THE COMING OF THE ARYANS
We do not know for certain where the Aryans came from. Their first home may have been in Central Asia, or Europe. They may have left home in search of grounds for their cattle to graze; or because they were pushed out by some more powerful people. All this we have to guess. What we do know about them is that they were tall and fair and strongly built. They were also wandering people and came to India by way of the passes in Afghanistan to find new homes. That is why they brought their women and children, their flocks of cattle and their horses along with them.
As you know, there were people already living in the Punjab and the valleys of the Yamuna and the Ganga. At first, they did not like these new-comers with their rough ways and their strange language. Many battles were fought against them. But the Aryans were fresh from a colder climate, and much more strong and hardy. They rode horses and seem to have used iron weapons. The older people of India had either to accept the Aryans or leave their homes and go further east and south. Some stayed and made friends with the Aryans. Marriages took place between the two peoples and they began to understand each otherís ways better. From this mixture of the old and the new comes most that is Indian today.
What kind of people were these Aryans? People who keep herds of cattle have to live out of doors and close to nature. Their way of living is quite different from the life in the cities. When the Aryans settled in India, they built villages for themselves. They ploughed the land and planted crops. They looked after their cows and produced milk, butter and ghee. A manís riches were counted by the number of cattle he had.
But the Aryans did not only keep cattle. They made useful things from wood and leather. They had potters who made pitchers and vases, and smiths who beat metal into shoes for horses and iron-ends for ploughs.
The Aryans loved nature and worshipped the Dawn, the Sun, and the Rain. Varuna was the god of the sky; Surya was the bright Sun God. Agni was the God of fire, and Indra the lord of thunder and of rain. There were many others. To honour them, the Aryans made offerings and sang hymns in their praise. Many of these hymns were in beautiful poetry. They tell us of the life and customs of the Aryans. These hymns were not written down for everybody to read, for in those days the Aryans did not know how to write. The father who sang them taught them to his son. The son, when he grew up, taught them in turn to his son, and so on. The Aryans also liked music. They had bards who sang of the brave deeds of their chiefs or kings. They also sang hymns to the Gods. All these hymns and ballads were collected and written down later. They are known as the Vedas, the oldest of which is the Rigveda. The Vedas are the sacred books of the Hindus and they are written in Sanskrit.
It is natural for us to think ourselves better than other people just because they are different. It may be natural, but today we do not consider it a good thing. The Aryans found that the people of India had darker skins, spoke different languages and worshipped different Gods. The Aryans considered themselves superior and called the others Dasyus, or slaves. This was the beginning of caste. Afterwards, the idea grew, and people were divided into four castes. The caste a person belonged to depended on what he did for a living. The priests and those who knew the holy hymns were put in the first caste. They were called the Brahmins. Next came the Kshatriyas, or the warriors. The kings in those days had to be good fighters; so they all came from the Kshatriya caste. The traders and the shopkeepers and the farmers belonged to the third caste, the Vaishyas. The lowest caste were the Shudras, the servants and labourers. Since the Aryans started this division, naturally the Dasyus were put in the lower castes. Some people were thought to be even lower. They belonged to no caste at all. They were the outcastes, who later came to be called Ďuntouchablesí.
People of the same caste were like brothers and helped each other in their work. The father taught his son what he had learnt from his father. One good thing about this arrangement was that the people of each caste became very skilled at their special jobs. The priests got more and more learned, the fighters more and more brave, the shopkeepers better and better at their trades. And so, all the work was divided between the castes.
At the time of which we are talking, people of different castes met, talked and ate together. They even married persons from other castes. A shopkeeper could learn to fight if he wanted to, and he was then accepted as a Kshatriya. But slowly the rules of the castes got more and more strict. The higher castes began to consider themselves better human beings than those who worked with their hands. This was a very bad thing.
Fresh batches of Aryans kept coming to India. They pushed those who had already settled, further east and south. With time, the Aryans founded kingdoms and built large cities like Hastinapur, Ayodhya, Prayag and Varanasi, or Banaras.
As time passed, the Aryans became keen on knowing more about life, and about death. Why does man live? What happens to him after he dies? Out of such questions arose the ancient philosophy of the Hindus. Many great thinkers were born. They passed on their knowledge to pupils who lived with them in the forests. At first, the teachings of these thinkers were learnt by heart. It was only hundreds of years later that they were put down in books. These books are called the Upanishads. The Hindus have great respect for what is written in these books.
What did the Aryans give to India? They brought with them the Sanskrit language, a new religion and a new way of living. Their hymns to nature were beautiful poetry, and their thoughts about life and death were full of wisdom.
Another useful thing the Aryans brought were horses. Of course, there must have been horses in India before they came, but the Indus Valley people did not know how to tame them and use them to pull chariots. The Aryans rode horses to drive herds of cattle. They also loved to race horse-drawn chariots, just for fun. And they rode horses when they went to battle.
The Aryans also knew how to use iron. We do not know whether it was the Aryans who made this great discovery. Before they came, the only metals the people of the Indus Valley knew were soft copper and bronze. As important as the books of learning, the horses and the iron weapons of the Aryans, was their way of living. They loved music and adventure. From this way of living and from the wonderful sacred books in which their wisdom was put down, India still learns many lessons.
So far, you have been reading about the people who lived in the land of the Indus and the Ganga. What was happening south of the Vindhya mountains all these years? You must know something of the people who lived in this part of India.
In the beginning, the people of the south were quite different from the Aryans. They had their own kingdoms, spoke languages of their own, which were quite different from Sanskrit, and prayed to their own Gods. They made wonderful things and took them in their big sailing ships to sell in other countries across the seas. They had many rich cities.
As you know, the Aryans in the northern plains spoke Sanskrit and prayed to their own Gods in their own way. Little by little, the Aryans began crossing the Vindhyas and going south. Among them were many rishis. From them the people of the south learnt about Aryan Gods and Aryan holy books.
Buddhist and Jain holy men also went to the south and told the people about their ways. There came a day when the north and the south both understood each other well and all the people began to live in more or less the same way. Many people in the south learnt Sanskrit. Aryans also began to worship some of the Dravidian Gods. Instead of being made up of the north and the south, India became just one great country, as it is today. It took hundreds of years for this to happen.