Thursday, March 24, 2011

Rajiv Malhotra: European Misappropriation of Sanskrit led to the Aryan Race Theory

Rajiv Malhotra: European Misappropriation of Sanskrit led to the Aryan Race Theory

Rajiv Malhotra

It is not widely known that the European quest to appropriate the highly prized library of Sanskrit's ancient spiritual texts motivated the construction of the "Aryan" race identity, one of the ideological roots of Nazism. The Sanskrit word "arya" is an adjective that means noble or pure. For example, the famous Buddhist Four Noble Truths are described as the Four Arya Truths or catvāri āryasatyāni in Sanskrit. Arya does not refer to a race, but a cultural quality venerated in Sanskrit texts.

German nationalism turned this word into a noun, "Aryan," and capitalized it to refer to an imaginedrace of people that were the original Sanskrit speakers who had composed its great texts. Early romantic claims that Indians were the ancestors of the Europeans were gradually replaced by the new myth that a race called "Indo-Aryans" was the common ancestors to both. Their origin was thought to be in the Caucasus Mountains, hence the term "Caucasian." Later, the "Indo" was dropped and the white Aryan Race Theory emerged. Thus, from the European desire to be seen as the inheritors of the Sanskrit civilization, the notion of a European super-race was born, with Germany as its highest manifestation.

With European nations competing among themselves for civilizational legacy, many rival theories emerged regarding the origins of the original Sanskrit speakers and their civilization. German nationalists found in the affinity between Sanskrit and German the possibility of a newly respectable pedigree vis-à-vis the French, and claimed the heritage of the treasure trove of Sanskrit literature to bolster their cause. The British interpreted India and Sanskrit in a manner that would strengthen their own role as empire-builders, with India as the jewel in the crown. Because Indians were not participants in European forums, there was widespread plagiarism of Indian texts, as well as much distorted interpretation.

By "becoming" the Aryans, Europeans felt that they were the rightful custodians of the massive corpus of Sanskrit texts that were generating new breakthroughs in the humanities and liberal arts. Germans took their newly adopted Aryan identity to extremes, and most of the influential European thinkers of the time colluded. Their racist theories often had an anti-Semitic dimension, seeking to reconstruct the Bible in Aryan terms.

Today, the Western mainstream has made special efforts to remove the notion of an Aryan race from the vocabulary and the public psyche. However, as my recently released book, Breaking India, explains, the damage in India has worsened. The Dravidian Race Theory was formulated by British missionaries in the 1800s in parallel with the Aryan theory, and it divides the peoples of India into racial categories of "Aryans" and "Dravidians." Western scholars and institutions continue to support Dravidian racism, which is dependent upon acceptance of the Aryan race construct. In a future blog I will explain how Christian missionaries are now exploiting these dangerous constructs.