Uniquely Indian Aspects of Vedic Literature
As noted earlier, much of the Vedic literature – both in the style and substance of its verses, appears to be uniquely Indian, and it is not impossible that at least some of the verses may have Harappan origin.
Many of the philosophical themes that are explored and developed in the Vedic literature have insightful naturalist references that are consistent with Indian geography In addition, there are certain philosophical aspects of me Vedic literature that doesn’t appear to be replicated in quite the same way in any other civilization that was contemporaneous to the Vedic civilization.
The best of the Vedic Shlokas refers to a common life spirit that links all living creatures, to human social-interconnectedness, to the notion of unity in diversity, and how different sections of society might have different prayers and different wishes.
Whereas some verses point to god as being a source for wish-fulfillment, in other verses, there are doubts and queries about the nature of God, whether a god really, exists, and whether such questions can ever be really answered. These aspects of Vedic thought were elaborated upon by later schools of Indian philosophy, and recur frequently in Indian literature and philosophy. But such verses appear to have no direct parallel in civilizations to India’s West.
Already in the Vedic period, there is an amorphous quality to spiritual beliefs that included atheistic, agnostic, and soul-based (as opposed to god-based) philosophical assertions and queries that gave Indian spiritual practice and organization its own and somewhat unique flavor.
While some of India’s rational schools developed in parallel with the Vedas, and are included as appendices to the Vedic texts, others developed practically independently of the Vedas, or even in opposition – as polemics to the Vedas (such as those of the Jains and the Buddhists). The Upanishads, the Sankhya, and the Nyaya-Vaisheshika schools, the numerous treatises on medicine, ethics, scientific method, logic, and mathematics clearly developed on Indian soil as a result of Indian experiences and on Indian soil as a result of intellectual efforts.
India’s great surviving temples and Stupas with their rich carvings and sculpture were all created with aesthetic principles and formulations that developed centuries after any migrating- “Aryans” would have completely melted into Indian society. And though it is not impossible that these foreign “Aryans” may have introduced certain technological innovations and inventions, knowledge of brick-making textile production tool-making, pottery, and metallurgy was already available to the Harappans and residents of the Indo-Saraswati civilization.
The grammar of Sanskrit and its highly systematized alphabet also had little to do with any “Aryan” invasion. Sanskrit is a highly structured and methodical language, optimized for engaging in rational debates and expressing mathematical formulas. Its skillfully organized alphabet bears little resemblance to the rather random and arbitrary alphabet of its European “cousins”
Much of its vocabulary and syntax developed long after any supposed invasion, and although the oral structure of Tamil may differ from those of the North in some respects, the majority of India’s languages (both Northern and Southern) share a large base of a common Sanskrit-derived vocabulary. Besides, words traveled from South to North and from Adivasis to non-Adivasis as well.
In addition, what is especially significant is how the North Indian scripts share so much in common with the scripts of Southern India. The phonetic organization of consonants and vowels, phonetic spelling, and the many other commonalities that bind all of India’s syllabic scripts weakens the entire linguistic premise of the Aryan invasion theory. In fact, when it comes to scripts, consonant, and vowel sounds, all Indian languages are closely related, and their closest relatives are to be found in South East Asia, Ethiopia (and even Korea and Mongolia to some degree) but not in Europe.
While the Aryans of the Vedas may be credited with laying the foundations of “Hindu” civilization in the Gangetic plain, the essence of Hindu civilization emerged gradually, taking several centuries to crystallize. Undergoing both internal reform and fusion with pre-existing tribal and matriarchal cultures, the Hinduism of both the rulers and the masses kept evolving. Even as it retained certain philosophical elements from Vedic literature, it also broadened and in some ways diverged completely from the Vedas.
Beyond the Northern (Yamuna/Gangetic) plains, the influence of Aryan-identified Vedic civilization was generally more limited. Vedic influences on the civilizations in Bengal, Assam, and Orissa were initially almost minimal, and these Eastern civilizations largely followed their own (and somewhat unique trajectories), as did the civilizations of South India – absorbing Vedic philosophical concepts gradually and only partially.
Throughout India, Buddhism and Jainism also found converts, and in Kashmir, the North West, and in the East – Buddhism had a particularly profound influence, while in Western India (such as in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Western Madhya Pradesh, and Karnataka) Jainism was very influential. In Jharkhand, Chhatisgarh, West Bengal, and Orissa, Tantric influences were important.
In essence, Indian civilization whether Hindu, Buddhist or Jain or any other, developed primarily from the unique (and varied) conditions of Indian geography and the human exertion that went into modifying those conditions to advance agriculture and settled civilization. Taken in the general context of say three or four thousand years of Indian history, it is hard to ascribe to an “Aryan” invasion/s the sort of paramountcy assigned by the British.
While British motives in magnifying the “Aryan” character of Indian civilization are only too apparent, this contemporary obsession with the “Aryan” question that appears to have gripped large sections of the Indian intelligentsia suggests that the ideological confusion created by the British has not yet been fully sorted out.
One consequence of this is that the debate on the Aryan question has been highly contentious, with historians adopting strident and extreme positions, not seeing that there can be both continuities and discontinuities in the development of Indian civilization. It has also diverted many of India’s historians from equally (or more) important tasks – such as describing and integrating those periods of Indian history where considerable new archeological material is now available and needs to be incorporated into the presently known and documented view of Indian history.
Key aspects of Indian history remain poorly researched and documented. Many Sanskrit and vernacular texts have not been studied and assimilated by English-speaking historians. Regional variations in Indian history have not been studied enough. A deeper understanding of some of the lesser-known kingdoms all across India is required to correct false generalizations about Indian history.
Much More effort is required in understanding social movements, gender, and caste equations. Simplifications and generalizations based on antiquated documents like the Manusmriti (which was mainly resurrected by British historians) provide a very incomplete and distorted picture of actual social relations and practice in India. The Manusmriti also offers little in terms of understanding local and regional peculiarities in matters of social relations.
Considerable work is also required in unifying haphazard and scattered studies in the area of India’s economic history and the history of philosophy, science, technology, and manufacturing. It is also _important that the vast body of work that has been published since independence in English be translated into the nation’s many languages and regional dialects. It is tragic that so much of the best research done in Indian history is available only to English speakers. These are just some of the tasks that need greater attention from the community of Indian historians.
Intriguing as the “Aryan”-origin debate may be, it is in the end only one facet of Indian history and merits further attention only if historians and archeologists can offer fresh and new insights on this subject and relate them to the broad dynamics of Indian civilization.