Racism is alive and well in Western academia long after the defeat of Nazi Germany

Navaratna Rajaram

Fall of the Third Reich did not put an end to academic race theories that formed the core of its ideology. In various guises, their legacy continues in Western academia as well as in the politics of countries formerly under European rule. While avoiding overtly racial terms, scholars in disciplines like Indo-European Studies continue to uphold scientifically discredited and historically disgraced theories built around the Aryan myth. Some academics have resorted to media campaigns and political lobbying to save their theories and the discipline from natural extinction— a tactic that came to the fore when California education authorities attempted to remove these theories from their school curriculum. The legacy of racism persists in sectarian politics in South India, and most insidiously in Africa where it gave rise to the horrific Hutu-Tutsi clashes in one of the worst genocides in modern history. A singular feature of this neo-racist scholarship is the replacement of anti-Semitism by anti-Hinduism.

Mutated racism
In a remarkable article, “Aryan Mythology As Science And Ideology” (Journal of the American Academy of Religion 1999; 67: 327-354) the Swedish scholar Stefan Arvidsson raises the question: “Today it is disputed whether or not the downfall of the Third Reich brought about a sobering among scholars working with ‘Aryan’ religions.” We may rephrase the question: “Did the end of the Nazi regime put an end to race based theories in academia?” An examination of several humanities departments in the West suggests otherwise: following the end of Nazism, academic racism may have undergone a mutation but did not entirely disappear. Ideas central to the Aryan myth resurfaced in various guises under labels like Indology and Indo-European Studies. This is clear from recent political, social and academic episodes in places as far apart as Harvard University and the California State Board of Education.

Two decades after the end of the Nazi regime, racism underwent another mutation as a result of the American Civil Rights Movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King. Thanks to the Civil Rights Movement, Americans were rightly made to feel guilty about their racist past and the indefensible treatment of African Americans. U.S. academia also changed accordingly and any discourse based on racial stereotyping became taboo. Soon this taboo came to be extended to Native Americans, Eskimos and other ethnic groups.

In this climate of seeming liberal enlightenment, one race theory continued to flourish as if nothing had changed. Theories based on the Aryan myth that formed the core of Nazi ideology continued in various guises, as previously noted, in Indology and Indo-European Studies. Though given a linguistic and sometimes a cultural veneer, these racially sourced ideas continue to enjoy academic respectability in such prestigious centers as Harvard and Chicago. Being a European transplant, its historical trajectory was different from the one followed by American racism. Further, unlike the Civil Rights Movement, which had mass support, academic racism remained largely confined to academia. This allowed it to escape public scrutiny for several decades until it clashed with the growing Hindu presence in the United States. Indians, Hindus in particular saw Western Indology and Indo-European Studies as a perversion of their history and religion and a thinly disguised attempt to prejudice the American public, especially the youth, against India and Hinduism to serve their academic interests.[1]

The fact that Americans of Indian origin are among the most educated group ensured that their objections could not brushed away by “haughty dismissals” as the late historian of science Abraham Seidenberg put it. Nonetheless, scholars tried to use academic prestige as a bludgeon in forestalling debate, by denouncing their adversaries as ignorant chauvinists and bigots unworthy of debate. But increasingly, hard evidence from archaeology, natural history and genetics made it impossible to ignore the objections of their opponents, many of whom (like this author) were scientists. By the turn of the millennium, there was an uneasy stalemate, with science chipping away at the edifice of the Aryan theories with its advocates tenaciously clinging to them and postponing the inevitable. But in November 2005, there came a dramatic denouement, in, of all places, California schools. Academics suddenly found it necessary to leave their ivory towers and fight it out in the open, in full media glare— and under court scrutiny. This is what we may look at next.

Aryans invade California

To summarize the California invasion by ‘Aryan’ academics: Aryans, a mythical race of people which science and the defeat of Nazi Germany had consigned to the fringes of academia and politics found a temporary refuge in the history texts to be used in California schools. Led by the Harvard based linguist Michael Witzel, a motley group of mostly European scholars successfully lobbied the California State Board of Education (CSBE) to save the theory of an ‘Aryan’ invasion of India from being removed from schoolbooks. It was to prove a Pyrrhic victory and a public embarrassment; California education authorities were soon forced to retract Witzel’s ‘expert’ suggestions. They also had to face lawsuits from which they came out badly bruised.

