MIGRATIONS AND ETHNIC CHARACTERISTICS OF INDIAN POPULATION
Indian sub-continent has over the centuries witnessed a confluence of various races. Scholars like B.S.Guha have identified six major racial elements. They are Negrito, Proto-australoid, Mongoloid, Mediterranean, Western Brachycephals and Nordic. The first three constitute the earliest inhabitants and are scattered all over the sub-continent in various small pockets. The Irulas and Paniyans in the south and the Onge in the Andamans have clear cut Negrito features. On the other hands some tribes in Central India, come from a totally different stock called Proto-australoids. In the Indian PURANAS they go by the name of DASYUS, DASA and NISHADAS. It is in the north-east tribal groups we come across the Mongoloids. They are found all over in the north-eastern states of India like Manipur, Tripura, Assam, and West Bengal etc.
Mediterranean and Western Brachycephals were later arrivals. The Mediterranean is associated with Dravidian languages and culture. It is speculated that they would have constituted a major part of racial elements in Indus valley civilization. The Nordics were probably the last to arrive. The diversity of the Indian population is on account of constant movement of population since ancient times.
In the third millennium CE the Indus valley civilization flourished right from Indian Punjab to the Arabian sea. Its rich alluvial soil and copious supply of water provided numerous crops. The resultant trade with other civilizations like Sumer and Egypt made it a very prosperous civilization, but suddenly this great civilization disappeared around 1500 BCE. Scholars still debate what the real reason for its disappearance was. Some attribute it to the Aryan invasion, but others believe it must have been due to some natural disaster. Major earthquakes may have led to a drying of the Indus valley because of the waters being diverted to the Ganges River catchment. But before the Ganga became a big and sacred river, there was the mysterious river Saraswati, much was bigger than Ganga and more often quoted in the Vedas. Saraswati too inexplicably dried up and all that is left is a belief in a subterranean mythical river which merges with the Ganga and Jamuna at the Sangam. Though not much details are available of the Indus valley people, skeletal remains of Proto-Australoid, Mediterranean, Alpine and Mongoloid racial stock were found.
THE ARYAN INFLUX
By 500 BCE the Aryan civilization became entrenched in the Indo-Gangetic plain. The population gradually increased with different waves of Aryan migration from Central Asia. This naturally resulted in the displacement of the original Dravidian population from the lap of Indus valley to the distant south of the Indian sub-continent. No less enterprising or culturally inferior, they flourished in the south and formed numerous kingdoms south of the Vindhyas. The Aryanization of the Indian sub-continent was not a smooth one, Rig Veda mentions about the Battle of Ten Kings, wherein the Aryan King Sudasa had to fight an alliance of ten Kings to wrest control.
GREEKS, SCYTHIANS, PARTHIANS, SHAKAS, KUSHANS AND HUNS
Once the Aryans had settled down, there was a lull in further migrations. There were numerous prosperous kingdoms, but the first empire of continental proportion was that of the Mauryas. It extended from Afghanistan to Bengal with its boundaries skirting the Himalayas. It reached its zenith under the reign of Emperor Asoka (273-232 BCE)
The next major wave of immigrants were the Greeks, Scythians, Parthians, Shakas, Kushans and Huns. The Greeks under Alexander, came as conquerors, and had even succeeded in Hellenizing the northern extremity of India. The Gandhara School of art is an enduring example of its influence, but in due course the Yavanas as the Greeks were called, soon got assimilated into the Indian mainstream. This was not however without any initial resistance. Originally they were looked upon as MLECHCHHAS or uncouth barbarians, particularly by orthodox Hindus. But around this time, Buddhism was in the ascendant and this facilitated the assimilation of foreign powers like Kushans. Two kings who became Buddhists were Menander (155-30BCE) and Emperor Kanishka of the Kushans ( 1CE )
ARABS, AFGHANS, TURKS AND CENTRAL ASIANS
The succeeding waves of migrations were totally different from the past. By the Tenth century militant Islam began to knock at the doors of north India. What followed was another deluge of adventurers of Arab, Afghan, Turk and Central Asian stock. Unlike earlier immigrants the Muslim invaders far from being assimilative were trying to convert the local people. Despite this by the fifteenth century the Mughal Empire though established by a Central Asian chieftain and warlord, soon became Indianized.
This was not true of the other great empire of the eighteenth century--- the British Empire. Neither the rulers got Indianized , nor the wealth generated retained. The empire was intended only to support the mother country and these conquests were merely colonial outposts. Despite the strict social aloofness, it did have some sociological impact, it brought into being the Anglo-Indian community. Numerically small, this further dwindled after Independence when most of them migrated to either UK or other commonwealth countries like Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
NORTH - EASTERN INDIA
So far we have been discussing only migrations to India, either through the North West or by sea. But the North East too has been witness to numerous migrations. This is obvious from the diverse ethnic groups found in Northeastern India. In ancient India people of this belt were known as the descendants of Kirata and comprised of different tribes known as Mizo, Khasi and Nagas. Immediately after India became independent, they were all part of the state of Assam, but later different states like Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland , Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh came into being .Though initially they were assimilated in Hindu society with their various tribal beliefs, later many got converted to Christianity. In fact North East India is one of the few states where Christians are the majority and the Hindus minority. Migrations to this belt were from three different directions. Several mongoloid groups came through passes bordering Assam and Burma. Another group came through the northern passes of Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet. The third group came from the Indian side on the west, and were predominantly Hindus or Muslims. The North East was truly a melting pot of cultures.