Sunday, February 15, 2009

Aryan Dravidian Rift - It's more of a political than historical concept

There has been too much of controversy with regards to the origin of the people of Indus Valley.  A common view, endorsed by likes of Jawaharlal Nehru in 'Discovery of India' and later acknowledged by Amartya Sen in 'The Argumentative India', is that they belonged to the dark skinned Dravidian people, the original inhabitants of the Indian subcontinent.  By 1700s, when the Indus Valley civilization was on decline, might be due to drying up of rivers, floods or some other natural calamity, the fair skinned Indo-Aryans had already started migrating into India through the same regions where the Indus Valley had flourished. Though there is no evidence of any invasion by the Aryans but it’s not unlikely that the incoming Aryans had some confrontations with the native people. The Aryans had a different physique culture and gradually they might have overshadowed the natives to a great extent. Also those were the times when the erstwhile flourishing Indus Valley Civilization was declining fast. Cultivation and trade and commerce would have also declined. The incoming Aryans might have been stronger than the people of the declining Indus Valley Civilization. It's not unlikely that the incoming Aryans, belonging to a larger Indo-Aryan group of people who had already scattered across various parts of West Asia and East Europe, would have got a good hold of the land trade routes, like Silk Route, across Asia. There are references of Chinese silk in Mahabharata. Thus access to prosperous trade would have made the Aryans quite strong financially. On the contrary the native people of the declining Indus Valley might have become economically quite fragile due to the breakdown of their civilization due to natural calamities. Being vulnerable in front of the stronger Aryans, the natives might have gradually migrated away from the areas occupied by the Aryans and moved towards the South. The natives who stayed back were not thrown out or enslaved by the Aryans. They were eventually accommodated in the lowest stratum of the society as Shudras, doing agricultural and other household tasks for the upper three classes or Varnas – namely Brahmanas (the teachers and priests), Kshatriayas (the rulers or warriors) and Vaishyas (the traders). The present day Brahuilanguage spoken in some parts of Pakistan has striking similarities with Tamil, the mother of all Dravidian languages.  This is also perhaps evidence that some of the natives of the Indus Valley Civilization did stay back. The natives who moved to the south established prosperous civilizations and for quite some time didn’t have much of interactions with the Aryans of the north. 

This whole theory has been much exploited for being racist. The Tamil politicians of the 60s exploited the racial angle of this theory to create a divide between the North and South Indian people in South India, specially Tamil Nadu. But a closer look into the history would make it very clear that there's not much of the racism or discrimination based on the theory of the fair skinned Aryans gradually submerging the native dark-skinned Dravidians in North.

Some historians do accept the theory of Aryan migration but reject the Dravidian connection of Indus Valley Civilization on the ground that there's not much commonality between the subsequent Dravidian civilization in Southern India, which was predominantly rural, with the urbanized Indus Valley.

I don’t think the theory of Aryan migration is racist. In any other place any new and more powerful immigrant has always treated the natives very badly. In most cases they were enslaved or even executed, the most recent example being the handling of the Native Americans by the European settlers. But on the contrary the Aryans neither executed nor enslaved the natives. Off course they were not given the highest social status, but they were indeed accommodated in the Aryan society. I've mentioned earlier, that it's not unlikely that the native people might have become financially quite fragile during the period of decline of the Indus Valley Civilization and it's not irrational for the stronger Aryans to use them as labourers or workers. Similar things happen even now-a-days. The maid servant working at my house in Bangalore is a native where as I've migrated from outside. But still she has been put in a 'class' lower than me just because of the financial conditions. So accomodating the economically weaker natives in a lower class is not something unusual or vindictive. The issues of untouchability, which is a much later phenomenon in Indian society, can't be attributed completely to the Aryan class system, which was purely based on the division of labour. Though there was a gradation in the class system, but still all the four classes had their own importance in the society. There are enough references of people from the 'Shudra' class attaining very important positions in society. Mahabharata mentiones thatVeda Vyasa, the person to whom is attributed the authorship of Mahabharata and compilation of the Vedas, is dark skinned and belongs to a 'Shudra' fishermen class. Even the most popular of the personalities from Mahabharata, Krishna, is raised in a family of milkmen, Yadavas, which also belong to a lower class. Even Krishna is described to be dark skinned. So it’s not very correct to connote the theory of Aryan migration as racist. 

It took more than 1000 years for the Indus Valley Civilization to reach the rich Harappan phase and after that it survived for less than a millenium. The migration towards south would have started by 1700BC, the time when the Indus Valley Civilization started declining. From that time it took about 1000 years for the Dravidians to establish the prosperous Pandya, Chera and Chola Kingdoms in south India. Rich cities, prosperous kingdoms, flourishing trade and important ports came up in the south by 5th century BC. Those civilizations might not have been exact replicas of the Indus Valley, but then why should we assume that the same lot of people would replicate something of the past? The urbanization of the Indus Valley Civilization might have been the need of the time to remain economically prosperous. Some thousand years down the line, it's not neccessary that a similar establishment would serve the same purpose. Throughout the world the earliest forms of most of the ancient civilizations have been in the form of City States. The earliest form of civilization in Mesopotamia were the Sumerian States. The Greek and the Roman civilizations also started with City States. But with expansion of the civilization it's not feasible to have cities throughout a large kingdom or empire. The same is also true for the Indus Valley Civilization, which gradually evolved into later smaller and then bigger kingdoms both in the Aryan North and Dravidian South.

The Aryan and Dravidian, both are important components of Indian history and culture. It's nonsense to promote any theory of discrimination or superiority. Throughout the history there have been rise and decline of civilizations. No empire lasted for ever and no race could maintain their supremacy for ever. One kingdom declines and the other rises. One race starts something and someone else evolves it and takes it to a new dimension. That's what has happened throughout our history. The Dravidians started the earliest civilization in India in the north. Then came the Aryans and became prominent in the North. But the Dravidians continued with their civilizations in the south. And in between there was amalgamataion to such extent that it's really hard to say whether I, a Bengali, is more Aryan or Dravidian.

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