This was the aftermath of an acrimonious editing process in which Witzel, with possible support from the California Education Secretary Alan Bersin, put pressure on California officials to have this scientifically discredited theory included in textbooks. This curious affair raises doubts about the role played by Secretary Bersin who serves also on the board of the Harvard Corporation which employs Witzel. Willingly or unwittingly, Bersin came to be seen as the fulcrum of support for Witzel and his colleagues in their dubious campaign that went on to embarrass both Harvard and the California Department of Education. [This role of Bersin was found to be unfounded. The drivers seem to have been text book publishers who wanted to avoid the costly and laborious process of revising their publications.]

While the media covered the story as a case of newfound assertiveness on the part of the Hindus, Witzel and his colleagues claimed they were motivated solely by objectivity and scholarly integrity. According to them it was a case of faith against scholarship. The cloud of controversy though tended to obscure the real story— of a desperate campaign by Witzel and his colleagues to save the Aryan myth, which happens to be central to the academic discipline known as Indo-European Studies. Indo-European is a politically correct euphemism for Aryan. (Another is Caucasian.)

It all began innocently enough, when Grade VI textbooks used in California schools came up for revision in 2005. Some Hindu, Islamic and Jewish groups objected to the way their religions were depicted in some of the textbooks. Hindus objected also to the history portion for including the scientifically discredited, nineteenth century theory of the Aryan invasion of India. California school authorities asked the Hindu groups along with others to suggest suitable changes.

After some discussions, mostly with regard to the format, the California Department of Education (CDE) released a memorandum detailing the changes submitted to the State Board of Education (CSBE) on November 8, 2005. It was at this point that Michael Witzel intervened uninvited. On the very next day, November 9, CSBE President Ruth Green read out a petition submitted by Witzel and co-signed by 46 other scholars claiming to be experts on India, objecting to the edits suggested by the Hindu groups charging they were unscholarly and politically motivated. Changes submitted by Christian, Muslim and Jewish groups were passed without discussion, but Green withheld those submitted by the Hindus. She went a step further and appointed Witzel to a super-committee, to review the changes relating to Hinduism and India. All its members had actively colluded with Witzel in his propaganda and lobbying campaign.

It was a mystery how Witzel, within a day, could get so many signatures from all over the world. Most petitioners were from Europe with nothing at stake in what California schools teach their children. A few (non-Europeans) later retracted. This suggests that Witzel’s move was pre-planned, helped by insiders and not a 24-hour wonder. It was soon apparent that the signatories, including Witzel himself, had not read the changes they were objecting to. He was coy about it when questioned at a public meeting in Harvard, claiming that the subject was sub judice. (This was because of lawsuits filed against the CSBE’s ‘flawed and illegal’ review procedure.)

The next meeting in January 2006 was held in secret, from which Hindu groups were excluded. Witzel took advantage of the secrecy to reverse many of the changes. While some of it related to Hinduism, it became clear that his real concern was saving the Aryan invasion theory from being axed. Witzel trumpeted the outcome as a victory, but the celebration proved to be premature. The unusual procedure by which it was done and Witzel’s own unscholarly language and rhetoric landed the California Department of Education in several law suits. A judge hearing the case slammed the CSBE for following ‘underground procedures’ using ‘hostile academics’. Witzel too paid a heavy price, being increasingly seen as less a scholar than a propagandist and political lobbyist. His credibility as scholar stood shattered.

Given Education Secretary Bersin’s position at Harvard, Witzel’s immediate appointment to the super-committee with virtual veto power over the contents comes as no surprise. The real question is what Witzel and Bersin hoped to gain by having the disgraced Aryan theories taught in California schools. [Sic: Bersin seems to have had little inkling of the academic politics behind it, but unwittingly served to prop up Witzel as authority. NSR]

To follow this one needs to recognize the precarious state of the discipline called Indo-European Studies. It is a nineteenth century European creation that has been losing ground to science. Witzel and his European colleagues are among its last holdouts. Both students and funds have been declining in the department where Witzel teaches. As a member of the Board of Overseers of the Harvard Corporation Bersin has responsibility for fund raising.

Ever since Witzel moved to Harvard from Europe (he is German by birth), its Department of Sanskrit and India Studies has been in a state of turmoil. He was forced to step down as department chairman in 1995, following student complaints about his conduct. Enrica Garzilli, whom Witzel had brought in as a faculty member was fired by Harvard as unqualified. She sued the university. Witzel himself threatened to sue a student for asking some questions. Now Hindu parents and groups have sued the State of California for violating their children’s civil rights. Curiously for an academic, legal troubles seem to dog Witzel wherever he goes.

