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Aryan

Aryan

ETHNONYM: Vedic Indians, now usually known to linguists as Indo-Aryan or Indo-Iranian


These early speakers of Vedic Sanskrit, an Indo-European language, invaded the Indian subcontinent from the northwest in about 1500 b.c., although there is considerable disagreement about this date. Their descendants today form the great bulk of the population in Nepal, Pakistan, northern India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, though they do not identify themselves primarily as Aryans.

The term, arya in Sanskrit, means "noble," no doubt in reference to their dominant position in the society they invaded so long ago. They introduced to the Indo-Gangetic Plain the horse-drawn chariot and the Brahmanic religion still known to us from the four sacred books called Vedas. The earlier Indus Valley civilization, in all probability not Aryan in its language, was already destroyed or moribund by the time of their arrival. Archeologically, their early presence in India is marked by the distribution of Painted Gray Ware. The lands they occupied were called Aryavarta and are dealt with in the oldest Sanskrit literature, which is our chief source on the early Aryans.

Although the term "Aryan" has been used by European writers since 1835, it has fallen into disfavor among recent scholars because of its abuse by Nazi propagandists half a century ago, who imagined that northern and central Europeans were the purest representatives of an "Aryan race." Today the term "Aryan" is still used in discussion of early Indian History and in relation to the Subfamily of Indo-Aryan Languages. The last word on usage was in fact written over a Century ago by Max Müller: "I have declared again and again that if I say Aryans, I mean neither blood nor bones, nor hair nor skull; I mean simply those who speak an Aryan language. . . . To me an ethnologist who speaks of the Aryan race, Aryan blood, Aryan eyes and hair, is as great a sinner as a linguist who speaks of a dolichocephalic dictionary, or a brachycephalic grammar."

For many centuries after their arrival in the Indo-Gangetic Plain, the Aryans lived as horsemen and cattle herders, clearing patches in the forests and inhabiting small villages, rather than living in the ancient towns that their ancestors had probably helped bring to ruin. Only with the start of the Indian Iron Age (about 700 b.c.) did Aryan towns begin to emerge; this development presumes a background of settled farming in the plains by that era.

There has been much speculation about the subsequent development of northern Indian society and the Aryans' further colonization of the subcontinent; about relations Between them and the conquered "Dasas" or "Dasyu" (names meaning "slaves" and probably referring to remnants of the earlier Indus Valley population); and about the rise of the caste system. During the Vedic period (about 1500 to 800 b.c.) the Aryans developed the enormously elaborate rituals of Brahmanism, the forerunner of Hinduism; and they formed a stratified society in which the rudiments of the caste system were already apparent. Thus there was a priestly caste (Brahmana), a ruling noble caste (Rajanya), a warrior caste (Kshatriya), and the menial caste (Sudra). Prior to the Mauryan Empire (321 to 185 b.c.) there was no organized Aryan government with a class of bureaucrats to administer the land throughout India. Instead, there were numerous ruling chieftains (rajan ) who commanded their armies and were assisted by purohitas, men who counseled and protected the rulers with their magical skills. As larger kingdoms emerged the purohita became like a combined archbishop and prime minister, consecrating the king, giving him political counsel, and performing major sacrifices for him. The introduction of iron technology led to urbanization, and by 500 b.c. many of these kingdoms had an important merchant class in the towns who were already using copper and silver coins. Siddhārtha Gautama, the Buddha, came from the ruling family of one such kingdom (Kosala, now in Bihar State).

See also Castes, Hindu

Bibliography

Burrow, Thomas (1975). "The Early Aryans." In A Cultural History of India, edited by A. L. Basham, 20-29. Oxford: Clarendon Press.


Childe, Vere Gordon (1926). The Aryans: A Study of Indo-European Origins. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., Ltd. Reprint. 1987. New York: Dorset Press.


