Why Devdutt Pattanaik Is Mostly Wrong

Aravindan Neelakandan

Jun 29, 2016, 08:20 AM | Updated 08:20 AM IST

Indian students and their Gurus,teachers, perform a ritual at a 
Swaminarayan Gurukul Vishwavidya Pratisthanam (SGVP) temple . Getty Images
Indian students and their Gurus,teachers, perform a ritual at a Swaminarayan Gurukul Vishwavidya Pratisthanam (SGVP) temple . Getty Images
  • Pop-mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik, in a Swarajya column , makes some interesting observations.
  • Hindu nationalists deny that the term ‘Aryan’ has any racial connotations.
  • Savarkar gave a cultural basis to even the terms ‘race’ and ‘blood’, rejecting European categories of race by blood.
  • Sri Aurobindo and Dr BR Ambedkar emphatically rejected the very idea of ‘Aryan’ race.
  • Pop-mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik, in a Swarajya column , makes some interesting observations. He says that Hindu nationalists were upset with the Aryan invasion theory (AIT) because the British used it to delegitimise Hindus, to make them as much alien to India as Muslims and British. Then he goes on to say that the Aryan homeland was Eurasia and that the Indo-European languages developed some 7,000 years ago. Aryans domesticated horses and, forced by climate change, they marched on. In Iran they split into two groups and one group entered India and that was 4,000 years ago. This is typical Aryan Migration Theory and, at any time, with a rhetorical flourish this can be turned into an AIT (Aryan Invasion Theory).

    Aryans with their horses, their Indo-European language, their Soma/Haoma ritual and their genes moved into India. Harappan civilisation was already declining with its metropolitan areas becoming ghost cities. Aryans started mingling with the Harappans and incorporated their memories of Saraswati into their lore. With this Pattanaik makes an ingenious attempt to explain away one of the glaring problems of the AIT/AMT model: mention of the Saraswati river in Vedic hymns. At last Pattanaik makes a veiled insinuation: opposition to AIT/AMT comes from the Hindu ‘the fear of contamination and the desire for purity’.

    What is the problem with this model? Almost everything.

    Hindu Nationalists and Aryans

    Hindu nationalists were not upset because Aryans were aliens. They do not claim Aryans to be indigenous either. On the contrary they deny that the term has any racial connotations. Historically, Veer Savarkar never cared much about invasions or migrations, Aryan or otherwise. He mostly accepted the Western idea of the Aryan race entering India and mingling with an already established civilisation here. His definition of Hindu and Hindutva was not impacted in the least by AIT/AMT. At a time when even the best minds in the West believed in racial categories, Savarkar questioned the notion of racial purity.

    When Western scholarship was making a biological race out of the Aryan, Savarkar give a cultural basis to even the terms ‘race’ and ‘blood’, rejecting European categories of race by blood. Thus for him “some of us were Aryans and some Anaryans” and “some of us are Brahmans and some Namashudras or Panchamas” and “some of us were Rakhasas and some Yakshas”. But, he says, “we are all Hindus and own a common blood. … We are not only a nation but a Jati, a born brotherhood.” Savarkar makes the ‘Hindu blood’ a common element between supposedly two distinct racial categories, ‘Aryan and Anaryan’; ‘Rakhasas and Yakshas’ and so-forth. This is consistent with his world view that there is no human group that can claim purity:

    After all, there is throughout this world, so far as man is concerned, but a single race—the human race kept alive by one common blood, the human blood. All other talk is at best provisional, a makeshift and only relatively true. Nature is constantly trying to overthrow the artificial barriers you raise between race and race. To try to prevent the commingling of blood is to build on sand. Truly speaking, all that any one of us can claim, all that history entitles one to claim, is that one has the blood of all mankind in one’s veins. The fundamental unity of man from pole to pole is true, all else only relatively so.

    Savarkar was least bothered with the Aryan homeland and did not question the racial meaning given to the name Aryan. Sri Aurobindo and Dr BR Ambedkar emphatically rejected the very idea of ‘Aryan’ race.

    Sri Aurobindo warned against “the blunder talking of the Indo-Aryan races, claiming or disclaiming Aryan kinship and building on that basis of falsehood the most far-reaching political, social or pseudo-scientific conclusions”. Echoing Sri Aurobindo, Ambedkar independently arrived at almost the same conclusion. For him the theory of an Aryan race was “based on nothing but pleasing assumptions and inferences based on such assumptions” and that it was “a perversion of scientific investigation”.

