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Models of the Indo-Aryan migration discuss scenarios of prehistoric migrations of the early Indo-Aryans to their historically attested areas of settlement in the northwest of the Indian subcontinent (i.e. the area of modern Pakistanmarker) and from there further across all of North India. Claims of Indo-Aryan migration are primarily drawn from linguistic evidence but also from a multitude of data stemming from Vedic religion, rituals, poetics as well as some aspects of social organization and chariot technology.

Indo-Aryan derives from an earlier Proto-Indo-Iranian stage, usually identified with the Bronze Age Sintashta and Andronovo culture north of the Caspian Seamarker. Their migration to and within Northwestern parts of South Asia is consequently presumed to have taken place in the Middle to Late Bronze Age, contemporary to the Late Harappan phase (ca. 1700 to 1300 BC).An influx of early Indo-Aryan speakers over the Hindukushmarker (comparable to the Kushan expansion of the first centuries CE) together with Late Harappan cultures gave rise to the Vedic civilization of the Early Iron Age. This period is marked by a gradual and continual shift of the population to the east, first to the Gangetic plain with the Kuru and Panchalas, and further east with the Kosala and Videha. This Iron Age expansion corresponds to the black and red ware and painted grey ware cultures.


The linguistic center of gravity principle states that a language family's most likely point of origin is in the area of its greatest diversity.
Latham, as cited in Take, for example, the Germanic languages—of which English is one. North America may have more speakers of Germanic languages, but almost all of them are exclusively or primarily speakers of English. Northern Europe, where the Germanic languages are known to have originated, has in significant numbers speakers not only of English but also German, Dutch/Flemish, Frisian, and North Germanic (Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Icelandic).

By this criterion, India, home to only a single branch of the Indo-European language family (i.e. Indo-Aryan), is an exceedingly unlikely candidate for the Indo-European homeland; Central-Eastern Europe, on the other hand, is home to the Italic, Venetic, Illyrian, Albanian, Germanic, Baltic, Slavic, Thracian, and Greek branches of Indo-European.

Both mainstream Urheimat solutions locate the Indo-European homeland in the vicinity of the Black Seamarker.

Dialectical variation

It has been recognized since mid-19th century that a binary tree model cannot capture all linguistic alignments; certain areal features cut across language groups and are better explained through a model treating linguistic change like waves rippling out through a pond. This is true of the Indo-European languages as well. Various features originated and spread while Proto-Indo-European was still a dialect continuum. These features sometimes cut across sub-families: for instance, the instrumental, dative, and ablative plurals in Germanic and Balto-Slavic feature endings beginning with -m-, rather than the usual -*bh-, e.g. Old Church Slavonic instrumental plural synъ-mi 'with sons', despite the fact that the Germanic languages are centum, while Balto-Slavic languages are satem.

There is a close relationship between the dialectical relationship of the Indo-European languages and the actual geographical arrangement of the languages in their earliest attested forms that makes an Indian origin for the family unlikely.

Substrate influence

 believes that evidence of a pre-Indo-European linguistic substratum in South Asia is solid reason to exclude India as a potential Indo-European homeland.

Burrow compiled a list of approximately 500 foreign words in Sanskrit that he considered to be loans predominantly from Dravidian. Kuiper identified 383 Ṛgvedic words as non-Indo-Aryan—roughly 4% of its (liturgical) vocabulary— borrowed from Old Dravidian, Old Munda, and several other languages. However, Thieme has questioned Dravidian etymologies proposed for Vedic words, most of which he gives Indo-Aryan or Sanskrit etymologies, and condemned what he characterizes as a misplaced “zeal for hunting up Dravidian loans in Sanskrit”. Das even contends that there is “not a single case in which a communis opinio has been found confirming the foreign origin of a Rgvedic (and probably Vedic in general) word”. Burrow in turn has criticized the "resort to tortuous reconstructions in order to find, by hook or by crook, Indo-European explanations for Sanskrit words". However, later on he revoked many of his 26 Dravidian etymologies in the Rigveda. Kuiper reasons that given the abundance of Indo-European comparative material—and the scarcity of early Dravidian or Munda—the inability to clearly confirm whether the etymology of a Vedic word is Indo-European implies that it is not. In addition, the state of the art of the three language families differs widely.Thieme, Burrow, Kuiper, and Das, as cited in
Kuiper, as cited in and

Dravidian and other South Asian languages share with Indo-Aryan a number of syntactical and morphological features that are alien to other Indo-European languages, including even its closest relative, Old Iranian. Phonologically, there is the introduction of retroflexes, which alternate with dentals in Indo-Aryan; morphologically there are the gerunds; and syntactically there is the use of a quotative marker ("iti"). Krishnamurti states: "Besides, the Veda has used the gerund, not found in Avestan, with the same grammatical function as in Dravidian, as a non-finite verb for 'incomplete' action. Vedic language also attests the use of iti as a quotative clause complementizer. All these features are not a consequence of simple borrowing but they indicate substratum influence (Kuiper 1991: ch 2)". Several linguists, all of whom accept the external origin of the Aryan languages on other grounds, are quite open to considering that various syntactical developments in Indo-Aryan could have been internal developments (Hamp 1996 and Jamison 1989, as cited in ) rather than the result of substrate influences, or have been the result of adstratum (Hock 1975/1984/1996 and Tikkanen 1987, as cited in ). About retroflexion states that "in view of the strictly areal implications of retroflexion and the occurrence of retroflexes in many early loanwords, it is hardly likely that Indo-Aryan retroflexion arose in a region that did not have a substratum with retroflexes."

