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Racial Wars In The Veda? How Misinterpretations Of Vedic Hymns Led To The Myth Of The Aryan Race


Introduction

Much has been written and spoken about Aryan invasion of India by nomadic pastoral Aryans who moved into India after the era of Harappan civilization, starting 1700 BCE according to various authors. Although recent evidences from numerous studies do not support any sort of large scale influx of foreign population into India during this period, many authors still cling on to this theory.

Even worse, there are people who stick to the old racial theory about Aryan invasion, where the Aryans are said to be fair complexioned, light haired and eyed ‘white’ invaders from eastern Europe and the Steppes who subjugated the native dark complexioned aboriginal non-Aryan population of India and enslaved or massacred them after destroying their civilization and made them flee to south.

The aborigines are said to be the Dāsas or Dásyus in Vedic literature as per the proponents of this view. This view is still shared by many European supremacists as well as certain people in India who like to the play victim card or aspire to divide the Hindus.

Most of these people cite random verses from Vedic literature, especially the earliest Rig Veda, to support their racial fantasies. In this post, I will briefly look into these verses from Vedic literature to determine what is actually said about the Aryans and Dāsa-Dásyus in ancient Vedic literature.

(NOTE: I have used the translation of Rig Veda by Ralph Griffith since it is the most easily accessible translation on online sacred texts archive https://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/rigveda/index.htm and on Meluhha Rig Veda project accessible here https://www.meluhha.com/rv/. I have also gone through original Sanskrit texts from Göttingen Register of Electronic Texts in Indian Languages accessed here http://gretil.sub.uni-goettingen.de/gretil.html)

‘White’ Aryans subjugating ‘Dark’ aborigines?

Many people who argue in favour of Aryan invasion theory mention that in Rig Veda there are references to enemies of Vedic Aryans having ‘dark skin’. But in reallity, in most of these instances it is clear that the ‘dark skin’ is associated with avrata or those who observe no law or vow or rites. For instance in Rig Veda 1.130.8, there is reference to Kṛṣṇa tvác or ‘dusky skin’ of the enemies of Aryans

Indra in battles help his Aryan worshipper, he who hath hundred helps at hand in every fray, in frays that win the light of heaven. Plaguing the lawless he gave up to Manu’s seed the dusky skin; Blazing, ’twere, he burns each covetous man away, he burns, the tyrannous away.

~Rig Veda 1.130.8 translated by Griffith

The early European interpreters stated that references such as these points toward the sad fate of dark complexioned aboriginal population of India who were massacred or enslaved by the invading fair complexioned Vedic Aryans.

But actually if we look into the context, the ‘dusky skin’ in this verse is associated with avrata (lawless, riteless, vowless etc) and it is for the heavenly light this dusky skin is quelled by Indra. So certainly this is something supernatural and not a literal mention of dark-complexioned people. Rig Veda 9.41.1-2 also associates ‘black skin’ with avrata or riteless/lawless.

Active and bright have they come forth, impetuous in speed like bulls, Driving the black skin far away.

Quelling the riteless Dásyu, may we think upon the bridge of bliss, Leaving the bridge of woe behind.

~ Rig veda 9.41.1-2 translated by Griffith

The ‘they’ in this verse most likely refer to the sacred Soma juice.

In Rig Veda 7.5.3 Agni is said to have shone brightly and he chased off the ásiknī or ‘dark’ people with his light for Vedic Pūru tribe.

For fear of thee forth fled the dark-hued races, scattered abroad, deserting their possessions, When, glowing, O Vaiśvānara, for Pūru, thou Agni didst light up and rend their castles.

~ Rig Veda 7.5.3 translated by Griffith

Similarly in Rig Veda 9.73.5 ásiknī tvác or ‘swarthy skin’ is quelled by Māya (here translated as supernatural might).

O’er Sire and Mother they have roared in unison bright with the verse of praise, burning up riteless men, Blowing away with supernatural might from earth and from the heavens the swarthy skin which Indra hates.

