Among the various groups of mankind, the Aryans are the most famous.
In Sanskrit language, the word Arya means the man of ‘noble character’, and the ‘free-born’.
The descendants of the ancient Aryan race spread over wide areas of Europe and Asia. From the earliest Aryan language, classical languages as Sanskrit, Latin and Greek came into being.
From these languages again, several other languages developed. They all form the Aryan family of languages.
The Earliest Home of the Aryans:
Nobody can say exactly which place on earth was the earliest home of the Aryan people. To some Indian scholars, the Aryans were the original inhabitants of India and they did not come to this land from outside. On the other hand, some patriotic European scholars believe that the Aryans originally lived on the shores of the far-away Baltic Sea. Majority of historians, however, believe that the early Aryans lived in that region of Europe which now comprises such places as Austria, Hungary and Bohemia.
From their original home the ancient Aryans spread away to different places. Going south and westward they divided themselves into several branches and entered into Greece, Italy, Germany, France, Spain and England. Coming in another direction, they entered into Iran and India.
The name Iran (Persia) comes from the word Aryanam which means the country of the Aryans. In India, the Aryans first settled in the area known as the Punjab. At first the name of that place was Saptanada or the Land of the Seven Rivers. Subsequently, it was called Panchanada or the Land of the Five Rivers. The word Punjab means the Land of the Five Rivers.
Similarly, from the root family terms of the ancient Aryans came such words as Pitar, Matar, Bhratar and Duhitar in Sanskrit, and Father, Mother, Brother and Daughter in English. Many such words in Sanskrit and several European languages came from the same Aryan roots. Though they came from the same ancestors, the different branches of the Aryan people in course of time lived as separate races and developed their separate individualities.
Coming of the Aryans to India:
The time when the Aryans entered into India is yet a subject of debate. Attempts are made to know that time from Vedic literature. According to some learned Indians like Bal Gangadhar Tilak, the earliest Veda, famous as the Rig-Veda, was composed about 4,500 years before Christ. The Aryans must have come, therefore, several generations before that time.
According to the famous western scholar H.T. Colebrooke, who discovered the Vedas for the western people, the composition of all the’ Vedas was perhaps finished by 14th century B.C. For several centuries before that they must have settled in the Punjab. Max Muller believed that the Vedas were composed about 1500 years before Christ. Another western scholar, Whitney, believed that the hymns of the Rig-Veda were composed between 2,000 B.C. and 1,500 B.C. Most likely, the Aryans entered into India around 2,000 years before the birth of Christ. This opinion is held by the majority of historians.
Soon after their entry into India the Aryans began to compose the Vedas. Much about their early life in India is known from the descriptions in the Vedas. At first they settled in the Punjab region where the rivers, Sindhu, Vitasta, Chandrabhaga, Iravati, Bipasa, Satadru and Saraswati flowed.
At that time they had to fight against the primitive people of the land as well as, perhaps with the civilised Dravidians. The enemies were described in the Vedas as Dasyus and Asuras. In course of time, the Dravidians, migrated towards the south, and the primitives retired into mountains, hills and forests. The conquered or subjugated enemies were described as the Dasas.
From the Punjab, the Aryans moved eastward into the river valleys of the Ganges and Yamuna. They called that region Madhya Desa. Gradually, they spread over the whole of the Uttarapatha. The landmass between the Himalayas and the Vindhyas and from the western seas to the east was named as the Aryavarta.
The Veda happens to be the earliest literature of the Aryan race. Because of its ancient character, it occupies a unique place in the history of the world literature. The word Veda means the supreme knowledge. The Aryans believed that the Vedas were the words of God. Heard from the voice of God they were also called Shruti. The Vedas were transmitted from generation to generation orally and from memory.
The Vedas were four in number. They were Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda. The earliest, namely, the Rig Veda was composed about 2000 B.C. It contained 1017 hymns which were divided into 10 Mandalas or parts. The total words numbered more than one lakh and fifty thousand.
Though the Rig Veda was primarily a devotional work of religious nature, yet it contains much information about the early Aryan ways of life. From the Rig-Veda literature is known the picture of the early Vedic civilisation. The early Aryan civilisation is generally described as the Vedic Civilisation. The character of that Civilisation is understood from the social life, economic life, political organisation, and religious beliefs. Below is given a brief description of the above features of the Rig-Veda Aryan Civilisation. It is said that the Rig-Veda civilisation showed the zenith of Indian culture rather than its beginning.