the unity of the country.

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