Debunking the Aryan-Dravidian Issue: An Indigenous Approach

This article is part 2 of 3 in the series Aryan-Dravidian Issue

[This paper was submitted to the Swadeshi Indology Conference held in Chennai (December 2017)]

Sediyapu Krishna Bhat

Vidvān Sediyapu Krishna Bhat (8.6.1902 – 8.6.1996) was a polymath hailing from Tuḻunāḍu, Karnataka. He was an Ayurvedic doctor, grammarian, prosodist, linguist particularly interested in etymology, and a poet. He was also a polyglot, fluent in Kannada, Sanskrit, English, Tulu, Malayalam, Tamil, Hindi, Konkani, Marathi, and Telugu. His native place—Tuḻunāḍu—is a melting-pot of many cultures; this enabled Sediyapu to closely observe cultural nuances at the grass-root level. His sense of observation was so keen that he could develop original insights about various languages—subtleties of pronunciation, especially—just by listening to the radio. His contributions to Prosody are unparalleled. Of importance in this regard are his works Chandogati and Kannada Chandassu. He was steeped in the learning of Bharata’s Nāṭyaśāstra and Patañjali's Mahābhāṣya. He was also a specialist in Yakṣagāna studies, a traditional art form of Karnataka.

In his seminal work Tathyadarśana (Sediyapu 1997), Sediyapu discussed the Aryan-Dravidian issue at length, mainly from the viewpoint of linguistics, and categorically disproved it. This slim work is a veritable treasure-trove of insights regarding varṇa, jāti, draviḍa-gauḍa issue, and the oft-discussed śivaliṅga, apart from the aforementioned Aryan-Dravidian theory.

To set the context for the understanding of the term ‘ārya,’ Sediyapu explained the meanings of two words: Āryāvarta and Brahmāvarta. Āryāvarta (northern India, roughly) is the land encased between the mountain ranges of Vindhya and Himalaya – Āryāvartaḥ puṇyabhūmirmadhyaṃ vindhyahimāgayoḥ (Amarakośa, 2.1.9). Brahmāvarta, a portion of Āryāvarta, is the land surrounded by the rivers Sarasvatī and Dṛṣadvatī – Sarasvatīdṛṣadvatyordevanadyoryadantaram. Taṃ devanirmitaṃ deśaṃ brahmāvartaṃ pracakṣate. (Manusmṛti, 2.17). The word āvarta in Sanskrit connotes a landmass. Therefore, āryāvarta literally means, ‘the land by name Ārya.’ In our ancient texts, particularly the Ṛgveda-saṃhitā, the word brahmā is used to refer to the Vedas. Brāhmaṇa is one who knows the Vedas – brahmajñānena brāhmaṇaḥ. Going by this we understand that brahmāvarta literally means ‘the land of the Vedas.’ It was the place where most Vedic mantras were conceived and compiled. Since Vedic mantras were held sacred, the land of their origin and the rivers flowing therein were naturally held sacred as well.

To strengthen the argument that brahmāvarta was indeed the land of creation and proliferation of Vedic mantras, Sediyapu focused on two words: udīcī and avācī. These two Sanskrit words respectively mean ‘north’ and ‘south.’ They are indicators of direction. While udīcī literally means ‘possessing great height,’ avācī has evolved from avāk, which means ‘positioned at a low level.’ Placing these words in the geographical context of India, we see that in old times (and mostly even to this day) North India was elevated due to the presence of high mountain ranges, and South India was at a lower level. Direction-indicators not only do their job well but also give a fair idea of the topography in that direction. They are also indicators of space-time correlation: prācī (east) is derived from prāk, which means, ‘that which is behind or earlier to us.’ The direction opposite prācī east is pratīcī (west), where prati means opposite. This adduces clear linguistic evidence supporting the migration from east to west, aligned to the movement of the rising sun. When the ancients embarked on a journey, they named the direction behind them as prācī, indicating their earlier home. Also, pūrva (east) means ‘previous,’ ‘before’ and paścima (west) comes from paścāt, which means ‘later.’ This again proves the east-to-west migration. Needless to say, this evidence summarily debunks the notion of an alien home of the Vedas. Another evidence in support of this argument is the description of ṣaḍṛtu-s (six seasons) in Vedic literature – vasanta (spring), grīṣma (summer), varṣā (monsoon), śarad (autumn), hemanta (fall), śiśira (winter). They exactly correspond to the seasonal changes of Northwestern India, thus reaffirming brahmāvarta as the abode of Vedas.

