As far as the core Sapta-Sindhu region was concerned, there had been a continuous, unbroken civilization for a period of 2500 years.
Earlier Harappan culture had held sway for a millennium before, with not more than a century or two of discontinuity, if any such discontinuity existed at all.
Swarajya recently published an article by Devdutt Pattanaik, ‘Are Hindus Essentially Aryans Who Invaded the Indian Subcontinent and Imposed the Caste System?’ His answer to this was ‘no’. This article is inspired by thoughts and discussions that arose from Pattanaik’s piece.
Firstly, a few observations:
A study of genetics seems to indicate that Indians are an admixture of two founder populations-
i. One that diverged from the rest of humanity about 40,000 YBP (Years Before Present).
ii. Another that diverged about 8000 YBP.
The mixture of these founder populations seems to have occurred to various degrees across time and space. In my layman understanding, the jury is still out on whether a major commingling of these two populations occurred between 3500 and 5000 YBP.
An earlier date for this commingling would indicate that the Harappan city civilization was populated in the ‘Mature’ phase by this mixed population.
The later date would indicate that the admixture occurred in the waning stages of the Harappan civilization — something akin to the ‘Aryan Invasion/Migration’ of popular imagination.
Linguistic, cultural and anthropological studies seem to indicate that a major portion of the Vedic corpus was composed in the Sapta-Sindhu region of what is today’s Western UP, Haryana, and Punjab.
Assimilation or Invasion?
The entire heat and emotion generated by the present debate centres around these views:
If the upper-caste Hindus of India were actually invaders from abroad, settling and subjugating natives, then the Muslim and subsequent European invasions are a mere continuity of the same process. The entire Hindu-Muslim conflict or the conversion-ghar wapsi confrontation can be explained as a struggle for continued dominance by the earliest conquerors of India.
If all castes of India are of indigenous origin, then the Muslim and Christian invasions are a rude discontinuity with the past and a civilisational conflict. The history of India for the last 1300 years, from the invasion of Sindh to the Partition of India must be explained in this context.
Keeping the Aryan invasion theory open, there are critical differences in the nature of conflicts and a study of the nature of these conflicts may help to clarify the debate.
Conflicts have occurred:
i. Between pagan civilisations
ii. Between an Abrahamic monotheism on one hand and a pagan civilisation on the other.
Internecine conflicts between sister Abrahamisms are left out of this discussion.
How long had the Hindus been in India?
Let us raise our curtains at 1000 CE, roughly the period when Abrahamic incursions into India reached their first crescendo. Earlier Arab invasions had been contained. This time, the Turkic invaders from Central Asia made deep incursions into the subcontinent and were able to set up rule in regions such as Punjab and Sindh.
By this time, various regions of India, the Gangetic valley, the vast Eastern Gangetic delta, the Raichur doab up until the southern-most reaches of India had been settled, occupied, cultivated and ruled over for at least 1500 years.
As far as the core Sapta-Sindhu region was concerned, there had been a continuous, unbroken civilisation for a period of 2500 years. The earlier Harappan culture had held sway for a millennium before, with not more than a century or two of discontinuity, if any such discontinuity existed at all.
While aspects of the varna system had been in vogue for much longer, rigid endogamy, if one were to go by the genetic evidence, was not more than 1000 years old.
To put this in perspective, the entire gamut of founding events of Britain — the Celtic incursions, the Roman invasion, Anglo-Saxon invasion and Norman invasion – all took place in less than half this time period.
So, when the Arab invasions picked up pace, it was invasion of a well settled land and talk of an earlier invading people who subjugated and conquered the native populations makes no sense when seen from this perspective.
1. The Xiongnu, a Eurasian Tungusic people, harried the Western reaches of the Chinese Empire from the time of the First Emperor, Qin Shi Huang-di, till the end of the Hans. They eventually inter-married with Chinese peoples and were Sinicized completely.
2. The Mongols under Khubila Khan Sinicized very quickly and became the Yuan Dynasty.
3. The Jürchen or Manchu similarly Sinicized and became the Qing dynasty.
Each of these dynasties adopted the Chinese language, customs, clothing and their people assimilated into China.
Let us look at some dynasties:
i. Indo-Greeks had settled in large parts of the Punjab and the Pakistan-Afghanistan border areas and adopted Indian beliefs. (Menander was a Buddhist and Heliodorus a Vaishnava.)
ii. Shakas were originally Scythians from Central Asia and they assimilated into Indian society within a few generations as ‘vratya’ or degenerate Kshatriyas.
iii. Kushanas were probably a Central Asian tribe known as the Yuezhi, who were Buddhist by persuasion. Indic culture reached its greatest spread in Central Asia during their rule.