We may never know who initiated Witzel’s California campaign— whether Alan Bersin gave Witzel a chance to redeem himself following his disastrous performance at Harvard, or if Witzel saw an opening to get students and funding with Bersin at the helm of the Department of Education in California. Email traffic surrounding IER (Indo-Eurasian Research), an Internet group co-founded by Witzel, suggests that the idea came from some of its members, possibly one Steve Farmer, Witzel’s closest associate following Enrica Garzilli’s expulsion from Harvard. Farmer lives in California from where he has been reporting on developments in the state.


Problems at Harvard are part of a wider problem in Western academia in the field of Indo-European Studies. Several ‘Indology’ departments—as they are sometimes called—are shutting down across Europe. One of the oldest and most prestigious, at Cambridge University in England, has just closed down. This was followed by the closure of the equally prestigious Berlin Institute of Indology founded way back in 1821. Positions like the one Witzel holds (Wales Professor of Sanskrit) were created during the colonial era to serve as interpreters of India. They have lost their relevance and are disappearing from academia. This is the real story, not teaching Hinduism to California children.

Witzel’s California misadventure appears to have been an attempt to have his version of Indian history and civilization introduced into the school curriculum in the hope that some of them may later be drawn into his department when they graduate. Otherwise, it is hard to see why a senior, tenured professor at Harvard should go to all this trouble, lobbying California school officials to have its Grade VI curriculum changed to reflect his views.

To follow this it is necessary to go beyond personalities and understand the importance of the Aryan myth to Indo-European Studies. The Aryan myth is a European creation. It has nothing to do with Hinduism. The campaign against Hinduism was a red herring to divert attention from the real agenda, which was and remains saving the Aryan myth. Collapse of the Aryan myth means the collapse of Indo-European studies. This is what Witzel and his colleagues are trying to avert. For them it is an existential struggle.

Americans for the most part are unaware of the enormous influence of the Aryan myth on European history and imagination. As previously observed, while the defeat of Nazi Germany put an end to its political influence, it has survived in various guises in Western academia under the umbrella of Indo-European Studies. This was the point raised by scholars like Stefan Arvidsson cited earlier. Central to Indo-European Studies is the belief—it is no more than a belief—that Indian civilization was created by an invading race of ‘Aryans’ from an original homeland somewhere in Eurasia or Europe. This is the Aryan invasion theory dear to Witzel and his European colleagues. According to this theory there was no civilization in India before the Aryan invaders brought it— a view increasingly in conflict with hard evidence from archaeology and natural history.

The politics of Aryanism

Given the Aryans’ importance to their worldview, it is extraordinary that after two hundred years of voluminous outpourings, these scholars are unable to identify them. Originally they were claimed to be a race related to Europeans but science has discredited it. After the defeat of Nazi Germany, scholars avoid overtly racial arguments but the basic idea of an invasion by Europeans bringing civilization to India is retained even if they acknowledge that ancient Indian records know nothing of any such invasion. All we have are dogmatic assertions of their central belief. According to the late Murray Emeneau, a leading figure in Indo-European linguistics: [2]

At some time in the second millennium B.C., probably comparatively early in the millennium, a band or bands of speakers of an Indo-European language, later to be called Sanskrit, entered India over the northwest passes. This is our linguistic doctrine which has been held now for more than a century and a half. There seems to be no reason to distrust the arguments for it, in spite of the traditional Hindu ignorance of any such invasion. (Emphasis added.)

This is typical of the field, with arguments closer to theology than to science. Aryans are needed because there can be no Aryan invasion without the Aryans and also no Indo-European Studies. It is a case of the tail wagging the dog.

Scientists had long ago dismissed the idea of the Aryan race. As far back as 1939, Sir Julian Huxley, one of the great biologists of the twentieth century wrote: 3

In England and America the phrase ‘Aryan race’ has quite ceased to be used by writers with scientific knowledge, though it appears occasionally in political and propagandist literature…. In Germany, the idea of the ‘Aryan race’ received no more scientific support than in England. Nevertheless, it found able and very persistent literary advocates who made it appear very flattering to local vanity. It therefore steadily spread, fostered by special conditions. (Emphasis added.)

These ‘special conditions’ were the rise of Nazism in Germany and British imperial interests in India. Its perversion in Germany leading eventually to the Nazi horrors is well known. The fact that the British turned it into a political tool to make their rule acceptable to Indians is not generally known. A recent BBC report acknowledged as much (October 6, 2005): 4

It [Aryan invasion theory] gave a historical precedent to justify the role and status of the British Raj, who could argue that they were transforming India for the better in the same way that the Aryans had done thousands of years earlier.

