Edwin Bryant

American indologist

Edwin Francis Bryant (born August 31, 1957) is an Indologist and author.


  • Although in various other academic fields and area studies, such as race science, postcolonial scholarship has completely deconstructed and exposed the colonial investment in the propagation of certain theories, the field of Indology, at least in present-day Western academic circles, has been very suspicious of these voices being raised against the theory of the Aryan invasions.
  • One must beware of falling into a kind of uncritical Indological McCarthyism towards those open to reconsidering the established contours of ancient Indian history, irrespective of their motives and backgrounds, and of lumping all challenges into a simplistic, convenient and easily-demonized 'Hindu Nationalist' category.
    • Quoted from Malhotra, R., Nīlakantan, A. (Princeton, N.J.). (2011). Breaking India: Western interventions in Dravidian and Dalit faultlines [1]
  • One can, of course, understand the concern over the extremes of Hindu nationalism given Europe’s own bitter history of Aryanism, although the fact is that much of the impetus fueling the ‘revisionism’ of the Indo-Aryan issue stems from distrust of the motives and agendas underpinning the entire construction and pursuit of the Indo-European homeland quest by Europeans in the 19th and 20th centuries in the first place. Anyone who has at all dabbled with the history of this enterprise, rooted as it is in European racisms, nationalisms and quests for biblical origins, can hardly blame such a priori suspicion in the post-colonial climate of Indian historiography. ‘After all, much of the scholarship on the history of the Indian subcontinent was formulated during the colonial and imperial heyday of the 19th century. We thus have a complex situation where, on the one hand, there are valid and serious grounds for concern over nationalistic appropriation of myths of origin in present day India, and, on the other, equally valid grounds for submitting the entire Indo-European/Indo-Aryan locating enterprise to post-colonial scrutiny.
    • Edwin Bryant . "'Somewhere in Asia and No More,' Response to 'Indigenous Indo-Aryans and the Rigveda' by Kazanas." Journal of Indo-European Studies 30.3-4 (2003): 341-353
  • I agree that a plausible explanation has yet to be given as to how, if there were indeed no actual invasion of Indo-Aryans but only the migratory ‘trickle’ into which it has been reconfigured, the newcomers could have completely eradicated the pre-existing language of the entire North of the subcontinent in the short interval normally allotted between their arrival and the composition of the Rgveda, in which the local topography is Indo-Aryan. When one considers that, in these proposed two or three centuries, such hypothetical migrants managed even to Sanskritize practically all of the names of rivers and places, the most conservative aspect of a substratum, in the N.W. of the subcontinent, but yet failed to do so in the East of the subcontinent despite Aryanizing it for well over two millennia, and the accomplishment is remarkable (and, of course, they failed to even displace the Dravidian languages in the South despite extensive interaction for almost as long). Add to this that their predecessors were the highly sophisticated and urbanized residents of the Indus Valley Civilization, and the incoming Indo-Aryans typically construed as pastoralist nomads, and Kazanas has a right to wonder how and why would the Indus Valley dwellers have so thoroughly and completely adopted the language of these illiterate herdsmen if the latter were not invaders — a status denied them by archaeology?
    • Edwin Bryant . "'Somewhere in Asia and No More,' Response to 'Indigenous Indo-Aryans and the Rigveda' by Kazanas." Journal of Indo-European Studies 30.3-4 (2003): 341-353

The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture

Bryant, E. F. (2001). The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture : the Indo-Aryan migration debate. Oxford University Press.


