Aryas of Aryavarta

Aryas of Aryavarta


Over the years, there has been extensive research carried out by scholars on the topic of the origin and identity of the Aryans and Dravidians. The common theories are Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT) and Aryan Migration Theory (AMT). The validity of both theories has been disputed by the recent DNA evidence. The research by Prof. V Shinde (3) states that that there was no Aryan invasion or migration, and both have been proved to be false with the recent DNA evidence. The term Arya is in existence in the most ancient literary work Rig Veda. It means “the noble people,” and later it was adopted as Aryan by other cultures for the profound meaning it contained.

The purpose of this article is to specifically explore what Rig Veda (RV) and Manusmriti (MS)  have documented about Aryas and non-Aryas. In both cases, Arya is used to describe an elite class of people, who followed the Vedic deities Indra and Agni. Details about their origin, geographical presence and social life patterns from Rig Veda and Manusmriti serve as a literary evidence to prove that Aryas were indigenous people, initially living in the region to the east of the Indus river. In fact, the battle of Dasharajna, documented in the Rig Veda, indicates that Aryas took possession of the cattle wealth and land of the subsequently conquered regions to the west of the Indus river.

In addition to literary evidence, there is also archaeological evidence from an approximately similar time-period and geography, in the form of Indus Valley seals, artefacts, fire altars and burials. Many seals contain figures of deities, priests, episodes of Rig Veda in picture form. A key to the underlying hypothesis is that these seals were meant to convey specific information about the religious practices of the Vedic yajnas. The ritual practices as depicted in Indus seals are the socio-religious practices that were observed by Aryas around 3500 years ago in the Indus valley region, that was the hub of Vedic culture. The pictures of deities in the archaeological evidence of Indus seals match with the description of Vedic episodes and socio-religious practices in the Rig Veda. Furthermore, the location and time period of ancient Indus civilization sites approximately correspond to the geographical description of Arya tribes. Both these strengthen the hypothesis that Aryas were indigenous people. Aryas did not migrate to the land of Bharatavarsha from other parts of the world because the socio religious practices were unique, observed only in this land, and not practiced anywhere else.

The etymology and meaning of some terms such as Arya, Aryavarta, Brahmavarta, Brahmarshi desha, Mleccha desha, etc. as described in Vedas and Manusmriti are to be understood before proceeding to understand who the Aryas, Anaryas and Dravidas were. This is also necessary to examine the earliest usage of these terms in Vedic literature, because it cannot be denied that the Aryas inhabited this land according to the Rig Veda.

Bharata and Bharatavarsha

The ancient name for India was Bharatavarsha. The term Varsha in Bharatavarsha refers to a piece of land, called Bharata, that is separated by certain mountain ranges. The term Bharata in Rig Veda is an epithet for Agni (fire). Agni is personified as a celestial priest (Deva-ritvijam). The sons or followers of Agni were addressed as Putram Bharatam.

Rig Veda 1.96.3 says the following about Agni and his followers:

“Urjaha putram Bharatam srupradanu deva Agnim dharayan dravinodaam”

Grow stronger, sons (followers) of Bharata, the chief performer of sacrifice, the constant giver of wealth”. (Griffith, The Hymns of Rig Veda.)

Bharata is the title of Agni and it means “the priest.” Putram Bharatam (descendants of the priest / followers of Agni, the Arya folk) means the performers and sponsors of sacrifice. Bharatas were the ignitors of fire (Knowledge, as the light clears the darkness of ignorance). Agni was praised as the bestower of wealth and knowledge who was invoked by the Arya folk, the Bharatas. The terms Bharatas and Aryas are nearly the same, as they are refer to the inhabitants of the land of Bharata.

This reference of Rig Veda clearly proves that the land Bharata was inhabited by the Vedic sages addressed as Bhaaratas (the descendants of the land of Bharata) who ignited Agni and installed it for Yajnas. The followers of yajna, according to Vedas, were the Aryas, who predominantly lived in Bharatavarsha, the land of sages, and not the ones who migrated from some other land. Aryas, the followers of the tutelary god Indra, were the warriors and sponsors of yajnas. Bharatas, the followers of Agni and performers of Yajna, lived together because performing rituals was the order of the day and mandatory during Vedic civilization. The deities Indra and Agni are called as brothers, as they are the sons of Aditi, and are invited and glorified together as dual deities “Indragni” to crush the fiends and receive oblations in many stanzas of the Rig Veda (RV 1. 21.1-5). The Vedic ritual of igniting and installing fire in sacred altars went along with the chanting of mantras by Aryas of Bharata because Aryas spoke the language of Vedas. (RV.1.77.3, “Sa hi kratuhu samaryaha”…) Bharati means the personification of Mantras / Knowledge, the goddess of knowledge revered as Sarasvati. The people who tried to migrate to this land of Aryas or tried to attack were called Mlecchas, the foreigners (Manusmriti – 2.23).

