Debunking the Aryan-Dravidian Issue: An Indigenous Approach

This article is part 1 of 3 in the series Aryan-Dravidian Issue

[This paper was submitted to the Swadeshi Indology Conference-3 held in Chennai  (December 2017)]


The Aryan-Dravidian divide is a politically motivated fabrication without basis in fact. It has plagued our country for years, trying to tear our cultural fabric by striking at the unity of our people. Although this Aryan-Dravidian theory has been systematically debunked, it continues to be circulated in academic circles, with its far-reaching tentacles spanning the range of social, political, cultural, economic, and scientific studies. It is the staple diet of school textbooks where fiction masquerading as fact is forced down the throats of children.

Since the time this fanciful theory first made its appearance, many Indian scholars toiled to refute its claims. Luminaries such as A C Das, B G Tilak, and Aurobindo Ghose pointed out the logical fallacies of this theory. This has been further strengthened in the past fifty years, with scholars such as David Frawley, N S Rajaram, Koenrad Elst, Srikant Talageri, Aravindan Neelakandan, and Rajiv Malhotra building a solid case against the Aryan-Dravidian divide. Apart from them, there have been scholars who wrote in regional Indian languages. Though not lacking in originality, their findings do not constitute the core of the mainstream discourse. Critical thinkers and scholars who were outside of academia were neglected although they had wonderful insights. Both these groups of writers have to be critically examined.

This paper attempts to introduce the findings of three scholars from Karnataka: Prof. S. Srikanta Sastri, Vidvān Sediyapu Krishna Bhat, and Dr. B G L Swamy. While Prof. Sastri was a historian by profession, his research was consigned to an insignificant corner as his views were not aligned with the in-vogue trend of his time. Dr. Swamy, who was not a fulltime historian, did not excite the interest of academicians. The views of Sediyapu Krishna Bhat remain largely unnoticed outside Karnataka as he was never a part of the mainstream and wrote only in Kannada.

Prof. Sastri was an academically trained historian, Dr. Swamy was a scientist with a passion for history, and Bhat was a linguist with several original ideas about a wide range of topics including history. While the choice of scholars we have considered for this paper may seem eclectic, their findings are not disparate; on the contrary, they are in consensus. Drawing from all available works of these three scholars on the subject, the authors present an objective assessment of their findings in the light of modern research.

This work, perhaps the first of its kind, strives to bolster the indigenous argument against the whimsical theory of the Aryan–Dravidian divide.


Since the time of its coming into being, the Aryan-Dravidian theory has passed through a series of conceptual impasses but has somehow survived and continued to thrive in academic circles. It has been invoked time and again to serve political gains. Over the decades, many voices—both Indian and foreign—have united to conclusively prove this theory is baseless. Among them, the views of scholars writing in regional languages and those who were not a part of academia have suffered unmerited neglect. Both these groups of writers have to be critically examined.

This paper attempts to introduce the findings of three scholars from Karnataka: Prof. S. Srikanta Sastri, Vidvān Sediyapu Krishna Bhat, and Dr. B G L Swamy. While Prof. Sastri was a historian by profession, his research was consigned to an insignificant corner as his views were not aligned with the in-vogue trend of his time. Dr. Swamy, who was not a fulltime historian, did not excite the interest of academicians. The views of Sediyapu Krishna Bhat remain largely unnoticed outside Karnataka as he was never a part of the mainstream and wrote only in Kannada.

Dr. S. Srikanta Sastri

S Srikanta Sastry

Sondekoppa Srikanta Sastri (5.11.1904 – 10.5.1974) was an Indian historian, indologist, and polyglot. He authored twelve books, over two hundred articles, and several book reviews over four decades in English, Kannada, Telugu, and Sanskrit. To his credit are works such as Sources of Karnataka History, Geopolitics of India and Greater India, Bhāratīya Saṃskṛti (a compendium on Indian culture and tradition),  Hoysaḻa Vāstuśilpa (a study of temple architecture of the Hoysala period in Karnataka), and Purātattvaśodhane (a compendium on archaeology). Prof. Sastri was fluent in fourteen languages including Greek, Latin, Pali, Prakrit, Sanskrit, and German among others. He was prodigiously initiated into the nuances of archaeology and epigraphy and was well-versed with literary, social, and cultural histories of ancient India. Intimately familiar with all the primary texts of the Vedic corpus, his understanding also extended to śrauta and āgama-s. From his attempts at deciphering the Indus script to understanding Egyptian hieroglyphics, he had the unique ability to correlate and interpret sources in their correct perspective. He was the Head of the Department of History & Indology at Maharaja College, University of Mysore from 1940 to 1960.

