Proto-African-Indian Sanskrit and the word Aryam

published on September 27, 2013

Krinvanto vishvam aryam

This line has been customarily translated as ‘Make the whole world noble’. It can also be translated as ‘Make a noble world’. The line Krinvanto vishwam aryam is from the Rig Veda (RV:9. 63.5) and represents the quintessential message of the Vedic Rishis : Make a noble/good world.

However, the word ‘arya’ (aryan) was distorted and misused and abused in the twentieth century in an unspeakable act of evil by Hitler. This severe distortion could not have taken place without the prior misguided scholarship of 19th century Western scholars who focussed on racial connotations, which were never present in the Veda. These scholars not only identified the language of Sanskrit as that of a people called the Aryans, but they also simultaneouly posited an Aryan invasion of India whose product was the Rig Veda. From Western scholars to David Duke, the American white racist supremacist, the link between the word ‘Arya’ and race has been disastrous for human history.

The Hindus of India have an important and urgent task : reclaim the word Aryam/Arya/Aryata/Aryatvam from its misuse and explain the significance of the word in the Vedic message. Here, the project has to be run in double harness. There has to be an accurate account of the history of the Indo European peoples whose language was Sanskrit and as well the deeper investigation into the meaning of Aryam and its significance for our times.

Why did the Vedic Rishis call for the whole world to be noble (Aryam) and what exactly was their message ? The word Aryam is a quality of mind, a world view which the Rishis considered valuable to humans. It was derived from the spiritual belief in an ordered universe, Rtam, and its social practice in Dharma.

A consistent enquiry will reveal that just as the Aryan Invasion theory of India propagated by Western scholars has now been consigned to the dustbin of history so also the misuse of the word Aryam is beginning to be reexamined in its proper context and not seen as the contribution of the invading Aryans (an event which did not take place).

The History of the Indo Europeans :

For a quick and reader friendly general examination of the history of the word Arya the reader can go to the Belgian scholar Dr. Koenraad Elst’s article on his blogspot. In a short piece ‘The ethnic meaning of “Arya” ‘ he provides a historical survey of how the word ‘arya’ arose and ended with the Vedic meaning of Aryam (noble). Several nations considered themselves as aryas, including the Anatolians, Iranians and Vedic Indians, and hence the word referred to ethnicity. It was never associated with ‘race’. Elst concludes :

” There is no firm indication that it ever was a pan-Indo-European or proto Indo European self-designation and thus a valid synonym for “Indo European” (March 12, 2011,

Western scholars from the 19th century onwards worked with two assumptions: Sanskrit was an Indo European/Aryan language and that the people who spoke this language came from the Caucasus and invaded India sometime in 1200 B.C.E (before the Christian era). This is the Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT). These two assumptions have been challenged by Indic scholars, especially in the last three decades. There never was an Aryan invasion of India and Sanskrit was not brought to India by these supposed invaders.

Rather, the language and the people went out of India and spread into the far corners of Europe. This Out of India theory (OIT) was supported by some European scholars like Schlegel, even Immanuel Kant, the philosopher, but mainstream Western opinion rejected it. In India, the name famously associated in the early years with the OIT (Out of India Theory) is that of Shrikant Taligeri who maintained that the Vedic peoples were indigenous to India and travelled from the Gangetic plain to the northwest and thence outside India. Other Indic scholars continue with the OIT but maintain that the Vedic peoples were centred around the rivers Sindhu(Indus) and Sarasvati and then spread both eastwards to the Gangetic plain and northwestwards, and thence outside India.

There are also popular presentations such as Bhagvan Gidwani’s novel The Return of the Aryans (2000).

Along with the demise of the Aryan Invasion Theory there arose almost simultaneously the discovery of the extinct Vedic river Sarasvati and the landmark research on the location of the sites of the Indus Valley Civilisation as being located both on the Sindhu (Indus) and the Sarasvati rivers, and hence the new name is Sarasvati Sindhu Civilisation. Moreover, the SSC, it has also been argued, came after Vedic civilisation and was descended from the Vedic peoples. Their mains sites are on the Sindhu Sarasvati rivers. The names associated with the SSC project are numerous and well known : B.Lal being the best known. The most recent book that brings together the work of these scholars is The Vedic river Sarasvati and Hindu Civilisation (ed. S.Kalyanraman, 2008). The decipherment of the Indus script is currently in the domain of the Director of the Sarasvati Research Centre, Dr. S.Kalyanraman. His two books Indus Script Cipher (2010) and Indus Writing in the Near West (2013 ) are landmark events and presents a novel method of decipherment, the rebus method.