  • Unfortunately, the whole Indigenous Aryan position is often simplistically stereotyped, and conveniently demonized, both in India and in the West, as a discourse exclusively determined by such agendas. This bypasses other concerns also motivating such reconsideration of history: the desire of many Indian scholars to reclaim control over the reconstruction of the religious and cultural history of their country from the legacy of imperial and colonial scholarship. In chapter 131 discuss the manifold concerns that I perceive as motivating Indigenous Aryanists to undertake a reconsideration of this issue. I argue that although there are doubtlessly nationalistic and, in some quarters, communal agendas lurking behind some of this scholarship, a principal feature is anticolonial/imperial.
  • On the other hand, and again on a personal note, I am also concerned at what I perceive to be a type of Indological McCarthyism creeping into areas of Western, as well as certain Indian, academic circles, whereby, as will be discussed in chapter 13, anyone reconsidering the status quo of Indo-Aryan origins is instantly and a priori dubbed a nationalist, a communalist, or, even worse, a Nazi.
  • Perhaps this is an opportune moment to reveal my own present position on the Indo- European problem. I am one of a long list of people who do not believe that the avail- able data are sufficient to establish anything very conclusive about an Indo-European homeland, culture, or people. I am comfortable with the assumptions that cognate languages evolve from a reasonably standardized protoform (provided this is allowed con- siderable dialectal variation) that was spoken during a certain period of human history and culture in a somewhat condensed geographic area that is probably somewhere in the historically known Indo-European-speaking area (although I know of no solid grounds for excluding the possibility that this protolanguage could have originated outside of this area).
  • However, regarding homelands, I differ from most Western scholars in that I find myself hard pressed to absolutely eliminate the possibility that the eastern part of this region could be one possible candidate among several, albeit not a particularly convincing one, provided this area is delimited by Southeast Central Asia, Afghanistan, present- day Pakistan, and the northwest of the subcontinent (rather than the Indian subcontinent proper). I hasten to stress that it is not that the evidence favors this area as a possible homeland—on the contrary, there has been almost no convincing evidence brought for- ward in support of a homeland this far east. As we shall see, the issue is that problems arise when one tries to prove that the Indo-Aryans were intrusive into this area from an outside homeland. In other words, one has almost no grounds to argue for a South Asian Indo-European homeland from where the other speakers of the Indo-European language departed, but one can argue that much of the evidence brought forward to document tlieir entrance into the subcontinent is problematic. These are two separate, but obviously overlapping, issues.
  • Coupled with the problems that have been raised against all homeland candidates, these issues have caused me conclude that, in the absence of radically new evidence or approaches to the presently available evidence, theories on the homeland of the Indo- European speaking peoples will never be convincingly proven to the satisfaction of even a majority of scholars.

Chapter 1. Myths of origin

  • After these elements have been adequately processed and acknowledged, we can move forward, hopefully somewhat free from the ghosts of the past, to reexamine the actual evidence from the perspectives of our own present-day postcolonial academic culture.

Chapter 2. Early Indian Responses

  • Suspicion of the theory based on scriptural testimony—or lack thereof—remains an explicit or implicit factor in much Indigenous Aryan discourse.

Chapter 3. Vedic Philology

  • The Rgvedic texts were read in the political context of nineteenth-century philology, which has been outlined in chapter 1. This certainly influenced the choice of possible inter- pretations placed on such words as andsa and on the battles of the Aryas and the Dasas. The racial interpretations extrapolated from the texts to support an Aryan migration have been justly challenged by both Indian and, albeit after the lag of a century, Western scholars. Their place in serious discussions of the Indo-Aryan problem is highly questionnable.

Chapter 5. Linguistic Substrata in Sanskrit Texts

  • There is ample evidence of foreign personages and tribes in the Vedic period. Kuiper lists some twenty-six names of Vedic individuals who have non-Indo-Aryan names, with which Mayrhofer concurs. Witzel points out that twenty-two out of fifty Rgvedic tribal names are not Indo-Aryan, with a majority of them occurring in later books.
  • Many of die foreign terms for flora and fauna could simply indicate that these items have continually been imported into the subcontinent over the centuries, as continues to be the case today. The exception to this is place-names and river names, but the absence of foreign terms for the topography and hydronomy of the Northwest deprives us of significant evidence that has been used to establish substrata elsewhere.

Chapter 10. Aryans in the Archaeological Record: The Evidence outside the Subcontinent

  • This raises the immediate objection that if archaeology cannot trace any consistent material culture identifiable as Indo-Aryan arriving into the subcontinent from outside, it most certainly cannot identify any such culture emanating out. Accordingly, as far as archaeology is concerned, we have reached a stalemate (although from a Migrationist perspective there is, arguably at least, some kind of chronological sequence of archaeological culture that at least heads toward the general direction of the subcontinent, even if it does not penetrate it). Ultimately, however, the Aryans cannot be satisfactorily identified in the archaeological record as either entering or exiting. The trajectory of the Indo-Aryans, indeed the necessity of their very existence, is a linguistic issue that archaeology, as most archaeologists are well aware, cannot locate in the archaeological record without engaging in what, to all intents and purposes, amounts to special and often complicated pleading. On the basis of the present evidence, linguistics cannot decisively determine with any significant degree of consensus where the original home- land actually was. And archaeology can only hope to be productive in identifying the material remains of a linguistic group if linguistics has already done the groundwork of pinpointing its geographic area of origin with a reasonable degree of precision.
  • Accordingly, archaeology cannot deny the possibility that Indo-Aryan and Iranian (which were preceded by Indo-Iranian) languages might have been spoken in the area of the Punjab, Pakistan/Afghanistan, southeast central Asia/northeast Iran since the second, third or even fourth millennium B.C.E. The problem is chronological. In fact, archaeologically at least, South Asian archaeologists often draw attention to a cultural continuum that can be traced as far back as Mehrgarh in the seventh millennium B.C.E. within which innovations and developments can be explained simply by internal developments and external trade. If there were no constraints stemming from the date commonly assigned to the Veda, this whole area could have included urbanites and agriculturists from the South, as well as nomads and pastoralists from the North, interacting together in the millennia B.C.E. as they always have been and still do in the present day. Both steppe dwellers and urban farmers could have been speakers of related Indo-Iranian dialects in protohistory just as they are today and have always been in recorded history. There could have been invasions, migrations, trade, cultural exchanges, all manner of interactions—cultural evolution and devolution (followed sometimes by renewed evolution)—as well as all manner of diversification in chronological time. And all within a large, heterogeneous ethnic and cultural area of people who nonetheless spoke related dialects—whether living in towns, mountains, or agricultural plains—just as has always been die history of the subcontinent.

