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In present-day academia, the term "Aryan" has been replaced in most cases by the terms "Indo-Iranian" and "Indo-European", and "Aryan" is now mostly limited to its appearance in the term of the "Indo-Aryan languages" in South Asia.
As a translation of Latin Ariānus for Ariāna ("the eastern part of ancient Persia"), Arian(es) has long been in English use. Aryan is of recent introduction in comparative philology.
The English word "Aryan" is borrowed from the Sanskrit word ārya, आर्य, meaning "noble" or "noble one". Initially the term was used as a national name to designate those who worshipped the Vedic deities (especially Indra) and followed Vedic culture (e.g. performance of sacrifice, Yajna).
The Sanskrit term comes from Indo-Iranian[note 1] or Proto-Indo-Iranian *arya- or *aryo-,[note 2] the name used by the Indo-Iranians to designate themselves.[note 3] The Zend airya 'venerable' and Old Persian ariya are also derivates of *aryo-, and are also self-designations.[note 5]
According to a 1957 theory by Laroche, Indo-Iranian ar-ya- descends from Proto-Indo-European (PIE) *ar-yo-, a yo-adjective to a root *ar "to assemble skillfully", present in Greek harma "chariot", Greek aristos, (as in "aristocracy"), Latin ars "art", etc. Thus, according to this theory, an Aryan is "one who skillfully assembles". Proto-Indo-Iranian arta was a related concept of "properly joined" expressing a religious concept of cosmic order.
Various attempts to find an etymon are as follows:
During the 19th century it was proposed that "Aryan" was also the self-designation of the Proto-Indo-Europeans. Based on speculations that the Proto-Indo-European homeland was located in northern Europe, a 19th century hypothesis which is now abandoned, the word developed a racialist meaning. It has been used in Nazi racial theory to describe persons corresponding to the "Nordic" physical ideal of Nazi Germany (the "master race" ideology).[note 7]
Within the ideology of white supremacy, the "White race", who are native Indo-Europeans of the Western or European branch of the Indo-European peoples, as opposed to the Eastern or Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European peoples. The term Aryan is prominently used in the names of such organisations.
In Sanskrit and related Indic languages, ārya means "one who does noble deeds; a noble one". Āryāvarta (Sanskrit: आर्यावर्त, "the abode of the āryas") is a common name for northern India in classical Sanskrit literature. Manusmṛti (2.22) gives the name to "the tract between the Himalaya and the Vindhya ranges, from the Eastern Sea to the Western Sea". The title ārya was used with various modifications throughout the Indian Subcontinent. Kharavela, the Emperor of Kalinga of around 1 BCE, is referred to as an ārya in the Hathigumpha inscriptions of the Udayagiri and Khandagiri Caves in Bhubaneswar, Odisha. The Gurjara Pratihara rulers in the tenth century were titled "Maharajadhiraja of Āryāvarta". Various Indian religions, chiefly Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism, use the term ārya as an epithet of honour; a similar usage is found in the name of Arya Samaj.
Unlike the several meanings connected with ārya- in Old Indic, the Old Iranian term has solely an ethnic meaning. That is in contrast to Indian usage, in which several secondary meanings evolved, the meaning of ar- as a self-identifier is preserved in Iranian usage, hence the words "Iran"/"Iranian" themselves. Iranian airya meant and means "Iranian", and Iranian anairya  meant and means "non-Iranian". Arya may also be found as an ethnonym in Iranian languages, e.g., Alan/Persian Iran and Ossetian Ir/Iron
The Avesta clearly uses airya/airyan as an ethnic name (Vd. 1; Yt. 13.143-44, etc.), where it appears in expressions such as airyāfi; daiŋˊhāvō "Iranian lands, peoples", airyō.šayanəm "land inhabited by Iranians", and airyanəm vaējō vaŋhuyāfi; dāityayāfi; "Iranian stretch of the good Dāityā", the river Oxus, the modern Āmū Daryā. Old Persian sources also use this term for Iranians. Old Persian which is a testament to the antiquity of the Persian language and which is related to most of the languages/dialects spoken in Iran including modern Persian, Kurdish, Gilaki and Baluchi makes it clear that Iranians referred to themselves as Arya.