Writing specifically about language contact phenomena, state that there is strong evidence that Dravidian influenced Indic through "shift", that is, native Dravidian speakers learning and adopting Indic languages. Even though the innovative traits in Indic could be explained by multiple internal explanations, early Dravidian influence is the only explanation that can account for all of the innovations at once – it becomes a question of explanatory parsimony; moreover, early Dravidian influence accounts for the several of the innovative traits in Indic better than any internal explanation that has been proposed.

 states that the most plausible explanation for the presence of Dravidian structural features in Old Indo-Aryan is that the majority of early Old Indo-Aryan speakers had a Dravidian mother tongue which they gradually abandoned.

Zvelebil remarks that "Several scholars have demonstrated that pre-Indo-Aryan and pre-Dravidian bilingualism in India provided conditions for the far-reaching influence of Dravidian on the Indo-Aryan tongues in the spheres of phonology, syntax and vocabulary".

In addition, the influences of other non-Indo-Aryan languages on early Indo-Aryan (such as Proto-Burushaski, the Indus substrate language(s), Witzel's Para-Munda, Masica's Gangetic "language X", Proto-Munda, etc.) have to be taken into account.

Material archaeology

Jim Shaffer wrote, "Current archaeological data do not support the existence of an Indo-Aryan or European invasion into South Asia any time in the pre- or protohistoric periods. Instead, it is possible to document archaeologically a series of cultural changes reflecting indigenous cultural developments from prehistoric to historic periods"The vast majority of the professional archaeologists Bryant (2001) interviewed in India insisted that there was no convincing archaeological evidence whatsoever to support any claims of external Indo-Aryan origins. "The vast majority of professional archaeologists I interviewed in India insisted that there was no convincing archaeological evidence whatsoever to support any claims of external Indo-Aryan origins. This is part of a wider trend: archaeologists working outside of South Asia are voicing similar views."
"Placed against Witzel's contribution, the paper by J. Shaffer and D. Lichtenstein will illustrate the gulf still separating archaeology and linguistics.
"we are a long way from fully correlating the linguistic and archaeological evidence"
see also ,

Kenoyer (as cited in ) and Shaffer (as cited in ) argue that current archaeologcial evidence does not support an invasion of South Asia in the pre- or proto-historic periods.

According to Kenoyer (as quoted in ):
Although the overall socioeconomic organization changed, continuities in technology, subsistence practices, settlement organization, and some regional symbols show that the indigenous population was not displaced by invading hordes of Indo-Aryan speaking people.
For many years, the ‘invasions’ or ‘migrations’ of these Indo-Aryan-speaking Vedic/Aryan tribes explained the decline of the Indus civilization and the sudden rise of urbanization in the Gangamarker-Yamunamarker valley.
This was based on simplistic models of culture change and an uncritical reading of Vedic texts...
Similar arguments were made by Häusler (as cited in ), who found that the archaeological evidence in central Europe showed continuous linear development, with no marked external influences. As points out, "India is not the only Indo-European-speaking area that has not revealed any archaeological traces of immigration." Mallory (in ) states that archaeological continuity can be supported for every Indo-European-speaking region of Eurasia, not just India. Several historically documented migrations, such as those of the Helvetii to Switzerlandmarker, the Huns into Europe, or Gaelic-speakers into Scotlandmarker are not attested in the archaeological record. states that "archeology can verify the occurrence of migration only in exceptional cases".

 grants that "there is at least a series of archaeological cultures that can be traced approaching the Indian subcontinent, even if discontinuous, which does not seem to be the case for any hypothetical east-to-west emigration."  states that "some support was found in the archaeological record for small-scale migrations from Central to South Asia in the late 3rd/early 2nd millennia BC."

The Andronovo, BMAC and Yaz cultures have often been associated with Indo-Iranian migrations. The Gandhara Grave (GGC), Cemetery H, Copper Hoard and Painted Grey Ware (PGW) cultures are candidates for cultures associated with Indo-Aryan movements. The Indo-Aryan migration is dated subsequent to the Mature Harappan culture and the arrival of Indo-Aryans in the Indian subcontinent dated during the Late Harappan period. Based on linguistic data, many scholars argue that the Indo-Aryan languages were introduced to India in the 2nd millennium BC. The standard model for the entry of the Indo-European languages into India is that this first wave went over the Hindu Kushmarker, forming the Gandhara grave (or Swat) culture, either into the headwaters of the Indusmarker or the Gangesmarker (probably both). The language of the Rigveda, the earliest stratum of Vedic Sanskrit is assigned to about 1500-1200 BC.

