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Sunday, December 2, 2012

Aryan Culture and Language: A Possible Candidate for the Linguistic Identity of the Indus Civilization and Script

A brief foreword... The article which follows is largely taken from my M.A. thesis work which is entitled "Indus Epigraphic Perspectives: Exploring Past Decipherment Attempts & Possible New Approaches" (c) 2012 Paul D. LeBlanc, Ottawa (Canada). While it is unpublished, it is still important for you as a reader to be aware that I, as the author of this work, do still retain all the intellectual copyrights over it as my property (except where otherwise indicated). Although, if you are interested in quoting from it for your own scholarly purposes, you may do so, but with the provision that you source your information properly. You simply have to include me in your bibliography as follows:

LeBlanc, Paul D. "Aryan Culture and Language: A Possible Candidate for the Linguistic Identity of the Indus Civilization and Script." The Inquestia Times. Online article made available by author, dated Dec. 2012.

With this being said, if you happen to be an editor for any academic journal and happen to be seriously interested in publishing this -  or any other of my featured articles as a scholarly contribution in your own - please do contact me. The reason that I have decided to use a public blogspace forum in order to selfishly promote my own research, results from both ingenuity, and shameless self-indulgence on my part, for even thinking you would want to read it. But, nonetheless, not unlike many other scholars, I would like to think that my work merits to be read by anyone whomever finds it interesting enough to do so: If you are that person, my aim then is simply to make an interesting read available to you. If you are not that interested person, then simply do not read it and just wait and see if perhaps another future blogpost or online article feature might appeal to you more.  ; ) 


Abstract: Does the proto-Indo-European language and culture originate from the Indus Valley Civilization (ancient India)? Are the Vedic Aryans and their Sanskrit language the originators of the proto-Indo-European language family? This article will address some of these questions in addition to examining some of the more widespread theories that exist in relation to Indo-European cultural origins (Aryan Myth, the Aryan Invasion Theory, the Out-of-India Theory or Indian Urheimat Theory).


Radiocarbon dating has confidently permitted archaeologists to date early farming settlements in the Indo-Iranian borderlands, revealing them to have been established there sometime during the 5th millennium BC (McIntosh 2002: 25-26). It also been established that these same Borderlands communities that would finally give rise to towns in some areas during the 4th millennium BC were in fact culturally related to later communities that would (in the course of the second half of the 4th millennium) be accepted to have formed the nucleus of those Early Indus settlers who colonized the Indus Valley river basin in what is now termed to be the Early Indus Period, circa 3500 to 3000 BC (McIntosh 2002). The culmination of this complex regional networks of interplay that formed the "the beginnings" of the Indus Age, as it called, is the fully-fledged Mature (Harappan) Period, ca. 2600-1900 BC of the Indus Civilization (Possehl 2002). Because of all of these interrelated complex developments that occurred over long periods of space and time, archaeologists no longer simply speak of the Indus Civilization as being clearly defined in terms of its more “classic” and easily recognizable Mature (Harappan) Period. Rather, instead, the maturity of the Indus (or Harappan) culture is now considered by researchers as a later phase of development of the great Indus system. Therefore, the Indus Civilization forms an integral part of a greater whole - a piece of a bigger puzzle – which is commonly termed the Indus Age, and it is periodized accordingly into distinctly separate periods and phases (McIntosh 2002: 25-26; see also Possehl 1999; Allchin & Allchin 1982: 131-65).

     The cultural continuity that links these cultures over time and space, from as far east as the eastern edge of the arid Iranian plateau (belonging to the 5th millennium  BC era) to invariably related cultures found as far west as those belonging to the early Indus settlers (toward the end of the 4th millennium BC). Altogether, these links can be taken to signify that the origins of the Indus culture - and language - can ultimately be retraced to sites such as the early farming settlement of Mehrgarh - which dates to as early as the 8th-6th millennium BC - discovered in Baluchistan (western Pakistan) in what is considered as the central Indus Valley (Possehl 1990: 261-62, 277-79; see also Kipfer 2000: 345). There existed a script, simply termed the Indus script, which was used during the Mature (Harappan) Period, ca. 2600-1900 BC of the Indus Civilization (Possehl 2002). It is our only clue as to the linguistic identity of the Indus people and it plays a key role in many debates that pertain to the identity politics of present-day South Asians, especially in regards to the people of present-day Pakistan and India. But moreover, it finds itself to be at the crux of yet another historical problem, for the identity of the Indus culture, language, and script, could very well reveal - if ever the script is successfully deciphered - a language related to that of the ancient Aryans (Vedic Sanskrit) and if so, this could make the Indus Valley out to be the homeland (Urheimat) of the protohistorical Indo-European (PIE) language.