~ Rig Veda 9.73.5 translated by Griffith

So clearly this is something beyond the scope of humans. Also here again the dark skin is associated with avrata or riteless (who are burned up with Rca verses!).

As noted before, from the above passages it is clear that kṛṣṇa/ásiknī tvác or dark skin is closely associated with avrata or lawless/riteless. So it could be a metaphor to the evil darkness as mentioned in Rig Veda 5.14.4 which is associated with Dāsa-Dásyus.

Agni shone bright when born, with light killing the Dásyus and the dark: He found the Kine, the Floods, the Sun.

~ Rig Veda 5.14.4 translated by Griffith

Rig Veda 7.78.2 associates evil with darkness.

The fire well-kindIed sings aloud to greet her, and with their hymns the priests are chaming welcome. Uṣas approaches in her splendour, driving all evil darkness far away, the Goddess.

~ Rig Veda 7.78.2 translated by Griffith

In this verse Usas is the Goddess of Dawn, who dispels the darkness of Night.
Also, another thing is that the term tvác or skin is also used to mean just as ‘covering’. For instance in Rig Veda 10.68.4, 1.145.5 etc where there is reference to the surface of earth as being tvác.

As the Sun dews with meath the seat of Order, and casts a flaming meteor down from heaven. So from the rock Bṛhaspati forced the cattle, and cleft the earth’s skin as it were with water.

~ Rig Veda 10.68.4 translated by Griffith

He is a wild thing of the flood and forest: he hath been laid upon the highest surface. He hath declared the lore of works to mortals, Agni the Wise, for he knows Law, the Truthful.

~ Rig Veda 1.145.5 translated by Griffith

Also the Sanskrit term tvacati can just mean ‘cover up’. So basically this kṛṣṇa or ásiknī tvác could refer to along with avrata just as the riteless/lawless people who were enveloped or dwelt in darkness.

It is true that Dāsa-Dásyus are associated with darkness and Rig Veda 5.14.4 mentioned above mentions of Agni killing darkness and Dāsa-Dásyus with his light. It is obvious that the light of Agni or fire will destroy the darkness. So this need not to be taken as some racial reference of light complexioned Aryans killing dark complexioned Dāsa-Dásyus.

Dāsa-Dásyus were associated with evil darkness precisely because they were evil, & observed no vrata. In Rig Veda 4.16.9 Dāsa-Dásyus are mentioned as abrahma meaning unholy, riteless, prayerless etc.

Come, Maghavan, Friend of Man, to aid the singer imploring thee in battle for the sunlight. Speed him with help in his inspired invokings: down sink the sorcerer, the prayerless Dásyu.

~ Rig Veda 4.16.9 translated by Griffith

Rig Veda 10.22.8 and 8.70.11 also mentions the qualities of Dāsa-Dásyus, they are mentioned as inhuman, Godless, without Vedic rites and wholly as barbaric in nature.

Around us is the Dásyu, riteless, void of sense, inhuman, keeping alien laws. Baffle, thou Slayer of the foe, the weapon which this Dāsa wields.

~ Rig Veda 10.22.8 translated by Griffith

The man who brings no sacrifice, inhuman, godless, infidel, Him let his friend the mountain cast to rapid death, the mountain cast the Dásyu down.

~ Rig Veda 8.70.11 translated by Griffith

It is also true that the Vedic Gods are described as being light in color. But many Gods like Surya, Savitr, Agni etc symbolizes solar and fire Gods. Hence it’s natural that they are described as in light form. Even Indra, the Vedic God of war who helps the Aryan worshiper fight off the Dāsa-Dásyus is described as having bright hue akin to the Sun in Rig Veda 10.112.3

Deck out thy body with the fairest colours, with golden splendour of the Sun adorn it. O Indra, turn thee hitherward invited by us thy friends; be seated and be joyful.