That is to say, the British presented themselves as ‘new and improved Aryans’ that were in India only to complete the work left undone by their ancestors in the hoary past. This is how the British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin put it in the House of Commons in 1929: [5]

Now, after ages, …the two branches of the great Aryan ancestry have again been brought together by Providence… By establishing British rule in India, God said to the British, “I have brought you and the Indians together after a long separation, …it is your duty to raise them to their own level as quickly as possible …brothers as you are…”

All this makes abundantly clear that theories based on the Aryan myth are modern European creations that have little to do with ancient India. The word Arya appears for the first time in the Rig Veda, India’s oldest text. Its meaning is obscure but seems to refer to members of a settled agricultural community. It later became an honorific and a form of address, something like ‘Gentleman’ in English or ‘Monsieur’ in French. Also, it was nowhere as important in India as it came to be in Europe. In the whole the Rig Veda, in all of its ten books, the word Arya appears only about forty times. In contrast, Hitler’s Mein Kampf uses the term Arya and Aryan many times more. Hitler did not invent it. The idea of Aryans as a superior race was already in the air— in Europe, not India. 6

Indo-Europeans: elusive or non-existent?

To understand Witzel’s California campaign we need to place these Aryan theories in their historical context— as part of some European thinkers’ striving to give themselves an identity based on their history and folklore. In his recent book Aryan Idols: Indo-European Mythology as Ideology and Science (2006, University of Chicago) Swedish scholar Stefan Arvidsson tells us:

For over two hundred years, a series of historians, linguists, folklorists, and archaeologists have tried to re-create a lost culture. Using ancient texts, medieval records, philological observations, and archaeological remains they have described a world, a religion, and a people older than the Sumerians, with whom all history is said to have begun.

These are the mythical Aryans, now being called Indo-Europeans. After two hundred years of intensive search, they remain elusive, while science has shown them to be non-existent. But Indo-European scholars have not given up on them. Just as they created an Aryan invasion without Aryans they have created Indo-European Studies based on the non-existent Indo-Europeans. As Arvidsson observes:

No objects can definitely be tied to them, nor do we know any ‘Indo-European’ by name. In spite of that, scholars have stubbornly tried to reach back to the ancient ‘Indo-Europeans,’ with the help of bold historical, linguistic, and archaeological reconstructions, in the hopes of finding the foundation of their own culture and religion there.

The only literature we have that goes back to such antiquity is Indian literature. But Europeans of the colonial era could not conceive of an Indian source for their culture. India was taken out of Indo-European Studies, and made the recipient of European thought, culture and even language via the Aryan invasion. In Arvidsson’s words: “The theory about India as the original home of the Indo-Europeans, and the Indians as a kind of model Aryans, lost supporters during the nineteenth century, and other homelands and other model Aryans took their place instead.” (Emphasis added.)

The Aryans (or Indo-Europeans) and their homeland were gradually moved westward until they were made to settle in Eurasia and even Germany. In the hands of German scholars, Aryans and their language became “Indo-Germanische.” It is this worldview, and its academic incarnation calling itself Indo-European Studies that Witzel (born in Germany) and his colleagues are fighting to save from extinction.

To summarize, the goal of Indo-European studies is not so much to understand India as it is to “show that there existed a rich ‘German’ mythology that could successfully compete with classical Judeo-Christian traditions.” It is hardly surprising that anti-Semitism was tied up with it. Now anti-Hinduism has now taken its place. This anti-Hinduism too is more cultural than religious, like anti-Semitism in pre-War Europe. Its goal is to detach their mythical Indo-European ancestors from India, just as pre-war Aryan theories sought to erase the Judaic heritage of Christian Europe. This lies at the root of the ‘ideological abuse’ (in Arvidsson’s words) that Indo-European Studies has been guilty of:

There is something in the nature of research about Indo-Europeans that makes it especially prone to ideological abuse— perhaps something related to the fact that for the past two centuries, the majority of scholars who have done research on the Indo-Europeans have considered themselves descendants of this mythical race.

This ‘ideological abuse’ reached its climax in the Nazi regime. The recent California campaign must also be seen in the same light: ideological abuse in the name of scholarship to support a worldview combined with a concern for survival.

