Āryatvārtha Nirṇayam: Determination of the meaning of “Aryan”-ness
While there are scores of words that are contentious and loaded with historical baggage; ready to summon ghosts from the past to haunt a particular target group, it is perhaps the word, “Aryan”, arguably of course, that remains a bastard, with several theories claiming paternity. It is difficult to understand what the word, “Aryan” meant to the Ancient Hindu mind, the collective intelligentsia of priests, kings, ascetics and philosophers that shaped the Sacrosanct Veda, Smritis of Manu, Gautama and others, the Dharmasutras of Apastamba, Baudhayana and etc and the Itihasa Purana canon (Mahabharata, Ramayana and the scores of Puranas, all plenty with interpolations and obvious corruptions) over a continuum of two millennia.
The word “Aryan” has been interpreted in the context of race, culture, religion, language and etcetera, in academically and scientifically meaningful ways. But some would go to the ridiculous extent of claiming that it only refers to noble character as it is used in the Rig Veda. While due credit must be given to the sheer strength of imagination on the part of thinkers such as Dayananda Sarasvati, Aurobindo, Kapali Sastry, Subhash Kak and others who feel compelled to interpret an entire body of scripture as symbolic and strip it of its historical substance, one must set the humour aside and give in, for once, to objective thinking and approach the Rig Veda with the respect it deserves as a text that chronicles some of the most hoary events and persons of Bhāratadeśa.
So, were the “Aryans” an ethnic group that subscribed to a set of cultural practices and was part of a linguistic group? The answer depends on the era in Vedic history. When the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-Europeans first entered Bhāratavarṣa, they were carriers of a particular culture and proto-language (Proto-Vedic) and had a shared genetic identity. However, even this did not happen as neatly as imagined, in a single wave of migration. Manu and his progeny is likely to have been the first Indo-Aryan settlers in Bharatavarsha and his clan, over time, gave rise to the Ikśvākava, along with the Vaisālī and the Videha peoples.
It might have been possible that there was a (relatively) short interval between the era of Ikśvāku’s reign and the arrival of the second wave, that of the Aila (Descendants of Ilā, daughter of Manu and the ancestors of the Chandravamśi dynasties)-probably about 2-3 centuries. This seems substantiated by the Paurānika testimony, as cited by F.E. Pargiter in Ancient Historical Indian Tradition, that Ikśvāku inherited Madhyadeśa as the eldest son of Manu. (Brahma 7, 20. Harivamsa 10, 634. Siva vii, 60, 17. Linga i, 65, 28. Brahmanda iii, 60, 20; Vayu 85, 21.
The text from Harivamsa states: “ikShvAkuH jyeShTha dAyAdo madhya-desham avAptavAn”
But in other parts of the Paurānika tradition, Yayati seems to be the ruler of Madhyadesa with his capital at Pratiṣṭhana. It seems that the Solar kingdoms, which derive patrilineal descent from Manu, (Whom Pargiter had styled as the ‘Manva’ kingdoms) were pushed more eastwards by this incoming second wave of the Aila. Going back to the meaning of the term, “Ārya”, the Aila definitely were culturally distinguished from the Manva although linguistically they were more or less the same stock.
However, the Aila themselves separated into the Panchajana, that is, five different tribes with their separate territories-Anu, Druhyu, Puru, Yadu and Turvasu-and this resulted in further cultural differentiation. However, the Panchajana and the Manva were still genetically distinct groups in contrast with the Dravidians who had arrived in Bhāratavarṣa prior to even the first wave of the Ārya and the still earlier, indigenous tribes of India. (Note that the Dravidians themselves are not the indigenous people of India as is commonly proclaimed by some individuals with vested interests) The latest genetic evidence also appears to suggest the relatively recent date for the admixture of these distinct genetic streams. Read this enlightening article by the learned Dienekes Pontikos
Gradually, this admixture translated into the diffusion of Ārya ideals from Āryavarta into Prāchya and Dakshina Bharata and several ruling tribes were embraced into the fold as honorary Kṣatriyās. However, the term, ‘Ārya’, seems to have been remembered primarily for its linguistic and cultural references. The tamil Saiva works often praises the religious canon that is both “Ariyamum Thamizhum” (That is, both Sanskrit and Tamil). Hence, the term, ‘Ārya’, seems to have been remembered among its peripheral subscribers in the southern region primarily for its linguistic and religious meaning. Thus, it is futile to divide the Hindus based on ‘Ārya’ as the term has constantly evolved and it now stands to represent a shared heritage to which we can all lay claim.