Analyzing the etymological meaning of the Sanskrit word ‘ārya,’ Dr. Srikanta Sastri explained that it is derived from the root “ – karṣaṇe,” which means, ‘to plough,’ ‘to cultivate.’ He posited that Aryans were originally an agricultural people and not a primitive marauding warrior-folk in the pastoral stage of civilization.

Widespread claims have been circulated regarding the original home of the Aryans. The most popular among these theories traces the abode of the Aryans to Southeastern Europe, based on the existence of Aryan dialects in Mesolithic Europe. Whitney (Whitney 1884) regarded Sanskrit as the perfect flexional language and famously argued to equate languages with stages of cultural development. According to this, positional languages such as Chinese, Burmese, and Sudanese represent the family stage of civilization, agglutinative languages such as Turkish, Swahili, and Korean the nomadic stage, and flexional languages the advanced political stage of Western Europeans. However, it is held that Vedic Sanskrit is supposed to have been current among the ‘pastoral nomadic Aryans.’ Prof. Sastri (Sastri 1947) explained how these views are demonstrably contradictory and concluded that language is not a significant criterion in deciding the stage of culture. He further asserted that conclusive proof is morphological in nature and comparison of vocabulary, if attempted, must be supported by regular correspondence of sound.

Dr. Hoernle and Sir H. Risley attempted to see the speech of Madhyadeśa in the Ṛgvedic language and in order to explain the transition from the ‘Indo-Aryan’ to the ‘Aryo-Dravidian’ variety, they put forward the theory of a second Aryan invasion from Pamirs through Gilgit and Chitral (Datta 1942: 361). Prof. Sastri summarily rejected this claim. He argued: If, according to this, differences in vocabulary and dialects are assumed to connote racial admixture in India, there is no reason not to assume the same for dialectical differences of Avestan, Mittani, and Indi-Hatti varieties of Mesolithic and Neolithic Europe. “To confuse race with language or culture is unscientific,” he said (Sastri 2016: 10). Further, he posited that the Indo-Hatti, Mittani and other people represent the westward migration of Indo-Aryans as early as 3000 BCE if not earlier.

Prof. Sastri affirmed that the theory of autochthonous origin of the Aryans in India cannot be dismissed as an expression of Hindu chauvinism, as it is the only theory consistent with all the available evidence. Drawing from the vast Vedic lore, he showed how the Aryan homeland is primarily Brahmāvarta (Eastern Punjab) and Brahmarṣideśa (Ganga-Yamuna doab). These were the centers from which Vedic speech and culture migrated to the west, east, and the south in the early Paleolithic period. In this regard, he pointed at the fact that the Ṛgveda knows only of the land of the sapta-sindhu and the most sacred place is Brahmāvarta bound by Dṛśadvatī and Sarasvatī (Ṛgveda. 3.23.4). He further observed that the conception of ṛta of Varuṇa and the regular phenomenon of glorious dawns could only have occurred in the plains of eastern Punjab (Zimmermann 2004), just as the storm-myths must have risen near the foothills of the Himalayas.

Risley (Risley 1915) classified Indian population as Dravidian, Indo-Aryan, Turko-Iranian, Scytho-Dravidian, Aryo-Dravidian (Hindustani), Mongoloid, and Mongoloid-Dravidian. Drawing from the arguments of ethnologists such as Haddon (Haddon 1909) and Dixon (Dixon 1923), Prof. Sastri debunked Risley’s argument and showed how the Aryan race was never homogeneous. Instead, Aryan culture was the joint product of several ethnological groups, Dolicho-cephalic as well as Brachy-cephalic. He also proved the assumption wrong that the Aryan invaders, when they entered India, instituted a pure ethnological group but later due to contact with Dravidians the purity was lost.

