In 1853, a German anthropologist
(specifically, one then called an "Orientalist") named Max Müller
suggested an explanation for the similarity between the languages of India
, and other parts of Europe. Further, his idea claimed to give a reason for the difference in features and skin color
between the peoples of Northern and Southern India. If true, it would also lend credence to the nationalistic ideas of European racial/cultural superiority that were beginning to circulate in Germany
and elsewhere at the time -- and yes, one Adolf Hitler
would later go on to push these ideas to their illogical extreme. It would also legitimize the ever greater role of leadership that Britain
was taking in India.
Müller proposed that between 2000 and 1500 B.C.E., the Arya, a light-skinned race of horse-riding central Asian invaders, pushed West through Northern India, and then on in to Southern Europe. In so doing they had conquered the already-present Dravidian inhabitants of India, who had by that time built Harappa, Mohenjo-Daro, and other large cities. Also, their language and racial features would've entered the areas they passed through, and spread further in the next few centuries before the classical Greek civilization. For evidence of invasion conflicts in the Rig Veda and other Vedic literature were cited, as well as the massed bodies discovered in a few ancient excavated cities. For evidence of the non-Aryan nature of the preexisting culture, the absence of horses and lack of Vedic gods were noted. Finally, the central Vedic theme of a war between the powers of light and darkness -- common to hundreds of other mythologies the world over -- was interpreted to mean a war between light and dark skinned peoples.
Interestingly, Müller also pointed out that in the Sanskrit Vedic literature the prefixes Ar- and Arya- denote a person of high caste, a nobleman or righteous person -- the very image a conquering race would have of itself. This same root shows up elsewhere as well. For instance, the ruler of Persia had the title of Shahenshah Arya Mehr, meaning King of Kings, Light of the Arya. Iran, Persia's name in the twentieth century, comes from the same root, as does that of Ireland, of all places.
It has turned out, over the course of the past hundred years or so, that the Aryan invasion theory is more-or-less likely to be entirely false. For one, the Vedic culture is continuous throughout Northern and Southern India, without enough difference between what the supposedly invaded areas practice and what the "native Dravidian" areas practice for the former to have spread purely culturally to the latter. Plus, upon further excavations, horse skeletons and ironwork have been found in Dravidian settlements abandoned before any of the given dates for the Aryan invasion. Vedic literature also contains reference to places within India as holy places, including seven holy cities and rivers as well as a few places of pilgrimage; were the literature written by outsiders, the likelihood is much more that the holy sites would have been outside of the conquered territory. Finally, radiocarbon dating of the bones found in the Harappan cities shows them to have died sometime before 2000 B.C.E., before the Aryan invasion was guessed to have happened. More strikingly, this dating coincides with the collapse of the Akkadian society, and societies in Palestine and Egypt -- in other words, a global climatic change was probably responsible for them all. Put together, the evidence points for a continuous occupation of India by those who consider themselves in their own literature to be Aryans.
Unfortunately for Indian culture, the Aryan invasion theory is still being taught at least as a reasonable possibility in the school system left over from the country's colonial period. In 1997 a scholar named Dr. Natwar Jha discovered1 the translation key to the old script of the Harappan civilization, which was assumed until then (in accordance with the Aryan invasion theory) to be a Dravidian script related to modern Tamil. As it turns out, the script is much closer to an ancient form of Sanskrit, which puts yet another nail in the invasion theory. Hopefully, with Jha's discovery, the Indus valley civilization will finally be accepted throughout the world as the predecessor to modern Indian culture.
1. Gritchka says Jha's decipherment may not be very credible at all. This is probably true -- the whole AIT issue is a subject of charged debate on both sides, adding a manifold increase to the probablility of distorted facts.