Brahmavarta – the Epicenter of Vedic religion

Brahman in Sanskrit means the supreme being. Avarta means an inhabited, crowded place. According to Manusmriti (also called Manu Dharma-shastra, the traditional authoritative text of Hindu dharma-shastra in India, approximately dated to 1250-1000 BCE by the 18th century philologists), the land between the sacred rivers Sarasvati and Drishadvati was the sacred land called Brahmavarta. It was considered sacred because the river Sarasvati had acquired divine characteristics. She was the patroness of the sacred ceremonies which were celebrated on the margin of these two rivers by the pious sages and human settlement that resided there. Her blessings were invoked as essential for a proper and comfortable living, as she was identified as Vak – the mantras of knowledge chanted by pious people with illumined minds.

Figure 1: Brahmavarta, the land between the rivers Sarasvati and Drishadvati
in Vedic times (Reference-15).

 “Sarasvati-drushadvatyor devanadyor yad antaram. Tam devanirmitam desham brahmavartam prachakshyate. Tasmindesheya Acharaha paramparyakramaatah, varnanam saantaralaanam sa sadaachara uchyate”. (MS 2.17-18)

The region lying between the divine rivers Sarasvati and Drishadvati (located in the present state of Rajasthan) which has been created by the gods was called ‘Brahmavarta’— (MS 2.17) the abode of Brahma. Manusmriti 2.18 says that the people inhabiting this land are the observers of good conduct “sadaachara”, the prescribed traditional life of socio-religious practices related to the four varnas that is followed as the righteous and virtuous way of living. The customs handed down in regular succession from time immemorial among the people of the four varnas is called the conduct of virtuous men. The people who observed all the samskaras from the rite of impregnation (garbhadaana), birth (jaatakarma), upanayana, up to the funeral rites (antyesti) in the prescribed way along with the recitation of sacred formulas were the Aryas, and the ones who did not follow the prescribed rules were despised by the Aryas (MS 2.39). This gives a clear understanding that the followers of the Vedic way of social life were Aryas.

Figure 2: Brahmarshi Desha, the region populated by pious people

‘Brahmarshi Desha’ is the name of the entire group of districts inhabited by Brahma + rishis, the Brahmanical sages and pious people. Brahmavarta is the country ‘created by the Gods’; and since the Brahmarshis are a little lower in degree than the Gods, this part of land being related to Brahmarshis, is slightly lower in grade than Brahmavarta.

 “kurukshetraṃ ca matsyashca pancalah shurasenakaaḥ esha brahmarshiidesho vai brahmavartaad anantaraḥ” (MS 2.19)

Manusmriti 2.19-21 says: “after Brahmavarta, Kurukshetra, Matsya, Panchala and Shurasena regions were called Brahmarshi Desha, which was second to Brahmavarta in sanctity. People of the world should learn from the sacred brahmins born in this land about the righteous way of living”.


Figure 3: Aryavarta – The region inhabited by Aryas (reference-18)

According to Amarakosha and Manusmriti 2.22, the region extending between eastern and western oceans, bounded by Himalaya and Vindhya on northern and southern sides respectively, was called Aryavarta. Aryavarta was the abode of the noble Aryas. Manusmriti 2.21-23 states:

“Aasamudratu vai poorvada samudrascha paschimat. Tayorevantaram giryo (Himavad vindhyoh) aryavarta vidurbudha” (MS 2.22)

It was also revered as Madhya Desha and Punya bhumi in Amarakosha (2.1.8). The country extending as far as the Eastern Ocean and as far as the Western Ocean, and lying between the same two mountains, is described as ‘Aryavarta,’ by the learned. The custom or ‘right behavior’ that is to be regarded as authoritative and trustworthy that was prevalent among the cultured people inhabiting this land is defined here. It is called ‘Aryavarta’ in the sense that the Aryas live there (varta means to live, ‘Aryah vartante tatra’). It means the Aryas who are born there again and again. The barbarians, even though attacking Aryavarta repeatedly, do not remain there.

Manusmriti 2.23 says that the region where the blackbuck deer roams by nature is to be known as the ‘land fit for performing Yajnas’.

“Krishnasaarastu carati mrigo yatra svabhavataha sa jneyo yajniyo desho mlecchadeshastvatah parah” (MS 2.23)

Where the blackbuck deer (Krishna-saara mruga) roams in natural habitat, that land is best suited for the performance of Yajnas. This indicates the view that the ‘black antelope’ is to serve as a mark of the ‘Yajniya Desha’. Manusmriti 2.23 also indicates that the region where the Krishnamriga do not naturally inhabit is called Mleccha Desha.

