- (Arya)In the VEDAS, the earliest Indian texts, the SAN-SKRIT word Arya had the sense of noble or worthy person. It was used by the tribes or peoples who recited the Vedas to distinguish themselves from other peoples. Sometimes, in early Sanskrit the term was used to refer to the “respectable” upper three classes of the Indian tradition, to distinguish them from the disreputable classes such as the SHUDRAS and those below them, the untouchables. Most Brahmins still refer to themselves as Aryas, as do all Buddhists and Jains (see JAINISM).The earliest text of the Vedic tradition, the RIG VEDA, which is set in ancient India, has been dated to around 1500 B.C.E. This rough estimate refers to the time the text was compiled as an anthology. Parts of the text may thus date back some centu-ries earlier, an indication that the Aryas were in India as early as c. 2000 B.C.E.Vedic references to the Aryas are thus syn-chronous with the theoretical migration of Indo-European-speaking peoples into India from the northwest. Much scholarship and speculation have been focused on this issue since at least the 18th century, when it was discovered that Sanskrit was an Indo-European language related to Latin and Greek, while the languages of southern India seemed unrelated. The term Arya also appears in ancient Persian texts (it is reflected in the name of the country Iran), and in Hittite inscriptions from the Middle East around 1500 B.C.E. The name Ireland may also reflect the word, which would be evidence for a simultaneous Aryan migration to Europe. Recent attempts have been made in India to refute the notion that the Aryans arrived from outside the country. It is prudent to say that the issue is not yet settled.Within India itself there are various different understandings of the nature of the Aryans. The linguistic term Dravidian, referring to the tongues spoken in South India, was sometimes used in the 20th century to designate a people or race differ-ent and distinct from the Aryans of the north. The term Aryan was taken up in Europe in the 20th century by the Nazis to designate a person of a “superrace.”Further reading: Edwin F. Bryant, The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture: The Indo-Aryan Migration Debate (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001); Mad-hav Deshpande and Peter Edwin Hook, eds., Aryan and Non-Aryan in India (Ann Arbor: Center for South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of Michigan, 1979); George Erdosy, ed., The Indo-Aryans of Ancient South Asia: Language, Material Culture and Ethnicity (Berlin: Walter De Guyter, 1995); J. P. Malory, In Search of the Indo-European Language, Archaeology and Myth (Lon-don: Thames & Hudson, 1991); Colin Renfrew, Archae-ology and Language: The Puzzle of Indo-European Origins (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.