Sediyapu Krishna Bhatt: Image courtesy:- Google Image Search

The word ārya, Sediyapu explained, has come from the word arya, which means vaiśya Imāṃ vācaṃ kalyāṇīmāvadāni janebhyaḥ. Brahmarājanyābhyāṃ śūdrāya cāryāya cāraṇāya (Yajurveda, 26.2). Priyaṃ mā kṛṇu deveṣu priyaṃ rājasu mā kṛṇu. Priyam sarvasya paśyataḥ uta śūdre utārye (Atharvaveda, 19.62.1). Etymologically, it is derived from the root – karṣaṇe, which literally means, ‘to plough (the land).’  Drawing our attention to the historical panning out of civilization, Sediyapu expounded: the entry of Homosapiens on earth was as forest-dwellers; man hunted animals for food. In course of time, people learned to domesticate animals and moved to well-structured towns and cities, thus creating civilization. The primary means of survival was then agriculture. This transition from forest to city—the switch from hunting to agriculture—made humans ‘civilized.’ Seen in this light, arya is one who ploughs the field. Sediyapu also enlisted a few words from foreign languages that have similar meanings – arare (‘to plough,’ Latin), arar (‘to plough,’ Spanish), and arable (‘able to be ploughed or tilled,’ English). Significant anthropogenic facts can be gleaned by analyzing the origins of agriculture, “the original culture,” Sediyapu observed. He further explained that in course of time, arya (agriculturist) metamorphosed into ārya (civilized). It can be observed that a guṇavācaka-śabda attains greater potency with time than the word from which it was originally derived. For example, the word ‘lāvaṇya,splendor, has assumed a totally different meaning from its parent-word, ‘lavaṇa,’ salt. Similar is the case with arya and ārya. Today, the primary occupation of vaiśya-s is trading, but during ancient times it was agriculture. “Farming, raising cattle, and trade are the natural activities of vaiśya-s as per their nature,” says the Bhagavadgītā (18.44). The agriculturist exchanged grains for cattle and thus became a trader.

Sediyapu bolstered his argument on the word arya by mentioning an interesting aside: In the Tuḻunāḍu province of Karnataka, a buffalo that is castrated at a young age is called āryakoṇa. These buffaloes can survive on just grass and are more well-behaved and strife-bearing than the rest, because they are tamed. They are hence farmer-friendly. That they are well behaved is a pointer at their ārya nature and that they are farmer-friendly means they are inexorably connected with arya. Sediyapu also mentioned that the dried and seasoned paddy is called āryanellu. This astute observation is a mark of his keen cultural sensitivity.

Analyzing the meaning of the word draviḍa, Sediyapu systematically refuted the claims made about ‘Dravidians’ by Robert Caldwell (Caldwell 1875) in his infamous treatise. Before the nineteenth century, i.e. before Western scholars misrepresented it, the word draviḍa only meant the Tamil language. Its etymological derivation can be explained in the following way: dru (nāmapada) + ila (taddhita-pratyaya) = dravila. As per the famous rule ‘ḍalayorabhedaḥ,’ dravila becomes draviḍa. The nāmapada dru’ means a tree. The taddhita-pratyaya ila’ literally means ‘filled with’ – for example, phenila = phena (foam) + ila, means, ‘filled with foam.’ Hence, the meaning of dravila is, ‘filled with forests / trees.’ Draviḍa, going by this, means a land filled with forests—Western Ghats, Eastern Ghats and Nilgiris—which corresponds to South India and specifically Tamil Nadu. In those days, Kerala was not an independent state; it was a part of Tamil Nadu as the Cera province. Therefore, all the three mountain ranges were housed in Tamil Nadu. That Tamil Nadu was filled with forests is supported by kuriñji-tiṇai in Tolkāppiyam, known for its mountain slopes occupied by dense forests. To confuse this with race is merely stupid.

Sediyapu’s findings are a linguist’s delight; they are singularly objective and invariably cogent. In his writings we find a happy forging of philology with cultural history and geography.

Co-written by Shashi Kiran B N.

To be concluded.




Dr. Ganesh is a 'shatavadhani' and one of India’s foremost Sanskrit poets and scholars. He writes and lectures extensively on various subjects pertaining to India and Indian cultural heritage. He is a master of the ancient art of avadhana and is credited with reviving the art in Kannada. He is a recipient of the Badarayana-Vyasa Puraskar from the President of India for his contribution to the Sanskrit language.


Shashi Kiran B N holds a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and a master's degree in Sanskrit. His interests include Indian aesthetics, Hindu scriptures, Sanskrit and Kannada literature and philosophy.

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