Prehistoric Period

Indus Valley Civilization

Vedic Era

Rivals to Hinduism

Mauryan Empire

Gupta Empire

Period of Political Instability

Period of Muslim Dominance

India Under British Rule

The Indian Republic

 

© 2003 David Koeller.  All rights reserved.

 

The Aryan Migrations

1500-1200 BC

 

The Indus Valley (or Harappan) Civilization was the largest civilization in the world during its reign from 3000 to 1500 BC. This culture was unique in that its cities were extraordinarily similar throughout a geographically widespread area, yet there is no physical evidence of a central unifying government. Regardless, the civilization appears to have been very peaceful, with an emphasis on trade rather than agriculture or war. For reasons yet undetermined, this civilization began to deteriorate around 2000 BC, with little of it remaining by 1500 BC.

Back to "Indus Valley Civilization" Chronology

A group of warrior nomads, the Aryans, began to migrate into the Indus Valley region around the time that the Harappan Civilization began to decline. Scholars disagree about whether the Aryans overtook the Harappan Civilization by force, or simply moved in and coexisted with them during their decline. Regardless, the nomadic Aryans were predominately a cattle-breeding society, and they learned how to live as settled agriculturists from the remaining Harappan people. Therefore, the Aryans absorbed remnants of the Harappan Civilization and integrated them into their own culture to form the Vedic culture. Since the Indus Valley Civilization left no written records, the nature of the transition from the Harappan culture to the resulting Vedic culture is that much more a mystery.

There are several possible arguments against the idea of Aryan invasions. According to the invasion theory, the Aryans were a group of primitive nomads who came out of Central Asia with chariots, iron weapons, and superior battle tactics; and thus overthrew the Indus Valley culture. However, this theory can be called into question for several reasons. First, there has been no evidence of horses, chariots, or iron discovered at the Indus Valley excavation sites. Also, the idea of Aryans using chariots has been questioned since they are not typically the vehicles of nomads, and chariots would not have been suitable for crossing the mountainous terrain that an Aryan invasion would have required. Further, some scholars assert that excavation evidence points to internal factors and floods as the cause of destruction of the Harappan culture rather than outside invasion.

However, other scholars argue that the Aryans were undoubtedly a conquering people when they first spread into India, then they gradually mixed with the indigenous Harappan culture. According to this view, the Aryans were a fierce and conquering people whose culture was oriented around warfare. Their religion also reflected their culture, as it was dominated by warring storm-gods and sky-gods. This warlike nature was preserved in the later Vedic religion (see the "Rig Veda"), where the god Indra was portrayed as a conquering deity who smashed cities and killed enemies. In the "Hymn to Parusha" in the "Rig Veda", the god Parusha sacrificed himself to himself, and out of his parts came the different classes of Indian peoples. This became the basis for the socially stratified caste system. Perhaps the Aryans used this creation myth to subjugate the darker-skinned people they conquered (the Harappans). Further, the Aryans saw themselves as superiors to the people they conquered as evidenced in the Indo-European root word of their name, "ar", meaning "noble" or "superior".

Therefore, the two sides of the argument are clear enough. Either the Aryans and Harappans mixed together and became peaceful, or the Aryans came in as a conquering people, became the ruling class, and instituted the caste system to maintain control. Scholars still debate, however, as to what actually occurred.


Bibliography:

Frawley, David. The Myth of the Aryan Invasion.
http://www.hindunet.org/hindu_history/ancient/aryan/aryan_frawley.html

Hooker, Richard. Ancient India – The Aryans.
http://www.wsu.edu:8080/~dee/ANCINDIA/ARYANS.HTM

Thapar, Romila. A History of India. Penguin Books. P28-49.


Edited and Researched Emily Mc Carty
Written by Corri Ferguson
26 October 1998

Text © 1998 by David W. Koeller.  All rights reserved.