Saturday, 9 May 2015

Who is Aryan? Are Aryans(and Vedas) originally from Iran or Europe? Are Vedic Aryans different from original Indians?

Question: Could you explain what does Aryan mean and its origin? I came across a theory which states Aryans originally belong to Iran and the scriptures Zend Avesta and Vedas were composed in this region by Vedic Aryans. It also states that original culture of India is different from Vedic culture. What is the truth?

Answer: This is a complex question and can be answered in parts. First, let us see what does Aryan refer to and what it means.

Meaning And Origin of word 'Aryan'

Aryan comes from Sanskrit word arya, which means "noble". It does not refer to any particular geography, language or race in essence. Quoting the famous line from the Rig Veda, Krinvanto visvam aryam (Make the world aryam), eminent historian and archaeologist Shivaji Singh explains that aryam is that mindset, world view, attitude, which works for the spiritual and material welfare of humankind (Vedic Culture and its Continuity, 2010). 
The essence of Vedic culture lies in its perception of Aryattva, a virtue the achievement of which is considered to be necessary for civilised living. The slogan Krinvanto viswam aryam (Rig Veda 9.63.5) is an appeal to the divine almighty power to help achieve this ideal. Unfortunately, however, many historians have misunderstood this Aryattva.

Scholars have often confused the Vedic Aryans with Indo Aryans, forgetting that the two concepts are different. ‘Arya’ being the self-designation of the Vedic people, ‘Vedic Aryan’ represents a historical reality. As against this, the term ‘Indo-Aryan’ is a linguistic construct denoting speakers of a sub-group of languages within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European family, and being a construct, its validity is subject to verification.

Although language and culture are intimately connected, Arya does not denote a speaker of a particular language. In the Vedic view, a person speaking a Dravidian language is Arya if he possesses the virtue called Aryattva… (p10). Arya is defined one who is noble and refined in ideas and action, and these depend on a “world view characterised by a belief in certain concepts like Rta, Satya, Tapas, Yajna, Brahma etc.” (p10)

Aryattva is a blending of virtues that lead to the highest material and spiritual achievement. Rta simply means the order and harmony of the universe which the Rig Vedic Rishis saw in their physical environment, Nature. Yajna, the ritual of the fire, homa, is not only a tribute to the fire Deva, Agni, but embodies the orderly working of the universe reflected in Vedic astronomy. The intricate celestial relationships that the Rishis actually observed with the naked eye are clearly explained by BN Narahari Achar in ‘Sarasvati River and Chronology: Simulations using Planetarium Software’ (cited in Vedic River Sarasvati and Hindu Civilisation, 2008, ed. S Kalyanaraman).

Satya (usually translated as Truth) represents the mirroring of the cosmic order in society and the individual’s alignment with this cosmic order. Likewise, Tapas or self-discipline (austerity) was practiced by the Rishis for the welfare of society and therefore the universal application of this to individuals who embody Aryam/Aryattva.

How was this turned into a racial theory to facilitate divide and rule policy of western invaders? This was grossly done by inventing a 'race'(that did not exist) and simultaneously re-defining 'Arya' giving it a new definition that adapts to the new racial theory. 

How Arya was made to represent a race

The development of aryanism as a theory of racial superiority is ascribed to Joseph Arthur, comte de Gobineau [Graf von Gobineau] (1816/07/14 - 1882/10/13), who argued the superiority of the nordic races in his work Essai sur l'inégalité des races humaines (1853), using skull size as the basis of his argument that whites were superior. (Click here to see how this is now debunked by researchers).
Aryanism in Germany: It was German linguist Gustaf Kossinna who in his book German Prehistory: a Pre-eminently National Discipline introduced the idea that an Aryan race, superior to other peoples, could be equated with the ancient Germans, arguing that Germany was the key to the unwritten history of the ancient world. Adolf Hitler further twisted the theories of Gustaf Kossinna (1858-1931), to put forward the "Aryans" as a master race of Indo-Europeans, who were supposed to be Nordic in appearance and directly ancestral to the Germans.

Purpose and Origin of Aryan Invasion Theory

During the 19th century, many European missionaries and imperialists traveled the world seeking conquests and converts. One country which saw a great deal of this kind of exploration was India (including what is now Pakistan). Some of the missionaries were also antiquarians by avocation, and one such fellow was the French missionary Abbé Dubois(1770-1848). His manuscript on Indian culture makes some unusual reading today; the good Abbé tried to fit in what he understood of Noah and the Great Flood with what he was reading in the great literature of India. It was not a good fit, but he did describe Indian civilization at the time, and provided some pretty bad translations of the literature.

