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UCLA 9A: The Dark Skinned Dasas - varnamvarnam
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UCLA 9A: The Dark Skinned Dasas

In the lecture on Vedas, as part of the  Introduction to Asian Civilizations: History of India course at UCLA, the instructor makes few points about the Vedic period which again shows that mostly outdated information or incomplete information is still being taught (Lecture of 10/2/2009). 

When he talks about the Vedic gods — Agni, Varuna, Indra, Ushas — he notes that they are connected to the elements. This, he explains, is not surprising since the Aryans were pastoralists concerned about the whims of nature. Though it looks convincing, the shallowness of this observation can be understood only by reading better books on that period.

The Aryans did not just have a childlike wonder towards the natural forces; they also had a philosophy behind it. The Rg Vedic gods did not just keep order in the physical universe. They also kept moral order[1]. In the Mantras, there are expressions like ‘guardians of rta’ and ‘practicers of rta’. For example Varuna is not just the god of sky and heavenly light, but also the one who fixed the laws of the physical universe which cannot be violated. It is said that no sin escapes his attention[2].

The instructor mentions another point in his confusing Aryan invasion narrative: He says that the Rg Veda notes that

  1. the incoming people attacked forts and citadels
  2. subdued snub-nosed and dark skinned people known as the Dasas.

An analysis of this statement shows there is a Grand Canyon wide gap between what we know now and what the instructor is teaching.

The theory of the forts and citadels comes from the British archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler. When he saw thirty seven skeletons in Mohejo-daro, Indra stood accused for he was purandara or the ‘fort destroyer’. Later Western archaeologists themselves noted that there was not a single bit of evidence to suggest an armed invasion of Harappa; none of the skeletons were in the area of the citadels. Also to add more nails to this coffin, it was found that the skeletons were from a period after the abandonment of the city and only one skeleton had a lesion caused by a weapon[3].

This nasal debate was started by Max Müller in 1854 based on a solitary reference to the word anasah.He thought this word meant noseless or snub nosed. In 1891, in the eyes of British ethnographer Herbert Hope Risley, this solitary reference became frequent references. By 1967 some Western scholars thought that the word probably meant faceless instead of noseless. Nevertheless they decided to go with Max Müller[3].

A proper response was given by Sri Aurobindo. He noted that the word anasah does not mean noseless. Even if it did mean noseless, he said it could not be a reference to the Dravidian nose which was as good as any Aryan nose. Another possibility is that the noseless description could refer to the tribal people. In fact there is an equivalent word in the language of the Bhil tribe. But the word in Bhil tribe means unethical not noseless[3].

Indian scholars meanwhile read anasah as an-asa meaning devoid of fair speech.This makes sense because the words Arya, Dasa and Dasyu appear mostly with reference to hymns about Indra. The Aryans worshipped Indra while the Dasas or Dasyus were without rites, of different rites, non-sacrificers, without prayers, without Brahmin priests, and without Indra. This word appears in a passage where Dasyus are also described as having defective organs of speech; maybe they were referring to the Dasyus as uncivilized or uncultured[3]

Thus you see two groups of people who disagreed on rituals, but there is nothing to suggest a racial divide. Since the UCLA instructor is a proponent of the Aryan Invasion Theory, there is one version of which suggests that the Dasas were Indo-Europeans who arrived earlier than the Vedic people.

What about the dark skin? This comes from two words — krishna and asikini — which mean black. These words are used to refer to black clouds, black demons, the power of darkness and a demon named Krishna.

According to one Western scholar the krishna is a symbolic expression for darkness. According to Prof. Michael Witzel, for Vedic poets black meant evil and not skin color. In 1999 Hock reexamined all these passages and concluded that this skin color was just a mechanism to justify European imperialism; Ambedkar had made that conclusion much earlier.

For more than a century Indian scholars have challenged this racial interpretation. For more than half a century Western scholars have agreed with this. Still in 2009, Max Müller’s 19th century racial interpretation is being taught. 

References:

  1. Upinder Singh, A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India: From the Stone Age to the 12th Century, 1st ed. (Prentice Hall, 2009).
  2. M. Hiriyanna, Outlines of Indian Philosophy (Motilal Banarsidass Pub, 2000).
  3. Edwin Bryant, The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture: The Indo-Aryan Migration Debate(Oxford University Press, USA, 2004). 

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