In fact, this period was the apogee of the geographic spread of Hindu religion, culture, clothing and customs within and beyond the sub-continent including the deep South, the eastern part of the Indo-Gangetic plain, in formerly Iranic lands to the West and eastwards, in the Hindu cultures of South East Asia.
iv. Hunas adopted Indian manners and customs. Even though one of the rulers, Mihirakula, is represented in the Rajatarangini as a cruel tyrant, no evidence exists of his having engaged in iconoclasm or mass killing motivated by religion or ethnic hatred.
The Black Pharaohs of Egypt
Today’s Sudan was inhabited by the Nubian culture during the times of the Pharaohs in Egypt. They ruled Sudan and were a sister culture of Egypt from the time of the Old Kingdom. The relationship between the two civilisations varied from conflict to collaboration. Eventually, the Nubians took over the rule of both Upper and Lower Egypt. This was the 25th Dynasty or the rule of the Black Pharaohs. This period of one and a half centuries saw Egyptian culture achieve its greatest geographical extent in its history. The Black Pharaohs were seen by common people and the priestly class as restoring the original glory of Egyptian culture, including public worship of the traditional gods and rigour in ritualism.
They also resisted Assyrian expansionism to Egypt.
Greece and Persia
One of the earliest civilisational conflicts studied in history is the Greek-Persian conflict. The Persians, under the Achaemenid Dynasty had rapidly expanded across much of today’s Middle East and the Levant and attempted to expand into the Greek peninsula. This was thwarted by the city-states of Greece and is seen as a significant event in the Hellenistic civilisation — which today’s West claims legacy to.
As conflicts go, this was purely territorial, with neither side seeking to impose its culture, values or beliefs on the other.
Rome before Christianity had become a conquering state that ranged from Britain to Egypt and from Spain to Syria.
In all these places, it may be noted that the conquering Romans did not impose their customs, culture or beliefs on the native peoples. The only region where there was religious conflict was in Judea, where the Jews rebelled against the Roman Empire and were pacified with great losses on both sides.
In all other regions, the existing Celtic, Teutonic or Egyptian beliefs continued as before. The Romans built temples to their gods in conquered territories but in no way imposed them on conquered populations.
While the Mongol expansion across Eurasia was undoubtedly bloody and caused much human suffering, one must view the subsequent events. Each of the four Hordes that split after the Kha’khan’s demise eventually formed empires that assimilated into the pre-existing civilisations within a few generations.
Christian Invasion of Japan
In the 16th century CE, the first missions to Japan were sent by the Catholic Church. Jesuits successfully converted a few of the daimyo or landed nobility. The Jesuits had a long-term plan to convert a significant number of Japanese aristocrats and use their hereditary samurai as the warrior force in a future conquest of China and claim East Asia for Christ.
The first spread of Christianity occurred during a time of turmoil, when neither the Emperor nor the shogun had sufficient control on events in far-flung provinces. Within a short period of time, the Christian daimyo were engaged in trading slaves, had given up ancient Japanese customs and had started coercing their retainers and commoners in their regions into accepting Christianity.
At this time, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a shogun, was alarmed by the activities of the Christian daimyo. A purge of Christianity followed. Upon the accession of Tokugawa Ieyasu to the position of bakufu, the traditional Japanese nobility was concerned by news of the Iberian invasions of the New World and conquest of the Phillipines. During a good part of the Tokugawa shogunate, Christianity was officially forbidden and missionaries were expelled. Many Christian Japanese were forced into apostasy by social boycott and draconian measures.To this day, the Christian population of Japan is very small and all efforts to Christianize Japan, from the time of MacArthur’s Occupation, have failed.
Islam in China
While contact between Arab and Chinese civilisations lasted for a long while, it was during the Mongol Yuan Dynasty that large numbers of Central Asian Muslims arrived as administrators and traders to China. However, there were severe restrictions on Muslim customs, such as ritual slaughter and circumcision.
By the time of the overthrow of the Ming by the Qing dynasty, Islam had become a thriving religion in China. However, the Qing would not accept Muslim demands to restrict un-Islamic practices in Muslim-majority regions. 200 years after the ascension of the Qing dynasty, Muslim populations were large enough for the first Panthay rebellion, where Muslim Hui, in alliance with other ethnic groups, raised the banners of revolt against the Emperor.
This rebellion was crushed and built the fire of Muslim discontent.
The eventual conflagration was the Tzungan Revolt, in which Uighurs and Muslim Hui were slaughtered by the Chinese Empire.