Thapar, Romila (1980). "India before and after the Mauryan Empire." In The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Archaeology, edited by Andrew Sherratt, 257-261. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

PAUL HOCKINGS

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Aryan

Aryan (âr´ēən), [Sanskrit,=noble], term formerly used to designate the Indo-European race or language family or its Indo-Iranian subgroup. Originally a group of nomadic tribes, the Aryans were part of a great migratory movement that spread in successive waves from S Russia and Turkistan during the 2d millennium BC Throughout Mesopotamia and Asia Minor, literate urban centers fell to their warrior bands. Archaeological evidence corroborates the text of the Veda by placing the invasion of India by the Aryans at c.1500 BC They colonized the Punjab region of NW India and absorbed much of the indigenous culture. The resulting Indo-Aryan period saw the flourishing of a pastoral-agricultural economy that utilized bronze objects and horse-drawn chariots. Before the discovery of the Indus valley sites in the 1920s, Hindu culture had been attributed solely to the Aryan invaders. The idealization of conquest pictured in the Vedic hymns was incorporated into Nazi racist literature, in which German descent was supposedly traced back to Aryan forebears.

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ARYAN

ARYAN. [Pronounced both ‘AY-rian’ and ‘AH-rian’]. A term used by 19c philologists for the common ancestor of many European and INDIAN LANGUAGES. When the terms Indo-Germanic and Indo-European were adopted as more accurate, Aryan was restricted to the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family. In Nazi terminology, the word was used to mean white and especially Nordic by race. Because of the disrepute of this third sense and confusion about the earlier senses, the term is now used in linguistics and ethnology only in the combination Indo-Aryan, referring to the INDO-EUROPEAN LANGUAGES of India.

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Aryan

Ar·y·an / ˈe(ə)rēən; ˈar-; -yən/ • n. a member of a people speaking an Indo-European language who invaded northern India in the 2nd millennium bc, displacing the Dravidian and other aboriginal peoples. ∎  dated term for Proto-Indo-European or for Indo-Iranian. ∎  (in Nazi ideology) a person of Caucasian race not of Jewish descent. • adj. of or relating to this people or their language.

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Aryan

Aryan relating to or denoting a people speaking an Indo-European language who invaded northern India in the 2nd millennium bc; (in Nazi ideology) relating to or denoting people of Caucasian race not of Jewish descent. The idea that there was an ‘Aryan’ race corresponding to the parent Indo-European language was proposed by certain 19th-century writers, and was taken up by Hitler and other proponents of racist ideology, but it has been generally rejected by scholars.

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Aryan

Aryan Language of an ancient people in the region between the Caspian Sea and Hindu Kush mountains. About 1500 bc one branch entered India, introducing the Sanskrit language; another branch migrated to Europe. In their racist propaganda of the 1930s, the Nazis traced German descent from Aryans.

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Aryan

Aryan (arch.) Indo-European; Indo-Iranian. XIX. f. Skr. ārya- national name, subsequently ‘noble’. See -AN.

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Aryan

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quadragenarian, quinquagenarian, quodlibetarian, Rastafarian, riparian, rosarian, Rotarian, sabbatarian, Sagittarian, sanitarian, Sauveterrian, sectarian, seminarian, septuagenarian, sexagenarian, topiarian, totalitarian, Trinitarian, ubiquitarian, Unitarian, utilitarian, valetudinarian, vegetarian, veterinarian, vulgarian •Adrian, Hadrian •Assyrian, Illyrian, Syrian, Tyrian •morion • Austrian •Dorian, Ecuadorean, historian, Hyperborean, Nestorian, oratorian, praetorian (US pretorian), salutatorian, Salvadorean, Singaporean, stentorian, Taurean, valedictorian, Victorian •Ugrian • Zarathustrian •Cumbrian, Northumbrian, Umbrian •Algerian, Cancerian, Chaucerian, Cimmerian, criterion, Hesperian, Hitlerian, Hyperion, Iberian, Liberian, Nigerian, Presbyterian, Shakespearean, Siberian, Spenserian, Sumerian, valerian, Wagnerian, Zairean •Arthurian, Ben-Gurion, centurion, durian, holothurian, Khachaturian, Ligurian, Missourian, Silurian, tellurian •Circassian, Parnassian •halcyon • Capsian • 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•Carthusian, Malthusian, Venusian

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