The Indus (or Harappan) Civilization is shown in blue, along with ancient Mesopotamia (in orange) and Egypt (in green). Image Source:

The Debate...

The polemical debate that revolves around the unresolved question of the cultural and linguistic identity of the ancient Indus Valley people and their culture is a particularly an important one for Indian scholars because they are “committed to exerting a major role on the construction and representation of the history of South Asia” in what is the present-day “postcolonial context of ancient Indian historical construction” (Bryant 2005: 468). To a great extent, this re-evaluation of the ancient past to which belongs the Indus civilization, “involves revisiting and scrutinizing the versions of history inherited from the colonial period” (Bryant 2005: 468). It is therefore not in the least surprising that scholars are attempting to reconstruct the history of the Vedic and pre-Vedic Indo-Aryan speakers since this is also a fundamental part of the cultural re-evaluation process. Vedic culture along with the Sanskrit language, evidently, situate themselves as key cultural components both at the heart of Hinduism (whatever this term may be taken to mean, for it is a conundrum unto itself) and the Indian identity – whether North or South Indian. For all these various reasons, it can reasonably be understood then why this topic is of particular interest and concerns scholars who hail from this part of the world, even if they are a accused by “Eurocentric” Indologists of being too “Indocentric” in their approach (Witzel 2005).
Examples of the Indus script. The four square artifacts with animal and human iconography are stamp seals that measure one or two inches per side. On the top right are three elongated seals that have no iconography, as well as three miniature tablets (one twisted). The tablets measure about 1.25 inches long by 0.5 inches wide. Photos courtesy of J.M. Kenoyer/ Image Source:

     The attraction and interest for Western scholars as it relates to the cultural origins and linguistic identity of the Indus Valley seems to be linked to another particularly important polemical debate, albeit intimately related. Since the 18th century discovery of the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European (IE) language family tree, many Western scholars – and Indo-Europeanists (Eists) alike – have been possessed with two interrelated preoccupying concerns; namely, i) to reconstruct the proto-historical language of the Indo-European speakers (commonly simply termed PIE), and ii) to locate the original homeland where it was anciently spoken (Bryant 2005: 468). And, the result of which, as Bryant (2005: 468) eloquently points out, is that—

Naturally, the pursuit of the origins of Western civilization has caused scholars to attempt to reconstruct the proto-histories of non-European countries that happen to partake of the Indo-European language family, such as India—indeed, the discovery of the Indo-Aryan side of the family was especially relevant, or, more precisely, foundational, to the whole endeavor.

     Hence, the theoretical views that underpin both the question of the origins of the Vedic people and the underlying language of the Indus script, are all tied up together. Only a successful decipherment of the Indus script can once and for all answer these well beleaguered questions. Edwin F. Bryant’s (2005: 492) views – in his concluding remarks on this very subject – resumes well the implications of a successful decipherment: 

Ultimately, the answer to the linguistic identity of the Indus Valley lies in our hands, but it has yet to yield its secret, despite a plethora of attempts (see Possehl 1996). If the Indus script turns out to represent an Indo-Aryan language during this period there would be massive implications and corollaries for the entire IE homeland problem, especially since shards found in Ravi suggest that the script may go back as far as 3500 BCE (Meadows 1997). In other words, an Indo-Aryan script on the subcontinent at a time frame when the Indo-Europeans were still more or less undivided (most IEists hold that the IEs were still undivided till sometime between 4500 and 3500 BCE) would constitute a formidable argument for any one choosing to locate the IE homeland in India. And all the ink spilt on attempting to date the Veda c. 1200 or 1500 BCE will merit the skepticism that Indigenous Aryanists have generally directed to such efforts. All in all, two centuries worth of IE speculation will be subverted overnight. [   ] On the other hand, if the script turns out to be any language other than Indo-Aryan, then the Indigenous case no longer merits much further serious scholarly consideration […].

