Sanskrit: European misappropriation of the ancient language led to the Aryan Race Theory – Rajiv Malhotra

Chief Rabbinate of Israel“Since there is no conclusive evidence to support the theory of an Aryan invasion / migration into India, and on the contrary, there is compelling evidence to refute it; and since the theory seriously damages the integrity of the Hindu tradition and its connection to India; we call for a serious reconsideration of this theory, and a revision of all educational material on this issue that includes the most recent and reliable scholarship.” – Chief Rabbinate of Israel

Rajiv MalhotraIt is not widely known that the European quest to appropriate the highly prized library of Sanskrit’s ancient spiritual texts motivated the construction of the “Aryan” race identity, one of the ideological roots of Nazism. The Sanskrit word “arya” is an adjective that means noble or pure. For example, the famous Buddhist Four Noble Truths are described as the Four Arya Truths or catvāri āryasatyāni in Sanskrit. Arya does not refer to a race, but a cultural quality venerated in Sanskrit texts.

German nationalism turned this word into a noun, “Aryan,” and capitalized it to refer to an imagined race of people that were the original Sanskrit speakers who had composed its great texts. Early romantic claims that Indians were the ancestors of the Europeans were gradually replaced by the new myth that a race called “Indo-Aryans” was the common ancestors to both. Their origin was thought to be in the Caucasus Mountains, hence the term “Caucasian.” Later, the “Indo” was dropped and the white Aryan Race Theory emerged. Thus, from the European desire to be seen as the inheritors of the Sanskrit civilization, the notion of a European super-race was born, with Germany as its highest manifestation.

Tomb of William Jones in Kolkata.How did this come about? In the late 1700s, European identity was shaken when scholars discovered that Sanskrit was closely related to the European languages, though much older and more sophisticated. At first, this discovery fed European Romantic imagination, in which India was glorified as the perfect past. Herder, a German Romanticist, saw Europe’s “discovery” of India as a “re-discovery” of its own foundation. India was viewed as Europe’s mother civilization by Frederick Schlegel in Germany and by Voltaire in France. William Jones, a British colonial administrator, considered Sanskrit the most marvelous product of the human mind. Sanskrit and Indology entered most major European universities between 1800 and 1850, challenging if not replacing Latin and Greek texts as a source for “new” ideas. Many new disciplines were shaped by the ensuing intellectual activity, including linguistics, comparative religion, modern philosophy and sociology.

With European nations competing among themselves for civilizational legacy, many rival theories emerged regarding the origins of the original Sanskrit speakers and their civilization. German nationalists found in the affinity between Sanskrit and German the possibility of a newly respectable pedigree vis-à-vis the French, and claimed the heritage of the treasure trove of Sanskrit literature to bolster their cause. The British interpreted India and Sanskrit in a manner that would strengthen their own role as empire-builders, with India as the jewel in the crown. Because Indians were not participants in European forums, there was widespread plagiarism of Indian texts, as well as much distorted interpretation.

The Aryan ChristBy “becoming” the Aryans, Europeans felt that they were the rightful custodians of the massive corpus of Sanskrit texts that were generating new breakthroughs in the humanities and liberal arts. Germans took their newly adopted Aryan identity to extremes, and most of the influential European thinkers of the time colluded. Their racist theories often had an anti-Semitic dimension, seeking to reconstruct the Bible in Aryan terms. Ernest Renan, a philologist and Hebrew scholar, drew sharp distinctions between Semitic and Aryan languages and peoples. He proposed that though Aryans began as polytheists they were later transformed into Christian monotheists, and that Semitic peoples comprised an entirely different (and inferior) civilization. Adolphe Pictet, a Swiss linguist and ethnographer, was fully committed to the notion of European Aryans who were destined to conquer the world being blessed with “innate beauty” and “gifts of intelligence.” He separated Jesus from Judaism, and turned him into the Aryan Christ.

The Aryan FamilyThe nascent discipline called “race science” was reinforced by such ideas. Joseph Arthur Comte de Gobineau, a French diplomat, philosopher and historian argued in his hugely influential Essay on the Inequality of Human Races that Adam from the Bible was the “originator of our white species.” He wrote of the “superiority of the white type and within that type of the Aryan family.” His thesis on India claimed that white Aryans had invaded India and subsequently began to intermarry with the local population. Realizing the danger of intermarriage, the Aryan lawgivers invented the caste system as a means of self-preservation. India was held up as an example of how interbreeding with an inferior race could bring about the decline of a superior one. Hitler’s idea of “purifying” the Aryans was born out of this, and it culminated in the Holocaust.