In the volume referred to above ,The Vedic River Sarasvati and Hindu Civilisation (2008) Prof.Shivaji Singh has given a brilliant survey of the Vedic peoples (Where lived the Rig Vedic Rishis, Rulers, and Artisans, the Founders of Bharatiya Sanskriti ?’ ).

While these are huge topics that deserve ongoing research our own attention is on the word Aryam and the history of what continues to be called the Indo European people by contemporary scholars such as Dr. N. S. Rajaram. He has put forward an entirely new history not only of the origins of the Indo Europeans but also of Sanskrit. His forthcoming book Gene Times and the Birth of History examines these questions. He has given us a preview in a 3 part series of articles (‘Indo-Europeans Origins 1 : The 200 year old question’, Folks Magazine, Dec.15,2012 ; ‘Indo- Europeans 2:Natural History of Languages’ Folks Magazine, Dec. 18, 2012 ; ‘Indo-Europeans 3 : Noah’s Animals’, Folks Magazine, Jan.1,2013).

Dr. Rajaram bases his theories primarily on evidence from the sciences, that of genetics and population studies.

In the first two articles Dr. Rajaram informs the reader that some 65,000 years ago a group of anatomically modern humans made their way out of Africa to South Asia. Our species survived because of the development of language linked to a particular gene in the species. The primordial language of our ancestors is Proto- African-Indian. Then, some 45,000 years ago small groups left the Indian subcontinent for Eurasia and Europe. “These” says Dr. Rajaram “are the first Indo Europeans ” (article 1).Their language was the primordial one.

Then, towards the end of the last Ice Age, some 11,000 years ago, 2 major developments took place :

(1) Intense activity leading to the creation of the Vedas and the language that became Sanskrit : “These were not dialects but carefully constructed by incorporating features found in both northern (Gauda) and southern (Dravida) sources ” (article 2).

(2) The second development was that around 10,000 years ago “a second wave of people went out of India who took with them both Sanskrit and related languages and agricultural skills along with domestic animals. . . .” (article 3).

This wave has “left many traces in archaeology, genetics, culture and above all in the Sanskrit imprint on the languages of Europe and Eurasia. This is supplemented by genetic and other scientific data relating to animals that accompanied them. . . . ” (article 3).

The importance of Dr. Rajaram’s work lies in the fact that he has not only shown the historical evolution of humans from out of Africa and thence to India and other parts of the world, but he has also zeroed in on two aspects of this evolution which have a bearing for us on the question of Aryam (although it must be pointed out that the word Aryam is not his own specific interest):

1. The Sanskrit language was created in the Indian subcontinent by the Rishis from scratch as it were. While language itself was the product of human evolution it was doubly so for Sanskrit since the Rishis were fully conscious that they were constructing something precious and which had to be preserved for posterity. Hence, their insistence that the language should be carefully preserved in its entirety and that the rituals in that language in particular should be transmitted verbally generation after generation. The extraordinary aspect not only of the creation of human speech but its creation in what is considered the near perfect of all human languages, namely Sanskrit, that aspect alone should evoke awe and wonderment !

The second aspect of the Rajaram thesis concerns the intermingling of Gauda and Dravida.

2. This second aspect which Dr. Rajaram does not deal with in the articles , but is pertinent to our enquiry, is that the word Aryam can be retained within the Rajaram explanatory model both of the origins of Sanskrit and the Indo Europeans. Whatever the complexities of the creation of Sanskrit, the word Aryam remains central to the Rig Vedic vision. This does not negate the linguistic fact that Gauda and Dravida were combined in the formation of Sanskrit. In other words, the African- Indic origin of Sanskrit does not preclude the significance of the very Sanskrit word Aryam in all its relevance for the Hindus of India. If indeed Sanskrit is of Proto-African-Indian origin then it follows too that the word Aryam is of the same stock. The wheel has come full circle, as it were.