     Plainly, more than anything, with these implications in mind; it becomes rather clear why the decipherment of the Indus script plays a particularly important role in the what I can best describe as an indeed very loaded contemporary socio-cultural debate in the cartography of ancient human geography. In a nutshell, if the Indus culture and language turns out to be Indo-European, then is qualifies – as Bryant mentions above – as PIE (the proto-historical Indo-European language). In a sense, such a view would then make Western civilization (as an Indo-European cultural product) out to be a foreign cultural import from Asia, as opposed to a native European one. It then makes perfect sense why so many Western scholars often adopt the Aryan Invasion scenario when studying the origins of the Vedic Aryans, because in their elaboration of ancient theoretical IE migration and expansion scenarios, in making the South Caucasus region the ancient homeland of the Indo-Aryans, European scholars are placing them in Europe proper – neighbouring the Iranian Plateau in Asia; therefore, to adopt the Invasionist approach in relation to the origins of the Aryans is to make them out to be "ancient Europeans" - a viewpoint that seems to imply somewhat of a Eurocentric position.  

     The history of India and the “shared myth” of the Āryan “invasion” and “race”, in spite of the shadow cast on it by 20th century German nationalists, does nevertheless still carry much of the initial meaning as it did in serving the ideological interests of Europe (Figueira 2002: 1). Although the Āryan Invasion theory has “contributed to Indian nationalism during the colonial period and after the departure of the British,” aside from this South Asian appropriation of the Aryan myth; in parallel fashion, it also served European scholars “as a means of expressing nineteenth-century European concerns with origins” (Figueira 2002: 1). The legacy of the Āryan myth in the 19th century was to provide certain thinkers with an origin story that could basically compete with the Biblical one and could further be used to diminish the importance of the West’s Jewish heritage (Figueira 2002). Running contrary to this though – specially with the increasing movement of secularization – more respectable contemporary Western scholars are not as preoccupied, by all accounts, in adopting any of the anti-Jewish/Semitic “racial” connotations which the Āryan myth had originally inspired in more radical thinkers of the past. Instead, it seems that the Western interest – in relation to those Western scholars who presently adopt either the Aryan Invasionist or Indigenous views in relation to the Indus culture/script – are more legitimately concerned in gaining a better understanding of a genuinely historic ancient Indo-European past, rather than a falsely highly romanticized one.[1]   
     The effect of considering the Indus civilization as a likely Indigenous Aryan culture, along with the fact that many linguists propose Sanskrit – the Indo-European (IE) language spoken by the Āryans – to be a possibly good qualifying candidate for being the mother tongue (the original progenitor) of the entire IE language family; once combined, these theoretical elements have consequently resulted in the formation of the Out of India theory (OIT), also called the Indian Urheimat (or Indian Homeland) theory. The proponents of the OIT propose that the IE language family originated in the Indian subcontinent, namely identified with the Indus civilization, and that subsequently it spread out over time to the remainder of the Indo-European speaking regions (mostly found in Europe) through a series of migrations. 

Map showing the spread of the Proto-Indo-European language from the Indus Valley. Dates are those of the "emerging non-invasionist model" according to Elst. Note that according to this map, the Arabian peninsula was Indo-European and not Semitic, c. 2000 BC (Image taken from