Chapter 12. The date of the Veda

  • In my view, the references connected with the fourth millennium B.C.E. date, although intriguing, are too speculative to be used as substantial evidence. In the post- 2500 B.C.E. period, however, the quality and quantity of references supporting the position of the sun in Krttika at the vernal equinox are more substantive. They should be given due consideration as a serious possibility. They are as valid a chronological indicator as anything else that has been brought forward to date the Vedic texts. But they cannot win the day in and of themselves without additional, outside support.

Chapter 13. Aryan Origins and Modern Nationalist Discourse

  • But attention must also be given to the possibility that, in addition to the Indigenist discourses of the nationalists, there might be many other scholars who sincerely believe that the Aryan invasion theory is a seriously flawed historical construct produced by biased imperial powers with overt agendas of their own—in other words, that it was, and is, perceived as "bad history." Consideration must also be given to the perception of many Indian scholars that Europeans might have constructed the idea of an external home of the Aryans to "pander to a false sense of national pride" of their own. No doubt voices challenging the theory of Aryan invasions were, and are, often co- opted and even, in certain cases, initiated and sponsored by nationalist and communal elements, but a wide range of motives have inspired Indian scholars to challenge the idea of Aryan invasions or migrations. Not all historical "revisionism," by which I in- tend the literal meaning of the word in the sense of "reexamination," is necessarily nationalist nor, most certainly, communal a priori. Perhaps the use of the term ^revisionism would illustrate the point: let us not forget that it was Europeans who originally "re- vised" India's Brahmanical notions of history and then imposed their version of events on their subjects. While I do not intend to minimize or gloss over the importance of this issue to Hindu nationalism, my reading of the Indigenous Aryan school is that its concerns are also to a great extent anti-imperial and anticolonial: it is determined to review the revision. Not all who share this concern are necessarily also impelled to find reason to consider themselves the original inhabitants of India so as to enhance their social legitimacy vis-a-vis other communities on the subcontinent.
  • However, in such generalizations, distinctions are often not made between communal revisionism and postcolonial reconsideration, and a kind of uncritical McCarthyism has developed in some quarters toward those who favor the Indigenous Aryan point of view, despite the fact that this view is on the ascendancy in India (or, perhaps, as a consequence of it) irrespective of the motives and backgrounds of those interested in this issue.
  • The bitterness, antipathy, and sarcasm seeping from the pens of participants in this debate (from both sides of the fence) when referring (increasingly by name) to those holding opposing views is apparent for all to see
  • In a progressive academic context, differences of opinions, however radical, challenge scholars to constantly reexamine their views, assumptions, and methods. This is the lifeline of healthy scholarship. But in the present academic climate in the subcontinent, it has become increasingly difficult, particularly for Indian scholars, to discuss the pre- history of the subcontinent in a rational, objective way without becoming associated with the ideologies that are immediately correlated with pro- or contra- stances for or against the Indigenous Aryan issue. This works to the obvious detriment of expanding and developing a nuanced understanding of the early history of the subcontinent.
  • Casting off the legacies of colonialism opens up exciting new possibilities for the understanding of Indian protohistory, provided the constraints of the colonial period are not replaced with an equally constraining insistence on a different ideologically driven reading of the historical evidence, whatever that ideology might be.
  • Since there is a tendency to stereotype any local reconsiderations of ancient Indian history whatsoever as nationalist or communal, the purpose of this chapter is to suggest that a wide variety of motives inspire Indian scholars to revisit the topic of Indo-Aryan origins: it is erroneous to lump them all into a simplistic, hastily identified and easily demonized Hindutva category.
  • One must be cautious about contributing to a sort of Indological McCarthyism whereby anyone reconsidering or challenging long- held assumptions pertaining to the Indo-Aryans is instantly dubbed a fundamentalist or nationalist or, more drastically, is accused of contributing to Nazi agendas. There is a tendency in Western, and in elements of Indian, academic circles to a priori stereo- type everyone reconsidering this aspect of Indian history in such ways
  • Scholars such as Renfrew and Gamkrelidze and Ivanov can radically challenge established Indo-European homeland theories in the West, but the academic culture in India has developed to the point that anyone attempting to even question established paradigms in early South Asian history is in danger of being dubbed a Nazi. Such a culture has been created as much by remarks made in a generic fashion by some of the opponents of the Indigenous Aryan school as by the bigoted statements of certain Hindu nationalist "Indigenists." It is obviously unconducive to the pursuit of impartial scholarly research that is making at least some effort to be objective.
  • This all goes to show that ideological analysis, while indispensable in a historiographical study such as this, must refrain from straitjacketing individuals into convenient and easily identified stereotypes or groupings.


