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Title: Indo-Aryans  
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Indo-Aryan peoples
Total population
approximately 1.21 billion
Regions with significant populations
 India Over 856 mil[1]
 Pakistan Over 164 mil[2]
 Bangladesh Over 150 mil[3]
   Nepal Over 26 mil
 Sri Lanka Over 14 mil
 Maldives Over 300,000
Indo-Aryan languages
Indian religions (Mostly Hindu; with Sikh, Buddhist and Jain minorities) and Islam, some non-religious atheist/agnostic and Christians
Related ethnic groups
Other Indian people · Bangladeshis · Sri Lankans · Nepalis · Maldivians · Pakistanis · Dravidian peoples  · Europeans · Romani people · Iranians · Nuristanis · Dard people · Dom people · Lom people · Indo-Iranians

Indo-Aryan or Indic peoples are an Indo-European ethno-linguistic group referring to the wide collection of peoples united as native speakers of the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-Iranian family of Indo-European languages. Today, there are over one billion native speakers of Indo-Aryan languages, most of them native to South Asia, where they form the majority.


Main article: Indo-Aryan migration
Further information: Indigenous Aryans and Out of India Theory

The first people to have settled in India during Paleolithic times appear to have been an Australoid group who may have been closely related to Aboriginal Australians.[4] From a genetic anthropological point of view, the research of Basu et al. (2003) indicates that: "(1) there is an underlying unity of female lineages in India, indicating that the initial number of female settlers may have been small; (2) the tribal and the caste populations are highly differentiated; (3) the Austro-Asiatic tribals are the earliest settlers in India, providing support to one anthropological hypothesis while refuting some others; (4) a major wave of humans entered India through the northeast; (5) the Tibeto-Burman tribals share considerable genetic commonalities with the Austro-Asiatic tribals, supporting the hypothesis that they may have shared a common habitat in southern China, but the two groups of tribals can be differentiated on the basis of Y-chromosomal haplotypes; (6) the Dravidian tribals were possibly widespread throughout India before the arrival of the Indo-European-speaking nomads, but retreated to southern India to avoid dominance; (7) formation of populations by fission that resulted in founder and drift effects have left their imprints on the genetic structures of contemporary populations; (8) the upper castes show closer genetic affinities with Central Asian populations, although those of southern India are more distant than those of northern India; (9) historical gene flow into India has contributed to a considerable obliteration of genetic histories of contemporary populations so that there is at present no clear congruence of genetic and geographical or sociocultural affinities."[5]

The separation of Indo-Aryans proper from Indo-Iranians is commonly dated, on linguistic grounds, to roughly 1800 BCE.[6] The Nuristani languages probably split in such early times, and are classified as either remote Indo-Aryan dialects or as an independent branch of Indo-Iranian. By the mid 2nd millennium BCE early Indo-Aryans had reached Assyria in the west (the Indo-Aryan superstrate in Mitanni) and the northern Punjab in the east (the Rigvedic tribes).[7]

The spread of Indo-Aryan languages has been connected with the spread of the chariot in the first half of the 2nd millennium BCE. Some scholars trace the Indo-Aryans (both Indo-Aryans and European Aryans) back to the Andronovo culture (2nd millennium BCE). Other scholars[8] have argued that the Andronovo culture proper formed too late to be associated with the Indo-Aryans of India, and that no actual traces of the Andronovo culture (e.g. warrior burials or timber-frame materials) have been found in India and Southern countries like Sri Lanka and the Maldives.[9]

Archaeologist J.P. Mallory (1998) finds it "extraordinarily difficult to make a case for expansions from this northern region to northern India" and remarks that the proposed migration routes "only [get] the Indo-Iranian to Central Asia, but not as far as the seats of the Medes, Persians or Indo-Aryans" (Mallory 1998; Bryant 2001: 216). Therefore he prefers to derive the Indo-Aryans from the intermediate stage of the Bactria–Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC) culture, in terms of a "Kulturkugel" model of expansion. Likewise, Asko Parpola (1988) connects the Indo-Aryans to the BMAC. But although horses were known to the Indo-Aryans, evidence for their presence in the form of horse bones is missing in the BMAC.[10] Parpola (1988) has argued that the Dasas were the "carriers of the Bronze Age culture of Greater Iran" living in the BMAC and that the forts with circular walls destroyed by the Indo-Aryans were actually located in the BMAC. Parpola (1999)[11] elaborates the model and has "Proto-Rigvedic" Indo-Aryans intrude the BMAC around 1700 BCE. He assumes early Indo-Aryan presence in the Late Harappan horizon from about 1900 BCE, and "Proto-Rigvedic" (Proto-Dardic) intrusion to the Punjab as corresponding to the Swat culture from about 1700 BCE.

