One of the meanings of this term refers to a hypothetical single group of people who spoke the parent language of the Indo-European languages. German philologists believed that the Germanic group originated from the steppes north of Historic Khwarizm, and this Germanic group followed the Aryan group into Iran before splitting from Arya. It then migrated north to the Black Sea, where they again moved north to the Baltic lake. Thus, German philologists concluded, the German people have a direct ancestry with the people of the Arya region in Iran.
Another meaning refers to the Aryan race, a presumably more or less directly descendant ethnic group of this original Aryan group. The idea of the 'Aryan race' arose when linguists identified Sanskrit and the Avestan (ancient languages of Northern India and Persia, respectively) as the oldest known relatives of all the major European languages, including Latin, Greek, and all Germanic and Celtic languages. They argued that the speakers of these languages originated from an ancient people who must have been the ancestors of all the European peoples.
These hypothetical ancestors were given the name Aryans, from the Sanskrit and Avestan word Arya, which means "noble person". From this point the term "Aryan" came to mean something similar to "white European" — excluding the Jewish and Arab peoples, because their ancestral languages (Hebrew and Arabic) do not belong to the Indo-European family. It is notable that in the Vedas, the word Arya is never used in a racial or ethnic sense. It is still used by Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, and Zoroastrians, as to mean "noble" or "spiritual". It is similar to the Sanskrit and Hindi word Sri or Shri, an epithet of respect.
It has been argued that the term Arya was originally used to denote kinfolk or clansmen, and later used as a general term of respect, signifying nobility. It has also been argued that the supposition that the term referred to an ethnic group arose as the result of speculative translation.
The culture of the Aryans (Indo-Iranian view)
It now looks probable that the cultures of India and ancient Persia have common roots. Other nearby peoples, notably the Hittites and Mitanni, also seem to have been somehow related to it. That ancestral culture includes the worship of the gods Indra, Varuna, Agni, and Mithra, and the ritualistic use of a hallucinogenic drink called Soma (Som Ras), extracted from an unknown plant. However, as groups separated and migrated, their religions changed. Eventually the Indian Vedic and the Persian Zoroastrian faiths emerged from the primal Aryan belief-system, and the ancestral Aryan gods gave rise to different pantheons.
In scholarly contexts the term is now only used to label the proto-culture from which the Vedic and Zoroastrian beliefs emerged. In linguistics, the Indo-Aryan languages are those that derive from Sanskrit. However, some white supremacist groups still use the term Aryan as a racial label.
The Aryan Invasion Theory
Since the mid 19th century it has been claimed that Aryans migrated into India, around 1800 BC-1500 BC, possibly waging war against the declining Harappan civilization. The Rig-Veda describes warfare and struggle for control of territory, but whether this resulted from a migration or not is unclear. However the archaeological and historical record can be interpreted to indicate a gradual migration around the end of the 2nd millennium BC of Indo-Aryan speakers to the east from the vicinity of Kurdistan. Nevertheless, the evidence is weak. It is also possible to argue that the Indo-Aryan speaking cultures had much older roots in the area. At any rate, modern India is divided into two main language families, one Indo-European, its speakers possibly linguistic descendants of Aryans, and the other Dravidian, its speakers possibly linguistic descendants of the Harappans.
Ancient Iranians used the term Aryan to describe their lineage and their language. Darius the Great, King of Persia (521 - 486 BC), in an inscription in Naqsh-e-Rostam (near Shiraz in Iran), proclaims: "I am Darius the great King... A Persian, son of a Persian, an Aryan, having Aryan lineage...". The name Iran is a modern cognate of Aryan meaning the Land of Aryans. The term has become a term of art in the Hindu, Buddhist, Jain and Zoroastrian religions.
The Aryan tribes in the Indian subcontinent called their land Arya varta or Aryan expanse / Aryan land. When the ancient Persians lived in the Inner Asian Steppes and moved south into today's Iran, they named the place Airyanem Vaejah, or The Iranian Expanse, and today the word survives as Iran. Many present day Iranian boy and girl names reflect this ancient relation: names like Aryana, Iran-dokht (Aryan Daughter), Arayn, Aryan-Pur, Aryaramne, ...
Aryan race and genetics (Archaeo-genetics)
Contemporary anthropologists, who believe in the existence of an ancient Aryan race, now generally have the opinion that its closest descendants today are North Indians and Persians, and not the Germans. That is, if the Aryans existed, they were certainly not the Nordic Germans and English.
The recent advances in Archaeo-genetics have some interesting results for the Aryan invasion theory, but are still in the early stages. Genetic study shows that Indian population as a whole has little similarity to other areas of supposed Indo-European settlement, indicating there was no mass settlement from outside. Indian maternal DNA is generally similar right across the country indicating that the mass of population has been in place there for a long period.
More recent results from a 2003 study show that, Indian tribal and caste populations derive largely from the same genetic heritage of Pleistocene southern and western Asians and have received limited gene flow from external regions since the Holocene. It also found that the Haplo group R1a gene previously associated with Indo-Europeans is also found in significant amounts in certain tribal populations, and may have even originated in India. These results not only put a big question mark on the Aryan Invasion Theory, but point to the fact that the Aryans and their Vedic civilization were indigenous to India.
Etymology and Semantics
*Aryo- (indo-iranian *arya-) is an adjective to the PIE root *ar-, originally meaning 'to assemble', possibly with positive overtones of 'accomplished, skillful'. *arya- as the name of a people, the 'Aryans', is only attested in India and Persia, but the root is well known from other languages in the Indo-European world, e.g. the aristoi, the "most noble," of Greece, and possibly Éire, a native name of Ireland (although this is not commonly accepted). The original meaning of the root, pertaining to skillful assembly (art), union, confederacy, may be perceived in Latin ordo 'order' or in Greek harma 'chariot'.
In its original sense, "Aryan" may or may not have had any racial meaning, certainly not in the sense that we define race today. Rather the term more likely grew from a tribalist self-identity, until more recent racialist distortions, attempting to justify eugenics policies, such as colonialism and genocide.
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