The Rig Veda is the first document indicative of a turning point that subsequently changed the entire course of history in the subcontinent, paving the way for what the latter came to be known as the Indian civilization. Hindu fundamentalists beholden to Hindutva (Hinduness) spin a phony counter narrative claiming that the Aryans were the original inhabitants of the subcontinent spreading to Europe from here as their counterparts here propagate that the Muslims of Pakistan came from Arabia, Iran and Central Asia.
Hindu fundamentalists in their religion, driven by nationalistic zeal, try to illegitimately appropriate what was indigenous to the Indus valley prior to the arrival of the Arya, while the Muslims fundamentalists in their puritanical streak try to illegitimately own what is foreign. For ideological considerations the former take pride in proving themselves to be locals i.e., sons of the soil, while the latter boast of their self glory as foreigners i.e., successful invaders. Both distort history. Sense of history is what we lack in the subcontinent whatever faith we may belong to.
Let us begin with the word Sanskrit which means ‘composed’, ‘perfect’ or ‘synthesized’. The language was called Sanskrit because it was formulated in the grammar books by grammarians. In a contrast with it, other languages or dialects were called Prakrits which means the ‘naturals’. Sanskrit was not a natural language spoken by the people. It was also different from the Vedic used in the Vedas, the earliest version of the language of the Ayra.
Why did such a need arise to construct a language which was removed from the common speech of the masses? What were the historical conditions which compelled the Aryan elite to forge a linguistic edifice, artificial and detached? To put it simply, it was Aryan invasions which created a long-lasting atmosphere of hostility between the victors and the vanquished, forcing the former to carve out exclusive and sanitized spaces in the domains of religion, politics and culture.
Historical conditions in the wake of Aryan victory necessitated a new division of different sections of society to consolidate the gains of ascendancy to the advantage of the new settlers. What struck the newcomers as something quite different was the colour of the locals, their language and of course, their religion. That is why we hear the mentioning of ‘Varna’ the colour.
The Aryans were fair-complexioned while the Harappa people were dark-skinned. ‘Varna’ the colour initially formed the basis of new social division which created caste system pushing the local people down the social ladder to a point where they were reduced to a subhuman status. Some of the upper sections of Dravidians were accepted into the Ayran fold for political reasons as it was too difficult for the nomads to administer the organized and complex society of the Indus valley. Indra, the Aryan warlord
after having gained victory, invites the Asura chief (Asura was one of the main tribes of Indus valley) to jointly rule the territories. As to the language of the Dravidians, the well-known word ‘Malechha’ gives us a clue. ‘Malechha’ initially meant a foreign unintelligible speech. ‘Sata pathabrahmna’ narrates how the Dravidians were deprived of their speech. “Now Devas and Asuras both of them sprung from Parjapati entered upon their father Parjapat’s inheritance; the devas inherited the mind (the sacrifice) and the Asuras, the speech (Vaac)”. Devas asked the sacrifice to allure Vaac who was woman through a trick. “The gods then cut her off from the Asuras and having gained possession of her and enveloped her completely in fire, they offered her up as a holocaust, it being an offering of the gods. And in that offered her with an anustubh verse, thereby they made her their own and the Asuras being deprived of speech were undone crying, he lavah! he lavah! Such was the speech which they uttered -- and he who speaks thus is a mlechha (barbarian/alien). Hence let no Brahman speak barbarous languages, since such is the speech of the Asuras”. Asuras were Dravidians. Malti. J. Shendge in her remarkable book ‘The Civilized Demons’ comments: ‘The three elements in the episode are as follows: The struggle between the asuras and devas, the asuras being deprived by the devas through a trick and the use of fire in the destruction of Vaac -- the devas somehow deprived the asuras or destroyed the language of the asuras. The burning of the language in the sacrificial fire may have different implication. It may indicate the destruction of the speakers of the language in fire, which was done before or it might indicate the burning of the written material and a subsequent ban on rewriting the compositions. “In case the written material had been burnt by the devas, the lack of writings in the Indus valley may be automatically explained. The other point to be noted is the ban put on the language of the asuras by the devas. The Brahmans were not to speak this malechha language which was the speech of the asuras.” Such were the origins of conflict between the languages of Aryans and Dravidians in ancient times, expressed in mythical terms. The Rig Veda provides us with the earliest record of not only of the newcomers and their life in the Indus valley but also of Harappa people, though it was composed much later (1700 to 1100 BC). The Vedic found in the Vedas also has some loan words from the Dravidian languages which was natural result of interaction with the local population.