Recently Leo Klejn proposed a hypothesis of linking the earliest stage of Indo-Aryan peoples with the Catacomb culture.[12][13]

Indo-Aryan superstrate in Mitanni

Some theonyms, proper names and other terminology of the Mitanni exhibit an Indo-Aryan superstrate, suggesting that an Indo-Aryan elite imposed itself over the Hurrian population in the course of the Indo-Aryan expansion.

In a treaty between the Hittites and the Mitanni (between Suppiluliuma and Matiwaza, ca. 1380 BCE), the deities Mitra, Varuna, Indra, and Nasatya (Ashvins) are invoked. Kikkuli's horse training text (circa 1400 BCE) includes technical terms such as aika (eka, one), tera (tri, three), panza (pancha, five), satta (sapta, seven), na (nava, nine), vartana (vartana, round). The numeral aika "one" is of particular importance because it places the superstrate in the vicinity of Indo-Aryan proper as opposed to Indo-Iranian or early Iranian (which has "aiva") in general.

Another text has babru(-nnu) (babhru, brown), parita(-nnu) (palita, grey), and pinkara(-nnu) (pingala, red). Their chief festival was the celebration of the solstice (vishuva) which was common in most cultures in the ancient world. The Mitanni warriors were called marya (Hurrian: maria-nnu), the term for (young) warrior in Sanskrit as well;[14] note mišta-nnu (= miẓḍha,~ Sanskrit mīḍha) "payment (for catching a fugitive)" (Mayrhofer II 358).

Sanskritic interpretations of Mitanni names render Artashumara (artaššumara) as Arta-smara "who thinks of Arta/Ṛta" (Mayrhofer II 780), Biridashva (biridašṷa, biriiašṷa) as Prītāśva "whose horse is dear" (Mayrhofer II 182), Priyamazda (priiamazda) as Priyamedha "whose wisdom is dear" (Mayrhofer II 189, II378), Citrarata as citraratha "whose chariot is shining" (Mayrhofer I 553), Indaruda/Endaruta as Indrota "helped by Indra" (Mayrhofer I 134), Shativaza (šattiṷaza) as Sātivāja "winning the race price" (Mayrhofer II 540, 696), Šubandhu as Subandhu 'having good relatives" (a name in Palestine, Mayrhofer II 209, 735), Tushratta (tṷišeratta, tušratta, etc.) as *tṷaiašaratha, Vedic Tveṣaratha "whose chariot is vehement" (Mayrhofer I 686, I 736).


An influx of early Indo-Aryan speakers over the Hindukush (comparable to the Kushan expansion of the 1st centuries CE) together with Late Harappan cultures gave rise to the Vedic civilization of the Early Iron Age. This civilization is marked by a continual shift to the east, first to the Gangetic plain with the Kurus and Panchalas, and further east with the Kosala and Videha. This Iron Age expansion corresponds to the black and red ware and painted grey ware cultures.

For Hellenistic times, Oleg N. Trubachev (1999; elaborating on a hypothesis by Kretschmer 1944) suggests that there were Indo-Aryan speakers in the Pontic steppe. The Maeotes and the Sindes, the latter also known as "Indoi" and described by Hesychius as "an Indian people".[15]

Middle Ages

The various Prakrit vernaculars developed into independent languages in the course of the Middle Ages (see Apabhramsha), forming the Abahatta group in the east and the Hindustani group in the west. The Romani people (also known as Gypsies) are believed to have left India around 1000 CE.

Contemporary Indo-Aryan peoples

Further information: South Asians and Desi

Contemporary Indo-Aryans are spread over most of the northern, western, central and eastern regions of the Indian subcontinent, Hyderabad in southern India, and in most parts of Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Non-native speakers of Indo-Aryan languages also reach the south of the peninsula. The largest groups are the Hindi, Bengali and Punjabi. (Hindustani) or Hindi/Urdu speakers of India, Bangladesh and Pakistan number more than half a billion native speakers, constituting the largest community of speakers of any of the Indo-European languages. Of the 23 national languages of India, 16 are Indo-Aryan languages (see also languages of India).