Houston Chamberlain was a British historian whose magnum opus, Foundations of the Nineteenth Century (written in German), also projected Aryan-Germans as the most evolved among Aryan races. He introduced Christian, scientific and philosophical arguments to lend credibility and explained the benefits that Christianity would derive by supporting German racism. Anthropologist Kenneth Kennedy concludes of Gobineau and Chamberlain, that they “transformed the Aryan concept, which had its humble origins in philological research conducted by Jones in Calcutta at the end of the eighteenth century, into the politics and racial doctrines of Adolph Hitler’s Third Reich.”

Israel's Sephardic Chief Rabbi.In 2007, I played a role in a historic milestone when I was invited to address the first Hindu-Jewish Summit. I spoke on the Aryan myth and the suffering that it had inflicted on both religious communities. Contrary to earlier apprehensions of some Hindus that this was a “risky” topic to bring up, the head of the Jewish delegation, Rabbi Rosen, member of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel’s Commission for Inter-religious Dialogue, was very impressed. The Jewish delegation decided to appoint a team of scholars to study the issue and the references I had supplied. As a result, at the following year’s Summit, a joint declaration was signed, which included the following language from my draft:

“Since there is no conclusive evidence to support the theory of an Aryan invasion/migration into India, and on the contrary, there is compelling evidence to refute it; and since the theory seriously damages the integrity of the Hindu tradition and its connection to India; we call for a serious reconsideration of this theory, and a revision of all educational material on this issue that includes the most recent and reliable scholarship.”

Bishop Robert CaldwellToday, the Western mainstream has made special efforts to remove the notion of an Aryan race from the vocabulary and the public psyche. However, as my recently released book, Breaking India, explains, the damage in India has worsened. The Dravidian Race Theory was formulated by British missionaries in the 1800s in parallel with the Aryan theory, and it divides the peoples of India into racial categories of “Aryans” and “Dravidians.” Western scholars and institutions continue to support Dravidian racism, which is dependent upon acceptance of the Aryan race construct. In a future blog I will explain how Christian missionaries are now exploiting these dangerous constructs. Huffington Post, March 21, 2011  

» See also “How Christian missionaries invented ‘Dravidian Christianity'” – Rajiv Malhotra

7 Responses

  1. Also there is another argument which will deny any sympathy for judaism. The monotheists all have one dogma which says, that they always favor monotheists over ANY non-monotheists. Which means their wars are only staging. So you have massive problems with both christians and moslems as it is intended, and you seek help from the source of monotheism… this will end up terribly.


  2. It comes always down to one question will ‘india’ pagans stick to their tradition or will they give it away. Sure they want to give it up. Its already almost over religion is a trap. There is almost no religion that cares about nature, you can see it from this.


  3. Is there an ‘alternative’ theory seeking to explain the close affinities observed between most European languages and Sanskrit ?


  4. Please see this book on Poligars of Mysore. left side download, but it is a zip file , huge for display, but you can post some paras when you have time.


  5. “and would have once more have become a suitable domicile for the goblins of Ravana.”
    See how Bishop Caldwell has insulted the Poligars. Thevars were the part of the Poligar race , who were uncivlised during Silapathikaram. During the Raya dynasty, of about 225 yrs, they got evolved and were highly refined and could work for administration and military. The Rayas made them a civlized lot. This Bishop Caldwell discounts this due to tough opposition the Thevars were to the British. The Indian intellect completely got mesmerised by this nonsense until Pasumpon Ayya came and joined Subhash Chandra Bose. Bose recognised us and it is because of him we have rediscovred ourselves and got our glory back. The mischief of Caldwell was used by Dk, DMK, AAIDMK to stereo type the thevar community in all aspects esp in Tamil films. This is just to point out how the seeds sown by the stupid Caldwell has led to so many problems.

    Bishop Caldwell and the Tamil Dravidians [including Note by Sivaram , Letter from Sachi Sri Kantha, 1992 & Post Script by Sachi Srikantha, 2005] Robert Caldwell (1819-1891) was the father of the Dravidian movement. He was the Bishop of Tinnevely –the heartland of the Maravar Poligars –during the times when the British were engaged in suppressing the Tamil military castes in the Tamil region. His monumental work, The Comparative Grammar of the Dravidian Languages, which was published in 1856 laid the theoretical foundation of the political,
    academic and cultural movement that came to dominate Tamilian life in the twentieth century. The work argues that all south Indian languages (and a few others elsewhere in the subcontinent, like Brahui) belong to a distinct family of tongues called the Dravidian languages. This challenged the widely held view of the time that most of India’s cultivated languages were derived from Sanskrit.

