Indo-Aryan migration

Indo-Aryan migration

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Abashevo culture · Afanasevo culture · Andronovo culture · Baden culture · Beaker culture · Catacomb culture · Cernavodă culture · Chasséen culture · Chernoles culture · Corded Ware culture · Cucuteni-Trypillian culture · Dnieper-Donets culture · Gumelniţa-Karanovo culture · Gushi culture · Karasuk culture · Kemi Oba culture · Khvalynsk culture · Kura-Araxes culture · Lusatian culture · Maykop culture · Middle Dnieper culture · Narva culture · Novotitorovka culture · Poltavka culture · Potapovka culture · Samara culture · Seroglazovo culture · Sredny Stog culture · Srubna culture · Terramare culture · Usatovo culture · Vučedol culture · Yamna culture

Models of the Indo-Aryan migration discuss scenarios of prehistoric migrations of the proto-Indo-Aryans to their historically attested areas of settlement in the northwest of the Indian subcontinent. Claims of Indo-Aryan migration are drawn from linguistic[1], genetic and even archaeological sources, as well as from a multitude of data stemming from Vedic religion, rituals, poetics as well as some aspects of social organization and chariot technology.

Indo-Aryan language derives from an earlier Proto-Indo-Iranian stage, usually identified with the Bronze Age Sintashta and Andronovo culture north-east of the Caspian Sea. Their migration to and within Northwestern parts of South Asia is consequently presumed to have taken place in the Middle to Late Bronze Age, contemporary to the Late Harappan phase (ca. 1700 to 1300 BCE).


History and political background

The terms North Indian and South Indian are ethno-linguistic categories, with North Indian corresponding to Indo-Aryan-speaking, more Caucasoid peoples and South Indian corresponding to Dravidian-speaking, more Australoid peoples; however, because of admixture, these two groups often overlap.[2][3] The majority of North Indians tend to have more in common with West Eurasians, whereas the majority of South Indians tend to have more in common with East Asians.[4][5] In 19th century Indo-European studies, the language of the Rigveda was the most archaic Indo-European language known to scholars, indeed the only records of Indo-European that could reasonably claim to date to the Bronze Age. This "primacy" of Sanskrit inspired some scholars, such as Friedrich Schlegel, to assume that the locus of the Proto-Indo-European Urheimat had been in India, with the other dialects spread to the west by historical migration. This was however never a mainstream position even in the 19th century. Most scholars assumed a homeland either in Europe or in Western Asia, and Sanskrit must in this case have reached India by a language transfer from west to east, in a movement described in terms of invasion by 19th century scholars such as Max Müller. With the 20th century discovery of Bronze-Age attestations of Indo-European (Anatolian, Mycenaean Greek), Vedic Sanskrit lost its special status as the most archaic Indo-European language known.

The Indus Valley civilization (IVC) was discovered in the 1920s. The discovery of the Harappa, Mohenjo-daro and Lothal sites changed the theory from a migration of "advanced" Aryan people towards a "primitive" aboriginal population to a migration of nomadic people into an advanced urban civilization, comparable to the Germanic migrations after the Fall of Rome, or the Kassite invasion of Babylonia. The decline of the Indus Valley Civilisation at precisely the period in history for which the Indo-Aryan migration had been assumed, provides independent support of the linguistic scenario. This argument is associated with the mid-20th century archaeologist Mortimer Wheeler, who interpreted the presence of many unburied corpses found in the top levels of Mohenjo-daro as the victims of conquest wars, and who famously stated that the god "Indra stands accused" of the destruction of the Indus Valley Civilisation.

In the later 20th century, ideas were refined along with data accrual, and migration and acculturation were seen as the methods whereby Indo-Aryans spread into northwest India around 1500 BC. These changes were thought to be in line with changes in thinking about language transfer in general, such as the migration of the Greeks into Greece (between 2100 and 1600 BC) and their adoption of a syllabic script, Linear B, from the pre-existing Linear A, with the purpose of writing Mycenaean Greek, or the Indo-Europeanization of Western Europe (in stages between 2200 and 1300 BC).

Most recent genetic research indicates that the Indian subcontinent was subjected to a series of massive Indo-European migrations about 3,500 BC.[6] The decline of the Indus Valley Civilization because of Indo-European "elite dominance" of the Indus Valley around 1,200-3,500 BC, resulted in a gradual movement of the indigenous Dravidian-speaking Australoid population towards the better-watered areas of Haryana and Gujarat, and subsequently to the Ganges and Yamuna rivers in the east, as indicated by recent discoveries of Indus Valley type small townships in Gujarat and Haryana in India. This opened up the Punjab to further expansion and conquest by semi-nomadic Indo-Aryan-speaking peoples.

Local political debate and implications

The debate over such a migration, and the accompanying influx of elements of Vedic religion from Central Asia is politically charged in modern India. Some nationalist organizations, especially, remain opposed to the concept. Outside India, the political overtones of the theory are not as pronounced, and it is discussed in the larger framework of Indo-Iranian and Indo-European expansion.[citation needed]

Outside of academic debate, an "Indian Urheimat" has some proponents among writers linked to Hindu nationalism such as Elst (1999) and Kazanas (2001, 2002, 2009).[citation needed] "Out of India" scenarios locating the Indo-European homeland on the Indian subcontinent have gained currency in the Indian nationalist discourse since the 2000s.


