FROM INDUS TO INDEPENDENCE: A TREK THROUGH INDIAN HISTORY Part 14

Canberra, 11 August 2013
SHARDS OF LIGHT IN PENINSULAR HISTORY
Section II
THE IMPERCEPTIBLE ARYANISATION
The process of ‘aryanisation’ of the Indian sub-continent has been discussed and debated since Indian history became a subject of serious study. There have been a number of theories that have been put forward, most based on the analysis of different facets of history—the movement of peoples, historical events, archaeological evidence, study of the evolution of languages and the broad rise and fall of dynasties and empires. In earlier analysis the underlying belief was that the Aryans ‘conquered’ the indigenous races of the sub-continent who were considered by the invaders to be inferior in all aspects. It was believed that the process was one of the forceful imposition of the culture of a superior race over the practices of less developed inhabitants of the areas being conquered. However, more recent researches have unearthed a somewhat different story. Aryanisation is now understood, more correctly, to have been a process of cultural interaction leading to mutual assimilation and synchronic development rather than a racial conquest. Nevertheless, as is often the case when two dissimilar cultures meet, there was also conflict, although the instances of conflict and conquest were few and far in between. The assimilation was gradual, imperceptible, and mutually accommodating. New researches have also provided a platform for a better understanding of Indian historical and cultural traditions. Further, they have established the concept of Indian history being an inclusive, mutually interactive and inter-related whole as opposed to the previously held perception that it was a heterogeneous collection of independent regional histories. Therefore, regional histories are an important, perhaps even critical, part of a holistic understanding of Indian history. As a corollary, a broad all-India perspective is necessary to correctly situate regional developments.
Most aspects of the aryanisation of Peninsular India can be understood through the study of three independent, yet indirectly interrelated areas—languages, the movement of people and maritime trade incursions.
Language
The language differences between the north and the south of India are those of culture and not race. The languages and dialects of North India and Maharashtra are fundamentally based on Sanskrit. However, they have evolved into a space of their own in the process of being used and spoken. This is indicated by the number of words that are unknown to Sanskrit that pepper their current usage and which are known to be derived from the language of the pre-Aryan inhabitants of the land. In the Eastern and Southern Deccan, it is evident that the Aryans were unable to overwhelm the local culture or subsume the local languages. In these areas the bulk of the local population retained their own languages and culture, which were obviously enriched by contact with the incoming culture of the north.
It can now be surmised that the southward moving Aryans—numerically inferior to the local population—gradually learned the local languages, accepted local customs with some modifications and also married into the local communities. This intermingling led to the establishment of a composite social system with its own customs with an evolutionary outlook towards its culture. This mutual assimilation explains the local gods and ‘godlings’ finding a place in the large pantheon of Aryan gods.
A Possible Explanation of Vishnu’s Incarnations
Vishnu was one of the more prominent Gods of the Aryans. He is supposed to come down to Earth in the form of an ‘avatar’ (incarnation) ten times in order to save the human race from degeneration. [Currently only nine have taken place with the tenth supposed to take place in this millennia.] The avatars start from his taking the shape of a fish (matsya), then a tortoise (kurma), followed by becoming a wild boar (varaha) and then a half man-half lion apparition (narasimha). The next five incarnations were all in the form of men, albeit of superhuman calibre, and the last, the tenth, which is yet to happen is variously believed to be a hybrid of man and horse or to be a warrior on a horse.
The need for Vishnu to be shown as taking the form of a fish or wild boar was felt during the mutual assimilation between the local/indigenous population and the Aryans. The local peoples were obviously nature worshippers. Dependent on their principle vocation as either fishermen or hunters, they could have worshipped nature in the form of their primary source of sustenance. To seamlessly bring them into the fold, the Aryans created the myth of their own ‘senior’ God being the same as the God of the tribe or people that were being gradually subsumed into the Aryan cultural assimilation process. In this manner while the Aryan God remained supreme, the local cultural identity also influenced and transformed the legends of the Aryan religion.
The story of Vishnu’s several (ten in all) incarnations could be considered a classic example of the non-violent meeting and mixing of the various cultures in the path of the Aryan movement that led to the creation of new and composite cultures with some inputs from both the parent cultures.       
Tamil literature, developed predominantly after the arrival and assimilation of the Aryans into the Peninsula, gives a clear impression of the interaction and integration having been a peaceful process. However, it must be noted that in all cases of cultural clashes brought about through the migration of people across the lands held or claimed by others, a certain amount of conflict cannot be ruled out. This would have been the case even for the movement of Aryans southwards across the Vindhya ranges. The stories in the Ramayanaof the ‘rakhshasa’ (demons?) opposition to the Aryan practice of sacrificial worship, on which their religion was based, must be viewed in this context. In fact such stories provide the historical basis and evidence of the initial opposition by the local people to the inexorable southward movement of the Aryans. The stories of the conquest of these ‘rakhshasas’ either by the heroes of the Aryans who were incarnations (for example Ram) or by other smaller gods are indicative of the skirmishes that must have taken place in some places where the occupation of local land by the intruders was contested. The fact that most of the episodes that deal with an ashram being liberated from the depredations of a ‘rakhshasa’ occur in the peninsular region also points towards the gradual and absorbing southward movement of the Aryans.
The Route South