  • This raises another dimension that the Indigenous Aryan critique forces us to confront: What constitutes authority in areas of knowledge, particularly where the evidence is sometimes as malleable, scanty, and inconclusive as much of that concerning the Indo-Aryans?
  • Philology and linguistics can actually offer surprisingly little to compel disenchanted Indian scholars to modify their suspicions of the ability of these disciplines to make authoritative pronouncements on the origins of the Indo-Aryan-speaking peoples in prehistory.
  • It was the testimony of the Bible that originally led scholars to propose the existence of a linguistically unified group of people living somewhere near the Caspian Sea, a subset of whom emanated forth and entered India. And it is the testimony of the Rgveda that is used to deny that any such people ever entered from any such place. The Bible laid the groundwork for the construction of the Aryan invasion theory, and the Rgveda has been the principal foundation for attempts at its deconstruction.
  • Although European scholars have long since forgotten the biblical roots of the Aryan problem, Old Testament narrative was certainly an initial factor causing European scholars to interpret the data in selective ways. One must bear in mind that European notions of human history had been based on Genesis for the better part of a millennium and a half. This formative influence was strengthened and then superseded by research intimately connected with the specific political exigencies extant in nineteenth-century Eu- rope. This combination of factors contributed to the development of various assumptions concerning Indo-Aryan (and Indo-European) origins, some of which have remained by and large unquestioned, outside of India, to this very day.
  • However, the interpretation of evidence being presented by the Indigenous Aryan group cannot be opposed because of the Hindutva element: that would equally be allowing ideological beliefs to manipulate historical interpretation. Critical scholarship is man- dated to attempt to detach debate on this topic from political orientations concerning personal visions for a modern Indian nation-state.
  • Having said that, an attempt was made to make a distinction between Hindutva revisionism and scholarly historical reconsideration motivated by a desire to reexamine the way Indian history was assembled by the colonial power. Unfortunately, these two ingredients are not always easily distinguishable, nor detachable. Nonetheless, this anti- imperialistic, postcolonial dimension to the Aryan invasion debate is an inherent ingredient. Most scholars in this group are concerned with reclaiming control over the re- construction of the ancient history of their country.
  • Nonetheless, a principal motive of many Indian scholars in this debate is the desire to reexamine the infrastructure of ancient history that is the legacy of the colonial period and test how secure it actually is by adopting the very tools and disciplines that had been used to construct it in the first place. The Aryan invasion theory is a major foundation stone of ancient Indian history, the "big bang," and has therefore attracted the initial attention of many Indian scholars.
  • But frustrating as it might some- times be, Western scholars must address the suspicions of the Indigenists—at least of those that are open to dialogue and exchange—given the neccessity of examining our own attitudes and biases made incumbent on us by the Orientalist critique. The post- colonial climate is a sensitive one, and it should be obvious why there might be very good reasons for Indian scholars to want to reevaluate the version of Indian history that was constructed during the colonial period. One cannot ignore or dismiss the sentiments and opinions of significant numbers of scholars about the history of their own country. And it is never a bad exercise to have one's own assumptions challenged, or to step out of one's own time-worn paradigms momentarily so as to consider things from other perspectives.
  • It is imperative, from the Indian side, that the powers that be in Indian universities must recognize the need for historical Indo-European linguistics in their humanities departments if they are to make significant contributions to the protohistory of their subcontinent. Indo-European studies should, if anything, be an Indian forte, not exclusively a European one; many Indian scholars have a distinct head start due to their advanced knowledge of Sanskrit, which still plays a fundamental and extensive role in this field. In particular, it is simply unacceptable that research into substratum influence in Sanskrit texts has primarily been the preserve of a dozen or so Western scholars, however qualified. Vedic, Dravidian, and Munda are Indian languages; this should be a field dominated by Indian linguists. That their input has been so negligible in the one area that could determine much about the whole protohistory of the subcontinent is lamentable. One cannot simply ignore the linguistic evidence. If nothing else, I hope my work has underscored the need for facility to be directed into this field. Much of the literature from the Indigenous Aryan side, and also from the Indian Migrationist side, is hopelessly inadequate from the perspective of linguistics. This has understandably caused the Indigenist point of view to be neglected in toto, to the detriment of the more scholarly, sober, and cogent voices espousing this version of events.
  • Neglected viewpoints do not disappear. They reappear with more aggression due to frustration at being ignored. The Indigenous Aryan viewpoint has been around for over a century. It has been stereotyped and, on the whole, summarily dismissed and excluded from academic dialogue. It has hovered, until recently, on the periphery or outside of mainstream academic circles. Since, over the course of the last decade, it has become representative of many scholars within the Indian academy, it is now clamoring for attention more than ever before. It deserves a response articulated in a rigorously critical but fair and respectful fashion. If the claims of the Indigenous Aryanists cannot be decisively disproved, then they cannot be denied a legitimate place in discussions of Indo-Aryan origins. The opinions of significant numbers of Indian intellectuals about the history of their own country cannot simply be ignored by those engaged in research on South Asian history or be relegated to areas outside the boundaries of what is con- sidered worthy of serious academic attention.
  • That the early inhabitants of India are still being construed as non-Aryan, snub-nosed dasas on the grounds of the solitary word anasa is astounding, and yet such theories have only very recently been questioned in the West, after a life span of a century and a half. When theories become sufficiently long-lived and commonplace, they cease to strike one as theoretical and can often be- come the facts and building blocks of subsequent realities.
  • I trust I may be forgiven for not coming to a clear conclusion myself. Until the script is deciphered, the presently available data are not sufficient to resolve the issue in my mind. The Indo-European languages came from somewhere between the Caspian Sea area (and the Balkans) and northwest South Asia. I do not feel impelled to favor any particular area in this vast expanse: all homeland proposals (not least of all South Asian ones) have significant problems, as I have attempted to outline throughout this work. The Indigenous Aryan critique has certainly influenced my own agnosticism.

