The Aryan Influence in India
India was invaded around 1500 BCE by a group of people known as the Aryans. They conquered the primary inhabitants of India, who were knows as the Dayus (Sharma 844). The Aryans were comprised of quite different physical and cultural features in contrast to the Dayus; the Aryans were a white race and the Dayus were a dark race (Sharma 846). The primal Indians in the north believed in supreme gods and spirits and never believed in idolatry (Snaitang, 2004). The Aryans spoke a different language, worshipped different gods, and had different cultural practices (Habib 99). Their influence in India was prominent as the majority of Indians today speak and value the Indo-Aryan language and culture (Habib 99). This article will discuss the identity of the Aryans that migrated eastwards into India by examining their culture, language, religious beliefs and how these characteristics intermingled to form the caste system and shape society.
The Aryans had a rich culture that still influences India today. The Aryans were primarily warrior-nomadic people and their main source of wealth was cattle (Kosambi 76). However, after the migration into India there was a greater urgency to retain copper, iron ore, and minerals for profits (Kosambi 101). During this time, the head of the household gained respect primarily through trade, manufacturing, or farming (Kosambi 101). The Aryan society was patriarchal and much of the importance was placed on the male, therefore an abundance of Aryan gods were males (Kosambi 76). The women in the Aryan culture were usually housewives and the women were said to be very skilled in weaving (Kosambi 80). In technological advancements, the Aryans were mostly interested in making chariots, tools and weapons and did not concentrate much efforts into building anything else (Kosambi 80). The Aryans annexed various tribes and communities on their journey towards India and were successful because they were nomadic people and their food supply of cattle was easy to transport (Kosambi 76). They had mastered the art of using horse-chariots for war and they also held great knowledge of heavy transportation using ox-carts (Kosambi 76). The male’s communal life consisted of sabha, “denoting both the tribal assembly and its mote hall”, which was for the males only, and featured gambling, fights, chariot races and female dancers (Kosambi 81). The Aryans had a simplistic culture; however, their language was influential and distinctive.
The unique language of the Aryans was a key factor in distinguishing them from other races. Aryan is a term that can define a linguistic group, which is a group of people classified as speaking the same language, or can be defined as a race, which is a group of people who comprise of specific and distinct characteristic (Kosambi 72). The prevalent evidence throughout history suggests that Aryan was referred to as a unity of language and people. For example, the emperor Darius refers to himself as an ‘Aryan of Aryan descent’, the Vedas speaks of the Aryans as a race that worshipped the gods mentioned in the Vedas and the Medes, ancient Iranian people, used to bear the name Aryans (Kosambi 75). The language spoken by the Aryans came from the classical Aryan language which is a tree that consists of three important branches. These are Sanskrit, Greek and Latin; Sanskrit being the bearer of the Indo-Aryan Language which was spoken by the Aryans (Kosambi 72). The earlier derivatives of Sanskrit used by the Aryans are called “Pali” or “Magadhi” and “Prakrits” (Kosambi 73). The Dravidians of India, however communicated in their own language which is not a part of the classical Aryan language tree (Kosambi 73). Later on, during the Rigvedic period, Sanskrit was the predominant language. The text and verbal communication were all practiced in Sanskrit (Kosambi 84). The Aryans’ language was very influential, however their religious and social beliefs crafted the way we see India today.
The religious beliefs of the Aryans were not heavily enforced, which left them open to influence by other cultures. The Aryans invaded India around 1500 BCE and rivaled against the dark skinned inhibitors of India. The Aryans stamped the dark skinned people as “non-believers” and called them “phallus worshippers” because of the cultural difference between the two races (Kumar 2). The Aryans considered the dark skinned people to be barbarians and emphasized their superiority in the realms of their mentality, physicality, sociality and religiosity (Kumar 2). However the Dravidians, other dark skinned inhabitants of India, were considered to be tolerable by the Aryans (Kumar 2). The Dravidians had their own language and culture, which was not threatened by the Aryans (Kumar 2). The Aryans were religiously open-minded and understood the importance of non-Aryan thoughts and culture, however, they limited themselves to affiliating with cultures they found tolerable or of some importance (Kumar 3). The Upanishads, which are important Aryan religious texts, are described as having “elements of Aryan thoughts as well as non-Aryan thought” (Kumar 42). The incorporation of the Dravidian god Siva into the Vedas can also testify to the tolerant Aryan culture (Kumar 4). The open-minded Aryans also conquered many tribes and communities and made use of any foreign knowledge, as well as uniting the new communities under an Aryan language (Kosambi 77).