~ Rig Veda 10.112.3 translated by Griffith

In other verses of Rig Veda, deities like Indra are said to have slaughtered the dark Dāsa-Dásyus. For example, Rig Veda 4.16.9 mentioned above states Indra defeating the Dāsa-Dásyus in the battle for the Sun and in other hymns like 10.148.2 and 2.11.4 it is stated that Indra along with Surya (Sun) defeated the Dāsa-Dásyus.

Sublime from birth, mayst thou O Indra, Hero, with Sūrya overcome the Dāsa races. As by a fountain’s side, we bring the Soma that lay concealed, close-hidden in the waters.

~ Rig Veda 10.148.2 translated by Griffith

We who add strength to thine own splendid vigour, laying within thine arms the splendid thunder— With us mayst thou, O Indra, waxen splendid, with Sūrya overcome the Dāsa races.

~ Rig Veda 2.11.4 translated by Griffith

Further, in 4.16.13 it is mentioned that Indra slaughtered as many as fifty thousand dark ones, but the very next verse informs that Indra’s splendid body is placed near to the Sun and it is obvious that just like the fire, the Sun also eliminates darkness with its light. So here too we have an obvious light vs darkness or good vs evil battle.

Thou to the son of Vidathin, Ṛjiśvan, gavest up mighty Mṛgaya and Pipru. Thou smotest down the swarthy fifty thousand, and rentest forts as age consumes a garment.

What time thou settest near the Sun thy body, thy form, Immortal One, is seen expanding: Thou a wild elephant with might invested. like a dread lion as thou wieldest weapons

~ Rig Veda 4.16.13-14 translated by Griffith

So obviously, these bright (not ‘fair skinned’ !) Gods would dispel the evil darkness and brings prosperity and well being. This light vs darkness battle should not be interpreted racially.

For Vedic authors, the darkness symbolized evil and various verses like Rig Veda 2.40.2, 2.27.14, 1.62.5, 4.13.3, 5.80.5, 1.94.7 etc speak about getting rid of darkness. So it is no surprise why the Vedic authors frequently associated their Dāsa-Dásyu enemies with darkness.

At birth of these two Gods all Gods are joyful: they have caused darkness, which we hate, to vanish. With these, with Soma and with Pūṣan, India generates ripe warm milk in the raw milch-cows

~Rig Veda 2.40.2 translated by Griffith

In this verse, Pūṣan is a solar deity – associated with the Sun and with health and well-being. Hence, the conflation of light and health.

Aditi, Mitra, Varuṇa, forgive us however we have erred and sinned against you. May I obtain the broad light free from peril: O Indra, let not during darkness seize us.

~ Rig Veda 2.27.14 translated by Griffith

Praised by Aṅgirases, thou, foe-destroyer, hast, with the Dawn, Sun, rays, dispelled the darkness. Thou Indra, hast spread out the earth’s high ridges, and firmly fixed the region under heaven.

~ Rig Veda 1.62.5 translated by Griffith

Him whom they made to drive away the darkness, Lords of sure mansions, constant to their object, Him who beholds the universe, the Sun-God, seven strong and youthful Coursers carry onward.

~ Rig Veda 4.13.3 translated by Griffith

As conscious that her limbs are bright with bathing, she stands, as ’twere, erect that we may see her. Driving away malignity and darkness, Dawn, Child of Heaven, hath come to us with lustre.

~ Rig Veda 5.80.5 translated by Griffith

Lovely of form art thou, alike on every side; though far, thou shinest brightly as if close at hand. O God, thou seest through even the dark of night. Let us not in thy friendship, Agni, suffer harm. 1.94.7

~ Rig Veda 1.94.7 translated by Griffith

On the other hand, they frequently associated Aryans with light and invoked Vedic deities to grant light to the Aryans like in Rig Veda 2.11.18, 1.59.2, 7.5.6, 1.117.21, 10.43.4 etc.

Hero, assume the might wherewith thou clavest Vṛtra piecemeal, the Dānava Aurṇavābha. Thou hast disclosed the light to light the Ārya: on thy left hand, O Indra, sank the Dásyu.