The term "Airya/Airyan" appears in the royal Old Persian inscriptions in three different contexts:
For example in the Dna and Dse Darius and Xerxes describe themselves as "An Achaemenian, A Persian son of a Persian and an Aryan, of Aryan stock". Although Darius the Great called his language the Aryan language, modern scholars refer to it as Old Persian because it is the ancestor of modern Persian language.
The Old Persian and Avestan evidence is confirmed by the Greek sources". Herodotus in his Histories remarks about the Iranian Medes that: "These Medes were called anciently by all people Arians; " (7.62). In Armenian sources, the Parthians, Medes and Persians are collectively referred to as Aryans. Eudemus of Rhodes apud Damascius (Dubitationes et solutiones in Platonis Parmenidem 125 bis) refers to "the Magi and all those of Iranian (áreion) lineage"; Diodorus Siculus (1.94.2) considers Zoroaster (Zathraustēs) as one of the Arianoi.
The name of Ariana is further extended to a part of Persia and of Media, as also to the Bactrians and Sogdians on the north; for these speak approximately the same language, with but slight variations.
— Geography, 15.8
The trilingual inscription erected by Shapur's command gives us a more clear description. The languages used are Parthian, Middle Persian and Greek. In Greek the inscription says: "ego ... tou Arianon ethnous despotes eimi" which translates to "I am the king of the Aryans". In the Middle Persian Shapour says: "I am the Lord of the EranShahr" and in Parthian he says: "I am the Lord of AryanShahr".
The Bactrian language (a Middle Iranian language) inscription of Kanishka the founder of the Kushan empire at Rabatak, which was discovered in 1993 in an unexcavated site in the Afghanistan province of Baghlan clearly refers to this Eastern Iranian language as Arya In the post-Islamic era one can still see a clear usage of the term Aryan (Iran) in the work of the 10th-century historian Hamzeh Isfahani. In his famous book "the history of Prophets and Kings", Isfahani writes: "Aryan which is also called Pars(Persia) is in the middle of these countries and these six countries surround it because the South East is in the hands China, the North of the Turks, the middle South is India, the middle North is Rome, and the South West and the North West is the Sudan and Berber lands". All this evidence shows that the name arya "Iranian" was a collective definition, denoting peoples (Geiger, pp. 167 f.; Schmitt, 1978, p. 31) who were aware of belonging to the one ethnic stock, speaking a common language, and having a religious tradition that centered on the cult of Ahura Mazdā.
In Iranian context the original self-identifier lives on in ethnic names like "Alani", "Ir". Similarly, The word Iran is the Persian word for land/place of the Aryan(see also Iranian peoples).
The word Arianus was used to designate Ariana,the area comprising present Herat in the western part of Afghanistan and ancient India. In 1601, Philemon Holland used 'Arianes' in his translation of the latin Arianus to designate the inhabitants of Ariana. This was the first use of the form Arian verbatim in the English language. In 1844 James Cowles Prichard first designated both the Indians and the Iranians "Arians" under the false assumption that the Iranians as well as the Indians self-designated themselves Aria. The Iranians did use the form Airya as a designation for the "Aryans," but Prichard had mistook Aria (deriving from OPer. Haravia) as a designation of the "Aryans" and associated the Aria with the place-name Ariana (Av. Airyana), the homeland of the Aryans. The form Aria as a designation of the "Aryans" was, however, only preserved in the language of the Indo-Aryans.
The term "Aryan" came to be used as the term for the Indo-European language group, and by extension, the original speakers of those languages. In the 19th century, "language" was considered a property of "ethnicity", and thus the speakers of the Indo-Persian or Indo-European languages came to be called the "Aryan race", as contradistinguished from what came to be called the "Semitic race". By the late 19th century, among some people, the notions of an "Aryan race" became closely linked to Nordicism, which posited Northern European racial superiority over all other peoples. This "master race" ideal engendered both the "Aryanization" programs of Nazi Germany, in which the classification of people as "Aryan" and "non-Aryan" was most emphatically directed towards the exclusion of Jews.[note 8] By the end of World War II, the word 'Aryan' had become associated by many with the racial ideologies and atrocities committed by the Nazi regime.
