Social Scientist. v 24, no. 272-74 (Jan-Mar 1996) p. 3.


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ROMILATHAPAR*

The Theory of Aryan Race and India: History and Politics**

The invention of an Aryan race in nineteenth century Europe was to have, as we all know, far-reaching consequences on world history. Its application to European societies culminated in the ideology of Nazi Germany. Another sequel was that it became foundational to the interpretation of early Indian history and there have been attempts at a literal application of the theory to Indian society. Some European scholars now describe it as a nineteenth century myth.1 But some contemporary Indian political ideologies seem determined to renew its life. In this they are assisted by those who still carry the imprint of this nineteenth .century theory and treat it as central to the question of Indian identity. With the widespread discussion on 'Aryan origins' in the print media and the controversy over its treatment in school textbooks, it has become the subject of a larger debate in terms of its ideological underpinnings rather than merely the differing readings among archaeologists and historians.

I intend to begin by briefly sketching the emergence of the theory in Europe, in which the search for the Indian past also played a role. I would like to continue with various Indian interpretations of the theory which have been significant to the creation of modern Indian identities and to nationalism. Finally, I would like to review the major archaeological and literary evidence which questions the historical interpretations of the theory and implicitly also its political role.2

It was initially both curiosity and the colonial requirement of knowledge about their subject peoples, that led the officers of the East India Company serving in India to explore the history and culture of the colony which they were governing. The time was the late eighteenth century. Not only had the

* Emeritus Professor of History at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

** This is an expanded version of the text of a lecture delivered at the 40th International Conference of Eastern Studies in Tokyo, 26 May 1995. The text is reproduced with the permission of the Toho Gakkai, the sponsor of the Conference.

Social Scientist, Vol. 24, Nos. 1-3, January-March 19<*#



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