     Historically, one of the main proponents of the theory was the leader of the German Romantic intellectual movement, Friedrich Schlegel, who, in as early as 1808 – in his Über die Sprache und Weisheit der Indier – viewed Sanskrit as the “mother tongue of Indo-European languages” (Figueira 2002: 30) and, thus perceived India as a sort of “cradle of humanity” (ibid. 28-29; in reference to Schlegel 1906: 1.136). In his work, Schlegel (1808) was essentially “following up on Sir William Jones’ celebrated observations of 1786 concerning the relationship between Sanskrit and the major European languages” (Koerner 1995: 154). Linguistically, Schlegel’s work was pioneering, for it is in this monumental 19th century work that the language sciences can first be seen to “change from ‘linguistic botanizing’ and superficial taxonomy toward more sophisticated attempts at language typology” (ibid. 154). Schlegel “sketched a program of comparative-historical research […] to replace previous speculation about the origin of language by proper historical investigation” (ibid. 154). It was Schlegel, undoubtedly “one of the most influential early 19th-century linguistic thinkers”, who also “developed a typological framework to establish genetic relationships generally, though his focus remained the establishment of the Indo-European language family” (ibid. 154). His academic research helped not only to establish the very basis of contemporary linguistic analysis[2] but in so doing, Schlegel was also instrumental in “the establishment of the Indo-European language family as a large group of genetically related languages and as distinct from all other languages of the world” (Koerner 1995: 154). Therefore, as an authority in nascent field of Indo-European studies, Schlegel’s endorsement of Sanskrit – the language of the Vedic Āryans – as the mother-tongue of PIE (the proto-historical IE language that spawned all the rest of the descendant languages) was quite instrumental in shaping the origins of the OIT. 

Friedrich Schlegel. Image Source:
     The implications of these views, however, also had another direct consequence; to see India as the Āryan homeland and as a sort of European or Western “cradle of humanity” (Figueira 2002: 30; in reference to Schlegel 1906: 1.136). These oriental romantic ideals were also shared by other early Indo-Europeanists and leading figures from the Enlightenment period – such as Schlegel’s contemporaries, Voltaire and Immanuel Kant – who both “declared India [to be] the source of all arts and civilization” (Goodrick-Clarke 1998: 29). To further attest to this view, “[i]n a letter of 1775 Voltaire stated that he regarded the ‘dynasty of the Brahmins’ as the nation that had taught the rest of the world”, and the French Enlightenment writer goes on to write: “I am convinced that everything has come down to us from the banks of the Ganges” (ibid. 29). In regards to Kant, such idealised views of the Orient (India and surrounding areas) also appealed to him, for it is he “who suggested that mankind together with all science must have originated on the roof of the world in Tibet” and concluded that “[t]he culture of the Indians, he asserted, came from Tibet, just as all European arts came from India” (ibid. 29). 
     Unfortunately, though, these romanticized views surrounding ancient India and the Vedic Aryans would further develop and finally give rise in the 19th and 20th centuries to that same Aryan myth “which exercised a powerful and fatal influence on Nazi racial doctrine” (Goodrick-Clarke 1998: 29; see also Figueira 2002). Nonetheless, when Schlegel was preoccupying himself in establishing the relationship of the IE language family (idem), his intention was not one that was rooted in any evil intent, but rather it was an honest scholarly attempt to explain the connections between Sanskrit and European languages that William Jones had earlier brought to light (idem). 

Indus Valley swastikas. Image Source:

      In linguistic circles, the original 18th century Enlightenment version of this Out-of-India scenario fell into disfavour with a proposal made by the Ferdinand de Saussure’s (1879) proposal that the hypothetical language that should qualify as PIE should contain “laryngeals,” of which no surviving IE language possesses – Sanskrit included. Only in the 20th century, with the discovery of Hittite – long after Saussure’s death – were his observations corroborated by the decipherment of Hittite cuneiform texts, which date from the 16th to 13th century BC (Bryant 2001: 68-75). It is specifically with the decipherment of Hittite and the validation of Saussure’s laryngeal theory – as it relates to identifying PIE – that Sanskrit was officially dethroned, so to say, by historical linguists as a main contender for PIE.[3] And consequently, the homeland (Urheimat in German) of the Āryans – which had been formerly identified with ancient India in very general terms by Enlightenment Indo-Europeanists (IEists) – and the preeminent role it played in this Out-of-India scenario; was altogether marginalized before finally being disqualified as a forerunner in this theoretical debate surrounding Indo-European origins.  
     To summarize, Hittite turns out to be a much more ancient IE language than Sanskrit and its discovery has subsequently displaced the latter (and its native speakers, the Āryans) as a mother tongue to the IE language family. At present time, both the Indo-Aryan language branch – which includes among its ranks Sanskrit – and the Hittite branch, together form what are termed as sister branches in the IE family tree. Indo-Aryan and Hittite are both considered to be daughter languages of a mysterious as-of-yet unidentified PIE progenitor. According to scholars who adopt the Kurgan hypothesis formulated in the 1950s by Marija Gimbutas (1956); PIE should be situated somewhere in the Pontic-Caspian steppe at some point in time during the course of the 5th millennium BC. Despite this apparent fall from grace the OIT has suffered at the hands of the decipherment of Hittite in the early part of the 20th century, the theory has nevertheless been revitalized and has enjoyed a recent rebirth. 