It was the Abbé's work, translated into English by the British East India Company in 1897 and with a laudatory preface by German archaeologist Max Muller, that formed the basis of the Aryan invasion story--not the Vedic manuscripts themselves. Scholars had long noted the similarities between Sanskrit, the ancient language in which the classical Vedic texts are written, and other Latin-based languages such as French and Italian. And when the first excavations at the large Indus Valley site of Mohenjo Daro were completed early in the 20th century, and it was recognized as a truly advanced civilization, a civilization not mentioned in the Vedic manuscripts, among some circles this was considered ample evidence that an invasion of people related to the peoples of Europe had occurred, destroying the earlier civilization and creating the second great civilization of India.

Flawed Arguments and Recent Investigations

It turns out that there are serious problems with this argument. 
  1. There are no references to an invasion in the Vedic manuscripts; 
  2. As stated above the Sanskrit word "Arya" means "noble", not a superior cultural group.  
  3. Recent archaeological evidence suggests that the Indus civilization was shut down by droughts combined with a devasting flood, not a violent confrontation. 
  4. Evidence also shows that many of the so-called "Indus River" valley peoples lived in the Sarasvati River, which is mentioned in the Vedic manuscripts as the homeland. Rig Veda clearly locates Sarasvati as lying between the Yamuna and Sutlej (imam me Gange Yamune Sarasvati Sutudri stotam sachata Parusnya - RV 10.75.5 ). Read this -
  5. There is no biological or archaeological evidence of a massive invasion of people of a different race.
The most recent studies concerning the Aryan/Dravidian myth include language studies, which have attempted to decipher and thereby discover the origins of the Indus script, and the Vedic manuscripts, to determine the origins of the Sanskrit in which it was written. Excavations at the site of Gola Dhoro in Gujarat suggest the site was abandoned quite suddenly, although why that may occurred is yet to be determined.

Why westerners dated Aryan Invasion to 1500 B.C.?

Christianity and Western scholars till 18th century believed that world got created on 23rd October, 4004 BC, Biblical flood occurred in 2400 B.C. and that civilizations started expanding and migrating in around 1500 B.C. So they had to accomodate world events according to this Christian belief. Hence they deviced an Aryan Invasion theory(which neither had scientific backing nor archaeological evidence) - that the Aryans came into Bharat (India) from outside around 1500 B.C. Now the very foundation of Ayan invasion is demolished.

Rig Veda and Zend Avesta - "Aryan" Sciptures?

There are striking similarities in Vedas and Zend Avesta of Zoroastrians(ancient Iranians). And moreover, Zoroastrianism also used the term 'Ariyan' as in Vedas. This combined with the 'Aryan Race' theory has led to a prominent theory that suggests common roots to these. The possibility of common roots may be true to an extent, but that has nothing to do with 'Aryan' or 'Ariyan' as we already saw in the analysis of that term.

Now let us see few details of both civilizations.

Zoroastrianism was the most prominent religion of Mesopotamia. What are their beliefs? Firstly, that their God is Ahur Mazda. Secondly, they believe in a certain powerful satanic(negative) spirit called Ahriman. And their scriptures talk about two types of people -- Yazats and Devas. Devas are symbolic of the evil spirit, an embodiment of all that should not be. Even now, when people of the Mesopotamian region talk about Devas, they talk about them with disgust -- that is the kind of hatred that the Devas have generated. And most importantly, they are led by the demonic evil spirit called Ahriman. On the other hand, Yazats are the followers of the Supreme God Ahur Mazda. They are the righteous people, an embodiment of everything that should be correct.

Now let us come to the subject of Rig Veda and the scriptures of Hindus in general. There are two types of people -- Devas and Asurs. Devas are the righteous people; they are an embodiment of all that should be right; they rule the heaven and earth and maintain peace and righteousness all over. Brahman is the Supreme Being from which everything has emanated. And there are the Asurs, who are evil beings. These Asurs are an embodiment of all that is wrong, an embodiment of all that should not be. They are led by their evil guru Shukra.

Do you see anything that relates the two beliefs? In today's geographical terms, these are two communities of people who lived on either side of the current day Afghanistan. We have the community on the west side of Afghanistan call the evil spirit as Ahriman, and we have the community on the east side of Afghanistan call their God as Brahman. Do you get a feeling, or sense something fishy here? Yes, both are the same: Ahriman is the same as the Brahman. The supreme being of the Vedic people is the evil spirit of the Zoroastrians! The name of Brahman got morphed slightly after it traveled over to the Mesopotamian region, and it became Ahriman.