Aryam and Dharma :

In his lecture Vedic Culture and its Continuity: New Paradigm and Dimensions (2010) Prof. Shivaji Singh, has pointed out that Rtam,Satyam, Yajna, Dharma are the main concepts of the Rig Vedic period.

When we come to the Rig Veda, we find that the very first hymn speaks of Rtam. English translations of the word customarily use the word Law for Rtam. This is only a close translation since the Sanskrit word retains the mystery and all enveloping aspect of the Order of the universe. It has been pointed out by scholars that only in the Sanskrit tradition is the universe described in a trifurcated manner : terrestrial, atmospheric and cosmic. None of the related Indo European peoples such as the Greeks have evoked this particular all embracing nature of the entire universe. Plato’s Timaues , for example, does not invoke this particular structure.

Satyam, literally meaning Truth, is the Rishis’ way of communicating the overwhelming existential eternal nature of Rtam.

Yajna, as is well known, is the Vedic sacrifice to this Order as represented by the Devas and Devatas of the entire universe.

Dharma is the social practice of the existential eternal Rtam. Perhaps the most recent account of Dharma as social practice is seen in Dr. Shrinivas Tilak’s book Reawakening to a secular Hindu Nation (2008 ). This remarkable work must surely interest contemporary Hindus who needs must work out a deeper and broader understanding of the Indian Constitution than is provided by liberal-secularite interpretations.

Dr. Tilak does not speak about Rtam. However, his account of Dharman, is a link to Rtam :

“Dharman is all that exists by itself. It is the existential sense of things that move in their inexorable course”(p.14).

Thus, the social practice of Dharma is a link to Dharman and thence to Rtam. It results in Dharmasapekshata or Dharma as social practice.

Dharma as Social Practice :

What follows is a summary of the section on Dharmasapekshata in the book Reawakening to a secular Hindu nation (pp.16-19). The literal translation of Sapekshata is intense expectation It is the dharmic relation operating in the world of Vishwa. While Sarva is an undivided perfectly seamless whole Vishwa is a totality or composite of individual parts that retain their individuality or distinction even when encompassed or englobed in a totality. Sapekshata is a relation of encompassment that derives from Vishwa.

Ethically speaking it is a principle implying reciprocal(though reasonable) concern for one another. Individual choice and freedom exist in relation to social good and community. Dr. Tilak presents the overall message of Madhav S.Golwalkar, popularly known as Guruji :

” The secular character of the state in India’s past was attributable to Hinduism’s tolerant nature, which was institutionalised through the concept of Dharmasapekshata”(p. 17 )

A non Hindu who is a citizen of India has perforce to follow his/her national responsibilty (rashtradharma), duty to society (samajdharma) and family responsibilities(kuladharma) like all others. Only in his/her personal faith (vyaktidharana) can one choose any path that satisfies one’s spiritual or theological urge.

Dharmasapekshata does not demand adherence to Hinduism :

” Golwalkar pointed out that the present-day Indian society and nation would need an equivalent of the modern notion of civil religion that is neverthless rooted in Dharma and in the civilisation of India. This would necessitate a conscious reformulation of Dharma to make it more acceptable to the majority of Indians as well as one that is more compatible with the needs of a modern secular state. The move to reawaken and to recreate a Hindu nation would not be one of return to primordial unity as it once existed in ancient times but rather of rebuilding a compatible structure without eliminating the now existing diversity, plurality, or individuality. If the tradition is to be reconciled with the secular and democratic needs of the state in today’s India with the belief and behavioural patterns of India’s diverse population, its symbols must be reformulated through a process of transformation and transvaluation.

By transformation Golwalkar understood retaining of certain structurally recognisable features of the symbol but changing other aspects of its form. Transvaluation would mean retaining the form of the symbol but interpreting it to have a meaning other than the traditional meaning.” (pp.18-19).

Conclusion :

The social practice of Dharma can now be put forward as a characteristic of Aryam. Contemporary Hindus have the moral responsibility to carry this Vedic message forward whether in India or elsewhere. In both cases, it would constitute an extension of what the Vedic Rishis would have envisaged when they said : Krinvanto vishwam aryam.

(The writer is a Political Philosopher who taught at a Canadian university).

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