Linguistic evidence points to the Indo-Aryan languages as intrusive into South Asia, some time in the 2nd millennium BC. The language of the Rigveda, the earliest stratum of Vedic Sanskrit is assigned to about 1500-1200 BC.[7]


According to the linguistic center of gravity principle, the most likely point of origin of a language family is in the area of its greatest diversity.[8] By this criterion, India, home to only a single branch of the Indo-European language family (i.e. Indo-Aryan), is an exceedingly unlikely candidate for the Indo-European homeland, compared to Central-Eastern Europe, for example, which is home to the Italic, Venetic, Illyrian, Albanian, Germanic, Baltic, Slavic, Thracian and Greek branches of Indo-European.[9]

Both mainstream Urheimat solutions locate the Proto-Indo-European homeland in the vicinity of the Black Sea.[10]

Dialectical variation

Indo-European isoglosses, including the centum and satem languages (blue and red, respectively), augment, PIE *-tt- > -ss-, *-tt- > -st-, and m-endings.

It has been recognized since mid-19th century that a binary tree model cannot capture all linguistic alignments; certain areal features cut across language groups and are better explained through a model treating linguistic change like waves rippling out through a pond. This is true of the Indo-European languages as well. Various features originated and spread while Proto-Indo-European was still a dialect continuum.[11] These features sometimes cut across sub-families: for instance, the instrumental, dative and ablative plurals in Germanic and Balto-Slavic feature endings beginning with -m-, rather than the usual -*bh-, e.g. Old Church Slavonic instrumental plural synъ-mi 'with sons',[12] despite the fact that the Germanic languages are centum, while Balto-Slavic languages are satem.

The strong correspondence between the dialectical relationships of the Indo-European languages and their actual geographical arrangement in their earliest attested forms makes an Indian origin for the family unlikely.[13]

Substrate influence

Dravidian and other South Asian languages share with Indo-Aryan a number of syntactical and morphological features that are alien to other Indo-European languages, including even its closest relative, Old Iranian. Phonologically, there is the introduction of retroflexes, which alternate with dentals in Indo-Aryan; morphologically there are the gerunds; and syntactically there is the use of a quotative marker ("iti").[14] These are taken as evidence of substratum influence.

It has been argued that Dravidian influenced Indic through "shift", whereby native Dravidian speakers learned and adopted Indic languages. The presence of Dravidian structural features in Old Indo-Aryan is thus plausibly explained, that the majority of early Old Indo-Aryan speakers had a Dravidian mother tongue which they gradually abandoned.[15] Even though the innovative traits in Indic could be explained by multiple internal explanations, early Dravidian influence is the only explanation that can account for all of the innovations at once – it becomes a question of explanatory parsimony; moreover, early Dravidian influence accounts for the several of the innovative traits in Indic better than any internal explanation that has been proposed.[16]

A pre-Indo-European linguistic substratum in South Asia would be a good reason to exclude India as a potential Indo-European homeland.[17] However, several linguists, all of whom accept the external origin of the Aryan languages on other grounds, are still open to considering the evidence as internal developments rather than the result of substrate influences,[18] or as adstratum effects.[19]


Archaeological cultures associated with Indo-Iranian migrations (after EIEC).

The Andronovo, BMAC and Yaz cultures have been associated with Indo-Iranian migrations, with separation of Indo-Aryans proper from Proto-Indo-Iranians dated to roughly 2000–1800 BC. The Gandhara Grave, Cemetery H, Copper Hoard and Painted Grey Ware cultures are candidates for subsequent cultures associated with Indo-Aryan movements, their arrival in the Indian subcontinent being dated to the Late Harappan period.

It is believed Indo-Aryans reached Assyria in the west and the Punjab in the east before 1500 BC: the Hurrite speaking Mitanni rulers, influenced by Indo-Aryan, appear from 1500 in northern Mesopotamia, and the Gandhara grave culture emerges from 1600. This suggests that Indo-Aryan tribes would have had to be present in the area of the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex (southern Turkmenistan/northern Afghanistan) from 1700 BC at the latest (incidentally corresponding with the decline of that culture).


early 2nd millennium introduction of the chariot to India is consistent with the overall picture of the spread of this innovation (Mesopotamia 1700, China 1600, N Europe 1300).

The conventional identification of the Andronovo culture as Indo-Iranian is disputed by those who point to the absence south of the Oxus River of the characteristic timber graves of the steppe.[20]

Based on its use by Indo-Aryans in Mitanni and Vedic India, its prior absence in the Near East and Harappan India, and its 19-20th century BC attestation at the Andronovo site of Sintashta, Kuzmina (1994) argues that the chariot corroborates the identification of Andronovo as Indo-Iranian. Klejn (1974) and Brentjes (1981) find the Andronovo culture much too late for an Indo-Iranian identification since chariot-wielding Aryans appear in Mitanni by the 15th to 16th century BC. However, Anthony & Vinogradov (1995) dated a chariot burial at Krivoye Lake to about 2000 BC and a BMAC burial that also contains a foal has recently been found, indicating further links with the steppes.[21]

Mallory (as cited in Bryant 2001:216) admits the extraordinary difficulty of making a case for expansions from Andronovo to northern India, and that attempts to link the Indo-Aryans to such sites as the Beshkent and Vakhsh cultures "only gets the Indo-Iranian to Central Asia, but not as far as the seats of the Medes, Persians or Indo-Aryans". However he has also developed the "kulturkugel" model that has the Indo-Iranians taking over BMAC cultural traits but preserving their language and religion while moving into Iran and India.

Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC)

Some scholars have suggested that the characteristically BMAC artifacts found at burials in Mehrgarh and Baluchistan are explained by a movement of peoples from Central Asia to the south.[22]

Jarrige and Hassan (as cited in Bryant 2001:215–216) argue instead that the BMAC artifacts are explained "within the framework of fruitful intercourse" by "a wide distribution of common beliefs and ritual practices" and "the economic dynamism of the area extending from South-Central Asia to the Indus Valley."

Either way, the exclusively Central Asian BMAC material inventory of the Mehrgarh and Baluchistan burials is, in the words of Bryant (2001:215), "evidence of an archaeological intrusion into the subcontinent from Central Asia during the commonly accepted time frame for the arrival of the Indo-Aryans". However, archaeologists like B.B. Lal have seriously questioned the BMAC and Indo-iranian "connections", and thoroughly disputed all the proclaimed relations. [23].

Indus Valley Civilization

Indo-Aryan migration into the northern Punjab is thus approximately contemporaneous to the final phase of the decline of the Indus-Valley civilization (IVC). Many scholars[citation needed] have argued that the historical Vedic culture is the result of an amalgamation of the immigrating Indo-Aryans with the remnants of the indigenous civilization, such as the Ochre Coloured Pottery culture. Such remnants of IVC culture are not prominent in the Rigveda, with its focus on chariot warfare and nomadic pastoralism in stark contrast with an urban civilization.

The decline of the IVC from about 1,900 BC is not universally accepted to be connected with Indo-Aryan immigration. A regional cultural discontinuity occurred during the second millennium BC and many Indus Valley cities were abandoned during this period, while many new settlements began to appear in Gujarat and East Punjab and other settlements such as in the western Bahawalpur region increased in size. Shaffer & Lichtenstein (in Erdosy 1995:139) stated that: "This shift by Harappan and, perhaps, other Indus Valley cultural mosaic groups, is the only archaeologically documented west-to-east movement of human populations in South Asia before the first half of the first millennium B.C.." This could have been caused by ecological factors, such as the drying up of the Ghaggar-Hakra River and increased aridity in Rajasthan and other places. The Indus River also began to flow east and floodings occurred.[24] Shaffer (as cited in Bryant 2001:192) contends: "There were no invasions from central or western South Asia. Rather there were several internal cultural adjustments reflecting altered ecological, social and economic conditions affecting northwestern and north-central South Asia".

At Kalibangan (at the Ghaggar river) the remains of what some writers claim to be fire altars have been unearthed that are claimed to have been used for Vedic sacrifices, although the presence of animal bones does not seem consistent with Vedic rites. In addition the remains of a bathing place (suggestive of ceremonial bathing) have been found near the altars in Kalibangan.[25] S.R. Rao found similar "fire altars" in Lothal which he thinks could have served no other purpose than Vedic ritual.[26] The sites in Kalibangan are dated back to pre-Harappan times i.e. 3500 BC, well before any likely date for the Indo-Aryan migrations, so this evidence is taken[by whom?] to suggest that Vedic rites are indigenous to India and not brought in from outside.[citation needed]

Gandhara grave culture

About 1800 BC, there is a major cultural change in the Swat Valley with the emergence of the Gandhara grave culture. With its introduction of new ceramics, new burial rites, and the horse, the Gandhara grave culture is a major candidate for early Indo-Aryan presence. The two new burial rites—flexed inhumation in a pit and cremation burial in an urn—were, according to early Vedic literature, both practiced in early Indo-Aryan society. Horse-trappings indicate the importance of the horse to the economy of the Gandharan grave culture. Two horse burials indicate the importance of the horse in other respects. Horse burial is a custom that Gandharan grave culture has in common with Andronovo, though not within the distinctive timber-frame graves of the steppe.[27]

Physical anthropology

Based on examination of skeletal remains, no evidence of massive migration has been found.[28][29][30] The ancient Harappans were not markedly different from modern populations in Northwestern India and present-day Pakistan. Craniometric data showed similarity with prehistoric peoples of the Iranian plateau and Western Asia,[31] although Mohenjodaro was distinct from the other areas of the Indus Valley.[32] Cephalic measures, however, may not be a good indicator as they do not necessarily indicate ethnicity and they might vary in different environments.[33]


The standard model for the entry of the Indo-European languages into India is that this first wave went over the Hindu Kush, forming the Gandhara grave (or Swat) culture, either into the headwaters of the Indus or the Ganges (probably both). The Gandhara grave culture is thus the most likely locus of the earliest bearers of Rigvedic culture, and based on this Parpola (1998) assumes an immigration to the Punjab ca. 1700-1400 BC, but he also postulates a first wave of immigration from as early as 1900 BC, corresponding to the Cemetery H culture. However, this culture may also represent forerunners of the Indo-Iranians, similar to the Lullubi and Kassite invasion of Mesopotamia early in the second millennium BC. Kochhar (2000:185–186) argues that there were three waves of Indo-Aryan immigration that occurred after the mature Harappan phase: the "Murghamu" (BMAC) related people who entered Baluchistan at Pirak, Mehrgarh south cemetery, etc. and later merged with the post-urban Harappans during the late Harappans Jhukar phase; the Swat IV that co-founded the Harappan Cemetery H phase in Punjab and the Rigvedic Indo-Aryans of Swat V that later absorbed the Cemetery H people and gave rise to the Painted Grey Ware culture. He dates the first two to 2000-1800 BC and the third to 1400 BC.