For a brief, transient period, advocates of the Aryan myth succeeded in saving their theory from being axed, but in the process they have undermined the credibility of the textbooks and public confidence in the California education system. The wide publicity that their campaign received and the law suits that followed have dealt a severe blow to teacher morale. The real victim in this farcical tragedy is not Hinduism, which will survive the assault, but the children of California who have been used as pawns in the struggle for survival of a discredited academic discipline and its priesthood.

An African analogy: Tutsi invasion theory

While race theories have led to stereotyping and academic and ideological abuse, they are also guilty of horrendous crimes. The Nazi Holocaust is justly infamous, but not many are aware of their contribution to the more recent Hutu-Tutsi conflicts in Africa. What Indologists could not do in India with their Aryan theories, ethnologists succeeded in doing in Africa with their race-based Tutsi invasion theory— trigger genocide. Here is the story in brief.

When we look at the map of middle Africa, we see two little countries named Rwanda and Burundi, bordering on Zaire (or the Democratic Republic of Congo). Few Indians know the recent history of these unfortunate countries or the cause of the recent catastrophes that engulfed them. As reported in the Western media, these countries are inhabited by two supposedly different ethnic groups, the so-called Hutus and Tutsis. The ethnic composition of these two countries is as follows.

Rwanda: Hutu 84%, Tutsi 15%, Twa (Pygmies) 1%

Burundi: Hutu 85%, Tutsi 14%, Twa 1%

In other words, their compositions hardly differ at all. But according to Western anthropologists, mainly colonial bureaucrats and missionaries, the Tutsi are supposed to be a Hamitic people, a race that was often intermixed with the whiter races of the North, notably from Ethiopia and Egypt, which in their turn were intermixed with some West Asiatic people, mainly the Hittites, by repeated invasions from the North. These people, the Tutsis, are supposed to have arrived from the North and not native to Rwanda. The analogy to the invading Aryans is immediate and striking, but doesn’t stop here.

The majority of Hutus are said to be Bantu, of original African race, which spilled out from the middle of the West African coast of Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Cote d’Ivorie (Ivory Coast) and the inland countries of Burkina Faso and its neighbors.

In this scenario, which has no factual support, the Tutsis (like the Aryans) are foreign invaders or migrants in the Rwanda-Burundi region. The Hutus, like the Indian Dravidians, are said to be much older people, but not the original inhabitants. The original inhabitants are said to be the Pygmies (or Twa), who constitute barely 1 percent of the people. The interesting part of the theory is the role assigned to the Tutsi minority. They are made into a superior race of invaders, just like the Aryans, and supposedly constitute the aristocratic elite and the oppressors of the Hutu majority.

According to this theory, the minority Tutsi have subjugated the indigenous, but not too indigenous (compared to the Pygmies) Hutus for centuries and forced them into the inferior position of agriculture. Now the key notion: Hutus and Tutsis are really two completely separate races, with the ‘black’ Hutus forming the oppressed majority, and their relatively fair invaders, the Tutsi, forming the oppressors.

This in essence is the Tutsi invasion theory, the African version of the Aryan invasion theory. The similarities are startling, even to the extent of the Dravidians in India being preceded by earlier inhabitants, the aborigines (the so-called adi-vasis), who have their African counterpart in the Pygmies. So we have the African Pygmy-Hutu-Tutsi sequence corresponding to the Indian aborigines-Dravidian-Aryan scheme.

It is a curious experience to look at the political evolution of this grotesque theory and its monstrous fallout. Until the coming of the Europeans, the Tutsis and the Hutus never saw themselves as different. Nor were they engaged in any racial wars. With the European scramble for Africa, Rwanda-Burundi became part of the short-lived German East Africa. After Germany’s defeat in the First World War, it became part of the Belgian colonies in Africa. This notion of the Tutsi-Hutu racial difference began to be drilled into the natives by colonial administrators, some academics (not unlike present day Indologists) and missionaries known as the Pere Blancs (White Fathers). (There are no Pere Noirs or Black Fathers.) They invented the Tutsi invasion theory and labeled the Hutus as the victims of Tutsi invasion and oppression.

It is worth noting that this period, between the two world wars, was the heyday of race theories in Europe. It seems the notion of superiority due to difference in skin color—imagined in this case—is indelibly ingrained in the European psyche. Its politics has collapsed, not due to any dawn of enlightenment on its proponents but the defeat of Nazi Germany. It has continued however in Western academia as Indo-European Studies and in other guises.

As with the Aryan theories and their various offshoots, this Tutsi-Hutu division has no factual basis. They speak the same language, have a long history of intermarriage and have many cultural characteristics in common. Differences are regional rather than racial, which they were not aware of until the Europeans made it part of their politics and propaganda.

