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The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture: The Indo-Aryan Migration Debate

4.4 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195137774
ISBN-10: 0195137779
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Editorial Reviews


"A balanced description and evaluation of the two century old debate dealing with the origins of the Indo-Aryan speaking peoples of South Asia. [Bryant] presents both sides of the issue, that is the traditional western, linguistic, and philological consensus of immigration from Central Asia, and the more recent Indian position that denies any immigration and that asserts an indigenous South Asian origin. He probes for loopholes on both sides of the argument and presents the multi-faceted evidence from linguistics, archaeology, texts, etc. in an even-handed manner. As such, the book not only is an important and very welcome introduction into recent Indian historical thought but also a valuable heuristic tool in re-evaluating many of the unspoken or un-reflected presuppositions on both sides."--Michael Witzel, Harvard University

"The problem of Indo-Aryan origins has vexed scholars in both India and the West for well over a century and has touched every nerve of both academic and political discourse, so much so that many in the West have automatically dismissed any arguments to come 'out of India'[this book] investigates how these two worlds of scholarship came into being and systematically exposes the logical weaknesses of most of the arguments that support the consensus f either side. This is not only an important work in the field of Indo-Aryan studies but a long overdue challenge for scholarly fair play."--J.P. Mallory, Queen's University of Belfast

About the Author

Edwin Bryant is at Harvard University.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (September 6, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195137779
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195137774
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 1.2 x 6.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,842,628 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on March 30, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I found this book to be a remarkably even-handed and clearly written overview of a subject that has, bizarrely enough, produced much empassioned debate in the past several hundred years -- the problem of the origins of the Indo-European language family. What is primarly a linguistic problem has been commandeered by missionaries, nationalists of varying stripes, racists, and even Nazis to produce a peculiar body of thought about a so-called "Aryan race" both in Europe and India. Even highly-trained scholars have indulged in circular reasoning, the conflation of disparate bits of evidence, and outright fantasy in their attempts to postulate and prove their answers to the questions posed by the undoubted similarities of the various languages in this far-flung group.
One of the tenets of the conventional, European view is that a group of Indo-European-speaking nomads entered India around 1200 BC and then proceeded to spread their language and culture throughout the northern half of this subcontinent. Beyond the existence of Sanskrit and the Prakrits themselves, the evidence for this movement of people has always been sparse; the reasoning displayed by those determined to prove that this influx existed has generally been flawed -- rough guesses have been turned into proven facts, and these so-called facts then used as the basis for more guesses. This entire controversy might seem of no interest to anyone outside of a handful of academics, but unfortunately, the early and false conflation of language and race has been partly responsible for the deaths of a great many innocent people. Ideas can be fatal in the wrong minds.
Bryant attempts to strip away the muddled thinking that surrounds the "Aryan influx" theory.
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Format: Hardcover
I am an Indian and a practicing Hindu. I respect all religions and believe in the dictum "If you are a Christian, be a good Christian. If you are a Muslim, be a good Muslim. If you are a Hindu, be a good Hindu..Above all be a good human being." Having said that, let me say a few words about the book.

Edwin Bryant makes a superhuman effort to show all sides of an extremely emotional and complex story where several mutually opposing parties are involved without showing any bias towards any group. He goes after truth like no one else did before. He refuses to brand anyone but let one brand oneself by quoting what one said or wrote on the "Indo-Aryans" subject. Also, he completely refrains from the cheap trick - selective quoting. Now, that is scholarlship.

As a whole Bryant comes out as not only a brilliant scholar who can capture the essence of what has been said on this subject in the last 200 years which in by itself is no small accomplishment but more importantly in doing so establishes himself as a mature, sensitive and a decent human being. Now, that is beyond sholarship.

He doesn't hesitate to go after the establishment when he sees fit. As an example, see Bryant's response to Harvard professor, Michael Witzel, who believes in Aryan Immigration/Acculuturation Theory, on the subject of river names. Just to be sure, Bryant agrees with Witzel on several other readings. I am just using this as an example to show Bryant's fearlessness, integrity and personal resolve to stand firm.

See page 100

Witzel's reading (1999) of the evidence of hydronomy is as follows:

"...Indo-Aryans influence...was from early on powerful enough to replace the local...rive names...
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Format: Paperback
I am not an academic in this specific area but very interested in the subject. With that in mind - I found the book fascinating. Wealth of information, very comprehensive and informative. The language is somewhat dry (which one would anyway expect from an academic publication) but still very readable for non-specialist in the field. If it is substance you are after, this book is excellent and very intellectually stimulating.
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Format: Paperback
Would it be possible to cover such a subject with more balance? I don't think so. Bryant does not "pit 19th century linguistics orthodoxy" against others. Of course he covers the 19th century ideas--and 18th, 20th, and 21st century ideas as well. For goodness sakes, the man cited works that had not even been published yet when he finished his book. Painstaking is indeed the word to describe this magnificent study. Not always easy to follow, but fascinating every page of the book.

As a college history instructor with a minor field in Chinese history but the bulk of my work in European, I have some interest in the rest of Asia's history, and had, of course, heard the Out of India Theory, and like many, dismissed it out of hand. I'd read Mallory's "In Search of the Indo-Europeans", knew Gamkrelidze and Ivanov's ideas, and thought them the last word on the subject. Bryant taught me better. Like Bryant, I tend to think that the weight of the evidence is on the side of the Aryan Invasion Theory, but as Bryant's detailed observations show, a little evidence the other way, and OIT might gain the upper hand. OIT certainly should not be ignored or belittled.
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