The foes of Aryas were Dasyus (Rig Veda 2.11.18-19).

“Apaavruno jyotir aryaya ni savyataha saadi dasyur indra, sanema eta utibhistaranto vishvaha  sprudha aryena dasyun”

The above translates to: “Indra opened light to Aryas and on the contrary dispirited or destroyed the Dasyus. They were made to jump to the other parts of the world as they were repulsive and turned away from the religious advice of Aryas. May Arya gain wealth, subduing all foes (Dasyus) with the help of Indra.

Rig Veda in 1.130.7 mentions that Indra is the protector and helper of Arya class of worshippers:

“Indraha samatsu yajamaanarya Pravada visheshu shatamutiraajishu svarmilheshvaagishu”

He granted a hundred aids to Aryas within a second’s time and showed them the light of heaven.

The Aryas, who were worshippers of Indra, were already well established and they inhabited the region of Aryavarta, and hence called Aryas. This fundamental fact disproves the theory of Aryan Migration theory that states that Aryans came from Central Asia, defeated the indigenous Dravidians residing in this land, and subsequently went on to create the Vedas.


It is interesting to know who the Aryas were according to the Rig Veda. The term Arya was used to address the noble one who followed Dharma and performed noble deeds. They have been described in Rig Veda as noble people protected by their gods Indra and Agni. The popularly used term Aryan is the English version of the term Arya that is mentioned in the Rig Veda and Manusmriti. Arya and Anarya are primarily used in the moral sense of their behavior. The term Arya is often used in the hymns of the Rig Veda. Dravidas, as popularly believed to be as natives of this land, are conspicuously absent and are not mentioned in the Rig Veda. Rig Veda 9.63.5 has the term Arya meaning the noble, pious, righteous people, used in contrast with Anarya / Aravan who were not liberal, the envious, or hostile ones. The term Arya was initially used to designate all the noble ones who worshipped Indra, followed Vedic culture of performing Yajna, and was not limited to the priestly class. The elite ones of all three varnas, the brahmanas, Kshatriyas and Vaishya class, were addressed as Arya as they sponsored the yajnas and observed upanayana samskara. The deities of the Vedic pantheon are many. The main deities of those times were Indra andAgni (the sacrificial fire). The people who accepted Indra as the prime deity and worshipped him along with other deities were addressed as Aryas, which means that Anaryas did not accept Indra as their prime deity.

Arya is a Sanskrit term meaning a preceptor, worthy, respectable, honorable, of a noble character, and a teacher. Arya was the esteemed man of noble birth who was faithful to religion and laws of the country; their abode was the land called Bharata – the land where sages invoked Agni (also stands for knowledge) in sacred altars.

“Kartavyam acharan, kaaryama kartavyamanacharan tisthati prakrutachare sav aa Arya samrutaha.” (17)

 “nishekadi shmashaananto mantrair yasyodito vidhiḥ tasya shastre’dhikaaro’smin jneyo naanyasya kasyacit” (MS 2.16)

Aryas are the followers of Vedic traditions. According to Manusmriti, it is that person alone who has the knowledge of the sacraments beginning with conception (Garbhadaana) and ending with crematorium (Antyesti) that are prescribed to be performed along with the recitation of Vedic mantras belonging to this institution (the samskaras that are followed in the land of Bharata even to this day).

There is no doubt that in the Rig Veda, the word Arya is used for benevolent people – the noble person involved in constructive and noble activities, and has nothing to do with any race. The people who accepted Indra and Agni as the prime deities were addressed as Aryas, which means that the Anaryas did not accept Indra as their prime deity.

In the theatrical usage as found in Natyashastra, it is an adjective used in the respectful mode of address equivalent to Sir. Arye was the address for the revered and honoured lady.Anarya means not belonging to the place inhabited by the Aryas, meaning, the ignoble. V.S Apte defines Mlechchha as a barbarian, non-Aryan outcast, not speaking the Sanskrit language, or those who spoke it indistinctly, mispronouncing words in an ungrammatical way (probably like, sapta was pronounced as hapta and yajna became yasna,). They were not conforming to Hindu or Arya institutions – a foreigner in general who spoke the foreign language and inhabited the land not inhabited by the Aryas.  Dravidas, as popularly believed to be as natives of this land is conspicuously absent and is not mentioned in Rig Veda.Dravidawas A name of the brahmana of any of the five southern tribes Pancha dravida – Karnata, Gurjara, Maharastra,Dravida and Tailanga. The noun Dravida is defined as the inhabitants of the region on the east coast of Deccan (V. S. Apte)

The term Dasyu is used as a synonym of Anarya in the RigVeda. It was a class of evil beings; enemies of gods and pious men. Rig Veda 9.63.5 has the term Arya meaning the noble, pious, righteous people, used in contrast with Anarya / Aravan, who were not liberal, the envious, or the hostile ones. Even a Hindu who had become an outcast by neglecting the essential rites was classified as a Dasyu, even though he spoke the language of Aryas (MS 10.45). The foes of the Aryas were also addressed as Dasyus (R V 2.11,18-19.)

