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The Dravidian Movement and Aryan Illusion

  • Category
  • Published
    29th Jul, 2022


The remarks made by the governor of Tamil Nadu on ‘Aryan-Dravidian differences’ being geographical and not racial have emerged and fuelled the discussion which has existed for a long.


  • In the past, various leaders have strongly opposed the Aryan migration theory and have blamed the British for the emergence and development of the Aryan-Dravidian distinction.


  • Etymologically, the root word ‘Arya’ means noble or say ‘Shrestha’ in Hindi. It has nothing to do with racial identity. It was Max Muller who used the term Aryan for racial identity.


  • Similarly, Dravidian is the term used for people from south Indian affinities. The antiquity of the term Dravida goes back to the time of the Adi Shankaracharya, who used the term to refer to South India.

The debate over the Aryan-Dravidian Distinction:

  • Aryan Invasion and Migration Theory: This theory which has been floated by the British has attributed to the Aryan- Dravidian distinction and has been always been contested by the political class. In the 1850s Max Muller introduced the notion of two Aryan races, a western and an eastern one, who migrated from the Caucasus into Europe and India respectively.

The idea of an "invasion" has been discarded in mainstream scholarship since the 1980s and replaced by more sophisticated models, referred to as the Indo-Aryan migration theory.

  • These people spoke Indo-Aryan languages, the predominant languages of today’s North India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives.
  • It suited the interests of the British to divide Indians based on their racial affiliations, and they cleverly divided Indians into two distinct races saying Dravidians are those living in the South of India.
  • They said that Dravidians are the original inhabitants of the country, and they lived in all parts of the country till Aryans arrived in the country from the north and pushed Dravidians downwards in the country so that they remained confined in the south while the Aryans dominated the north and central India.
  • According to the theory the Indians were made to believe that north Indians are descendants of Aryans while south Indians are the descendants of Dravidians.
  • The vast difference in terms of language, culture, art, and clothing besides food habits between tribes living in north India and those living in south India helped in confirming this differentiation of races as suggested by the British.
  • Out of India Theory (OIT): Indigenous Aryanism, also known as the Indigenous Aryans theory (IAT) and the Out of India Theory (OIT), is the conviction that the Aryans are indigenous to the Indian subcontinent and that the Indo-European languages radiated out from a homeland in India into their present locations. Pieces of evidence supporting the Out of India Theory which debunks the theory invented by Max Muller:
  • Archaeological: Over 7 different ancient sites were discovered. With satellite data, the ancient Sarasvati River and its path were also discovered. And the proximity of those ancient sites lines up close to the path of the ancient Sarasvati River.
  • Textual: The ancient Sarasvati River is important because it is mentioned in the Rig Vedas. And now that river has been found. It links the Rig Vedas to the Sarasvati-Indus Valley Civilization (formerly known as the Indus Valley Civilization).

Evidence against Out of India theory

  • Recent Scientific findings have conclusively debunked the ‘Out of India Theory, which is part of the larger narrative suggesting that Dravidians and Aryans are ethnically similar but geographically divided.
  • This has posed serious problems to the supporters of recently set out to discover the lost, mystic River Saraswati and to repackage the Indus Valley Civilization as the ‘Saraswati Civilization’ without taking into account research that suggests that the language of Harappans could have been Dravidian/Proto-Dravidian.

Non-Sanskrit origins of Dravidian languages:

  • Robert Caldwell, in his seminal work, A Comparative Grammar of the Dravidian Or South-Indian Family of Languages (published in 1856), offers empirical evidence of the non-Sanskrit origins of Dravidian languages.

Robert Caldwell (7 May 1814 – 28 August 1891) was a missionary for the London Missionary Society. He arrived in India at the age of 24 and studied the local language to spread the word of the Bible in a vernacular language, studies that led him to author a text on the comparative grammar of the South Indian languages.

Dravidian Movement:

  • It was a dynamic social movement aimed at destroying the contemporary Hindu social order in its totality and creating a new, rational society without caste, religion, and God.
  • Ideologues such as Ayotheethasa Pandithar, Manonmaniam Sundaram Pillai, and M.S. Purnalingam Pillai as well as latter-day ‘Justice Party’ leaders such as Dr. T.M. Nair, P. The agaraya Chetty, and C. Natesa Mudaliar championed the socio-political call for the emancipation of non-Brahmin.
  • The Justice Party was a political party in the Madras Presidency of British India and was the first backward class mobilization that created social change and political empowerment.

Major Achievements of the movement:

  • Empowerment of lower classes
  • Gave reservations to various communities in government jobs
  • Legislation that allowed Dalits to use all the public space without discrimination
  • Temple entries to non-Brahmins were allowed
  • Marriages without Brahmin priests and increased acceptance of inter-caste marriages are called self-respect marriages
  • The abolition of the Devadasi system
  • The party also played a vital role in allowing women to contest elections paving way for Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy to become the first woman legislator in India
  • Initiating the mid-day meal scheme


  • The movement failed to liberate women as well as the lower caste and secure equal rights for them. It failed to strengthen the economic condition of the poor and depressed classes. Since the movement was limited to Tamil Nadu, it had very limited influence.
  • The Dravidian movement found little takers beyond Tamil Nadu due to a variety of factors such as cultural and ethnic differences among the people of South India.

Present-day political significance:

  • The political significance of "Indigenous Aryanism". Many scholars note that "Indigenous Aryanism" has been adopted by Hindu nationalists as a part of their ideology.
  • The proponents of Indigenous Aryanism necessarily engage in "moral disqualification" of Western Indology. The same rhetoric is being used in indigenist literature and Hindu nationalist publications.
  • Dravidian leaders including Kalaignar M. Karunanidhi supplemented their social policies with academic rigor, scientific temper, and rational thinking — these became the benchmark of Dravidian politics.


India is a multi-cultural country, involving multi-ethnic origins, and this has been established by in-depth scholarship on linguistics, mythology, folklore and anthropology, archaeology, geology, big history, and genetics. It was based on these academic pursuits that linguistic studies have established the uniqueness of the Dravidian language family (Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Tulu, Tamil, and so on).

Any other theory created by any political or apolitical class must be viewed with suspicion in the face of overwhelming evidence supporting the migration of Indo-European speakers, who were called Aryans, to India almost 4,000 years ago.


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