~ Rig Veda 2.11.18 translated by Griffith

The forehead of the sky, earth’s centre, Agni became the messenger of earth and heaven. Vaiśvānara, the Deities produced thee, a God, to be a light unto the Ārya.

~ Rig Veda 1.59.2 translated by Griffith

Sought in the heavens, on earth is Agni stablished, leader of rivers, Bull of standing waters. Vaiśvānara when he hath grown in glory, shines on the tribes of men with light and treasure.

~ Rig Veda 7.5.6 translated by Griffith

Ploughing and sowing barley, O ye Aśvins, milking out food for men, ye Wonder-Workers, Blasting away the Dásyu with your trumpet, ye gave far-spreading light unto the Ārya.

~ Rig Veda 1.117.21 translated by Griffith

As on the fair-leafed tree rest birds, to Indra flow the gladdening Soma juices that the bowls contain. Their face that glows with splendour through their mighty power hath found the shine of heaven for man, the Āryas’ light

~ Rig Veda 10.43.4 translated by Griffith

From these verses, it is explicitly clear that Aryan vs Dāsa-Dásyu fight is mostly about light representing what is good vs the dark representing evil. There is no need to interpret them with colonial-era racial absurdities.

It is also to be noted that the term Arya Varṇa occurs in Rig Veda 3.34.9 and it is usually translated as Aryan color, but it can also denote exterior, layer, covering etc. as in sense of one’s character or qualities.

He gained possession of the Sun and Horses, Indra obtained the Cow who feedeth many. Treasure of gold he won; he smote the Dásyus, and gave protection to the Āryan colour

~ Rig Veda 3.34.9 translated by Griffith

This verse speaks of Indra gaining possession of horses, cows, sun, gold etc, and of protecting the Arya Varṇa or character by destroying Dásyus. In Rig Veda, cows, horses, sun, gold etc. denotes prosperity, wealth etc. So here the Arya Varṇa denotes the virtuous qualities of Aryans. The preceding and subsequent verse also speak of Indra obtaining possession of sky, earth, light, waters, forests, trees, atmosphere etc., all denoting positivity, prosperity and well being.

Where the Vedic Aryans ‘whites’?

Vedic texts like Atharva Veda 6.137.3 and Baudhayana Dharma Sutra 1.2.3.5 refers to black hair of Vedic Brahmin ritualists. Baudhayana specifically cites a Veda (śruti) as authority on this passage.

Let the black locks spring thick and strong and grow like reeds upon thy head. Strengthen the roots, prolong the points, lengthen the middle part, O Plant. Let the black locks spring thick and strong and grow like reeds upon thy head.

~ Atharva Veda 6.137 translated by Griffith

A passage of the revealed texts declares, ‘Let him kindle the sacred fires while his hair is (still) black.

~ Baudhayana Dharmasutra 1.2.3.5 translated by Georg Bühler

Satapatha Brahmana 10.5.2.7 also talks about the black iris in the eye of Vedic rituals.

Now as to the self (body). That shining orb and that gold plate are the same as the white here in the eye; and that glowing light and that lotus-leaf are the same as the black here in the eye; and that man in yonder orb and that gold man are the same as this man in the right eye.

~ Satapatha Brahmana 10.5.2.7 translated by Julius Eggeling

This means that Vedic population had people with dark hair and black eyes just like majority of modern Hindus. It is however true that Sage Patanjali in his Mahābhāṣya states that Brahmins had light hair and tone. But as Dr Koenraad Elst notes (Update on the Aryan Invasion Debate by Koenraad Elst, 1999), Patanjali was commenting upon Panini who lived in Gandhāra or modern Swat valley where such light features are not uncommon among groups living there even today.

So this would perhaps refer to the situation in far northern regions among the outlier groups. But in mainland Vedic India, the Vedic people probably had darker eyes and hair as mentioned in earlier Vedic texts.