The popularly used term Aryan is the English version of the term Arya that is mentioned in the Rig Veda and Manusmriti. Arya and Anarya are primarily used in the moral sense of their behavior.

The question now arises whether Aryas and Aryans are the same, because all research and historical documents use the term Aryans (2). (Originally pronounced Aerians in English). The term Aryans is from the root word Arya that has been anglicized as Aryan by the colonial rulers of South Asia. The Oxford dictionary quotes that the word Aryan is borrowed from the Sanskrit word Arya (2). One approach to further explore this confusion with terms Aryas and Aryans is to study the religious and social practices that were observed during ancient times. Rigveda is the earliest and a fundamental literary source of ancient India. The enduring controversy on the origin of Aryans is further questioned by reference to a detailed account of the socio-religious practices of the Aryas during the Vedic period. The Vedic text in its original form is therefore studied to find an answer to the controversial topic of the identity of Aryas and Dravidas.

The term Arya is also used in the ancient Persian language text (for example in the Behistun inscription from the 5th century BCE). The Iranian people used the term Arya as an ethnic label for themselves in the Avesta scriptures, and the word forms the etymological source of the country’s name, Iran (6).

The Nazis used the word “Aryan” to describe people in a racial sense, to be of the purest origin. According to the Nazi racial theory, the term “Aryan” described the Germanic people. However, a satisfactory definition of “Aryan” remained problematic during Nazi Germany (7).

During the 19th century, it was proposed that “Aryan” was also the self-designation of the Proto-Indo-Europeans, a hypothesis that has since been abandoned (8).

According to the Rig Veda, Aryas inhabited the land of Aryavarta, a region in the northern part of current day India. Although the term Arya is used extensively in Vedas as the elite class, the term Dravidian is not in reference. Instead, we find the usage of the terms Dasyus, Anaryas (non-Aryas), and Mlecchas (country beyond India) in the ancient texts Shatapatha Brahmana, Manusmriti and Amarakosha.

Every religion, be it indigenous or an adopted religion, leaves an imprint on the society. The question arises that if Aryans migrated from Central Asia and invaded the land called Aryavarta, why there are no imprints of social life patterns left in their previous land of settlement as followed in Aryavarta? In no part of Central Asia can we see the religious practices that are deep rooted in the land of Bharata. The prescribed Mantras of Rig and Yajurveda are meticulously chanted even to this day in temple rituals, domestic rituals, and the shodasha karmas – the sixteen samskaras that are observed to this day. The heritage of Vedic culture and knowledge of rituals is very much alive only in India. Nowhere else is this unique pattern of rituals of birth and death, the prayers and festivals, observed; also not in Central Asia, from where the Aryans are said to have migrated.

Since the followers of Vedic knowledge and practitioners of Vedic rituals are only in India, the creators of Vedas were seers who were indigenous, excelling in poetic skills, and used the evolved version of archaic Sanskrit in their poetic compositions. Their descendants were revered and addressed as Aryas for they were the refined set of people, the evolved ones, who retained the Sanskrit language. The most ancient living religion of Hinduism with the specific pattern of socio-religious life is a continuum from Vedic times and is restricted only to the land of Bharata. 


A detailed study of the Vedas and Manusmriti provide literary evidence to prove that Aryas were indigenous people, initially living in the region to the east of the Indus river, and that they did not migrate to South Asia from other parts of the world.

 The following are the key aspects presented in support of this view:

  • Aryas were followers of Indra
  • Aryas inhabited the land of Aryavarta and followed a certain code of conduct, socio-religious lifestyle and death rituals. These rituals were not practiced in other parts of the world.
  • Aryas conquered regions to the west of the Indus river in the battle of Dasarajna.
  • The deities worshipped by Aryas are not found in any other historical accord from around the world (of the same or preceding time as the Vedas). Had the Aryans migrated from elsewhere, the description of deities from the previous land and religion would have had a place in the Vedas.


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Rekha Rao

Independent Researcher and Indologist, Mysore