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Op-Ed in Pragati: Getting Objective about it



(This article appeared in the June 2009 edition of Pragati)

In January 2009, US network PBS telecast a documentary titled The Story of India. Hosted by Michael Wood,this six-part series narrated a compressed history of India from pre-historic times till Independence. The first episode—Beginnings—-discussed one of the most controversial topics in Indian history: the origin of the Aryans.

In this episode Mr Wood did three things. Standing at Khyber Pass, looking down at the valley of Kabul river, he quoted the translation of a verse from Baudhayana Srautasutra which reads, “some went east..but some stayed at home in the west”. This verse, Wood opined, suggests an Aryan migration from Afghanistan into India.

Second, he went to Turkmenistan to meet Viktor Sarianidi, the legendary Russian archaeologist, who besides unearthing the Bactrian gold in northern Afghanistan, found horses, wheeled vehicles and mud-brick fire altars in Gonur Tepe, Turkmenistan. According to Dr Sarianidi, the Aryans arrived there around 2000 BC and left in 1800 BC towards Afghanistan.

Third, Mr Wood mentioned a 1786 discovery by the polyglot Sir William Jones on the similarities between Sanskrit and various European languages, due to which if a Sanskrit speaker mentioned the word ashva, a Lithuanian farmer would know exactly what he meant. All these indicated that  the ancestors of the Aryans were part of a language group which spread from the area between Caspian sea and Aral mountains 4000 years ago. As per this theory, these Sanskrit speaking newcomers subjugated the natives—Dravidians and tribals—and established themselves at the top of the caste hierarchy.

Sounds logical, but Mr Wood’s claims are controvertible. According to B B Lal, who was the Director General of the Archaeological Survey of India, the correct translation of Baudhayana Srautasutra says that while some Aryan tribes went east and the others went west from some intermediary point. This intermediary point for Dr Lal is not the valley of the Kabul river, but that of the Indus.
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