    The mainstream Hindu nationalist organisation, the RSS, takes a stand that resonates with both Sri Aurobindo and Ambedkar. ‘Aryans: Who were they?’ a 1991 publication of the RSS history wing, ‘Bharathiya Ithihasa Sankalana Samithi’ asks a very relevant question with respect to the search for the original home of Aryans: “Did the Aryans and their original home exist?” It concludes that such a quest is “searching for something which simply does not exist” like “searching for a black cat in a dark room which is not there.”

    So contrary to the popular perception in academic and media circles, Hindu nationalists do not want to prove Aryans as natives of India. They know Aryan is a cultural term which applies to individuals and not a racial term applied to a collective. The RSS, whom our leftists and western-academics love to portray as Aryan supremacists trying to prove India as the Aryan homeland, believes in something more sensible : The Aryans and their homeland do not exist!

    Also, Hindu nationalists do not consider Muslims of India alien invaders. And both Golwalkar and Deoras, the second and third heads of RSS, squarely blamed Hindu society for the evil of untouchability and took the responsibility of removing it.

    The Harappan and the Vedic

    Let us take just one statement of Pattanaik distinguishing so-called Vedic religion from Harappan. He says that Aryans brought the Soma ritual into India.

    Now, a significant number of important scholars are beginning to say that the Harappan civilisation knew the Soma ritual. Iravatham Mahadevan, a person who believes in the Dravidian nature of Harappans, says talks about a ‘cult object’ before the famous ‘unicorn’ in Harappan seals. Mahadevan finds textual references in the Rig Veda to filter-like objects for making Soma and associates them with this cult object. Later Harappan archaeologist Mark Kenoyer discovered a filter-like vessel which aptly fitted the Vedic description. So Mahadevan comes to an extraordinary conclusion that a ‘soma-like cult based on some kind of hallucinogenic drug … must have existed in Harappa and that it was taken over by the Indo-Iranians and incoming Indo-Aryans.’

    Now what is the truth?

    ●   Aryans bringing the Soma ritual with them?

    ●   Aryans ‘taking over’ the Soma ritual from Harappans?

    ●   Or even more fantastically, Aryans having their own Soma ritual and, by a strange coincidence, Harappans having a similar ritual and both merging?

    On the one hand, there is solid evidence of a Vedic ritual being central to the Harappan life while, on the other hand, we cling on to the Aryan delusion with convoluted speculations bordering on the ridiculous.

    Instead of attributing the changes to Aryans during the last phase of Harappan culture, archaeologist Kenoyer points out that “changes and discontinuities reflect a transformation of the local population rather than the appearance of new people and the eradication of the Harappan inhabitants”. According to eminent archaeologist BB Lal, “the combined evidence of archaeology, radiocarbon-dating, hydrology and literature” places Vedic civilisation prior to 2000 BCE, and, indeed, the third millennium BCE. The problems and paradoxes indeed disappear if one accepts that the fact staring us in the face, that Harappan culture contained in it the Vedic.  

    Then there is the question of genetics. India does have ANI (Ancestral North Indian) and ASI (Ancestral South Indian) gene pools of which ANI does have linkages with the Eurasian gene pools. There is even a possibility that ANI could have arisen somewhere in central Asia. But what the genetic studies say definitely is that “both Indian ancestry components are older than the purported Indo-Aryan invasion 3,500 YBP (Years Before Present)”.

    Given all these facts, it is time we jettison forever the ideas of an Aryan race or an Aryan homeland and stop trying to make the poor ‘Aryans’ of imaginary realms authors or outsiders of any past culture of India. Whether it is Harappan or Vedic, the makers of Indian civilisation come from the stalks of ANI as well as ASI. They spoke diverse languages and perhaps were ethnically diverse. But they were united by one great Indic idea – the Truth as the substratum binding all existence and diversity with infinite ways of perceiving It: Not Rebirth, but ‘Ekam Sat Vipra Bahuta Vathanthi’ marks the one great Idea that makes India, India

    Aravindan is a contributing editor at Swarajya.

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