Where did the Brahmins come from? Who propagated the theory that they were foreigners? Chattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel may have arrested his own father over the 86-year-old’s remark asking Brahmins to go back to Volga, which offended the community, but Nand Kumar Baghel was only repeating what Brahmin elites themselves have said about the Aryan invasion theory – long before Marxist historians took over.
Nand Kumar Baghel is no historian. But his views on Brahmins are identical to the views of stalwarts such as Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Keshub Chandra Sen, Ram Mohan Roy and Jawaharlal Nehru. Baghel spent three days in jail for expressing his views.
The senior Baghel had come to Lucknow to support an ongoing agitation on the issue of implementation of reservation in teachers’ posts. He reportedly said that Brahmins were grabbing all the positions, and should mend their ways. He further said that Brahmins came to the Ganges from the Volga, and if they don’t mend their ways, they should be sent back to Volga again. This is the rough translation of his utterances. You may also like to read what he said in Hindi here.
This created an uproar on social media and some Brahmin organisations lodged complaints against Nand Kumar Baghel in Raipur, the capital of Chhattisgarh. CM Bhupesh Baghel, his son, tweeted that his father’s comments were objectionable and law will take its own course.
एक पुत्र के रूप में मैं अपने पिता जी का सम्मान करता हूँ लेकिन एक मुख्यमंत्री के रूप में उनकी किसी भी ऐसी गलती को अनदेखा नहीं किया जा सकता जो सार्वजनिक व्यवस्था को बिगाड़ने वाली हो।
हमारी सरकार में कोई भी कानून से ऊपर नहीं है फिर चाहे वो मुख्यमंत्री के पिता ही क्यों न हों।
— Bhupesh Baghel (@bhupeshbaghel) September 5, 2021
Interestingly, Uttar Pradesh Police has not acted on this, despite the said “crime” taking place in Lucknow.
There may be some political angle to this event, but my concern is limited to Nand Kumar Baghel’s speech and that too, his utterance on Brahmins, Volga and Ganges.
Tilak’s Arctic theory
For the uninitiated, From Volga to Ganga is a popular book written originally in Hindi by famous Indologist and polyglot Rahul Sankrityayan. Born as Kedar Pandey in 1893, he wrote as many as 135 books and taught in many universities. He was awarded the Padma Bhushan and the Government of India issued a postage stamp to commemorate his birth centenary in 1993. In this book, Sankrityayan narrated the history of India since 6000 BC, in which he wrote about the Aryan migration to India.
Though the Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT) and Aryan Migration Theory (AMT) are now being challenged by many scholars, and Indigenous Aryan Theory (IAT) is being propagated, during the British rule and even after Independence, that was the dominant idea in Indian historiography. Leftist Historians such as Romila Thapar are now blamed for AIT and AMT. But long before Left historians started dominating history textbook writing in independent India, these theories were established and entrenched. Marxists played no role in that.
The most notable and prominent proponent of the Aryan Migration Theory was none other than Bal Gangadhar Tilak, who published an entire book called Arctic Home in The Vedas (1903). Based on the linguistic evidence in the Vedas, Tilak wrote that early Aryans were inhabitants of the Arctic and they migrated to different parts of the world. One group reached the place that we now call India.
One must read carefully this long passage from Tilak’s book to understand the methodology he used to reach the conclusion that early Aryans lived in the Arctic – “We have seen that the half-year long day and night, the long dawn with its revolving splendours, the long continuous night matched by the corresponding long day and associated with a succession of ordinary days and nights of varying lengths and the total annual period of sunshine of less than twelve months are the principal peculiar characteristics of the Polar or the Circum-Polar calendar; and when express passages are found in the Vedas, the oldest record of early Aryan thoughts and sentiments, showing that each and every one of these characteristics was known to the Vedic bards, who themselves lived in a region where the year was made up of three hundred and sixty or three hundred and sixty five days, one is irresistibly led to the conclusion that the poets of the Rig-Veda must have known these facts by tradition and that their ancestors must have lived in regions where such phenomena were possible.”
We don’t know Tilak’s motive behind writing this long thesis, which he called theory, and that too in English and with numerous references to Western scholars. It was evident that he was writing this book for English-speaking audiences.
This idea was used by the “Aryans” — the Brahmins — to establish brotherhood with the colonial rulers. Brahmo Samaj leader Keshub Chandra Sen in his speech in Calcutta in 1877 said: “British government that came to your rescue, as God’s ambassador, when your country was sunk in ignorance and superstition…in the advent of the English nation in India we see a re-union of parted cousins, the descendants of two different families of the ancient Aryan race.” (Keshub Chunder Sen’s Lectures in India 1901: Cited by Subrata Chattopadhyay Banerjee in his book The Development of Aryan Invasion Theory in India).
This explains why the idea of Aryan Migration/Invasion became so popular among Indian elites of the time. They were looking for some balm or comfort for their wounded pride of being subjugated by the Whites and earlier by the Turks/Afghans/Mughals, etc.
The Aryan Migration/Invasion Theory provided that salve to their wounded ego, and they latched on it. Tilak expanded the scope of the theory by claiming that the Vedic culture was far more ancient (and hence superior) to British culture.
A debate from Phule to Nehru to Baghel
Jawaharlal Nehru also supported the Aryan Migration Theory. In his book, Discovery of India, he wrote: “The Aryan migrations are supposed to have taken place about a thousand years after the Indus Valley period; and yet it is possible that there was no considerable gap and tribes and peoples came to India from the north-west from time to time, as they did in later ages, and became absorbed in India.”
In one of his letters to his daughter Indira Gandhi, Nehru also wrote about Aryan migration in detail.
So, it is evident that it was mostly the Indian power elites who supported the AIT/AMT. Though after Independence, this theory became useless and inconvenient for them, and now we see a slew of historians, again mostly from the ‘upper’ castes, arguing against their predecessors. They now say Aryans were the original inhabitants of India, not migrants, and actually moved outwards to Europe and the Middle East.
Winston Churchill used the AIT/AMT to further the interest of the British Empire. During the debate on the Government of India Bill in 1935, Churchill said that: “We are no more aliens in India than the Mohammedans or the Hindus [this term at that time was exclusively used for caste Hindus] themselves. We have as good a right to be in India as anyone there except, perhaps, the Depressed Classes, who are the original stock.” He was commenting on the freedom movement that was led almost entirely by ‘upper’ caste leaders.
The idea of AIT created discord among lower castes and this theory was later used widely in anti-caste movements, especially in Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. Nineteenth-century anti-caste activist and reformer Jyotiba Phule argued that the Brahmins were not the inhabitants of this land; they were subjugating the Shudras and Ati-Shudras. He pointed out that the Brahmin-Bania domination was the root cause of all the miseries of Shudras. This became the central argument in his book Gulamgiri (Slavery), first published in 1873.
According to Phule, the Dasas and the Shudras in brahmanical texts were the indigenous people. For him, they were the rightful inheritors of the land, whose rights had been wrongfully appropriated by the invading Aryans, and who had subjugated them and reduced them to lower caste status.
Nand Kumar Baghel is using the same AIT/AMT theory in the tradition of anti-caste movements of 19th and 20th centuries. He is using the language once used by Mahatma Phule and Thanthai Periyar. Interestingly, Dr B.R. Ambedkar debunked the Aryan migration and Aryan supremacy theories in his thesis Who Were the Shudras (1946). I hope that when this case comes up for hearing in courts, all the evidence and debates related to AIT and AMT will also be under scrutiny.
The author is the former managing editor of India Today Hindi Magazine, and has written books on media and sociology. Views are personal.