Scheme of Indo-European migrations from ca. 4000 to 1000 BCE according to the Kurgan hypothesis. The magenta area corresponds to the assumed Urheimat (Samara culture, Sredny Stog culture). The red area corresponds to the area which may have been settled by Indo-European-speaking peoples up to ca. 2500 BCE; the orange area to 1000 BCE. Image Source:

The Recent Out-of-India (OIT) Revival

In as recent as the late 1990s, with the appearance of Koenraad Elst’s (1999) Update on the Aryan Invasion Debate, followed up by Shrikant G. Talageri’s (2000) The Rigveda: A Historical Analysis, a revival of the Out-of-India Theory (OIT) has occurred. Unlike their early counterparts, meaning the Romantic (e.g. Schlegel) and Enlightenment (e.g. Voltaire, Kant) European authors (idem); in contrast to their predecessors, contemporary OIT proponents are commonly more attracted to endorse this theory because it justifies the Indigenous Aryanist views (in regards to the Indus culture). The Romantics, such as Schlegel, were not aware of the existence of the Indus civilization when the original OIT was formulated, for it was more generally assumed that an ancient India loomed somewhere in the distant past. In the late 18th and 19th centuries, the only known traces of ancient India’s past were the cities of the Mauryan Empire, for the discovery of the Indus civilization was not made until more recently – when in the 1920s – excavations began at Mohenjo-daro and Harappa and “therefore took Europe by storm” (McIntosh 2008: 4). So, therefore, with the recent revival of the OIT, it is now quite specifically the Indus Valley culture in the Indigenous Aryanist view that assumes the role of the theoretical PIE homeland (Urheimat) and not simply a mysterious ancient India looming somewhere in the midst of time. (Maybe then, it should be suggested, that the theory’s name should be further revised to Out-of-Indus instead of Out-of-India in order to differentiate between what the theoretical nuances are between the meaning of the two terms.) 

     Aside form this slight change to what it is that ancient India means exactly and what it entails according to the OIT scenario, a more remarkable difference in its revived adaptation is that the theory has seemingly left the purely academic arena, and has been adopted in the public one by various Hindu nationalists who have made it the subject of a contentious debate in Indian politics. The more prominent defenders of this more recent reincarnation of the OIT include Shrikant G. Talageri, B.B. Lal, and the Flemish Belgian scholar Koenraad Elst, the latter whom scholars often accusingly term as a sort of radical “prominent foreign sympathizer of Hindutva” (A. Sokal 2006: 319, 354, nota 97). B.B. Lal (2005) is another popular figure who supports the Indigenous Aryan camp, since in his work he adopts a working assumption that “the Harappans […] were a Sanskrit-speaking people” (ibid. 63). Another view adopted by B.B. Lal, however, is that not only does he see the Indus civilization as the original homeland to the Sanskrit-speakers, but notable distinction that separates and distinguishes his views from the other Indigenous Aryanists is that he sees the Sanskrit language as the mother-tongue of the entire IE language family rather than another offshoot or daughter branch of it. Therefore, Lal's views are not unlike Schlegel's who, long before him, also opted for an Out-of-India (OIT) origin for PIE - and this when the classic OIT formulation forst appeared, at the very onset of Indo-European linguistic studies.