However, archaeological evidence consistent with a mass population movement, or an invasion of South Asia in the pre- or proto- historic periods, has not been found.[34][35][36] At best, there is evidence of small-scale migrations approaching South Asia.[37][38] But, professional archaeologists in India remain quite skeptical.[39]

Nevertheless, archaeological evidence of continuity[40] need not be conclusive. A similar case has been Central Europe, where the archaeological evidence shows continuous linear development, with no marked external influences.[41] In fact, archaeological continuity can be supported for every Indo-European-speaking region of Eurasia, not just India.[42][43] Moreover, several historically documented migrations, such as those of the Helvetii to Switzerland, the Huns into Europe, or Gaelic-speakers into Scotland are not attested in the archaeological record.[44] As Cavalli-Sforza (2000) sums up, "archaeology can verify the occurrence of migration only in exceptional cases".

Genetic anthropology

Language change resulting from the migration of numerically small superstrate groups would be difficult to trace genetically. Historically attested events, such as invasions by Huns, Greeks, Kushans, Mughals and modern Europeans, have had negligible genetic impact. Despite centuries of Greek rule in Northwest India, for example, no trace of either the M170 or the M35 genetic markers associated with Greeks and Macedonians have been found.[45] Nevertheless, there seems to be genetic evidence in support of the traditional hypothesis of Indo-Aryan migration, especially when one considers the fact that upper caste Indians tend to have more in common with Central Asians and other Eurasian populations, than lower caste Indians, who are of predominantly aboriginal origin [46]. According to one researcher, there is "a major genetic contribution from Eurasia to North Indian upper castes" and a "greater genetic inflow among North Indian caste populations than is observed among South Indian caste and tribal populations." [47]

Some reports emphasize the finding that tribal and caste populations in South Asia derive largely from a common maternal heritage of Pleistocene southern and western Asians, with only limited gene flow from external regions since the start of the Holocene.[45][48][49] However, this finding alone does not rule out the possibility of an Aryan invasion of the Indian subcontinent and in fact, actually reinforces the likelihood of such an occurrence as patterns of historical conquest and migration are ultimately reflected in terms of sex-biased admixture, with the mitochondrial heritage being more stable and of more local origin and the Y-chromosomal heritage reflecting an external influence upon the population genetic structure, as can be seen in not only such regions as South Asia[50], but also in such regions as Northeastern Africa (Semitic Y chromosomes vs. Niger-Kordofanian mtDNA)[51] and Latin America (Iberian Y chromosomes vs. Amerindian mtDNA)[52]. Furthermore, the majority of researchers have found significant evidence in support of Indo-European migration and even "elite dominance" of the northern half of the Indian subcontinent, usually pointing to three separate lines of evidence: the previously widespread distribution of Dravidian speakers, now confined to the south of India; the fact that upper caste Brahmins share a close genetic affinity with West Eurasians, whereas low caste Indians tend to have more in common with aboriginals or East Asians; and the comparatively recent introgression of West Eurasian DNA into the aboriginal population of the post-Neolithic Indo-Gangetic plain [53][54][55].

Moreover, the latest research seems to provide unequivocal support for a massive influx of Indo-European migrants into the Indian subcontinent, further corroborating the findings of previous investigators, such as Bamshad et al. (2001), Wells et al. (2002) and Basu et al. (2003). For example, Reich et al. (2009) writes: "It is tempting to assume that the population ancestral to ANI [Ancestral North Indian] and CEU spoke 'Proto-Indo-European', which has been reconstructed as ancestral to both Sanskrit and European languages, although we cannot be certain without a date for ANI–ASI [Ancestral South Indian] mixture."[56] The problem of dating ANI-ASI admixture seems to have been resolved by a recent paper published by Moorjani et al. (2011), which has provided a time frame of between 1,200-3,500 years ago for such admixture to have taken place, coinciding with the introduction and gradual diffusion of Indo-European language and culture in India[57].

Some researchers have argued that Y-DNA Haplogroup R1a1a (M17) is of autochthonous Indian origin. However, the latest research sheds doubt on this claim, postulating an Eastern European origin for R1a1. Stepanov et al. (2011) writes: "The age of the cluster admittedly brought to Hindustan from Central Asia / Southern Siberia is 3,9 +/- 1,3 ky. Probably, the primary center of the generation of diversity and expansion of R1a1a was the territory of the Eastern European Steppe. With the spread of of R1a1 carriers, secondary centers of genetic diversity and population expansions were formed in the Southern Siberia and Hindustan." [58]