The division if any was occupational. Agriculturists were called Hutu while the cattle owning elite were referred to as Tutsi. The Tutsi, like the Indian Aryans, were supposed to be tall, thin and fair, while the Hutu were described as short, black and squat— just as the Indian Dravidians are said to be. Since the Tutsi today don’t fit this description, scholars claimed that their invading ancestors did. They offered no proof but, being based on no evidence, their claim cannot be disproved either. In fact, it is impossible today to tell the two people apart. They are separate because government records carried over from colonial days say so.

This fictional racial divide was created and made official by colonial bureaucrats during Belgian rule. The Belgian Government forced everyone to carry an identity card showing tribal ethnicity as Hutu or Tutsi. This was used in administration, in providing lands, jobs, and otherwise playing power politics based on race. This divisive politics combined with the racial hatred sowed by the Tutsi invasion theory turned Rwanda-Burundi into a powder keg ready to explode.

The explosion came following independence form colonial rule. Repeated violence after independence fueled this hatred driven by this supposed ethnic difference and the concocted history of the Tutsi invasion and oppression. Some 2.5 million people were massacred in this fratricidal horror of wars and genocides. Unscrupulous African leaders, like the self-styled Dravidian politicians of India, exploited this divisive colonial legacy to gain power at the cost of the people. Hutu leaders described the Tutsis as cockroaches, telecasting their tirades on the radio during the 1994 genocide of the Tutsis. This led ordinary Hutus to massacre the Tutsis en masse in a bid to annihilate them completely.

So a peaceful, placid nation with a common populace, sharing a common language, culture and history was destroyed by colonialist, racist concoction called the Tutsi invasion theory. It was entirely the handiwork of colonial bureaucrats, missionaries and pseudo-scholars building careers on the discredited notion of race.

It is of course no coincidence that ideas that led to the Holocaust in Europe should have led to genocide in Africa. The disgrace is that they continue to exist in Western academia in various guises, ready to come out of the closet at an opportune moment. This is what was seen during the recent California school curriculum revision.

History lesson: transplanting the poison tree

Why should we learn all this? Because the Tutsi invasion theory has ominous parallels to the Aryan invasion theory and the Aryan myth, which scholars are trying desperately to save using linguistics or, Indo-European Studies or some similar fig-leaf. Sectarian tension and violence, thankfully not on the same horrific scale, was incited between North- and South Indians by self-styled Dravidian parties like the DMK, AIDMK and their many offshoots and incarnations. These are the poisonous legacy of the colonial-missionary-racist offspring.

Why did India not go the way of Rwanda-Burundi? Not for lack of trying but because the cultural foundation of Hinduism proved too strong. It defeated the designs of politicians and propagandists masquerading as scholars. It is no coincidence that Rwanda and Burundi had been converted to Christianity, preparing the ground for sectarian conflict. Several church figures, including priests and nuns have been found guilty of complicity in the Tutsi massacres. As in India, Christianity was a colonial tool and missionaries little more than imperial agents.

Their failure in Hindu India is also what is behind the visceral anti-Hinduism of Witzel and his colleagues. It came to the fore during the recent California school controversy. This is enhanced by the fact that Hindu scholars have been at the forefront of exposing their designs and debunking their scholarly claims. An Internet group (IER or Indo-Eurasian Research) co-founded by Witzel has been doing little more than spewing venom at Hindus and their practices, in language and style that bear comparison with Nazi era publications like Julius Streicher’s Der Strummer.

They may have been defeated this time, but there is no room for complacency. The divisive politicians of India and their friends and colleagues in academia can come together to defend the Aryan-Dravidian divide. California last year was an example of such an unholy nexus. [7] Had Witzel and his colleagues succeeded in planting their poison tree in California schools, it would have become fertile ground for demagogues to turn the ethnically diverse California into a powder keg of animosities.

This brand of pseudo-scholarship cannot survive once their Aryan theories end up in the dustbin where they belong. Recognizing this, their advocates no longer engage in debate but resort to name calling. Any opposition to the Aryan theories is denounced as emotional, chauvinistic, and the handiwork of Hindu nationalists and fundamentalists. Like the artificial Aryan-Dravidian divide, the Tutsi-Hutu divide is also denied by respectable scholarship, including Western scholarship. Are we to denounce these—and a million Tutsi victims of the genocide—as the handiwork of these nationalistic chauvinistic Tutsis who deserved their fate?

