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The Never Ending Debate

Kumkum Roy

Edited by Thomas R. Trautmann
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2005, pp. xiv 289, Rs. 545.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 1-2 January-February 2006

As students of early Indian history know only too well, the Aryan question just refuses to go away. It remains the subject of conversation in middle-class homes, and, in the last decade or so, has been the theme of stormy academic (and not-so-academic) debates. It is in this context that this volume in the Oxford University Press Debates series is most welcome.   At the outset, Trautmann lays down the criteria for including and excluding essays from the anthology. Essays that “were excessively polemical and personal in their attacks” (p. xi), have, understandably enough, not found their way into this collection of generally measured, scholarly writings. Also excluded are those works that have acquired a great deal of visibility and popularity, but are not written by specialists. In the process, most of the fury and passion that have surrounded the question has been carefully excised.   Trautmann steers the reader through the anthology with a masterly, typically understated introduction. He classifies positions in the debate in terms of what he defines as the standard view of the Aryans as outsiders, which is juxtaposed with the alternative view of the Aryans as indigenous. Both these polarized positions are then refined and qualified. Perhaps the most notable of these qualifications is Trautmann’s quiet insistence that the first viewpoint cannot be reduced to the Aryan Invasion Theory (the AIT that makes its presence felt in newspaper articles with unfailing regularity). Also valuable is his suggestion that distinctions between history and historiography are important—much of the debate has been marred by an often deliberate blurring of these categories.   The way Trautmann identifies three nodal issues in the debate is useful in clarifying our understanding. Two of these issues revolve around historical linguistics—the recognition of the Indo-European family of languages as well as of the Dravidian family. The third issue centres on archaeology—the vexed question of assigning a linguistic and/or racial/ethnic identity to the authors of the Harappan civilization. Evaluating responses to these issues, Trautmann argues, is critical if we are to appreciate the positions adopted by scholars in the debate.   The essays are grouped under three broad rubrics. The first is historical and consists of pronouncements on the major discoveries—of common elements in Indo-European languages, of the distinctive features of Dravidian as opposed to Sanskrit and related languages, and of the Harappan civilization. Some of the excerpts, as for ...

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