It is interesting to note that the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad belonging to the Śukla or White Yajur Veda, considered as one of the most important and oldest Vedic Upanishads, also mentions rites to beget a dark-complexioned son who is skilled in Vedic knowledge. Although it also speaks of the child having red eyes, the mention of begetting a dark-complexioned son proves that Vedic people had no issues with dark skin.

Now, in case one wishes, ‘That a swarthy son with red eyes be born to me! that he be able to repeat three Vedas! that he attain the full length of life!’–they two should have rice boiled with water and should eat it prepared with ghee. They two are likely to beget [him].

~ Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 6.4.16 translated by Robert Hume

On the supposed racism in Rig Veda

There are more allegations of racism in Rig Veda. For instance Rig Veda mentions about Dāsa-Dásyus being anasa or noseless. According to racial narrations, this referred to flat-nosed non-Aryan racial population of India as opposed to sharp-nosed invading Aryan race.

One car-wheel of the Sun thou rolledst forward, and one thou settest free to move for Kutsa. Thou slewest noseless Dásyus with thy weapon, and in their home o’erthrewest hostile speakers.

~ Rig Veda 5.29.10 translated by Griffith

But this assumption is silly, since anasa refers to without nose at all, and there’s no mention of flat nose in this verse. Traditional commentators of Vedas like Sāyaṇācārya has interpreted the term meaning ‘mouthless’ or not of ‘good speech’, being used as a metaphor for evil speakers, and this is also consistent with the occurrence of the term mṛdhrávācaḥ or hostile speakers.

The term mṛdhrávācaḥ could also suggests that the Dāsa-Dásyus spoke different language other than Vedic language. There is however no reason to think that they spoke non Aryan languages. They might very well have spoken different dialect apart from Vedic, or even some Iranic language which many authors like Asko Parpola (who is in favour of Aryan invasion) associates them with (The Roots of Hinduism: The Early Aryans and the Indus Civilization by Asko Parpola, 2015). Historically, there existed Iranic people called as Dahae in Central Asia as well. This name is considered cognate to Sanskrit Dāsa.

However, It is to be note that one of the most important Rig Vedic king, Divodāsa (literally servant of heaven/sky) had ‘Dāsa’ suffix in his name. This suggest that the term ‘Dāsa’ already had the mean of ‘servant’ right in Rig Veda. If Dāsa refer to Iranians, then it suggests that the rivalry with Iranic groups go back into distant past and Vedic people would’ve had conflicts with them and viewed them as inferior, thus the term ‘Dāsa’ acquired negative meaning in Vedic and positive or neutral meaning in Iranic languages.

It is also interesting to note that certain Dāsas like Dāsa Balbūtha and Tarukṣa mentioned in Rig Veda 8.46.32 who gave gifts to Vedic sages. This could hint at gradual peaceful assimilation of Dāsa-Dásyus into the Vedic Aryan fold.

A hundred has the sage received, Dāsa Balbūtha’s and Tarukṣa’s gifts. These are thy people, Vāyu, who rejoice with Indra for their guard, rejoice with Gods for guards.

~ Rig Veda 8.46.32 translated by Griffith

The real difference between Aryans and Dāsa-Dásyus

According to Rig Veda, an Aryan is the one who follows the path of Agni, the rites and laws (vrata) established by Father Manu. See Rig Veda 1.128.1, 10.11.4 etc

By Manu’s law was born this Agni, Priest most skilled, born for the holy work of those who yearn, therefore, yea, born for his own holy work. All ear to him who seeks his love and wealth to him who strives for fame

~ Rig Veda 1.128.1 translated by Griffith

And the fleet Falcon brought for sacrifice from afar this flowing Drop most excellent and keen of sight, Then when the Āryan tribes chose as Invoking Priest Agni the Wonder-Worker, and the hymn rose up

~ Rig Veda 10.11.4 translated by Griffith

The Agni of Aryans was established by Father Manu himself as per Rig Veda 1.36.19

Manu hath stablished thee a light, Agni, for all the race of men: Sprung from the Law, oil-fed, for Kaṇva hast thou blazed, thou whom the people reverence

~ Rig Veda 1.36.19 translated by Griffith

So as per Rig Veda, an Aryan is the one who follows the ancient law and rites of Father Manu which is the path of Agni. Vedic Aryans viewed Manu as their ancestral figure and ideal human, and they also prayed not to move away from Manu’s path as mentioned in Rig Veda 8.30.3.