To this day, Muslims remain a persecuted minority in China. The Chinese government even restricts usage of Islamic clothing, beards and keeping the Ramadan fast.
A significant Jewish uprising was the Kitos Revolt, a campaign carried out by Jewish forces to overthrow Roman rule while the Roman Army was engaged in fighting Emperor Trajan’s Parthian War. The primary motivation for this war and other Judean rebellion was the Jews’ religious restrictions against participating in the public Roman rituals and observances.
The initial Jewish rebellion took on many of the characteristics that have been noted in Islamic jihads — large-scale destruction of pagan places of worship and large-scale killing of civilian populations. Contemporary observers have recorded instances of wanton cruelty by the Jewish rebels, such as cannibalism and utilization of human victims’ body parts for clothing. The Jewish rebels were put down with equal brutality on the Roman side, resulting in parts of Libya getting depopulated.
Christianisation of Rome
In the early years of Christianity, though the Roman Empire had been nominally neutral to all religious beliefs, it faced significant persecution by the authorities of the beliefs. It was also a curious feature that several instances exist of Christians seeking martyrdom by either approaching authorities with requests to be executed or jeering and provoking mobs to stone them to death. The important reasons for their persecution are believed to have been the Christian withdrawal from all public life, their refusal to participate in public ceremonies, in holding public office and general disapproval of Roman ways and mores.
However, after the conversion of Constantine, Christianity became the official State religion.
With Emperor Theodosius I, Christianity became the official religion of the Empire. By the 5th century CE, all pagan temples run by the State were closed down, a significant number of pagan practices were outlawed. Arian Christianity had been stamped out in the inner reaches of the Empire. Nestorian Christianity was later outlawed and all those who did not owe allegiance to designated Holy Sees were declared heretics.
The Western Empire was eventually sacked by Gothic tribes that were Arian Christians. With this, the entire nature and character of Europe changed and the dominant trend was the expansion of Christianity, with homogenized practices and culture, while traditional religious cultures were destroyed.
Spread of Islam
Islam spread to the West in cultures that were both pagan and Christian. In the East, the dominant cultures were the Indic Hindu/Buddhist and the Persian Zoroastrian.
From the earliest centuries to this day, one may note the pressures under which pagans have existed in Muslim-majority regions. The spread of Christianity and Islam is accompanied by a progressive disappearance of local customs and ethnic habits. In the case of Islam, it is also accompanied by gradual Arabization in clothes, habits, food and language.
Spread of Christianity in Inner Eurasia, Americas, Africa and Australia
In these cases, Christian conquest was accompanied by large-scale elimination of native peoples, to the extent that in North America, Australia and inner Eurasia, the aboriginal peoples be they Australian, native American or Altaic/Tungusic, are almost completely extinct or are facing imminent extinction.
In the case of Africa, large swathes were brought under occupation and vast numbers of people were enslaved by Arab and European traders and transported to far locations. To this day, wherever African and European or Arab populations live side-by-side, one may note the relative poverty and poorer living conditions of the original inhabitants.
In Latin America, transmitted diseases and warfare resulted in elimination of populations. The remaining people were enslaved and converted. There is a preponderance of European descent among the ruling classes in almost every Latin American country and deprivation of the descendants of the original inhabitants. There is also an almost complete disappearance of native religion.
Legacies of Conflicts
From the examples provided one can see notice several trends:
Inter-pagan conflicts do not result in long-term cultural destruction and in fact end in assimilation into the more sophisticated of cultures in conflict, irrespective of the military advantage held by any side. The conflicts are usually resolved within a few generations, with a lower possibility of repetition, due to assimilation.
On the other hand, Abrahamic cultures are rarely assimilated in pagan cultures. They either eliminate native cultures or are themselves eliminated, as in the case of Japan and China.
Why this Variance?
The roots of this odd variance of Abrahamic cultures with others is partially explained by the scholar and Egyptologist Jan Assman, in his works The Price of Monotheism, Of God and Gods, Moses the Egyptian. His theories have come under attack by historians of religion and theologians. However, some of his hypotheses, such as that of primary and secondary religions are provocative, especially his postulate that secondary religions are usually built by a founder on the bedrock of evolutionary primary religions, by means of realization/revelation, and later seek to destroy the primary religions using the labels of ‘Paganism, Idolatary and Superstition’.
To revert to our original discussion, the examples given here would lead us to the conclusion that Muslim and Christian invasions of the Indian sub-continent were a discontinuity from what had happened earlier. Any attempt to equate them with other, earlier invasions is an incomplete attempt at deriving false equivalence.