    It followed therefore that the culture and civilization of the Dravidian peoples of south India were intrinsically unique. The role of these ideas in the inception of the Dravidian movement has been examined in detail elsewhere (Irshick; 1969, Hardgrave; 1965, Sivathamby:1978). These studies have been in terms of the cultural and political contradictions between the newly arisen non-Brahmin elites and the Brahmins who had achieved a pre-eminent place under colonial rule in the Madras Presidency.

    The intention of this study however is to show that the fundamental tenets of the nascent phase of the Dravidian ideology were essentially linked to the political and cultural legacies of the British attempt to demilitarize Tamil society. The writings of Bishop Caldwell presuppose a teleological project which was not uncommon to what were conceived as great intellectual undertakings in that era of empire building. The assumptions of the
    project formed the basis of his Dravidian theory. They were, (a) That the British empire was destined to finally bring order amongst Tamils, a large portion of whom had been more prone to the habit of war than to the arts of peace from the dawn of history in south India, (b) That this order would be the one in which the imminent protestant ethos of the Dravidian civilization would reach its full expressional ethos which the English administrator saw as the virtue of those classes which “contrasted favourably with the Maravar”, and whom the Bishop considered the legitimate Tamilians, (c) That the rediscovery of Dravidian linguistic and cultural uniqueness would help consolidate the position of the ‘lower classes’ among the Tamils who had played an important role in the military expansion of British rule in the subcontinent– the Tamil Bishop Caldwell 1814 – 1891 Christian soldiers who were the Empire’s alternative to the traditional Tamil military castes. In the concluding remarks of his ‘A History of Tinnevely’(1888), Caldwell says, “A mixed government…came thus to an end and was succeeded by a government purely English, at
    unity with itself, and as just as it was powerful. The results of this change have been most important and valuable. Professor Wilson…places in a striking light the course things would have taken if the English Government had not been enabled to interpose its authority.”

    “It may be concluded,” he says, “that had not a wise and powerful policy interfered to enforce the habits of social life, the fine districts to the south of Kaveri…would have reverted to the state in which tradition describes them long anterior to Christianity, and would have once more have become a suitable domicile for the goblins of Ravana.” The first reflection that arises in one’s mind on reading the foregoing sketch of the history of this district is, that war seems to have been the normal condition of Tinnevely, as of the rest of the old Pandya country…from the beginning of man’s abode in these regions till A.D. 1801 (the year in which the Tamil country was ceded to the British). Caldwell also notes that, “Of the beneficial changes that have taken place since then, the most remarkable is that which we see in the Poligars themselves.” He claims with satisfaction that many among the regions martial classes were taking to agriculture; and of the Maravar, he says “the change wrought amongst the poorer class of the Maravas is not perhaps quite so complete…though once the terror of the country they are now amenable to law and reason…” Tamil society was thus ‘unity with itself’ and was realising its destiny under the British Empire. He asserts that “Race after race of rulers have risen up in this country, has been tried and found wanting, and has passed away.” But that the Tamils “accept our government readily and willingly as the best government they have ever had and the best they are likely to have in this age of the world.” Under the “paternal government” of the English, Tamils were becoming a peaceful and industrious nation. The last “race of rulers” which had risen up and passed away in the Tamil country were the turbulent Maravar. English rule was the only one that was not found wanting because its principles and protestant ethos were in consonance with what Caldwell assumed were the ‘true’ religious and moral ideas of the Dravidian race.
    Although as a historian, he was well aware of the hegemony of the Maravar’s martial culture in Tamil society, its exclusion from what he desired to portray as the true Dravidian civilization was central to the imperial and religious interests of Caldwell’s teleologial project. The English, in suppressing the martial castes, were restoring the soverignty of Tamil society’s “legitimate rulers” – the peasantry and lower classes. In Caldwell’s view, the Tamil military castes had to seek “the safer and more reputable occupation of husbandmen” (Caldwell: 1888, p.229). However, he was deeply suspicious of their peace. Commenting on the Poligar wars, he wrote, “The population of the sequestered Pollams (Palayams) seemed to be delighted with the opportunity afforded them of trying their strength with the English once more, being thoroughly discontented, no doubt, with the peaceful life now required of them” (p.197). And he condemned a suggestion ventured by the author of the Tinnevely Manual, Mr.Stuart that the Palayam system of the Tamil military castes was histocially inevitable as the fiefdoms of medieval Europe – “It is so seldom that one hears a good word about Poligars that I quote these remarks of Mr.Stuart with pleasure…I fear, however, that the misdeeds of the Poligars were more systematic and audacious than those of the feudal nobles of Europe in the Middle Ages.” (p.59) Apart from concerns shared with the British Government, the Bishop’s hostile attitude towards the Maravar arose from the bloody violence they unleashed on the Shanar, large numbers of whom were embracing the Protestant faith. For him, if the idolatory and the Sanskritic culture of the articulate Brahmins was a spiritual threat to the propagation of the Gospel, the violence and misdeeds of the Maravar against the faithful was a dire physical threat. In his scheme of Tamilian history, the culture and ethos of the classes through whom the British government and the Anglican Church sought to consolidate the gains of Tamil society’s demilitarization were seen by Caldwell as the true characteristics of the Tamils. The martial habits of the Maravar and the Sanskritic culture of the Brahmins were alien to the social order and moral ideals of the ‘true’ Dravidians. These views were shared by many English missionaries of the 19th century who worked among the Tamils. Missionaries and administrators found evidence for this in many religious and didactic Tamil texts. Henry Martyn Scudder published a book in 1865, in which he “used Tamil texts and poems to support the missionary position that even in ancient Tamil texts many Christian ideas were present.” (Irshick; 1976, p.15). This belief led to the introduction of what were thought to be Tamil works, with little or no extraneous influence in institutions of higher education run by missionaries. The college curriculum created a market for the publication of such works. This in turn gave an impetus to the rediscovery of many ancient Tamil works (U.V.Saminatha Iyer; En Sarithiram, p.714)., which paradoxically led to the publication of Purananooru and the Purapporul Venba Malai, texts that portrayed the ancient Tamils as a fierce martial race and lay the foundation of modern Tamil militarism.