The separation of Indo-Aryans proper from Proto-Indo-Iranians has been dated to roughly 2000–1800 BC. It is believed Indo-Aryans reached Assyria in the west and the Punjab in the east before 1500 BC: the Hurrite speaking Mitanni rulers, influenced by Indo-Aryan, appear from 1500 in northern Mesopotamia, and the Gandhara grave culture emerges from 1600. This suggests that Indo-Aryan tribes would have had to be present in the area of the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex (southern Turkmenistanmarker/northern Afghanistanmarker) from 1700 BC at the latest (incidentally corresponding with the decline of that culture).

The Gandhara grave culture is the most likely locus of the earliest Indo-European presence east of the Hindu Kush of the bearers of Rigvedic culture, and based on this assumes an immigration to the Punjab ca. 1700-1400 BC, but he also postulates a first wave of immigration from as early as 1900 BC, corresponding to the Cemetery H culture. However, this culture may also represent forerunners of the Indo-Iranians, similar to the Lullubi and Kassite invasion of Mesopotamia early in the second millennium BC.

Rajesh argues that there were three waves of Indo-Aryan immigration that occurred after the mature Harappan phase: the "Murghamu" (BMAC) related people who entered Baluchistan at Pirak, Mehrgarh south cemetery, etc. and later merged with the post-urban Harappans during the late Harappans Jhukar phase; the Swat IV that co-founded the Harappan Cemetery H phase in Punjab and the Rigvedic Indo-Aryans of Swat V that later absorbed the Cemetery H people and gave rise to the Painted Grey Ware culture. He dates the first two to 2000-1800 BC and the third to 1400 BC.


early 2nd millennium introduction of the chariot to India is consistent with the overall picture of the spread of this innovation (Mesopotamia 1700, China 1600, N Europe 1300).

The conventional identification of the Andronovo culture as Indo-Iranian is disputed by those who point to the absence south of the Oxus Rivermarker of the characteristic timber graves of the steppe.

Based on its use by Indo-Aryans in Mitanni and Vedic India, its prior absence in the Near East and Harappan India, and its 19-20th century BC attestation at the Andronovo site of Sintashta, Kuzmina (1994) argues that the chariot corroborates the identification of Andronovo as Indo-Iranian. Klejn (1974) and Brentjes (1981) find the Andronovo culture much too late for an Indo-Iranian identification since chariot-wielding Aryans appear in Mitanni by the 15th to 16th century BC. However, dated a chariot burial at Krivoye Lakemarker to about 2000 BC and a BMAC burial that also contains a foal has recently been found, indicating further links with the steppes.
Kuzmina (1994), Klejn (1974), and Brentjes (1981), as cited in

Mallory (as cited in ) admits the extraordinary difficulty of making a case for expansions from Andronovo to northern India, and that attempts to link the Indo-Aryans to such sites as the Beshkent and Vakhsh cultures "only gets the Indo-Iranian to Central Asia, but not as far as the seats of the Medes, Persians or Indo-Aryans". However he has also developed the "kulturkugel" model that has the Indo-Iranians taking over BMAC cultural traits but preserving their language and religion while moving into Iran and India.

Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC)

Some scholars have suggested that the characteristically BMAC artifacts found at burials in Mehrgarh and Baluchistan are explained by a movement of peoples from Central Asia to the south.
Hiebert & Lamberg-Karlovsky (1992), Kohl (1984), and Parpola (1994), as cited in

Jarrige and Hassan (as cited in ) argue instead that the BMAC artifacts are explained "within the framework of fruitful intercourse" by "a wide distribution of common beliefs and ritual practices" and "the economic dynamism of the area extending from South Central Asia to the Indus Valley."

Either way, the exclusively Central Asian BMAC material inventory of the Mehrgarh and Baluchistan burials is, in the words of , "evidence of an archaeological intrusion into the subcontinent from Central Asia during the commonly accepted time frame for the arrival of the Indo-Aryans".

Indus Valley Civilization

Indo-Aryan migration into the northern Punjab is thus approximately contemporaneous to the final phase of the decline of the Indus-Valley civilization (IVC). Many scholars have argued that the historical Vedic culture is the result of an amalgamation of the immigrating Indo-Aryans with the remnants of the indigenous civilization, such as the Ochre Coloured Pottery culture. Such remnants of IVC culture are not prominent in the Rigveda, with its focus on chariot warfare and nomadic pastoralism in stark contrast with an urban civilization.

The decline of the IVC from about 1900 BC is not universally accepted to be connected with Indo-Aryan immigration. A regional cultural discontinuity occurred during the second millennium BC and many Indus Valley cities were abandoned during this period, while many new settlements began to appear in Gujaratmarker and East Punjab and other settlements such as in the western Bahawalpurmarker region increased in size. Shaffer & Lichtenstein (in ) stated that: "This shift by Harappan and, perhaps, other Indus Valley cultural mosaic groups, is the only archaeologically documented west-to-east movement of human populations in South Asia before the first half of the first millennium B.C.." This could have been caused by ecological factors, such as the drying up of the Ghaggar-Hakra River and increased aridity in Rajasthanmarker and other places. The Indus River also began to flow east and floodings occurred. Shaffer (as cited in ) contends: "There were no invasions from central or western South Asia. Rather there were several internal cultural adjustments reflecting altered ecological, social and economic conditions affecting northwestern and north-central South Asia".