Alluding to the non-existence of any reference to an out-of-India home in Vedic and Classical Sanskrit literature, Prof. Sastri commented:

 “The Vedic literature is the earliest extant record of the Aryan mind. How is it that in the course of their journey to the sapta-sindhu the Aryans left no such record elsewhere? This absence of literary records in other countries cannot be explained away by a hypothesis that the Aryans only reached a high state of cultural evolution in India. But we can satisfactorily explain it if we suppose that the Aryans migrated from India, and the migration being only of the superfluous population of roving tribes without great cultural development, they could not impart the literary and cultural tradition to the countries in which they ultimately settled.”

(Sastri 2010: 220-221)

Further, it can be argued that migrants are usually seekers of prosperity—artha-kāma-tatpara-s, śiśnodara-parāyaṇa-s—and care little for culture. These migrants were mostly men. Since cultural dissemination through the ages has been women-centric, it may be assumed that cultural pollination was not pronounced amongst migrating Aryans.

Prof. Sastri expressly stated that the proto-Indic civilization represents a cosmopolitan culture developed primarily on Vedic sources. The sacrificial rituals had long been established before the compilation of the saṃhita-s. They represent fertility cults that cannot be attributed to any non-Aryan influence (Sastri 1941). Explaining that the warrior tradition is only a part of Vedic culture that cannot claim any supremacy, he reiterated the fact that the European example of an uncivilized people conquering and then absorbing the higher culture of the conquered has no parallel in Vedic tradition. Adherence of kṣātra to brāhma has always been the cherished Vedic ideal; kṣātra is never thought of as overriding brahmaYatra brahma ca kṣatraṃ ca saṃyañcau carataḥ saha taṃ lokaṃ puṇyam prajñeṣaṃ yatra devāḥ sahāgninā (Śuklayajurveda, 20.25).

Speaking of racial and cultural fusion, Sastri wrote (Sastri 2016), “thus we can fairly conclude that long before the Harappa civilization, racial and cultural mixtures had taken place and that the ‘Aryan’ (Caspian-Mediterranean dolichocephals) had their original home in the region extending from the south of the Hindu Kush to Brahmāvarta – a conclusion supported by Vedic evidence also.”

He (Sastri 2016: 30) listed the following as conclusions based on Vedic evidence:

  1. The earliest phase of Ṛgvedic culture is Neolithic as is evident from the use of stone, bone, and wood implements in the sacrifices (before 11,000 BCE).
  2. The astronomical data show the development of the saṃhita-s from 10,000 BCE to 4,500 BCE. The Brāhmaṇā-s from 4,500 BCE to 3,000 BCE (Mahābhārata period).
  3. The Atharvaveda culture is reflected in the proto-Indic civilization (4,000 BCE–2,700 BCE)
  4. Vedic Gods in the Boghaz Koi and Mitannian records and the vedāṅga Jyautiṣa – 1,400 BCE.

The role of rituals in determining the historicity of the Vedic period has not been sufficiently focused upon by scholars dealing with the subject. Prof. Sastri, however, argued for the consideration of rituals when he wrote (Sastri: 1951) on Vṛṣākapi. In the light of his findings, we understand that the materials used for vessels in rituals were mostly wood, bone, and stone and rarely metal. This points at the historicity of the Vedic period. We also have corroborative evidence in the form of Prof. Wakankar’s research (Wakankar 2008) – the paintings at Bhimbetka relate to the Aśvamedha ritual.  The various trees made use of for rituals are all indigenous and this points at the incongruence of the Aryan Invasion theory. From the point of view of linguistic evolution, it can be argued that the vamśīyamaṇḍāla-s, the oldest portions of the Ṛgveda-saṃhita, had metrical predecessors, for vitāla compositions are preceded by satāla varieties. The converse is seldom seen (Sediyapu 2006). This is witnessed in the Talavakāra-śākha of Sāmaveda, which is said to have been a satāla composition, as is evident from its name. All these reasons suggest that Prof. Sastri’s dating of the Vedic period is neither far-fetched nor divorced from reality.

Co-written by Shashi Kiran B N.

To be continued.




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. A literary aficionado, Shashi enjoys composing poetry set to classical meters in Sanskrit. He co-wrote a translation of Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh’s Kannada work Kavitegondu Kathe.

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