     It does not go unnoticed that the adoption of the Out-of-India theoretical viewpoint does still contain some of the elements of an invasion theory. It could be argued that – theoretically speaking – if the Indus civilization is to be considered by (Aryanists) scholars as both the Āryan and PIE homeland, then by all means the implication is that following the Indus’ Collapse Period (ca. 1800-1600 BC [Possehl 1999]), the first appearance of Indo-Āryan tribes appearing in the not so distant Gangetic Valley Plain shortly thereafter (ca. 1700 BC [Avari 2007: 60-85]), in what is commonly termed as the Rgvedic period, could be seen as an Āryan invasion of sorts. It is at this point, around 1700 BC, that Vedic Sanskrit language and culture can be seen to have first been introduced in mainland India, which at this time would have been “presumably occupied by non-Aryans” (Talageri 2000: Section IV.D.) [Talageri's [2000] work as it appears online lacks page numbers. It does, however, contain divisions in the text to which I shall allude to in my reference to it.] Thus, in seeing the Indus as being both the original Āryan and PIE homeland (as proposed by the OIT scholars), these theoretical views that see Indus-Āryans spreading into mainland India from the northwest, as remarked by Talageri (2000) himself, one of the main defenders of the OIT; is nevertheless still “just one step away from the full-fledged Aryan invasion theory” (ibid. Section IV.D.). Regarding the polemics of all this, Talageri (2000: Section IV.D.) adds: 

All this may appear to be a case of hair-splitting: if the Aryan homeland was in northwestern India, is that area, the Indus region, a foreign land, that any movement from the northwest into India should be treated as a foreign invasion? After all, the Mauryas, the Guptas, the Marathas, etc. at various points of time in our later history, started out from one corner of our country and established empires covering large parts of India. [   ] We will not enter into a contentious debate on this point: we will only note that the northwest is not just any part of India, it is the entry-point to India, or the exit-point from India, for migratory movements and expansions. And acceptance of an invasion from the northwest is just one step away from acceptance of an invasion from outside, especially if that invasion is assumed to have brought a completely new language, religion and culture which later engulfed the rest of India.

     One of the differences to be found in Talageri’s version of the OIT, it should be noted, is that whereas he considers the Indus as the Aryan Sanskrit-speaking homeland, he does not consider Sanskrit to be the Proto-Indo-European language (PIE), the common ancestor of the language family. This distinction contrasts with the original European proponents of the OIT, namely William Jones and the German Romantic Schlegel (idem), who argued that Sanskrit was PIE. Instead, Talageri argues that Vedic Sanskrit is mother-tongue to the Indo-Iranian sub-family (or branch) of the IE language family – and not the entire IE family. 