Textual references


The earliest written evidence for an Indo-Aryan language is found not in India, but in northern Syria in Hittite records regarding one of their neighbors, the Hurrian-speaking Mitanni. In a treaty with the Hittites, the king of Mitanni, after swearing by a series of Hurrian gods, swears by the gods Mitrašil, Uruvanaššil, Indara, and Našatianna, who correspond to the Vedic gods Mitra, Varuṇa, Indra, and Nāsatya (Aśvin). Contemporary equestrian terminology, as recorded in a horse-training manual whose author is identified as "Kikkuli the Mitannian," contains Indo-Aryan loanwords. The personal names and gods of the Mitanni aristocracy also bear significant traces of Indo-Aryan. Because of the association of Indo-Aryan with horsemanship and the Mitanni aristocracy, it is presumed that, after superimposing themselves as rulers on a native Hurrian-speaking population about the 15th-16th centuries BC, Indo-Aryan charioteers were absorbed into the local population and adopted the Hurrian language.[59]

However, Brentjes (as cited in Bryant 2001:137) argues that there is not a single cultural element of central Asian, eastern European, or Caucasian origin in the Mitannian area and associates with an Indo-Aryan presence the peacock motif found in the Middle East from before 1600 BC and quite likely from before 2100 BC.

In contrast, most scholars reject the possibility that the Indo-Aryans of Mitanni came from the Indian subcontinent as well as the possibility that the Indo-Aryans of the Indian subcontinent came from the territory of Mitanni, leaving migration from the north the only likely scenario.[60] The presence of some BMAC loan words in Mitanni, Old Iranian and Vedic further strengthens this scenario.[61]


Geography of the Rigveda, with river names; the extent of the Swat and Cemetery H cultures are indicated.

The Rigveda is by far the most archaic testimony of Vedic Sanskrit. Bryant suggests that the Rigveda represents a pastoral or nomadic, mobile culture,[62] centered on the Indo-Iranian Soma cult and fire worship. The purpose of hymns of the Rigveda is ritualistic, not historiographical or ethnographical, and any information about the way of life or the habitat of their authors is incidental and philologically extrapolated from the context.[63] Nevertheless, Rigvedic data must be used, cautiously, as they are the earliest available textual evidence from India.

Views on Rigvedic society (pastoral or urban?)

Fortifications (púr), mostly made of mud and wood (palisades)[64] are mentioned in the Rigveda. púrs sometimes refer to the abode of hostile peoples, but can also suggest settlements of Aryans themselves. Aryan tribes have more often been mentioned to live in víś, a term translated as "settlement, homestead, house, dwelling", but also "community, tribe, troops".[65][not in citation given] Indra in particular is described as destroyer of fortifications, e.g. RV 4.30.20ab:

satám asmanmáyinām / purām índro ví asiyat
"Indra overthrew a hundred fortresses of stone."

This has led some scholars to believe that the civilization of Aryans was not an urban one.

However, the Rigveda is seen by some as containing phrases referring to elements of an urban civilization, other than the mere viewpoint of an invader aiming at sacking the fortresses. For example, in Griffith's translation of the Rigveda, Indra is compared to the lord of a fortification (pūrpati) in RV 1.173.10,[66] while quotations such as a ship with a hundred oars in 1.116.5[67] and metal forts (puras ayasis) in 10.101.8 all occur in mythological contexts only.[68]

There are other views such as, according to Gupta (as quoted in Bryant 2001:190), "ancient civilizations had both the components, the village and the city, and numerically villages were many times more than the cities. (...) if the Vedic literature reflects primarily the village life and not the urban life, it does not at all surprise us.". Gregory Possehl (as cited in Bryant 2001:195) argued that the "extraordinary empty spaces between the Harappan settlement clusters" indicates that pastoralists may have "formed the bulk of the population during Harappan times".

Views on Rigvedic reference to migration

Talageri speculates that some of the tribes that fought against Sudas on the banks of the Parusni River during the Dasarajna battle have migrated to western countries in later times,[69][Need quotation to verify] as they are connected with what he assumes are Iranian peoples (e.g. the Pakthas, Bhalanas).[70]

Just like the Avesta does not mention an external homeland of the Zoroastrians, the Rigveda does not explicitly refer to an external homeland[71] or to a migration.[72] Later texts than the Rigveda (such as the Brahmanas, the Mahabharata, Ramayana and the Puranas) are more centered in the Haryana and Ganges region. This shift from the Punjab to the Gangetic plain continues the Rigvedic tendency[citation needed] of eastward expansion.

Rigvedic Rivers and Reference of Samudra

Cluster of Indus Valley Civilization site along the course of the Indus River in Pakistan. See this for a more detailed map.

The geography of the Rigveda seems to be centered around the land of the seven rivers. While the geography of the Rigvedic rivers is unclear in some of the early books of the Rigveda, the Nadistuti hymn is an important source for the geography of late Rigvedic society.

The Sarasvati River is one of the chief Rigvedic rivers. The Nadistuti hymn in the Rigveda mentions the Sarasvati between the Yamuna in the east and the Sutlej in the west, and later texts like the Brahmanas and Mahabharata mention that the Sarasvati dried up in a desert.

Most scholars agree that at least some of the references to the Sarasvati in the Rigveda refer to the Ghaggar-Hakra River, while the Afghan river Haraxvaiti/Harauvati Helmand is sometimes quoted as the locus of the early Rigvedic river. Whether such a transfer of the name has taken place from the Helmand to the Ghaggar-Hakra is a matter of dispute. Identification of the early Rigvedic Sarasvati with the Ghaggar-Hakra before its assumed drying up early in the second millennium would place the Rigveda BC,[73] well outside the range commonly assumed by Indo-Aryan migration theory.