At Kalibanganmarker (at the Ghaggar river) the remains of what some writers claim to be fire altars have been unearthed that are claimed to have been used for Vedic sacrifices, while others, such as the presence of animal bones in them, strictly speak against this. In addition the remains of a bathing place (suggestive of ceremonial bathing) have been found near the altars in Kalibangan. S.R. Rao found similar "fire altars" in Lothalmarker which he thinks could have served no other purpose than a ritualistic one.

Gandhara grave culture

About 1800 BC, there is a major cultural change in the Swat Valleymarker with the emergence of the Gandhara grave culture. With its introduction of new ceramics, new burial rites, and the horse, the Gandhara grave culture is a major candidate for early Indo-Aryan presence. The two new burial rites—flexed inhumation in a pit and cremation burial in an urn—were, according to early Vedic literature, both practiced in early Indo-Aryan society. Horse-trappings indicate the importance of the horse to the economy of the Gandharan grave culture. Two horse burials indicate the importance of the horse in other respects. Horse burial is a custom that Gandharan grave culture has in common with Andronovo, though not within the distinctive timber-frame graves of the steppe.

Textual references


The earliest written evidence for an Indo-Aryan language is found not in India, but in northern Syria in Hittite records regarding one of their neighbors, the Hurrian-speaking Mitanni. In a treaty with the Hittites, the king of Mitanni, after swearing by a series of Hurrian gods, swears by the gods Mitrašil, Uruvanaššil, Indara, and Našatianna, who correspond to the Vedic gods Mitra, Varuṇa, Indra, and Nāsatya (Aśvin). Contemporary equestrian terminology, as recorded in a horse-training manual whose author is identified as "Kikkuli the Mitannian," contains Indo-Aryan loanwords. The personal names and gods of the Mitanni aristocracy also bear significant traces of Indo-Aryan. Because of the association of Indo-Aryan with horsemanship and the Mitanni aristocracy, it is presumed that, after superimposing themselves as rulers on a native Hurrian-speaking population about the 15th-16th centuries BC, Indo-Aryan charioteers were absorbed into the local population and adopted the Hurrian language.

StBoT 41 (1995)
Thieme, as cited in

However, Brentjes (as cited in ) argues that there is not a single cultural element of central Asian, eastern European, or Caucasian origin in the Mitannian area and associates with an Indo-Aryan presence the peacock motif found in the Middle East from before 1600 BC and quite likely from before 2100 BC.

In contrast, most scholars reject the possibility that the Indo-Aryans of Mitanni came from the Indian subcontinent as well as the possibility that the Indo-Aryans of the Indian subcontinent came from the territory of Mitanni, leaving migration from the north the only likely scenario.. The presence of some BMAC loan words in Mitanni, Old Iranian and Vedic further strengthens this scenario.


The Rigveda is by far the most archaic testimony of Vedic Sanskrit. Bryant suggests that the Rigveda represents a pastoral or nomadic, mobile culture, centered on the Indo-Iranian Soma cult and fire worship. With all the effort to glimpse historical information from the hymns of the Rigveda, it should not be forgotten that the purpose of these hymns is ritualistic, not historiographical or ethnographical, and any information about the way of life or the habitat of their authors is incidental and philologically extrapolated from the context. , as cited in
"Ancient Indian history has been fashioned out of compositions, which are purely religious and priestly, which notoriously do not deal with history, and which totally lack the historical sense.(...)." F.E. Pargiter 1922. But we must not forget that "the Vedic literature confines itself to religious subjects and notices political and secular occurrences only incidentally (...)". Cited in R. C. Majumdar and A. D. Pusalker (editors): The history and culture of the Indian people. Volume I, The Vedic age. Bombay : Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan 1951, p.315, with reference to F.E. Pargiter. Nevertheless, Rigvedic data must be used, cautiously, as they are the earliest available textual evidence from India. Koenraad Elst opines that "The status question is still, more than ever, that the Vedic corpus provides no reference to an immigration of the so-called Vedic Aryans from Central Asia".

Rigvedic society as pastoral society

Fortifications ( ), mostly made of mud and wood (palisades) are mentioned in the Rigveda mainly as the abode of hostile peoples, while the Aryan tribes live in , a term translated as "settlement, homestead, house, dwelling", but also "community, tribe, troops".

Indra in particular is described as destroyer of fortifications, e.g. RV 4.30.20ab:
"Indra overthrew a hundred fortresses of stone."

However, according to Gupta (as quoted in ), "ancient civilizations had both the components, the village and the city, and numerically villages were many times more than the cities. (...) if the Vedic literature reflects primarily the village life and not the urban life, it does not at all surprise us.". Gregory Possehl (as cited in ) argued that the "extraordinary empty spaces between the Harappan settlement clusters" indicates that pastoralists may have "formed the bulk of the population during Harappan times". The Rigveda is seen by some as containing phrases referring to elements of an urban civilization, other than the mere viewpoint of an invader aiming at sacking the fortresses. For example, Indra is compared to the lord of a fortification (pūrpati) in RV 1.173.10, while quotations such as a ship with a hundred oars in 1.116 and metal forts (puras ayasis) in 10.101.8 all occur in mythological contexts only.