The evil spirits feared by the community on the west side of Afghanistan are Devas. And on the east side of Afghanistan they are good-natured. Both are the same. Zoroastrians hated the Devas of the Vedic people!

The god of Zoroastrians is called Ahur Mazda(Asur of Vedas). And the good people who follow Ahur Mazda are called Yazats(from Rakshas). Zoroaster is the Persian name for the prophet. The Greek name for him is Zarathushtra. Phonetically, this ties in with the name associated by the Vedic guru of the Asurs -- Shukra! 

So we get more similarities between the two. By logical analysis, we have 3 possibilities-
  1. Vedas originated from Zoroastrianism with complete reversal of ideas
  2. Zoroastrianism originated from Vedas with complete reversal of ideas
  3. Both originated simultaneously
Since one has extremely high similarity with other with just a reversal of ideas, only first two is probable and we can discard the possibility of third option. Now considering first two points, which  one is true? Let us analyze the scriptures itself.

Vedic scriptures tell us of two types of beings -- Devas and Asurs -- born of the same parent. Devas, being virtuous, were the toast of all and were bestowed with all graces, while Asurs were deemed incapable and got the raw deal. Asurs were miffed by this and were led away to a far off existence of their own, in defiance of the divine ordinance. Once in a while, they waged wars with Devas to reclaim their motherland.

This description of the sequence of events tallies with the legends and scriptures of Mesopotamia. As per Mesopotamian legends, they were once the servants of Gods. They revolted against the Gods and Gods found them difficult to handle, which forced Gods to expel or let the Mesopotamians go to a far off existence. That is how Mesopotamian came into existence. This description of events tallies with other legends of Mesopotamia as well, like the Zurvan tales. All the legends of both the regions tally with each other.

Whatever the legends be, we understand two things from this that is perfectly tallying with both Vedic and Zoroastrian beliefs:
One, that they(Zoroastrians) were "once" having beliefs identical to Vedic people and was probably were themselves part of Vedic belief system.
Two, they reached where they are now, away from their 'original' place, revolting against that(Vedic) belief system.

From Wikipedia, we get that Old Avestan term daēuua or daēva derives from Old Iranian *daiva, which in turn derives from Indo-Iranian *daivá- "god" and sometime down the timeline it gained a derogatory meaning. So, even with latest archaeological and scriptural evidences available, the confusion is on why Zoroastrians broke away from their original Vedic system and not if Vedas are having origin outside India.

Ultimately, if there is one system emanating from other, the only possible choice is Zoroastrianism emanating from Vedic system, and not the other way. Also, as we saw above, the geographic location of where Vedas were composed also leads to Indian subcontinent - specifically near ancient Saraswati river, near Rajasthan.

For more scriptural evidences from Hindu scriptures on relation of Shukra and Zarathushtra, please read article by Ajit Vadakayil -

Monday, 20 April 2015

Who wrote Devi Bhagavatham?

Question: Who wrote Devi Bhagavatham? Where it is mentioned ? - Question by B.Kalyan Kumar, Hyderabad

Answer: The Srimad Devi Bhagavatam, also known as Devi Purana, was composed into 12 chapters, containing 18000 verses by the great Veda Vyasa. Though classified as an upapurana it is the only purana Vedavyasa called "Maha Purana" meaning the great purana. At the end of each chapter of the 18 main puranas or the upa puranas is the verse "This is the end of the fifth section of the Vishnu Purana", or "Thus ends the first chapter of Ganesha Purana Upasanakhanda called "The Description of Somakanta". Where as in the Devi Bhagavatam it is clearly - "Thus ends the eighth chapter of the first Skandha in the Mahapurâna Srimad Devî Bhâgavatam of 18,000 verses by Maharsi Vedavyâsa".

You can download Devi Bhagavatham English translation here.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Where can I get authentic English translation of the Vedas

Question: Where can I get authentic English translation of the Vedas not done by a westerner? Has any Indian Guru done it?
- Bharath Krishna, Seattle

Answer: If your purpose is to study Vedas, we would strictly recommend you to learn it from a competent guru, who belongs to an authentic parampara. Generally Vedas are not learnt by reading them though, because it requires a guru to guide you to the true meaning. In USA, you can contact Arsha Vidya Gurukulam to find a right place near you.

Translation to Vedas by Agniveer is quite popular. Apart from it, there is NO reliable English translation available currently. They also have Hindi translation at their Arya Samaj Jamnagar website.