Religiously, the Aryans recognize the Vedas as their most valued religious text which consists of many hymns dedicated to the Aryan gods (Kosambi 77). The Vedas consist of four different texts which are the Rgveda, Yajurveda, Sasmaveda and Atharvaveda. The two focal Vedic gods depicted are Agni, the god of fire for whom the most verses in the Vedas are dedicated, and Indra, the lord of war and rain who fights the evil daemons and is profoundly known for his indulgence in Soma (Kosambi 79). Other Aryan gods includes the sun god, the creator, the destroyer and many other various gods (Kosambi 79). The Vedas are considered to be part real and part mystical. They depict real life, history, sacrifices and location, while also depicting mystical and spiritual tales (Kosambi 80). The Aryans also believed in sacrifices in order to align themselves with the cosmos which were outlined in the Vedas; some of the sacrifices included the horse sacrifice and the cattle sacrifice (Kosambi 102). The Rgveda talks about important historical events such as the Dasarajna, which is the battle of the ten kings where the Bharatas emerged victorious (Singh 6). The Bharatas are the Rgvedic tribe from which India derived its name Bharat (Singh 6). Other important texts of the Aryans were Samhitas, Barhmanas, Upanishads and Sutras (Singh 13). Hinduism is the fruit that emerged from the complex mixing of the Dravidian culture and the Aryan culture (Wolpert 575). Their deities, epics, religious texts and history merged to form the fundamental pillars of Hinduism (Wolpert 575). Hinduism is further known for the segregation of their society into different classes and castes.
The Aryans introduced the caste system to make sure they were prevalent over the other races (Wolpert 575). To create this complex new society in favor of the Aryans, the castes were divided into four classes which were the Brahmins, Ksatriyas, Vaisyas and Sudras (Kosambi 15). The Brahmins consisted of the priestly class who were responsible for the prayers, sacrifices and the people who have a connection with the gods (Sharma 846). They were given the highest respect in the society and carried a sense of authority over other castes. The Ksatriyas were the warriors and they were responsible for the protection of the communities. The Vaisay were the traders and normal commoners. The Sudras were the conquered dark skinned people who were considered the lowest class and given servant like duties such as cleaning, repairs and janitorial works (Sharma 846). Lastly, there were also the untouchables who did not fit into any caste. They were therefore not worthy of interacting with anyone in the caste system which led them to be isolated from society (Sharma 865). The Aryans had an enormous influence in India where the caste system is still prevalent in modern day.
The Aryans were the warrior nomadic people that migrated to the Indian subcontinent with their influential culture, religion and language. On further inspection we can see that the Aryan culture played a vital role in sculpting Hinduism by influencing the religion with their epics, texts and religious ideologies. The Aryans mixed with the Dravidians to create the complex religion of Hinduism. The emergence of this religion and the Aryans seeking higher recognition in contrast to the commoners led to the creation of the caste system. The caste system divided the people into various sects who were responsible for different duties within the frameworks of society; such as religious worship, trading, protecting the public and cleaning.
Habib, Irfan (2002) A Peoples History of India 2: The Indus Valley Civilization. New Delhi: Tulika Books.
Kumar L, Frederick (1991) The Philosophies of India: A New Approach. New York: The Edwin Mellen Press.
Kosambi, D. D (1996) The Culture and Civilisation of Ancient India in Historical Outline. New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House PVT LTD.
Sharma, A (2005) Dr. B. R. Ambedkar on the Aryan Invasion and the Emergence of the Caste System in India. Journal Of The American Academy Of Religion, 73(3), 843-870.
Wolpert, S (1999) India, the Multicultural Paradigm. Orbis, 43(4), 575.
Snaitang, O. L (2004) Asia Journal of Theology; Oct2004, Vol. 18 Issue 2, P398-411.
Related Topics for Further Investigations
History of India
Indus Valley Civilization
Noteworthy websites related to the topic
Article written by: Bikky Regmi March (2012) who is responsible for its content.