Rigvedic reference to migration

Talageri speculates that some of the tribes that fought against Sudas on the banks of the Parusni River during the Dasarajna battle have maybe migrated to western countries in later times, as they are possibly connected with some Iranian peoples (e.g. the Pakthas, Bhalanas).

Just like the Avesta does not mention an external homeland of the Zoroastrians, the Rigveda does not explicitly refer to an external homeland or to a migration. Later texts than the Rigveda (such as the Brahmanas, the Mahabharata, Ramayana and the Puranas) are more centered in the Gangesmarker region. This shift from the Punjab to the Gangetic plain continues the Rigvedic tendency of eastward expansion, but does not imply an origin beyond the Indus watershed.

Rigvedic Rivers and Reference of Samudra

The geography of the Rigveda seems to be centered around the land of the seven rivers. While the geography of the Rigvedic rivers is unclear in some of the early books of the Rigveda, the Nadistuti hymn is an important source for the geography of late Rigvedic society.

The Sarasvati River is one of the chief Rigvedic rivers. The Nadistuti hymn in the Rigveda mentions the Sarasvati between the Yamunamarker in the east and the Sutlejmarker in the west, and later texts like the Brahmanas and Mahabharata mention that the Sarasvati dried up in a desert.

Most scholars agree that at least some of the references to the Sarasvati in the Rigveda refer to the Ghaggar-Hakra River, while the Afghan river Haraxvaiti/Harauvati Helmand is sometimes quoted as the locus of the early Rigvedic river. Whether such a transfer of the name has taken place from the Helmand to the Ghaggar-Hakra is a matter of dispute. Identification of the early Rigvedic Sarasvati with the Ghaggar-Hakra before its assumed drying up early in the second millennium would place the Rigveda BC, well outside the range commonly assumed by Indo-Aryan migration theory.

A non-Indo-Aryan substratum in the river-names and place-names of the Rigvedic homeland would support an external origin of the Indo-Aryans. However, most place-names in the Rigveda and the vast majority of the river-names in the north-west of South Asia are Indo-Aryan. Non-Indo-Aryan names are, however, frequent in the Ghaggar and Kabul River areas, the first being a post-Harappan stronghold of Indus populations.

Iranian Avesta

The religious practices depicted in the Rgveda and those depicted in the Avesta, the central religious text of Zoroastrianism—the ancient Iranian faith founded by the prophet Zarathustra—have in common the deity Mitra, priests called hotṛ in the Rgveda and zaotar in the Avesta, and the use of a hallucinogenic compound that the Rgveda calls soma and the Avesta haoma. However, the Indo-Aryan deva 'god' is cognate with the Iranian daēva 'demon'. Similarly, the Indo-Aryan asura 'name of a particular group of gods' (later on, 'demon') is cognate with the Iranian ahura 'lord, god,' which 19th and early 20th century authors such as Burrow explained as a reflection of religious rivalry between Indo-Aryans and Iranians.

Two alternative dates for Zarathustra can be found in Greek sources: an unlikely 5000 years before the Trojan War, i.e. 6000 BC, or 258 years before Alexander, i.e. the 6th century BC, the latter of which used to provide the conventional dating but has since been traced to a fictional Greek source. Most linguists such as Burrow argue that the strong similarity between the Avestan language of the Gāthās—the oldest part of the Avesta—and the Vedic Sanskrit of the Rgveda pushes the dating of Zarathustra or at least the Gathas closer to the conventional Rgveda dating of 1500–1200 BC, i.e. 1100 BC, possibly earlier. Boyce concurs with a lower date of 1100 BC and tentatively proposes an upper date of 1500 BC. Gnoli dates the Gathas to around 1000 BC, as does , with the caveat of a 400 year leeway on either side, i.e. between 1400 and 600 BC. Therefore the date of the Avesta could also indicate the date of the Rigveda.

Burrow, as cited in
Boyce and Gnoli, as cited in

There is mention in the Avesta of Airyanəm Vaējah, one of the '16 the lands of the Aryans' as well as Zarathustra himself. Gnoli's interpretation of geographic references in the Avesta situates the Airyanem Vaejah in the Hindu Kushmarker. For similar reasons, Boyce excludes places north of the Syr Daryamarker and western Iranian places. With some reservations, Skjaervo concurs that the evidence of the Avestan texts makes it impossible to avoid the conclusion that they were composed somewhere in northeastern Iran. Witzel points to the central Afghan highlands. Humbach derives Vaējah from cognates of the Vedic root "vij," suggesting the region of fast-flowing rivers. Gnoli considers Choresmia (Xvairizem), the lower Oxus region, south of the Aral Seamarker to be an outlying area in the Avestan world. However, according to , the probable homeland of Avestan is, in fact, the area south of the Aral Sea.
Gnoli, Boyce, Skjaervo, and Witzel, as cited in
Humbach and Gnoli, as cited in

Later Vedic and Hindu texts

Some Indologists have noted that "there is no textual evidence in the early literary traditions unambiguously showing a trace" of an Indo-Aryan migration. Texts like the Puranas and Mahabharata belong to a much later period than the Rigveda, making their evidence less than sufficient to be used for or against the Indo-Aryan migration theory.