As such defend and succour us, with benedictions speak to us: Lead us not from our fathers’ and from Manu’s path into the distance far away.

~ Rig Veda 8.30.3 translated by Griffith

Rig Veda 1.51.8 refers to discerning Aryans & Dāsa-Dásyus (who are mentioned as avrata)

Discern thou well Āryas and Dásyus; punishing the lawless give them up to him whose grass is strewn. Be thou the sacrificer’s strong encourager all these thy deeds are my delight at festivals.

~ Rig Veda 1.51.8 translated by Griffith

Rig Veda 6.14.3 speaks of overcoming avrata Dāsa-Dásyu (translated as ‘fiend’ here) with vrata.

The foeman’s wealth in many a place, Agni, is emulous to help. Men fight the fiend, and seek by rites to overcome the riteless foe.

~ Rig Veda 6.14.3 translated by Griffith

Rig Veda 10.65.11 speaks of spreading Aryan vrata all over the earth.

They generated prayer, the cow, the horse, the plants, the forest trees, the earth, the waters, and the hills. These very bounteous Gods made the Sun mount to heaven, and spread the righteous laws of Āryas o’er the land.

~ Rig Veda 10.65.11 translated by Griffith

So in Rig Veda, we see a battle between righteous law/rite keeping noble Aryans, who are associated with light and who followed the path established by their ancestor Manu, and Dāsa-Dásyu barbarians, with no rule or law and associated with evil darkness. Thus, the ‘Aryanness’ was directly connected to Vedic laws and rites.

Also as evident from Rig Veda 6.14.3, the avrata folks were won over with the vrata which Vedic Aryans spread all over the land (i.e from Vedic homeland in northern Sarasvati-Sindhu region) as said in Rig Veda 10.65.11. Also if Aryans and Dāsa-Dásyus were from completely different races , then there would be no question of discerning them as said in Rig Veda 1.51.8.

As the verse says, Dāsa-Dásyus are to be distinguished from Vedic Aryans because they don’t follow the noble laws or rites (vrata) of Vedic Aryans, and not because they belong to a different race.

Conclusion

The colonial-era interpretation of sacred Vedic hymns by European authors gave rise to the early form of Aryan invasion theory, the theory which states that the native dark-complexioned racial population of India were subjugated by the invading fair-complexioned Europid Aryans and these Aryans established themselves as the upper caste and placed the non-Aryan population as low castes within the caste system which they designed.

Throughout history, the European colonizers committed genocide of the native population of Africa, Australia, the Americas and enslaved them in the most horrific manner. The European interpreters of the Vedic texts would’ve imagined such genocide and destruction of native culture happen in India millennia ago.

Such thinking also led to the rise of Nazism, which held the concept of pure-blooded ‘Nordic’ Aryan race who subjugated other inferior races. Sadly, many people even today are obsessed with ‘Aryan looks’ and then try to claim their origins from the ancient ‘Nordic’ Aryans.

Despite the wild Eurocentric imaginations and misinterpretations of the sacred texts of Hindus by early European authors with racial prejudices in their minds, it can be assured that the Vedic texts do not contain any mention of racial wars which is prevalent in the history of Europeans in the colonial period.

It is clear that the term Arya in Vedic context referred to those who followed the path of ritualism based on Agni established by Father Manu, and their riteless foes were conquered with rites by Vedic Aryans as they spread all over from their homeland in northern India. The term Arya has nothing to do with any race.

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