The Aryan myth—and its advocates—have both been exposed, but it would be a serious error to assume that it has been put to rest. Bad ideas have a way of resurfacing especially when self interest is at stake. Writing about the persistence of superstitions like belief in witches and witchcraft in Europe, Charles Mackay, in his famous book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and Madness of Crowds observed (1841):

So deeply rooted are some errors that ages cannot remove them. The poisonous tree that once overshadowed the land might be cut down by the sturdy efforts of sages and philosophers; the sun may shine clearly upon spots where venomous things once nestled in security and shade; but still the entangled roots are stretched beneath the surface, and may be found by those who dig. Another King like James I [a self professed expert on demonology] might make them vegetate again; and more mischievous still, another Pope like Innocent VIII [who initiated the Inquisition against witches] might raise the decaying roots to strength and verdure.

One may add that scholars and academics are no more immune to the lure of obscurantism than medieval popes and kings, especially when their survival is at stake. With their base crumbling in Europe, these purveyors of hate are looking for fresh soil in places like California to plant their poison-bearing trees.

Acknowledgement: I am grateful to Sri Pankaj Saksena for valuable information relating to the Tutsi invasion theory and its legacy of horrors.


1. Curiously the very success of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States has helped these European race theories by shielding them from scrutiny. In the U.S., Aryan theories are associated with fringe groups like the Ku Klux Klan, not prestigious institutions like Harvard. It must be added that this is not official Harvard policy but a negative fallout of academic freedom, with a tenured faculty member misusing his position. Still one hopes that Harvard authorities can reign in someone who is increasingly a blot on its liberal image.
2. Quoted in Sarasvati River and the Vedic Civilization: History, science and politics by N.S. Rajaram (2006), New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan, page 31. The original source (cited in the book) is not easy to access.
3. Op. cit. p. 127. Some recent claims of a genetic basis for the Aryan invasion are easily refuted. See Sarasvati River… (Op. cit.) for a discussion of the current state of Aryan theories.
4. Op. cit. p. 128.
5. Ibid.
6. It is important to note that Hitler and the Nazis appropriated their ideas and symbols from European mythology, not India. Hitler’s Aryans worshipped Apollo and Odin, not Vedic deities like Indra and Varuna. His Swastika was also European (‘Hakenkreuz’ or hooked cross) not Indian. It was seen in Germany for the first time when General von Luttwitz’s notorious Erhardt Brigade marched into Berlin from Lithuania in support of the abortive Kapp Putsch of 1920. The Erhardt Brigade was one of several freebooting private armies during the years following Germany’s defeat in World War I. They had the covert support of the Wehrmacht (Army headquarters).
7. Several fringe groups from the Communists to those claiming to represent ‘Christian Dalits’ (an oxymoron) ranged behind Witzel in his campaign. The court dismissed them and their claims.


The Mahabharata known as the Fifth Veda is the literary canon of India

Uniqueness of the Mahabharata

The Mahabharata is unique in the annals of literature. It is of course the largest in sheer size, with a hundred thousand verses, eight times the size of the Iliad and Odyssey combined. But it is not this alone which makes it unique in world annals but its quality as virtually the canon of Indian literature and culture. The series of articles on Krishna are sourced from this mighty work.

Thinkers and educators in Europe and America have long labored to compile a body of literature produced by writers of the Western civilization that constitutes their most important works and have called it the Western Canon. Such canonization may be described as: Continue reading “MAHABHARATA, THE FIFTH VEDA”



The life of Krishna shows that he lived according to the ideals and principles of his teachings. This made him a Purushottama

Navaratna Rajaram

Why study the Historical Krishna?

The preceding articles looked at the life and accomplishments of Sri Krishna that have continued to inspire people for over 5000 years. Some see it as a sign of his divinity, but many others see him as Purushottama or the best of men. This means we cannot separate his life from his teachings. This is the reason the Bhagavadgita is an integral part of the Mahabharata, even though it is a summary of the Upanishads and describes itself as an Upanishad.

