Update on the Aryan Invasion Debate

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Update on the Aryan Invasion Debate
Author Koenraad Elst
Country India
Language English
Subject Indo-Aryan migration
Publisher Aditya Prakashan
Publication date
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OCLC 313906300
LC Class DS425 .E57 1999

Update on the Aryan Invasion Debate is a 1999 book by Koenraad Elst.[1] It was first published in August 1999 through Aditya Prakashan. The book discusses various aspects of the Indo-Aryan migration debate and concludes by proposing a chronological order for the events in the spread of Aryans Out of India.


In this book, Koenraad Elst argues that the theory of an Aryan invasion of India has not been proven by prevalent standards and that all relevant facts can just as well be explained with alternative models. In the last chapter of the book, Elst writes, "One thing which keeps on astonishing me in the present debate is the complete lack of doubt in both camps. Personally, I don’t think that either theory, of Aryan invasion and of Aryan indigenousness, can claim to have been “proven” by prevalent standards of proof; even though one of the contenders is getting closer. Indeed, while I have enjoyed pointing out the flaws in the AIT statements of the politicized Indian academic establishment and its American amplifiers, I cannot rule out the possibility that the theory which they are defending may still have its merits."

Unlike many proponents of the Out-of-India theory, Elst maintains the validity of the comparative-linguistics approach,[2] which sets him apart from other proponents like Georg Feuerstein in his book In Search of the Cradle of Civilization.

The book and his views on the Aryan invasion debate were discussed by Harvard professor Michael Witzel[3] and other professores, including George Cardona,[4] Edwin Bryant,[5] Hans Hock.[6]

Witzel also argued: "Elst disingeneously insists on calling any migration or even a “trickling in” an “invasion.” However, immigration/trickling in and acculturation obviously are entirely different from a (military) invasion, or from overpowering and/or eradicating the local population."[7]

  • Elst " Indigenous Indians. Agastya to Ambedkar (Voice of India 1993): Part of this book is a first treatment of the Aryan homeland debate, now very much dated because of the many new developments in this controversy. Still relevant is the part about the various political uses of this debate, particularly to pit Indians against other Indians on the basis of an entirely false dichotomy between invaders and natives. It shows the similarities between European anti-Semitism and Indian anti-Brahmanism. Original at the time, but fairly common knowledge now, is the revelation of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s harsh Islam criticism, of his important but confused history of the caste system, and of his opposition to the Aryan Invasion Theory. The Ambedkar chapter was also separately published as Ambedkar, a True Aryan (Voice of India 1993). "
  • Elst: " Update on the Aryan Invasion Debate (Aditya Prakashan 1999): An overview of the debating points in the ongoing controversy about Indo-European origins. While a few points were wrong or have been superseded, most of the book remains valid. Its overview of the political use of the AIT and some of its linguistic arguments have not been repeated anywhere else ever since."


