Delhi University’s Sanskrit department has thrown its weight behind a project that could possibly rewrite history to fit the Sangh Parivar’s view of India’s past — a move that’s likely to gain political colour considering the resounding victory of the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party in the general election.
Here’s what most history books tell us — first there was the Indus Valley Civilization that flourished in places such as Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa. Then, around 3,500 years ago, this went into decline as the Aryan nomadic tribes crossed the mountains and entered India.
But the Hindu nationalist narrative, as espoused by the Sangh Parivar and its affiliates, disputes what they call a European-imposed narrative. They say the Aryans were an indigenous people — not migrants.
The project was announced last week by Delhi University’s Sanskrit department in the presence of OP Kohli — a BJP leader recently appointed Gujarat governor — and vice-chancellor Dinesh Singh at an event marking 60 years of Sanskrit research.Sanskrit department head Ramesh Bharadwaj strongly denied that this was an attempt to validate a particular party line and that he was only interested in putting forward a convincing academic argument. Singh for his part has come under intense criticism for implementing a four-degree undergraduate programme that’s been withdrawn after the new government was formed.
The project is unlikely to find the support of the university’s history department. “This is a meaningless debate. We all now know that the entire human race can trace its ancestry back to Africa. So how does it matter whether Aryans were indigenous to our country or were outsiders? There are far more serious issues of archaeological and scientific research that need to addressed in our country,” said Nayanjot Lahiri, a professor of archaeology in the history department at Delhi University.
There’s no evidence to back the claim, said renowned historian DN Jha, who specialises in ancient and medieval Indian history.
“This debate is not new, but I can say that at present there is no scientific evidence to prove that Indo-Aryans were indigenous to our subcontinent. But since the political ambience in the country has changed, there will be many such attempts to prove this,” said Jha, who used to be a Delhi University professor. “I have no comment to offer except that a serious historian will only dismiss such research.
Moreover, the Sanskrit department of Delhi University is not at all competent to go into such questions.” The idea is to disprove the Aryan migration theory, proposed by German linguist and Sanskrit scholar Max Mueller, using scientific facts.
“There are two schools of thought as far as the origin of the Indo-Aryans is concerned. We want to collate archaeological and new scientific evidence along with the Sanskrit department’s own research of ancient manuscripts and texts to prove that Indian culture was not a foreign import,” said Bharadwaj, who argued that the opposite was true.
“In fact, the Aryans belonged to the subcontinent and migrated from here and influenced cultures abroad,” he said.
The last NDA government had made an attempt to disprove the Aryan migration theory by changing the history textbooks in 2004, the year in which it lost the general election. Human resource development ministry officials declined to comment on the matter.
Sanskrit dept to rope in YS Rao
The Sanskrit department will soon seek the help of YS Rao, recently appointed head of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) by the BJP government, to collate historical evidence. Rao did not respond to ET’s calls and emails. Rao is a controversial figure, having once written in support of the caste system besides blaming Muslim rule for India’s social ills.
His stand on a strongly divisive issue was made clear by his support for the contention that the Babri Masjid was built on the site of a temple.Nationalistic scholars have argued that there are several linguistic, archaeological, literary and, more recently, genetic pieces of evidence to support the belief that Aryans originated in the Indian subcontinent. The issue was one of the most hotly contested debates in Western and Indian academic circles throughout the 1990s.
Bharadwaj pointed to the pattern of similarities between ancient Sanskrit words and ancient words in classical Western languages as one of the linguistic examples of Indian influence on cultures abroad.
He also cited similarities between the architecture and culture of the Indus Valley Civilization and Mesopotamian Civilisation, the latter considered the cradle of civilization in the west.
As for genetic evidence, a study published by scientists from the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology in Hyderabad said that the origin of genetic diversity found in South Asia is much older than 3,500 years, when the Indo-Aryans were said to have begun migrating to India.
The study had appeared in the American Journal of Human Genetics in 2011. “Many phonetic laws of French language are the same as the one formulated by ancient Sanskrit grammarian Panini. The German language is also similar to Sanskrit.
So when there is so much evidence in favour of our view, then there must be an effort to bring some finality to this debate. Why should we continue teaching the European theory to our children?” Bharadwaj said.
According to Bharadwaj, the Sanskrit department will start holding workshops with different scholars in January next year in pursuit of its project.