“Krishna, who is known as Govinda, is the Supreme Godhead.
Painted in 1983

The personality of Krishna is so rich that it leads to different perceptions in different minds. Although I am convinced that the elevation of Krishna to divinity is not the handiwork the original poet (Veda Vyasa or Krishna-Dvaipayana), it really does not matter. The complexity of the Krishna phenomenon — and the fact that his life and personality defy all attempts to reduce him to simple terms — has existed for centuries and millennia. It is a living reality today. None of us can change it or take away the mystery that surrounds him. What we need to understand therefore is the process by which this elevation to divinity came about, and how to deal with this reality today, when we are faced with a vast Hindu population that believes in his divinity and also thousands of ‘educated’ Hindus like me that consider themselves ‘rationalist’ who may question belief. Continue reading “KRISHNA THE PURUSHOTTAMA”



The Great Kurukshetra War

The stage was now set for war. The forces were assembled at the ancient site known as Samantapancaka, the site of many a battle going back to untold antiquity. It was adjacent to a lake that went also by the same name. It was part of the historic land known as Kurukshetra, lying between the Vedic rivers Sarasvati and Drishadvati — both now dry except as minor flows during the rainy season. The land, however, still goes by the same name, lying in the present Indian state of Haryana north of Delhi. Samantapancaka is believed to be the field where Parashurama, the son of Jamadagni had finally destroyed the Haihaya ruler Kartavirya and his horde after their depredations all over the land. More likely it was Sagara, emperor of Ayodhya (and Rama’s ancestor) who had vanquished them and brought peace to the land. This is said to have brought the Krita Yuga, the first of four ages, to a close.

The same ancient site was now to be the field of action for the warriors of the rival Kuru clan. It was now known as Kurukshetra — the Land of Kurus — but the old name was still in use as the following famous verse from the Mahabharata shows:


antare caiva samprapte kali-dwaparayorabhut

            samantapancake yuddham kurupandavasainyayoh

            At the junction of Dwapara and Kali Ages, there took place

at Samantapancaka, a war between the armies of the Kurus and the Pandavas.

This tells us that the Kurukshetra war was seen as the end of Dwapara Age, heralding the beginning of the Kali Age in which we now live. According to Hindu cosmology, there are cycles of four ages — Krita, Treta, Dwapara and Kali. And Kali, the age in which the world is now said to be passing through, is the most evil, which is to be ended by a great calamity.1 The cycle is then said to repeat with a new Krita Yuga, an age in which truth and virtue will always prevail. This will usher in a new Golden Age of Truth. Continue reading “KRISHNA AND THE MB WAR II: END OF AN ERA”



Krishna’s mission to the Kaurava court

Krishna’s fruitless embassy to the Kaurava court exemplifies his philosophy of action; he knew very well that Duryodhana was not one to see reason. He still regarded Yudhisthira and the Pandavas as upstarts, resting on his superior support among the ruling houses in India. He felt that the Pandavas were in no position to challenge him militarily. He therefore saw no reason to compromise as long as he held the upper hand. Krishna realized this, but felt himself duty bound to make every effort to avoid war.

On the Pandava side, Yudhisthira wanted to avoid war. To everyone’s great surprise, not only Arjuna but even Bhima favored a peaceful solution. Among the Pandavas, only Sahadeva was for war. And of course Draupadi.

Draupadi had not forgotten her humiliation when Dusshasana had dragged her before the assembly where the Kaurava princes had hurled insults at her. Duryodhana had invited her to leave her helpless husbands and come and sit on his lap, pointing to his own thigh. Bhima seethed like a caged lion and vowed to kill Duryodhana some day by smashing his thighs. And now, when she saw even the fierce Bhima favoring peace — the same Bhima who had sworn to avenge her humiliation by dismembering Dusshasana and smashing Duryodhana’s thighs to smitherens — Draupadi could no longer control herself. She stopped Krishna as he was about to leave on his journey and appealed to him: Continue reading “KRISHNA AND THE WAR I: KRISHNA’S EMBASSY”



Krishna becomes adviser to and guide of his cousins the Pandava princes being particularly close to the third brother Arjuna who marries Krishna’s sister Subhadra,

Navaratna Rajaram


Even though Krishna is known in several works, the ancient historical epic the Mahabharata is the most important and regarded as the primary source. Any details relating to his life and career, not found in the Mahabharata must be seen as questionable. Krishna appears in the Mahabharata in the episode of Arjuna’s winning the hand of the Panchala princess Draupadi. Draupadi’ name was Krishnaa, meaning dark. Like Krishna she seems to have been dark complexioned. At that time and wellinto 1000 CE (AD), dark complexion was seen as a sign of beauty. Draupadi (daughter of Panchala king Drupada) and naa also Panchali (for princess of Panchala). She was said to be Agnisenaa (or fire born) probably because of her feiry personality. Continue reading “KRISHNA’S ALLIES TRIUMPH: AND DISASTER”