    Thus Caldwell’s teleology assumed that Tamil revivalism would help consolidate the protestant ethic and the allegiance to English rule among the non-military castes in Tamil society, by giving expression to the moral and religious ideas which he assumed were imminent in their ancient Dravidian culture and language.

    The administrative manual of the Madurai district commended a section of this class of Tamils thus, “They…contrast favourably with the Maravars, being very orderly, frugal, and industrious”. Other section, the Shanar it was stated, “have risen enormously in the social scale by their eagerness for education, by their large adoption of Christianity, and by their thrifty habits. Many of them have forced themselves ahead of the Maravars by sheer force of character.” (Thurston: 1906, p.373). It was to these ‘loyal’ classes of Tamils that Caldwell referred to when he wrote in the introduction to his Grammar that “All throughout Ceylon, the coolies in the coffee plantations are Tamilians; the majority of the money- making classes even in Colombo are Tamilians; and it seems not unlikely that [?]ere long the Tamilians will have excluded the Singhalese from almost every profitable employment in their own Island. The majority of the Klings or Hindus, who are found in Pegu, Penang, Singapore and other places in further East, are Tamilians; a large portion of the Coolies who have emigrated in such numbers to the Mauritius and to the West Indian colonies are Tamilians; in short wherever money is to be made, wherever a more apathetic or a more aristocratic people is waiting to be pushed aside, thither swarm the Tamilians, the Greeks or Scotch of the East, the least superstitious and the most enterprising and persevering race of Hindus.” (Caldwell: 1856, p.7). Caldwell’s Dravidian theory thus gave rise to a vocabulary in which the word Tamil came to connote the non-Brahmin, non-martial aspects of Tamil culture. Bishop Robert Caldwell in laying the foundation of the Dravidian movement also endeavoured and partially succeeded in dispersing the impression that the Tamils who, only a few years before his time were thought of as being “prone to the habit of war”, were a peace loving and industrious nation. The intellectual endeavours of the learned missionary made the British Empire cherish an ulterior hope that the ‘Dravidian’ Tamils would remain the faithful among the faithless, the bedrock of the Raj for a long time to come– the events of the great mutiny and the rise of the Dravidian movement proved them correct.


  6. Please see the topics below as cited in the web site.above. It is a very interesting analysis. These topics are very incisive. Please select and post it your web site
    Bishop Caldwell and the Tamil Dravidians
    The Tamil Soldier and the Dravidian Diaspora
    The Twin Narratives of Tamil Nationalism
    Bharathy and the Legitimation of Militarism
    Warrior Sons and Mothers

    There are many more

    Origins and Dispersion in South India and Sri Lanka
    Tamil Military Castes
    The Code of Suicide
    Militarism and Caste in Jaffna
    The suppression of Tamil military castes
    Bishop Caldwell and the Tamil Dravidians
    The Tamil Soldier and the Dravidian Diaspora
    The Twin Narratives of Tamil Nationalism
    Bharathy and the Legitimation of Militarism
    Warrior Sons and Mothers
    The Legend of Cheran Senguttuvan.
    Postscript by Sachi Sri Kantha, 6 May 2005
    Related Correspondence


  7. […] See related post “European misappropriation of Sanskrit led to the Aryan race theory” – Rajiv […]


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