A non-Indo-Aryan substratum in the river-names and place-names of the Rigvedic homeland would support an external origin of the Indo-Aryans. However, most place-names in the Rigveda and the vast majority of the river-names in the north-west of South Asia are Indo-Aryan.[74] Non-Indo-Aryan names are, however, frequent in the Ghaggar and Kabul River areas,[75] the first being a post-Harappan stronghold of Indus populations.

Iranian Avesta

The religious practices depicted in the Rgveda and those depicted in the Avesta, the central religious text of Zoroastrianism—the ancient Iranian faith founded by the prophet Zarathustra—have in common the deity Mitra, priests called hotṛ in the Rgveda and zaotar in the Avesta, and the use of a hallucinogenic compound that the Rgveda calls soma and the Avesta haoma. However, the Indo-Aryan deva 'god' is cognate with the Iranian daēva 'demon'. Similarly, the Indo-Aryan asura 'name of a particular group of gods' (later on, 'demon') is cognate with the Iranian ahura 'lord, god,' which 19th and early 20th century authors such as Burrow explained as a reflection of religious rivalry between Indo-Aryans and Iranians.[76]

Two alternative dates for Zarathustra can be found in Greek sources: an unlikely 5000 years before the Trojan War, i.e. 6000 BC, or 258 years before Alexander, i.e. the 6th century BC, the latter of which used to provide the conventional dating but has since been traced to a fictional Greek source. Most linguists such as Burrow argue that the strong similarity between the Avestan language of the Gāthās—the oldest part of the Avesta—and the Vedic Sanskrit of the Rgveda pushes the dating of Zarathustra or at least the Gathas closer to the conventional Rgveda dating of 1500–1200 BC, i.e. 1100 BC, possibly earlier. Boyce concurs with a lower date of 1100 BC and tentatively proposes an upper date of 1500 BC. Gnoli dates the Gathas to around 1000 BC, as does Mallory (1989), with the caveat of a 400 year leeway on either side, i.e. between 1400 and 600 BC. Therefore the date of the Avesta could also indicate the date of the Rigveda.[77]

There is mention in the Avesta of Airyanəm Vaējah, one of the '16 the lands of the Aryans' as well as Zarathustra himself. Gnoli's interpretation of geographic references in the Avesta situates the Airyanem Vaejah in the Hindu Kush. For similar reasons, Boyce excludes places north of the Syr Darya and western Iranian places. With some reservations, Skjaervo concurs that the evidence of the Avestan texts makes it impossible to avoid the conclusion that they were composed somewhere in northeastern Iran. Witzel points to the central Afghan highlands. Humbach derives Vaējah from cognates of the Vedic root "vij," suggesting the region of fast-flowing rivers. Gnoli considers Choresmia (Xvairizem), the lower Oxus region, south of the Aral Sea to be an outlying area in the Avestan world. However, according to Mallory & Mair (2000), the probable homeland of Avestan is, in fact, the area south of the Aral Sea.[78]

Later Vedic and Hindu texts

Some Indologists have noted that "there is no textual evidence in the early literary traditions unambiguously showing a trace" of an Indo-Aryan migration.[72] Texts like the Puranas and Mahabharata belong to a much later period than the Rigveda, making their evidence less than sufficient to be used for or against the Indo-Aryan migration theory.


Later Vedic texts show a shift[citation needed] of location from the Panjab to the East: according to the Yajur Veda, Yajnavalkya (a Vedic ritualist and philosopher) lived in the eastern region of Mithila.[79] Aitareya Brahmana 33.6.1. records that Vishvamitra's sons migrated to the north, and in Shatapatha Brahmana 1:2:4:10 the Asuras were driven to the north.[80] In much later texts, Manu was said to be a king from Dravida.[81] In the legend of the flood he stranded with his ship in Northwestern India or the Himalayas.[82] The Vedic lands (e.g. Aryavarta, Brahmavarta) are located in Northern India or at the Sarasvati and Drsadvati River.[83] However, in a post-Vedic text the Mahabharata Udyoga Parva (108), the East is described as the homeland of the Vedic culture, where "the divine Creator of the universe first sang the Vedas."[84] The legends of Ikshvaku, Sumati and other Hindu legends may have their origin in South-East Asia.[85]


The evidence from the Puranas is often disputed because they are late texts, dated from c.400[citation needed] to c.1000 AD. while the Rigveda dates from before 1200 BC. Thus the Rigveda and the Puranas are separated by approximately 1600 to 2200 years, though some scholars argue that some contents of the Puranas may date to an earlier period.[86]

The Puranas record that Yayati left Prayag (confluence of the Ganges & Yamuna) and conquered the region of Sapta Sindhu.[87] His five sons Yadu, Druhyu, Puru, Anu and Turvashu correspond to the main tribes of the Rigveda.