The Indo-Aryan controversy : evidence and inference in Indian history

Bryant, E. F., & Patton, L. L. (2005). The Indo-Aryan controversy : evidence and inference in Indian history. Routledge
  • In India, in particular, many scholars understandably are committed to exerting a major role on the construction and representation of the history of South Asia, and this to a great extent involves revisiting and scrutinizing the versions of history inherited from the colonial period.
  • These chapters give a good sense of the range of what has been termed “revisionist” scholarship (I do not use this term with the derogatory sense that it has accrued, but in its literal sense of scholarship that is prepared to revise, that is, revisit and reconsider theories and versions of history formulated over the last two centuries).
  • Indeed, one might well wonder how much research would have been invested in the Indo-European problem in the first place, had it not been for its relevance to European imperialism and nationalism.
  • In conclusion, any objective and honest attempt at presenting a comprehensive account of the pre-historic period in South Asia should give a fair and adequate representation of the differences of opinion on this matter, as well as of the criticisms that can be levied against any point of view.
  • The Indo-Aryan problem is likely to remain unresolved for the foreseeable future, so we might as well attempt to address it in a cordial fashion.

Quotes about Edwin Bryant

  • This is not the place to dwell on these debates, as important as they are. We will find a good overview in the very well informed and very balanced book by Edwin Bryant which, moreover, demonstrates that, all things considered, no scientific argument allows us to choose between the theses of Indian or extra-Indian origin of the Āryas and, consequently, of the Indo-Europeans... To anyone who doubts the fact that the commonly accepted opinion in the West on the origin of i-e language peoples is based primarily on an intuition that is difficult to demonstrate, I would recommend reading E. Bryant's book. We can clearly see that the debate resurfaces from generation to generation.
    • 811-2 Fussman G. Entre fantasmes, science et politique. L’entrée des Āryas en Inde. Annales Histoire, Sciences Sociales. 2003;58(4):779-813.
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