The Aryan movement was an extremely slow process that started around 1000 B.C. and was completed only around 4th century B.C. Writing around this time, the grammarian Katyayana mentions the names of the Tamil countries in the extreme south in his work. Even if only a handful of northern people had reached the extreme south by 4th century B.C., it is certain that the whole of the Peninsula was ‘known’. There is a suggestion that the route that was followed was through the East Coast, which is an inherently faulty concept. The Aryan expansion took place from the North-west almost simultaneously to the East and the South, with the farther eastern parts of north India being aryanised only at a relatively later stage. The earliest mention of a place south of the Vindhyas is of Vidarbha.
The Brahmanas, Ramayana and the Buddhist edicts all state that the Vindhya ranges were penetrated at convenient points. However, Ram’s journey in the initial part of the epic is constrained mainly to the western Deccan—places that are scattered in an arc centred on Nasik—and the eastern most place mentioned in this context is near contemporary Nagpur. After Vidarbha, the earliest colony must have been the Mulaka country whose principal city was Paithan. The routes taken by the pupils of Bavari from Asmaka to Magadha would have been the reverse of the Aryan movement south. The Aryan route for their movement further south is uncertain and left to speculation.
One possibility can be hypothesised from the name of one sect of South Indian Brahmins ‘Brihaccarana’ that translates to ‘the great migration’ and is believed to perpetuate the memory of a relentless movement of people into the Peninsula. One section of this sect, called Malanadu, are further sub-divided into Kandra-Manikkam, Mangudi, and Satya-Mangalam that also double as names of villages along the Western Ghats. This double usage can be extrapolated to indicate the movement of people along the western highlands. Further, it can be estimated that the outer regions of Mysore, Coimbatore and Madurai would also have been peopled. This hypothesis is only a speculative, but logical, joining of the dots that are available in an as best as possible fashion and cannot be stated as historical fact. The other hypothesis to be considered is the possibility of a movement through the sea, from the Indus mouth to Gujarat and further south through the Bombay coast. At a slightly later date the eastern route originating in Kalinga could have been opened. There is evidence that Ceylon was aryanised by immigration through the seas to the east of the sub-continent, and that the language of the island, Sinhalese, is Indo-Aryan in origin.
Continued Maritime Contacts
There is tangible literary and archaeological evidence that Peninsular India had long term maritime contacts with kingdoms and peoples of the Middle East and Mediterranean regions. The queen of Sheba visited Solomon at Jerusalem with a great camel train bearing spices, gold and precious stones that originated in the Indian sub-continent. Further, the alliance between Hiram, the Phoenician king of Tyre, and Solomon was fundamental to the prosperity of Jerusalem based on their combined trade with Ophir. Ophir is considered to be the Abhira country and the peacocks and almug (sandalwood) mentioned in the trade are South Indian in origin and name. The famed ivory and gold throne of Solomon is also thought to have been crafted from material from the Peninsula. The Hebrew, Greek and Egyptian names for elephant is derived from the Sanskrit ‘ibha’.
Assyrian and Babylonian empires traded with South India from ports in the Persian Gulf for gold, spices and fragrant woods. Before 5th century B.C. all imports to Babylon brought material with Dravidian designation, not Sanskrit, confirming the timeframe established through other sources of the aryanisation of the south. Around 7th century B.C. Western traders introduced a system of inscribed coinage (based on the prevailing Babylonian standard) for their trade with China; a trade that necessarily also included Peninsular India.
During the 7th and 6th centuries B.C., Babylon was at the height of its power and was the greatest commercial market in the world. There is evidence that merchants from South India frequented these markets. After the decline of Babylon, the Indian trade passed on to Arab merchants from Mouza, Aden and Kane. There are other confirmations of trade between the Middle East and South India—the Bavera Jataka mentions a story of an Indian merchant who was the first to take a peacock to Babylon; there are beams of Indian cedar in the great palace of Nebuchadnezzar (604-562 B.C.); and teak logs have been found in the temple of the Moon God Ur, estimated to have been built around the same time as the palace.
There are two opinions regarding the maritime route that could have been taken in this trade. The first is that the merchants made their way along the coast in small ships, a tradition that was only changed to sailing the open seas after Hippalus discovered the Monsoon winds in 45 A.D. However, this theory is improbable because of the known hostility of the tribes along the route, as reported during Alexander’s withdrawal along the Indus, which would have made trade less lucrative because of losses to banditry and attack. It is more likely that the contacts were maintained through open seas as part of the China trade. This is confirmed by Chinese accounts of Indian goods around 7th century B.C. Further confirmation of the Indian participation in this trade is obtained from the findings in the Philippines of Iron Age implements and weapons similar to the ones found in South India dating to the 1st millennium B.C. Identical glass beads and bangles that antedate the Chera, Chola and Pandyan kingdoms, and which go back to times before the Christian era, have been found in South India and the burial sites and dolman tombs in the same region in the Philippines. Similar artefacts have recently also been found in the Malay Peninsula as well as the dolman tombs of Java and north Borneo. These archaeological evidence is ample confirmation of trade between South India and the South East Asian archipelago running as far back as the 1st millennium B.C.
Trade and colonisation by kingdoms of South India in Java, Sumatra and other areas of Indo-China in the early Christian era have been well documented. What must be remembered is that these reports record not the beginning of such contacts but the last stages of an age-old association between the peoples of South India and the islands to the east.
  
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About Sanu kainikara

Sainik School Kazhakuttam (Kerala), National Defence Academy 39/A, 108 Pilot's Course IAF, fighter pilot, QFI, FCL, psc, HACC, Voluntary Retirement as Wing Commander. Canberra-based Defence Analyst specialising in air power and national security. PhD in International Politics from University of Adelaide Adjunct Professor, University of New South Wales, Distinguished Fellow Institute For Regional Security (IFRS)

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