|show details 9:50 PM (10 hours ago)|
Excerpted with permission from Malhotra, Rajiv and Aravindan Neelakandan, “Breaking India: Western Interventions in Dravidian and Dalit Faultlines,” Amaryllis Publishers, Delhi, 2011
Chapter: 3- Inventing the Aryan Race
Footnotes and Bibliography Included
Chapter 3: Inventing the Aryan Race
Upon announcing his ‘discovery’ of Sanskrit, Sir William Jones wrote to his fellow Europeans in 1799, that:
The Sanskrit language . . . is of a wonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either, yet bearing to both of them a stronger affinity . . . than could possibly have been produced by accident. [i]
This statement is typical of the tone for the idealized and romantic view of India, that was prevalent in Europe in most of the 18th and early 19th centuries. This chapter explains how the West’s interpretation and treatment of the Indic materials shaped the study of Sanskrit and churned out the ‘Aryan’ racial construct, which itself would undergo dramatic transmutations in the Western psyche. The coming chapters will demonstrate how these colonial constructs justified and aided the Western dominance of the colonized states.
Of particular importance is the legacy of how they continue even today to extract a heavy price through ethnic conflicts and genocidal wars in former colonies. This examination looks at the constructs themselves as devolutions of European needs and politics, rather than the result of an objective academic study of the ‘Orient.’ The next chapter will elaborate on these constructs and trace their use among European scholars. Subsequent chapters explore how these dated and largely discredited ideas still affect modern India.
Fig. 3.1 presents the ‘Study of India’ as influenced by European Romanticists and colonial Indologists. It encapsulates the following stages of European intellectual history concerning India, and how these ideas shaped European superiority:
- · European Romanticists needed a historical basis to escape the rigid framework of Judeo-Christian monotheism that was already in crisis as a result of new challenges from the modern period. There was a fierce search for a spirituality that could be made to fit their own history, so they could trace their romanticist view in their own past. India was discovered, and quickly became the premier vehicle for this search for their own golden origin.
- · Indologists historicized classical India in a way that served colonial needs as well as the needs of the emerging nation-states in Europe. They created the notion of Aryans as harbingers of civilization to all humanity. A glorified European ancestry was traced to these idealized Aryans. The European Aryans were seen as racially pure and blessed with the spiritually superior Christianity, whereas the North Indian Aryans were of mixed breed resulting from European Aryans mixing with inferior natives, resulting in idolatry, polytheism and racial impurity.
- · A Master Aryan Race was then constructed out of the broad Aryan category, largely by German nationalist thinkers. Nascent Race Science was invoked to lend credibility to this fabrication. European anti-Semitism used the Aryan construct to separate Europeans from Jews. The notion of ‘Aryan Christ’ became popular in Europe.
The nationalistic pride created by the Aryan master-race theory in Germany played a significant role in the rise of Nazism and the Holocaust. After the Second World War, European academic and social institutions made a great effort to exorcize the Aryan race theory from the European psyche, but they still continue to apply these ideas to the study India.
This chapter traces how the Aryan race theory was molded by deep-rooted European needs, and how eventually it brought disaster down upon Europe. Subsequent chapters will examine the impact these racial stereotypes are still having on the colonized societies.
[i] (Jones 1799)
Jones, William. ‘On the Hindus: The Third Discour.’ Asiatic Researches 1 (1799): 422-423.