The Indo-Aryan Controversy by Bryant and Patton

Edwin F. Bryant and Laurie L. Patton, eds. The Indo-Aryan Controversy: Evidence and Inference in Indian History. London and New York: Routledge, 2005. Paperback, xi + 522 pages.

The nineteenth-century model of an invasion of Sanskrit-speaking “Aryan” tribes into Northern India around 1200 B.C. was called in question the moment archaeologists discovered in the early 1920s the so-called Indus Valley Civilization. Western archaeologists, who had fallen under the spell of the linguistically derived Aryan invasion theory, believed to have detected evidence of this invasion at Mohenjo Daro and Harappa, but soon had to modify their views. Many Indian scholars from the outset offered a different interpretation of the facts. They argued that the Indo-Aryans could not be held responsible for the slight evidence of violence found in those cities, because the invasion never actually happened.

In the intervening years, the Aryan invasion theory has suffered quite a few serious blows, and the voices arguing for a great cultural continuity between the so-called Indus Valley Civilization, Vedic culture, and modern Hinduism have become more numerous.

Yet, many questions have remained unanswered, and the scholarly debate over the ethnic and linguistic identity of the citizens of the Indus Valley towns continues vigorously. This monograph captures much of the debate at the current moment, though it does not cover all the evidence and most recent speculations (notably relative to genetic research), as this area of inquiry is shifting fairly rapidly.

The fourteen contributions in this volume are conveniently, if not always convincingly, organized into four parts: Archaeology, Archaeology and Linguistics, Philology and Linguistics, and Historiography. Of the seventeen contributors, twelve are Western scholars, five are Indian savants. While this volume can be said to be fair in the sampling of the various perspectives that exist on this complex subject, it does not—and was also not intended to—offer a grand synthesis. One of the editors (Edwin Bryant) has attempted to do this in a previous book entitled The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture (2001). In her excellent introduction, coeditor Laurie Patton provides, however, a summary of the key issues involved in the debate. She concludes: “Barring any new discoveries, neither internal evidence from the Veda, nor archaeological evidence, nor linguistic substrata alone can make the turning point in any given hypothesis . . . It is far too early for scholars to begin taking positions and constructing scenarios as if they were truths” (p. 17).

This may be disappointing for those who want a quick-and-ready answer now. But Patton’s recommendation is sound science. In any case, this monograph is an important step toward reappraising this field of inquiry and generating, as Patton suggests in her introduction, the sort of questions that could lead to rethinking the available evidence and structuring new field research. The forbidding price of the volume is unaffordable for most scholars, and with libraries being terribly underfunded it is, unfortunately, unlikely to stimulate the investigations of the many researchers interested in the origins of India’s great civilization.

Copyright ©2006 by Georg Feuerstein. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in any form requires prior permission from Traditional Yoga Studies.

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