Later Vedic texts show a shift of location from the Panjab to the East: according to the Yajur Veda, Yajnavalkya (a Vedic ritualist and philosopher) lived in the eastern region of Mithila. Aitareya Brahmana 33.6.1. records that Vishvamitra's sons migrated to the north, and in Shatapatha Brahmana 1:2:4:10 the Asuras were driven to the north. In much later texts, Manu was said to be a king from Dravida. In the legend of the flood he stranded with his ship in Northwestern India or the Himalayas.The Vedic lands (e.g. Aryavarta, Brahmavarta) are located in Northern India or at the Sarasvati and Drsadvati River. However, in a post-Vedic text theMahabharata Udyoga Parva (108), the East is described as the homeland of the Vedic culture, where "the divine Creator of the universe first sang the Vedas." The legends of Ikshvaku, Sumati and other Hindu legends may have their origin in South-East Asia.


The evidence from the Puranas is often disputed because they are late texts, dated from c.400 to c.1000 AD. while the Rigveda dates from before 1200 BC. Thus the Rigveda and the Puranas are separated by approximately 1600 to 2200 years, though some scholars argue that some contents of the Puranas may date to an earlier period.

The Puranas record that Yayati left Prayagmarker (confluence of Ganga & Yamuna) and conquered the region of Sapta Sindhu. His five sons Yadu, Druhyu, Puru, Anu and Turvashu correspond to the main tribes of the Rigveda.

The Puranas also record that the Druhyus were driven out of the land of the seven rivers by Mandhatr and that their next king Ghandara settled in a north-western region which became known as Gandhara. The sons of the later Druhyu king Pracetas are supposed by some to have 'migrated' to the region north of Afghanistan though the Puranic texts only speak of an "adjacent" settlement..

Vedic and Puranic genealogies

The Vedic and Puranic genealogies indicate a great antiquity of Vedic culture. The Puranas themselves state that these lists are incomplete. But the accuracy of these lists is disputed. In Arrian's Indica, Megasthenes is quoted as stating that the Indians counted from Shiva (Dionysos) to Chandragupta Maurya (Sandracottus) "a hundred and fifty-three kings over six thousand and forty-three years." The Brhadaranyaka Upanishad (4.6.), ca. 8th century BC, mentions 57 links in the Guru-Parampara ("succession of teachers"). This would mean that this Guru-Parampara would go back about 1400 years, although the accuracy of this list is disputed. as student-teacher generations do not correspond to normal father-son generations of 20/30 years. The list of kings in Kalhana's Rajatarangini goes back to the 31st century BC.

Physical anthropology

Distribution of R1a (purple) and R1b (red)
Kenneth A.R. Kennedy, a U.S. expert who has extensively studied such skeletal remains, observes, "Biological anthropologists remain unable to lend support to any of the theories concerning an Aryan biological or demographic entity."
 find that most of the India-specific mtDNA haplogroups show coalescent times of 40 to 60 millennia ago. Sahoo et al. (2006) states that "there is general agreement that Indian caste and tribal populations share a common late Pleistocene maternal ancestry in India" and that:
It is not necessary, based on the current evidence, to look beyond South Asia for the origins of the paternal heritage of the majority of Indians at the time of the onset of settled agriculture.
The perennial concept of people, language, and agriculture arriving to India together through the northwest corridor does not hold up to close scrutiny.
Recent claims for a linkage of haplogroups J2, L, R1a, and R2 with a contemporaneous origin for the majority of the Indian castes' paternal lineages from outside the subcontinent are rejected, although our findings do support a local origin of haplogroups F* and H.
Of the others, only J2 indicates an unambiguous recent external contribution, from West Asia rather than Central Asia.
A 2002-03 study by T. Kivisild et al. concluded that the "Indian tribal and caste populations derive largely from the same genetic heritage of Pleistocene southern and western Asians and have received limited gene flow from external regions since the Holocene." A 2006 genetic study by the National Institute of Biologicals in India, testing a sample of men from 32 tribal and 45 caste groups, concluded that the Indians have acquired very few genes from Indo-European speaking migrants. However, Bamshad et al. (2001) state:
For maternally inherited mtDNA, each caste is most similar to Asians.
However, 20%-30% of Indian mtDNA haplotypes belong to West Eurasian haplogroups, and the frequency of these haplotypes is proportional to caste rank, the highest frequency of West Eurasian haplotypes being found in the upper castes.
In contrast, for paternally inherited Y-chromosome variation each caste is more similar to Europeans than to Asians.
Moreover, the affinity to Europeans is proportionate to caste rank, the upper castes being most similar to Europeans, particularly East Europeans.
[...] Analysis of these data demonstrated that the upper castes have a higher affinity to Europeans than to Asians, and the upper castes are significantly more similar to Europeans than are the lower castes.
Collectively, all five datasets show a trend toward upper castes being more similar to Europeans, whereas lower castes are more similar to Asians.
Kennedy (as cited in ), who examined 300 skeletons from the Indus Valley civilization, concludes that the ancient Harappans “are not markedly different in their skeletal biology from the present-day inhabitants of Northwestern India and Pakistan”. The craniometric variables of prehistoric and living South Asians also showed an "obvious separation" from the prehistoric people of the Iranian plateau and western Asia. Furthermore, the results of craniometric variation from Indus Valley sites indicate "significant separation" of Moenjodaro from Harappa and the others.