The Puranas also record that the Druhyus were driven out of the land of the seven rivers by Mandhatr and that their next king Ghandara settled in a north-western region which became known as Gandhara. The sons of the later Druhyu king Pracetas are supposed by some to have 'migrated' to the region north of Afghanistan though the Puranic texts only speak of an "adjacent" settlement.[88][89]


  1. ^ The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture: The Indo-Aryan Migration Debate, Edwin Bryant, 2001
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ Mallory & Mair (2000)[page needed]
  8. ^ Sapir (1949:455)
    Latham, as cited in Mallory (1989:152)
  9. ^ Mallory (1989:152–153)
  10. ^ Mallory (1989:177–185)
  11. ^ Hock (1991, p. 454)
  12. ^ Fortson (2004, p. 106)
  13. ^ Hock (1996), "Out of India? The linguistic evidence", in Bronkhorst & Deshpande (1999).
  14. ^ Krishnamurti states: "Besides, the Ṛg Vedas has used the gerund, not found in Avestan, with the same grammatical function as in Dravidian, as a non-finite verb for 'incomplete' action. Ṛg Vedic language also attests the use of it as a quotation clause complementary. All these features are not a consequence of simple borrowing but they indicate substratum influence (Kuiper 1991: ch 2)".
  15. ^ Erdosy (1995:18)
  16. ^ Thomason & Kaufman (1988:141–144)
  17. ^ Bryant (2001:76)
  18. ^ Hamp 1996 and Jamison 1989, as cited in Bryant 2001:81–82
  19. ^ Hock 1975/1984/1996 and Tikkanen 1987, as cited in Bryant (2001:78–82)
  20. ^ Klejn (1974), Lyonnet (1993), Francfort (1989), Bosch-Gimpera (1973), Hiebert (1998), and Sarianidi (1993), as cited in Bryant (2001:206–207)
  21. ^ Anthony & Vinogradov (1995)
    Kuzmina (1994), Klejn (1974), and Brentjes (1981), as cited in Bryant (2001:206)
  22. ^ Allchin 1995:47–48
    Hiebert & Lamberg-Karlovsky (1992), Kohl (1984), and Parpola (1994), as cited in Bryant (2001:215)
  23. ^
  24. ^ Flam (1981, 1991) and Mackay (1938, 1943) as cited by Kenoyer in Erdosy (1995:224)
  25. ^ B.B. Lal. Frontiers of the Indus Civilization.1984:57-58)
  26. ^ (S.R. Rao. The Aryans in Indus Civilization.1993:175)
  27. ^ Mallory (1989)
  28. ^ "there was an overlap between Late Harappan and post-Harappan communities...with no biological evidence for major new populations." Kenoyer as quoted in Bryant 2001:231
  29. ^ "there is no evidence of demographic disruptions in the north-western sector of the Subcontinent during and immediately after the decline of the Harappan culture. If Vedic Aryans were a biological entity represented by the skeletons from Timargarha, then their biological features of cranial and dental anatomy were not distinct to a marked degree from what we encountered in the ancient Harappans." Kennedy in Erdosy 1995:54
  30. ^ "the data provide no support for any model of massive migration and gene flow between the oases of Bactria and the Indus Valley. Rather, patterns of phonetic affinity best conform to a pattern of long-standing, but low-level bidirectional mutual exchange. "Hemphill 1998 "Biological Affinities and Adaptations of Bronze Age Bactrians: III. An initial craniometric assessment", American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 106, 329-348.; Hemphill 1999 "Biological Affinities and Adaptations of Bronze Age Bactrians: III. A Craniometric Investigation of Bactrian Origins", American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 108, 173-192
  31. ^ Comparing the Harappan and Gandhara cultures, "Our multivariate approach does not define the biological identity of an ancient Aryan population, but it does indicate that the Indus Valley and Gandhara peoples shared a number of craniometric, odontometric and discrete traits that point to a high degree of biological affinity." Kennedy in Erdosy 1995:49
  32. ^ Kennedy. "Have Aryans been identified in the prehistoric skeletal record from South Asia? Biological anthropology and concepts of ancient races", in Erdosy (1995), at p. 49.
  33. ^ on the use of which, however, see Holloway (2002)
  34. ^ "Current archaeological data do not support the existence of an Indo-Aryan or European invasion into South Asia any time in the pre- or protohistoric periods. Instead, it is possible to document archaeologically a series of cultural changes reflecting indigenous cultural developments from prehistoric to historic periods" Jim Shaffer, The Indo-Aryan Invasions : Cultural Myth and Archaeological Reality 
  35. ^ Kenoyer as cited in Bryant 2001:231
  36. ^ Shaffer as cited in Bryant 2001:232
  37. ^ "some support was found in the archaeological record for small-scale migrations from Central to South Asia in the late 3rd/early 2nd millennia BC." Erdosy (1995)
  38. ^ "There is at least a series of archaeological cultures that can be traced approaching the Indian subcontinent, even if discontinuous, which does not seem to be the case for any hypothetical east-to-west emigration." Bryant (2001:236)
  39. ^ "The vast majority of professional archaeologists I interviewed in India insisted that there was no convincing archaeological evidence whatsoever to support any claims of external Indo-Aryan origins. This is part of a wider trend: archaeologists working outside of South Asia are voicing similar views." Bryant (2001:231 ff)