  • The emerging alternative to the Aryan Invasion Theory may be summarized as follows. In the 6th millennium BC, the Proto-Indo-Europeans were living in what is now Panjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, speaking a variety of mutually comprehensible dialects, and tending cattle as well as practising agriculture. Due to demographic growth, internal conflicts and the occasional economic crisis, some of them moved out through the Khyber pass to Margiana and Bactria, which was to remain a frontier zone of Indian culture for millennia. From there, some of them moved on to the Caspian coast, while others moved east to become the Tokharians. During this stay in Central Asia, they adapted to the local way of life, growing millet and domesticating the horse, a skill which was soon communicated back to the motherland. The group which separated earliest from the rest was the one which took the oldest form of the IE language along: we encounter them by 2,000 BC in Anatolia.
  • The next move of the IE settlers in Central Asia, by 4,500 BC, brought them across the Urals and the Volga into Europe. By internal development and because of interaction with ever new native populations, their dialects changed and differentiated. Expanding ever more westward and southward, they broke into the Old European civilization of the Balkans and overran Anatolia. Another group developed its own distinctive culture in northern Central Europe, and was poised to overrun Western Europe and the British Isles.
  • Meanwhile in India, civilization made great strides, writing was invented ca. 3,500 BC (unfortunately too late for the emigrants to take along), astronomy perfected, cities built of ever greater urbanistic quality. The language, still spoken only in a limited area, had developed the characteristic traits of Indo-Iranian, except in some outlying regions where older forms of IE were preserved, among them Proto-Bangani. Priests composed hymns to the gods and learned the hymns composed by their teachers and colleagues by heart, accumulating a tradition known as Veda.
  • In the northern Indus basin, the Indo-Iranians started fighting amongst each other, and one result was that several factions followed the beaten track to Afghanistan and beyond. We meet them in history as the Iranians, who had built strongholds in Bactria whence their adventurers trekked north and then east as well as west, turning the whole of Central Asia into an Iranian Lebensraum; much later, they also conquered the countries to the west and southwest as far as Mesopotamia. They often clashed with the Indians, who had just reached the apogee of civilization with their large and numerous well-planned cities, and who tried to gain control over the Afghan mining centres. Later, perhaps already as a result of the crisis which sounded the death-knell of the magnificiant Harappan cities, more people migrated from India to become the West-Asian Indo-Aryans. Having moved through Margiana to the south side of the Caspian Sea, they mixed with Hurrites, Kassites and others, and pushed as far west as Palestine, making their mark for a few centuries (18th-12th century BC) in different parts of West Asia before disappearing through assimilation,
  • In the southern Indus-Saraswati basin, the Indo-Aryans met the Dravidians whom they assimilated. However, Dravidian language and culture were preserved thanks to Dravidian colonists who had started settling in the south, in their turn assimilating the Veddoid and other native tribals. In a parallel movement, Indo-Aryans were colonizing India’s interior, assimilating the tribals they encountered, except in the less accessible corners where they left them to their traditional way of life. This movement from the northwest to the rest of India accelerated with the decline of the Harappan cities, yielding essentially the very distribution of languages over the Indian territory which exists till today.


  • The greatest hurdle has been my own anxiety in treading unsure ground, where every hypothesis which is now carrying the day may be blown away by a new discovery tomorrow. Even now, it hurts to release a book in mid-debate, knowing that much of it will be dated by the time a new consensus will have evolved. But then, I am confident that this painful awareness of uncertainty has been the right attitude and the best starting-point for uprooting the false certainties of some and for clearing the bewilderment of others. While too many debaters are still at base one, unfamiliar with the newest arguments and insufficiently alert to the strong and weak points of the several types of evidence in the balance, I hope this books helps the debate in moving on and reaching its conclusion.


  1. Dietrich, Thomas Karl (2011). The Culture of Astronomy: Origin of Number, Geometry, Science, Law, and Religion. Bascom Hill Publishing Group. pp. 65–66. ISBN 1935098756.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Michael Witzel in The Indo-Aryan Controversy: Evidence and Inference in Indian History by Edwin Francis Bryant, Laurie L. Patton RoutledgeCurzon, 2005 ISBN 0700714626, 9780700714629
  3. for example in Michael Witzel in The Indo-Aryan Controversy: Evidence and Inference in Indian History by Edwin Francis Bryant, Laurie L. Patton RoutledgeCurzon, 2005 ISBN 0700714626, 9780700714629
  4. Cardona, George. The Indo-Aryan languages, RoutledgeCurzon; 2002 ISBN 0-7007-1130-9
  5. The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture By Edwin Bryant. Oxford University Press
  6. Michael Witzel in The Indo-Aryan Controversy: Evidence and Inference in Indian History by Edwin Francis Bryant, Laurie L. Patton RoutledgeCurzon, 2005 ISBN 0700714626, 9780700714629
  7. Michael Witzel in The Indo-Aryan Controversy: Evidence and Inference in Indian History by Edwin Francis Bryant, Laurie L. Patton RoutledgeCurzon, 2005 ISBN 0700714626, 9780700714629
  • Linguistic Aspects of the Aryan Non-Invasion Theory, In Edwin Bryant and Laurie L. Patton (editors) (2005). Indo-Aryan Controversy: Evidence and Inference in Indian History. Routledge/Curzon. ISBN 0-7007-1463-4.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

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