In today’s world, most people equate the term “Aryans” with negative undertones owing to its association with the Nazi Germany. It is considered to be synonymous with a racist system giving power and superiority to white skin over black or brown skin. However, it is essential to remember that prior to this use of the term as a racist propaganda tool, Aryans had a different meaning altogether. Let us delve into the facts pertaining to this term.
The term “Aryan” originated from the Sanskrit word “arya”. Its most familiar meaning today is people originating from Persia (modern-day Iran) and India, who spoke an Indo-European language. It is widely believed that it was used as a self-designation by the Vedic people who migrated into the Indian subcontinent in 1500 BCE, shaping the Indian culture and Hinduism through their culture, organisation and beliefs. Weirdly, this term also has a cognate in the Persian language, ērān, which is from where Iran’s name has its source in. By the 19th Century, Aryans were used to refer to Indo-Europeans and also to the Indo-Iranian languages. Later, it was also proposed that the ancestors of Indo-Europeans resided in Europe, thus giving them a Nordic racial identity. It were these instances which gave the term “Aryans” not just a linguistic identity but also a racial one.
It was believed by various European scholars that the mass migration of the Aryans to the Indian subcontinent in 1500 BCE was more along the lines of an……invasion. It was argued by them that the commonality between Sanskrit and many European languages meant that India, which was inhabited by Dravidians at that time, were conquered by Aryans, a superior race to them. It was also proposed that this invasion led to the ultimate fall of the Indus Valley Civilisation, one of the most highly developed settlements known to mankind, which was often compared to the magnificent structures of Babylon and Egypt.
However, this theory has been unanimously debunked by modern-day scholars today. It is opposed by the compelling arguments that social and natural factors led to the sudden disappearance of the Indus Valley Civilisation, not some nomadic groups of herders and farmers travelling on horsebacks from Iran. Something which scholars agree upon is that the branding of “Aryan race” as the most powerful race was used by the colonial British government to infiltrate the minds of upper-caste Hindus with the idea that Brahmins are Aryans and that their “purity” needs to be established within the various caste communities in India. This was done in an attempt to gain loyalty and cooperation on part of the influential Indians.
In 1850’s Europe, a new notion of white superiority was propagated by the Arthur de Gabineau and then by his disciple Houston Stewart Chamberlain. He was the one who first used the term Aryan to describe a “white race”. The idea that members of the “Aryan race” were the sole people responsible for all the achievements of humanity and were superior to “semites, blacks and yellows” was spread throughout Europe by the members. German and Nordic people came to be widely accepted as the “purest” race and this same belief was seized upon the Nazis and Adolf Hitler. Thus, from purely being a linguistic term, “Aryans” became a propaganda tool for hatred to exterminate Jews, Romans and all other “Non-Aryans” as they came to be known as “the lesser ones”.
Adolf Hitler himself obsessed over the idea of a “pure race” and believed that white-skinned, blue-eyed and blond-haired people are superior and more worthy of living than others. This extremely racist and hateful ideology drove the killing of millions of Jews throughout the 20th century. He further decided that some other communities could also be considered as Aryans- Hungarians, Japanese and the Finns. Throughout 20th and early 21st centuries, various white supremacist people used “Aryan” in their names as an indicator of their racist beliefs. Therefore, gradually, “Aryans” came to be associated with hate, racism and crime, something which persists as of today.
In conclusion, the word “Aryans” has been tainted by its usage to propagate and spread hate and confer superiority upon white people. It has an extremely controversial and negative tone and thus, what all this term stood for prior to its corruption is often forgotten. How it originated, how it was linked to the destruction of the Indus Valley Organisation and how it was used in the ancient texts of both India and Iran are significant events no one talks about due to the negative interpretation it has today.
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Currently pursuing B.Com Honours from SRCC, she’s always on the lookout for interesting and eccentric shows, books, music and movies to quench her curiosity. A deeply intuitive and whimsical individual, she strives to find freedom in everything, the most important being- in her thoughts.