Kenoyer (as quoted in ) states that "there was an overlap between Late Harappan and post-Harappan communities...with no biological evidence for major new populations."

Kennedy (in ) concluded, "there is no evidence of demographic disruptions in the north-western sector of the subcontinent during and immediately after the decline of the Harappan culture. If Vedic Aryans were a biological entity represented by the skeletons from Timargarha, then their biological features of cranial and dental anatomy were not distinct to a marked degree from what we encountered in the ancient Harappans.” Comparing the Harappan and Gandhara cultures, Kennedy (in ) remarks that: “Our multivariate approach does not define the biological identity of an ancient Aryan population, but it does indicate that the Indus Valley and Gandhara peoples shared a number of craniometric, odontometric and discrete traits that point to a high degree of biological affinity.” Cephalic measures though might not be a good indicator as they do not necessarily indicate ethnicity and there might be a tendency of plasiticity due to environment

Hemphill and Christensen (as cited in Elst 1999) report on their study of the migration of genetic traits: "Gene flow from Bactria occurs much later, and does not impact Indus Valley gene pools until the dawn of the Christian era." In a more recent study, Hemphill concludes that "the data provide no support for any model of massive migration and gene flow between the oases of Bactria and the Indus Valley. Rather, patterns of phenetic affinity best conform to a pattern of long-standing, but low-level bidirectional mutual exchange."

 point out that, although northwest India was ruled for several centuries by dynasties descended from the armies of Alexander the Great, neither the M170 nor M35 genetic markers associated with Greeks and Macedonians has been found anywhere in India, and cautions that the shared prehistoric genetic inheritance of Indian tribal and caste populations "does not refute the existence of genetic footprints laid down by known historical events. This would include invasions by the Huns, Greeks, Kushans, Moghuls, Muslims, English, and others." However, Kennedy (in  ) states that discontinuities in the prehistoric skeletal record occur either too early or too late to fit the classic scenario of a mid-second millennium B.C. Aryan invasion, but that this does not preclude "a gradual infiltration of foreigners". Witzel (in  ) states that 'their genetic impact would have been negligible and, as was the case with the Normans in England, would have been "lost" in a few generations in the much larger gene pool of the Indus people.' Vijendra Kashyap, one of the authors of Sahoo et al. (2006), states that the people of the Indian subcontinent are indigenous to South Asia, but that Indo-European languages are not, and that language change resulted from the migration of numerically small superstrate groups that are difficult to trace genetically.  states that "Archeology can verify the occurrence of migration only in exceptional cases" and identifies the introduction of Indo-European languages to India as an instance of language replacement, when the language of a population changes accompanied by only modest genetic effects.

In contrast, the spread of the Indo-European languages is associated with Y-chromosome haplogroup R1a1, which is identified with genetic marker M17. The Genographic Project conducted by the National Geographic Societymarker states that M17 arose "in the region of present-day Ukraine or southern Russia.". Geneticist and anthropologist Spencer Wells states that "The Aryans came from outside India. We actually have genetic evidence for that. Very clear genetic evidence from a marker that arose on the southern steppes of Russia and the Ukraine around 5,000 to 10,000 years ago. And it subsequently spread to the east and south through Central Asia reaching India." M17 "shows that there was a massive genetic influx into India from the steppes within the past 10,000 years" and "Taken with the archaeological data, we can say that the old hypothesis of an invasion of people – not merely their language – from the steppe appears to be true.".

However (Kivisild 2003a; Kivisild 2003b) have revealed that a high frequency of haplogroup 3 (R1a1) occurs in about half of the male population of Northwestern India and is also frequent in Western Bengal. These results, together with the fact that haplogroup 3 is much less frequent in Iran and Anatolia than it is in India, indicates that haplogroup 3 found among high caste Telugus did not necessarily originate from Eastern Europeans. "suggests that southern and western Asia might be the source of this haplogroup". Studies of Indian scholars showed the R1a lineage forms around 35–45% among all the castes in North Indian population (Namita Mukherjee et al. 2001) and the high frequency of R1a1 present in the indigenous Chenchu and Badaga tribal Adivasis of south India making the association with the Brahmin caste more vague. However, a model involving population flow from Southern Asia into Central Asia during Paleolithic interglacial periods with a subsequent R1a1-mediated Neolithic migration of Indo-European-speaking pastoralists back into Southern Asia would also be consistent with these data . A further study (Saha et al. 2005) examined R1a1 in South Indian tribals and Dravidian population groups more closely, and questioned the concept of its Indo-Iranian origin. Most recently Sengupta et al. (2006) have confirmed R1a's diverse presence including even Indian tribal and lower castes (the so-called untouchables) and populations not part of the caste system. From the diversity and distinctiveness of microsatellite Y-STR variation they conclude that there must have been an independent R1a1 population in India dating back to a much earlier expansion than the Indo-Aryan migration. The pattern of clustering does not support the model that the primary source of the R1a1-M17 chromosomes in India was a single entry of Indo-European speaking pastoralists from Central Asia. However, the data are not necessarily inconsistent with more complicated demographic scenarios involving multiple entries in both Paleolithic and Neolithic periods and two-way population flows into and out of South Asia. The absence of haplogroup R1b (Y-DNA) in Indo-Aryan and Dravidian populations which is found in all other Indo-European populations, in especially large proportions in western Europe, may suggest significant levels of native genetic base for the Indo-Aryan peoples compared to other Indo-European peoples. However, it must be noted that R1b, with few exceptions, is also not present in significant levels in Central Asian populations. Also, the high prevalence of haplogroup R1a1 relative to other Indian populations (including Indo-Aryans) in the northwestern portion of the subcontinent (northwestern India and present-day Pakistan) also suggests an affinity between this part of the subcontinent and the Central Asian steppes, perhaps brought about by longstanding two-way population flows.