  40. ^ "Although the overall socioeconomic organization changed, continuities in technology, subsistence practices, settlement organization, and some regional symbols show that the indigenous population was not displaced by invading hordes of Indo-Aryan speaking people. For many years, the ‘invasions’ or ‘migrations’ of these Indo-Aryan-speaking Vedic/Aryan tribes explained the decline of the Indus civilization and the sudden rise of urbanization in the Ganges-Yamuna valley. This was based on simplistic models of culture change and an uncritical reading of Vedic texts..." Kenoyer, quoted in Bryant 2001:190
  41. ^ Häusler, as cited in Bryant 2001:141
  42. ^ Mallory, in Blench & Spriggs 1997
  43. ^ "India is not the only Indo-European-speaking area that has not revealed any archaeological traces of immigration." As Bryant (2001:235)
  44. ^ Anthony (1986), Sinor (1990, p. 203), and Mallory (1989, p. 166), as cited in Bryant (2001:235)
  45. ^ a b Kivisild et al. (2003)
  46. ^
  47. ^
  48. ^ "There is general agreement that Indian caste and tribal populations share a common late Pleistocene maternal ancestry in India." Sahoo et al. (2006)
  49. ^ Sharma et al. (2005)
  50. ^
  51. ^
  52. ^
  53. ^
  54. ^
  55. ^
  56. ^
  57. ^
  58. ^
  59. ^ Mallory & Mair (2000)[page needed]
    Mallory (1989)[page needed]
    StBoT 41 (1995)
    Thieme, as cited in Bryant (2001:136)
  60. ^ Mallory 1989[page needed] "It is highly improbable that the Indo-Aryans of Western Asia migrated eastwards, for example with the collapse of the Mitanni, and wandered into India, since there is not a shred of evidence — for example, names of non-Indic deities, personal names, loan words — that the Indo-Aryans of India ever had any contacts with their west Asian neighbours. The reverse possibility, that a small group broke off and wandered from India into Western Asia is readily dismissed as an improbably long migration, again without the least bit of evidence."
  61. ^ Witzel 2003
  62. ^ Bryant (2001:91)
  63. ^ Leach (1990), as cited in Bryant (2001:222)
    "Ancient Indian history has been fashioned out of compositions, which are purely religious and priestly, which notoriously do not deal with history, and which totally lack the historical sense.(...)." F.E. Pargiter 1922. But we must not forget that "the Vedic literature confines itself to religious subjects and notices political and secular occurrences only incidentally (...)". Cited in R. C. Majumdar and A. D. Pusalker (editors): The history and culture of the Indian people. Volume I, The Vedic age. Bombay : Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan 1951, p.315, with reference to F.E. Pargiter.
  64. ^ Rau 1976
  65. ^ Mallory (1989)[page needed] "...the culture represented in the earliest Vedic hymns bears little similarity to that of the urban society found at Harappa or Mohenjo-daro. It is illiterate, non-urban, non-maritime, basically uninterested in exchange other than that involving cattle, and lacking in any forms of political complexity beyond that of a king whose primary function seems to be concerned with warfare and ritual."
  66. ^ ... Like true friends of some city's lord within them held in good rule with sacrifice they help him.
  67. ^ "... What time ye carried Bhujyu to his dwelling, borne in a ship with hundred oars, O Aśvins."
  68. ^ "... Make iron forts, secure from all assailants let not your pitcher leak: stay it securely."
  69. ^ Talageri 2000
  70. ^ e.g. MacDonnel and Keith, Vedic Index, 1912
  71. ^ R. C. Majumdar and A. D. Pusalker (editors): The history and culture of the Indian people. Volume I, The Vedic age. Bombay : Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan 1951, p.220
  72. ^ a b Cardona 2002: 33-35; Cardona, George. The Indo-Aryan languages, RoutledgeCurzon; 2002 ISBN 0-7007-1130-9
  73. ^ The Saraswati:- Where lies the mystery
  74. ^ Bryant (2001)
  75. ^ Witzel (1999)[page needed]
  76. ^ Burrow as cited in Mallory (1989).
  77. ^ Bryant (2001:131)
    Mallory (1989)
    Mallory & Mair (2000)
    Burrow, as cited in Mallory (1989)
    Boyce and Gnoli, as cited in Bryant (2001:132)
  78. ^ Bryant (2001:133)
    Gnoli, Boyce, Skjaervo, and Witzel, as cited in Bryant (2001:133)
    Humbach and Gnoli, as cited in Bryant (2001:327)
    Mallory & Mair (2000)
  79. ^ (Bryant 2001: 64)
  80. ^ Elst 1999, with reference to L.N. Renou
  81. ^ e.g. Bhagavata Purana (VIII.24.13)
  82. ^ e.g. Satapatha Brahmana, Atharva Veda
  83. ^ e.g. RV 3.23.4., Manu 2.22, etc. Kane, Pandurang Vaman: History of Dharmasastra: (ancient and mediaeval, religious and civil law) — Poona : Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, 1962-1975
  84. ^ Talageri 1993, The Aryan Invasion Theory, A Reappraisal
  85. ^ Elst 1999, chapter 5, with reference to Bernard Sergent
  86. ^ e.g. Bryant 2001:139
  87. ^ Talageri 1993, 2000; Elst 1999
  88. ^ Bhagavata Purana 9.23.15-16; Visnu Purana 4.17.5; Vayu Purana 99.11-12; Brahmanda Purana 3.74.11-12 and Matsya Purana 48.9.
  89. ^ see e.g. Pargiter [1922] 1979; Talageri 1993, 2000; Bryant 2001; Elst 1999

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