Genetic anthropology

A study headed by geneticist Z. Zhao et al. (2009) based on an analysis of "32 Y-chromosomal markers in 560 North Indian males collected from three higher caste groups (Brahmins, Chaturvedis and Bhargavas) and two Muslims groups (Shia and Sunni) were genotyped" found that "a substantial part of today's North Indian paternal gene pool was contributed by Central Asian lineages who are Indo-European speakers, suggesting that extant Indian caste groups are primarily the descendants of Indo-European migrants."[16]

An increasing number of studies have found South Asia to have the highest level of diversity of Y-STR haplotype variation within R1a1a, such as those of Kivisild et al. (2003), Mirabel et al. (2009) and Sharma et al. (2007, 2009). However, studies based on Y-STR haplotype variation have been recently criticized as being inaccurate and highly unreliable because the results are often affected by which markers are consciously chosen for analysis. In a 2011 study examining the effects of microsatellite choice and Y-chromosomal variation, the authors conclude: "Subsequently, we suggest that most STR-based Y chromosome dates are likely to be underestimates due to the molecular characteristics of the markers commonly used, such as their mutation rate and the range of potential alleles that STR can take, which potentially leads to a loss of time-linearity. As a consequence, we update the STR-based age of important nodes in the Y chromosome tree, showing that credible estimates for the age of lineages can be made once these STR characteristics are taken into consideration. Finally we show that the STRs that are most commonly used to explore deep ancestry are not able to uncover ancient relationships, and we propose a set of STRs that should be used in these cases."[17]

Sengupta et al. in their 2006 paper in the American Journal of Human Genetics say that "Our overall inference is that an early Holocene expansion in northwestern India (including the Indus Valley) contributed R1a1-M17 chromosomes both to the Central Asian and South Asian tribes".[18] Unfortunately, the haplotype dating methodology employed by the Sengupta paper is based on the "evolutionarily effective" mutation rate for Y-chromosomal STR loci, a method which has been severely criticized by Balanovsky et al. (2011). According to these researchers, who compare both the accuracy and reliability of the Zhivotovsky evolutionary mutation rate (6.9 x 10-4 per locus per generation) with a genealogical rate (2.1 x 10-3 per locus per generation): "We found that "evolutionary" estimates of most clusters fall far outside the range of the respective linguistic dates, while "genealogical" estimates gave a good fit with the linguistic dates. At least two population events in the Caucasus are documented archaeologically, which allows additional comparison with these "historical" dates. In both cases, the historical (archaeological) date is similar to a genetic estimate based on the "genealogical" mutation rate."[19]

The latest research conducted by Watkins et al. (2008) also reject the Sengupta study, but only because of the stochasticity of uniparental markers which may have been affected by natural selection; they also argue for the need to analyze autosomal polymorphisms in addition to both Y-chromosomal and mitochondrial DNA in order to generate a comprehensive picture of population genetic structure. The authors of the study write: "The historical record documents an influx of Vedic Indo-European-speaking immigrants into northwest India starting at least 3500 years ago. These immigrants spread southward and eastward into an existing agrarian society dominated by Dravidian speakers. With time, a more highly-structured patriarchal caste system developed ... our data are consistent with a model in which nomadic populations from northwest and central Eurasia intercalated over millennia into an already complex, genetically diverse set of subcontinental populations. As these populations grew, mixed, and expanded, a system of social stratification likely developed in situ, spreading to the Indo-Gangetic plain, and then southward over the Deccan plateau."[20]

Reich et al. (2009) indicates that the modern Indian population is a result of admixture between Indo-European (ANI) and Dravidian (ASI) populations. The authors of the study write: "It is tempting to assume that the population ancestral to ANI and CEU spoke 'Proto-Indo-European', which has been reconstructed as ancestral to both Sanskrit and European languages, although we cannot be certain without a date for ANI–ASI mixture." [21] Recent research indicates a massive admixture event between ANI-ASI populations 3500 to 1200 years ago.[22]

List of Indo-Aryan peoples



See also



  • Mallory, JP. 1998. "A European Perspective on Indo-Europeans in Asia". In The Bronze Age and Early Iron Age Peoples of Eastern and Central Asia. Ed. Mair. Washington DC: Institute for the Study of Man.
  • Trubachov, Oleg N., 1999: Indoarica, Nauka, Moscow.

External links

  • Horseplay at Harappa - People Fas Harvard - Harvard University
  • Frontline

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