Recent studies of the distribution of alleles on the Y chromosome, microsatellite DNA, and mitochondrial DNA in India have cast overwhelmingly strong doubt for a biological Dravidian "race" distinct from non-Dravidians in the Indian subcontinent. The only distinct ethnic groups present in South Asia, according to genetic analysis, are the Balochi, Brahui, Burusho, Hazara, Kalash, Pathan and Sindhi peoples, the vast majority of whom are found in today's Pakistanmarker.

In a 2009 study of 132 individuals, 560,000 SNP in 25 different Indian groups were analyzed, providing strong evidence in support of the notion that modern Indians form a population that is hybrid, yet highly substructured by caste, language family and region, descending from two ancient, genetically divergent populations, termed ancestral North Indian (ANI) and ancestral South Indian (ASI), one of which (ANI) resembled the modern Middle Easterners, Central Asians, and Europeans, while the other's (ASI) closest modern match are the indigenous Andaman Islanders. According to the study, the former type of ancestry ranges from 39–71% in most Indian groups, and is generally more prevalent in traditionally upper caste and Indo-European-speaking groups.Given the genetic proximity between the ANI and west Eurasian populations, it would presumably be difficult to detect the signature of individual population movements from the west into the Indian subcontinent (i.e. early Neolithic/Dravidian vs. Bronze Age/Indo-Aryan).

History and political background

In 19th century Indo-European studies, the language of the Rigveda was the most archaic Indo-European language known to scholars, indeed the only records of Indo-European that could reasonably claim to date to the Bronze Age. This "primacy" of Sanskrit inspired some scholars, such as Friedrich Schlegel, to assume that the locus of the Proto-Indo-European Urheimat had been in India, with the other dialects spread to the west by historical migration. This was however never a mainstream position even in the 19th century. Most scholars assumed a homeland either in Europe or in Western Asia, and Sanskrit must in this case have reached India by a language transfer from west to east, in a movement described in terms of invasion by 19th century scholars such as Max Müller. With the discovery of Bronze Age attestations of Indo-European in the 20th century (Anatolian, Mycenaean Greek), Vedic Sanskrit lost its special status as the most archaic Indo-European language known.

The Indus Valley civilization (IVC) was discovered in the 1920s. The discovery of the Harappamarker and Mohenjo-daromarker sites changed the theory from an invasion of "advanced" Aryan people on a "primitive" aboriginal population to an invasion of nomadic "barbarians" on an advanced urban civilization, comparable to the Germanic migrations after the Fall of Rome, or the Kassite invasion of Babylonia. The decline of the IVC at precisely the period in history for which the Indo-Aryan migration had been assumed provides independent support of the linguistic scenario. This argument is associated with the mid-20th century archaeologist Mortimer Wheeler, who interpreted the presence of many unburied corpses found in the top levels of Mohenjo-daro as the victims of a warlike conquest, and who famously stated that "Indra stands accused" of the descruction of the IVC.

In the later 20th century, ideas were refined, and migration and acculturation were seen as the methods whereby Indo-Aryans spread into northwest India around 1500 BC. These changes were thought to be in line with changes in thinking about language transfer in general, such as the migration of the Greeks into Greece (between 2100 and 1600 BC), or the Indo-Europeanization of Western Europe (between 2200 and 1300 BC).

Most recent studies in the end of 20th century and beginning of 21st century, by various geneticists, however, do not indicate a significantly large migration of population since at least 10,000 years. These studies are exactly in line with the theory of the decline of the Indus Valley Civilization because of change in geological and climatic conditions in the Indus Valley around 1900 BC, resulting in a gradual movement of the Indus Valley population towards the more well-watered areas of Haryana and Gujarat, and subsequently to the Ganga and Yamuna rivers in the east, indicated by recent discoveries of Indus Valley type small townships in Gujarat and Haryana in India.

Political debate and implications

The debate over such a migration, and the accompanying influx of elements of Vedic religion from Central Asia is politically charged and hotly debated in India. Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) organizations, especially, mostly remain opposed to the concept. Outside India, the political overtones of the theory are not pronounced, and it is discussed in the larger framework of Indo-Iranian and Indo-European expansion.

Outside of academic debate, an "Indian Urheimat" has some proponents among Hindu nationalist, occultist and anti-Islamic writers, such as and Kazanas (2001, 2002, 2009). "Out of India" scenarios locating the Indo-European homeland on the Indian subcontinent have gained currency in the Indian nationalist discourse since the 2000s.


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