Aryan is a term formerly used to denote both a linguistic and an assumed racial category related to the language family now known as Indo-European. Early scholars, struck by similarities among ancient Indian languages such as Sanskrit and ancient European languages such as Latin and Greek, hypothesized the existence not only of a proto-Indo-European language but also of a proto-Indo-European racial group, the Aryans. This group, it was argued, had spread into South Asia and Europe from a Central Asian homeland in a series of migrations during the 2d millennium BC. Thus it was argued that, in contrast to the darker-skinned Dravidians of southern India, the northern Indians were, racially speaking, Aryans, sharing a common descent with the peoples of Western Europe.
Today, such arguments about racial origins are usually seen as little more than speculation. The term Aryan is now used to designate the Indo-Iranian languages, or more narrowly, the Indo-Aryan (Indic) branch of that family. It was among the Aryan-speaking peoples of northern India during the 2d and 1st millennia BC that the religion of Hinduism and the institutions of Caste first developed.
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Basham, A. L., The Wonder That Was India, 3d ed. (1967); Childe, V. G., The Aryans (1926; repr. 1988); Deshpande, M. M., and Hook, P. E., eds., Aryan and Non-Aryan in India (1979); Mallory, J. P., In Search of the Indo-Europeans (1991); Zysk, K. G., et al., Perspectives on Indo-European Language, Culture, and Religion (1992).
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