     To summarize some of Talageri’s (2000) somewhat complex views on the matter, his adaptation of the Out-of-India theory implies that the Indo-Iranian “mythical homeland” is to be situated in the Kashmir, while the PIE homeland (according to him) ultimately traces its origins in the region of Haryana, from where Rigvedic Āryans (speaking a related language that could possibly be a sister to the Indo-Aryan branch) would have then migrated to other areas before moving on westward into Iran and onwards to Europe (ibid. I.5 and II.7). Talageri claims that his views are based on “scriptural evidence in the Puranas (texts of the first millennium AD only) for his emigration” (Witzel 2006b: 223). However, as Witzel (2006b) remarks, Talageri has misinterpreted the Puranic passages in question, therefore making his unfounded theoretical viewpoints “simply a product of revisionist fantasy” (ibid. 223). The fact that Talageri makes PIE and its “people” come from the Maharashtra area, as Witzel mockingly scorns, coincides with the fact that it is “Talageri’s own homeland” (ibid. 223). Essentially, the main critique that can be levelled at Talageri is that his ideas are characterized as being a “truly Indocentric, pseudo-Purānic fantasy” (Witzel 2005: 355) that mainly relies on “some king lists of the Epics and Puranas, which date to millennia after the alleged facts and refer to a different political situation” (Witzel 2006b: 223; in reference to Witzel 1995, 2001a: 30, §12.2). To say the least, his views are seen as being both marginal as well as achronological by more mainstream scholars.  
     Unfortunately for those more moderate scholars who do agree with some of the OIT theoretical scenarios, it appears to their dismay that some of the more radical views expressed by Hindutva adherents seem to make it rather difficult to have any association with this school of thought. [“Hindutva n (in India) a political movement advocating Hindu nationalism and the establishment of a Hindu state" (possesses a literal meaning of "Hinduness"). Collins English Dictionary HarperCollins Publishers (Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition), (accessed: August 10, 2012)]; see also Bhatt 2001, 77-113.] The claims made by OIT scholars are often seen by non-supporters as being simply too “contentious” to be taken seriously (Bhatt 2001: 205). For example, Chetan Bhatt (2001) dismissively qualifies this most recent incarnation of the OIT and “the enormous body of autodidact and dilletantist literature published in India and the US [and] Pakistan” (ibid. 205). Bhatt is of the conviction that the OIT views basically reflect merely “another current of archaic nationalist legitimation for a recently born nation” that is “preoccupied with demonstrating that Aryans were indigenous to India” (ibid. 205). In this vain, the OIT theorists are seemingly treated with the same contempt as those who have promulgated the Aryan myth in the recent past. This much can be seen in Bhatt’s critical assessment, for he mockingly scorns OIT supporters, even going so far as to relegate their root cause – what he terms as the “Arya ideal” – to the realm of myth-making and merely symptomatic of modern nation-building as far as contemporary Indian – and to a lesser degree, Pakistani – identity politics are concerned (ibid. 41-76, 205-6). Bhatt (2001: 205) writes:

The most contentious of its [the OIT school of thought] claims is that the Indus Valley civilization was Aryan, its language Sanskritic, and its gods and goddesses Vedic. The Indus Valley civilization has also been erroneously redesignated in Hindutva literature as the ‘Indus Saraswati civilization’, because ‘Saraswati’ is a Rig Vedic deity, a later Hindu name for a goddess, and an unidentified river. [...] Hindutva adherents have claimed that ‘Saraswati’ refers to an ancient river bed in the north and north-west of the subcontinent recently discovered by Landsat imaging, demonstrating again the older Hindutva Aryanist obsessions with river, water and landscape, though the actual referent of the Avestan and Rig Vedic literature is unknown. Central to Hindutva claims is the resurrection of an earlier European idea, the basis of Romantic and early Enlightenment attacks on clerical authority and the biblical chronology of humankind, that India received the first revelation and was the cradle of world civilizations. However, Hindutva supporters of these views contend that the denial of Aryan autochthony in India is an example of ‘racist’, ‘colonialist’ and ‘Christian’ chauvinism [...]. Hindutva writers are arguing against late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century paradigms that few contemporary scholars accept. However, their interventions, against what they have dubbed the Western ‘Aryan Invasion Theory’ (AIT), in contrast to their ‘out of India’ (OIT) claims, have dramatically affected contemporary Indological and South Asianist disciplines within and outside India. Hindutva claims about the Indus Valley civilization have not been substantiated and contrary evidence is overwhelming (see variously Mallory 1989, Jha 1998, Sharma 1999, Thapar ‘Hindutva and history’, Frontline, 13 October 2000, Witzel and Farmer ‘Horseplay at Harappa’, Frontline, 13 October 2000).

     The language which Bhatt employs above in his harsh criticism towards the OIT proponents is basically the same opposition usually reserved for Hindutva adherents – a Hindu nationalist political movement which he fiercely opposes. The fact of the matter is that the two – the Hindutva movement, as well as the OIT supporters – have in recent times become intimately linked and enmeshed together through the renewed support OIT scholars have received through various post-1980s Hindu nationalist movements that share the unabashedly pro-Aryan ideological strand (Bhatt 2001: 77-112). Such an existing political affiliation between the OIT theory/theorists and contemporary Indian politics has ultimately had the consequent effect of seemingly isolating these views to the realm of South Asia. It appears that, any European – or rather any non-Indian/Hindu Western scholar – who adopts any of the OIT scenarios (or rhetoric) is immediately seen as suspect (by his/her fellow scholars) and consequently treated as a sort of pro-Hindu nationalist or qualified, if not altogether dismissed, as a Hindutva sympathizer. And, not too surprisingly, this is indeed exactly the type of label which is placed on the right-wing Flemish (Belgian) nationalist scholar Koenraad Elst (2005a, 2005b), the most prominent of the non-Indian OIT scholars (a label most notably placed on Elst by Michael Witzel [2006b, 223]). Elst (2005b) counterattacks Witzel (2006b) in what the former perceives to be a mischaracterisation of his views and work made by the latter: In reference to Witzel’s academic standing at Harvard, Elst’s witty scholarly retort is humorously titled “Petty professorial politicking in The Indo-Aryan Controversy: A note on a Harvard professor’s assiduous misrepresentation of my position in the Aryan invasion debate” (Elst, 2005b).

Archaeological ruins at Mohenjo-daro. Image Source:

[1] Figueira (2002) explores this notion of the “Romantic Aryans” as it existed during the Romantic period in the European intellectual movement of the 2nd half of the 18th c. (ibid. 27-49).
[2] Specially along these three lines of “the genetic or historical, the comparative, and the typological strain of linguistic analysis” (Koerner 1995: 154).
[3] The use of the term dethroned in relation to the dismissal of Sanskrit as a most viable candidate to be the mother-tongue to the IE language family is not my own, but is the general term used by historical linguists. See Bryant’s (2001) Chapter 4: Indo-European Comparative Linguistics: The Dethronement of Sanskrit (ibid. 68-75).


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  1. Valuable summary.
    Nevertheless, your point should be expressed with more strenght. It is not obvious where you stand and what is your purpose.
    You mention that the OIT is being unfaily associated with Hindutva. This is an observation that you have supported by some proofs.
    And then, what else? What is new in this report that was previously unknown, or to what else is this observation leading you.

    Also, you failed to mention the recent work of the OIT proponent Nicholas Kazanas, from Greece. It is not in your bibliography either although he published his share on the issue. See:

  2. Thank you for your comment. You're absolutely right when you mention that the purpose of the article does not have any particular argument to defend. Rather, the point I try to get across is that to see the Indus Civilization as a potential point of dissemination for (proto-)Indo-European culture and language is a valid one, and that the OIT school of thought and their historical perspectives are totally legitimate in their approach. Unfortunately though, through the OIT scholars' association with the Hindutva, this has relegated their scholarship to be tinged somehow with a national bias - which I totally disagree with. Too often than not, in more mainstream Western (Eurocentric) academia it seems that OIT views are kind of written off as constituting merely a fringe view or associated more with Indian scholars. European scholars seem to want to keep PIE in Europe and to theorize that it would have been in neighbouring Asia is kind of taboo. As I explore in the article Elst as an example is one Western scholar who as an OIT supporter has received a "radical" label affixed to him. Kazanas! Yes, you are absolutely right - here is a good example, likely a better one than Elst, to include in the study.

  3. Thank you for your very good paper (blog article) that compares the OIT with the AIT.
    I'm placing a photo link (a collage of your two maps with descriptions) to your paper on the Facebook page of Mark Kenoyer's (et al.) website:
    Especially its members' photo section features a large number of narrative seals and tablets pictures researched and interpreted by myself.

    It contains a series of slides (collages) that I made, which eventually gave rise to a book that I'm completing titled: "An Ancient God Rediscovered" It deals with the Harappan Culture while focusing on the legendary Skanda (also known as Murugan in South India) who together with Ganesh was "brought forth" by Shiva (or Agni).
    A condensed preview (in reverse chapter order) can be seen at

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Wonderful paper and comparison of two interpretations AIT and OIT.

    When things deviate from facts to interpretations and OIT scholars are discounted because of who they are and not what they are saying then we move away from scholarship. What would be the scenario when boot was in other foot and all AIT proponents were ignored because of their generally speaking other than Hindutva affiliations. This degenerates to a level of brawl where there is not scholarship and just names are being called. It is equivalent to forming an opinion and then leading credence to only those facts which favour that position.

    Let us find, share and know the truth by adhering to facts and not interpretations without mixing the two.