Western notions of an "Aryan race" rose to prominence in late-19th- and early-20th-century racialist thought, an idea most notably embraced by Nazi ideology (see master race). The Nazis believed that the "Nordic peoples" (who were also referred to as the "Germanic peoples") represent an ideal and "pure race" that was the purest representation of the original racial stock of those who were then called the Proto-Aryans. The Nazis declared that the Nordics were the true Aryans because they claimed that they were more "pure" (less racially mixed with non-native Indo-European peoples) than other people of what were then called the Aryan people (now called the Indo-European people).
While the original meaning of Indo-Iranian *arya as a self-designator is uncontested, the origin of the word (and thus also its original meaning) remains uncertain.[note 9] Indo-Iranian ar- is a syllable ambiguous in origin, from Indo-European ar-, er-, or or-. No evidence for a Proto-Indo-European (as opposed to Indo-Iranian) ethnic name like "Aryan" has been found.
The meaning of 'Aryan' that was adopted into the English language in the late 18th century was the one associated with the technical term used in comparative philology, which in turn had the same meaning as that evident in the very oldest Old Indic usage, i.e. as a (self-) identifier of "(speakers of) North Indian languages".[note 10] This usage was simultaneously influenced by a word that appeared in classical sources (Latin and Greek Ἀριάνης Arianes, e.g. in Pliny 1.133 and Strabo 15.2.1–8), and recognized to be the same as that which appeared in living Iranian languages, where it was a (self-)identifier of the "(speakers of) Iranian languages". Accordingly, 'Aryan' came to refer to the languages of the Indo-Iranian language group, and by extension, native speakers of those languages.
The term Arya is used 36 times in 34 hymns in the Rigveda. According to Talageri (2000, The Rig Veda. A Historical Analysis) "the particular Vedic Aryans of the Rigveda were one section among these Purus, who called themselves Bharatas." Thus it is possible, according to Talageri, that at one point Arya did refer to a specific tribe.
While the word may ultimately derive from a tribal name, already in the Rigveda it appears as a religious distinction, separating those who sacrifice "properly" from those who do not belong to the historical Vedic religion, presaging the usage in later Hinduism where the term comes to denote religious righteousness or piety. In RV 9.63.5, ârya "noble, pious, righteous" is used as contrasting with árāvan "not liberal, envious, hostile":
Arya and Anarya are primarily used in the moral sense in the Hindu Epics. People are usually called Arya or Anarya based on their behaviour. Arya is typically one who follows the Dharma. This is historically applicable for any person living anywhere in Bharata Varsha or vast India.
In the Ramayana, the term Arya can also apply to Raksasas or to Ravana. In several instances, the Vanaras and Raksasas called themselves Arya. The vanara's king Sugriva is called an Arya (Ram: 505102712) and he also speaks of his brother Vali as an Arya (Ram: 402402434). In another instance in the Ramayana, Ravana regards himself and his ministers as Aryas (Ram: A logical explanation is that, Ravana and his ministers belonged to the highest varna (Ravana being a Brahmin), and Brahmins were generally considered 'noble' of deed and hence called Arya (noble). Thus, while Ravana was considered Arya (and regarded himself as such), he was not really an Arya because he was not noble of deeds. So, he is widely considered by Hindus as Anarya (non-Arya).
In the Mahabharata, the terms Arya or Anarya are often applied to people according to their behaviour. Dushasana, who tried to disrobe Draupadi in the Kaurava court, is called an "Anarya" (Mbh:0020600253). Vidura, the son of a Dasi born from Vyasa, was the only person in the assembly whose behaviour is called "Arya", because he was the only one who openly protested when Draupadi was being disrobed by Dushasana. The Pandavas called themselves "Anarya" in the Mahabharata (0071670471) when they killed Drona through deception.
The word ārya is often found in Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain texts. In the Indian spiritual context it can be applied to Rishis or to someone who has mastered the four noble truths and entered upon the spiritual path. According to Nehru, the religions of India may be called collectively ārya dharma, a term that includes the religions that originated in India (e.g. Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and possibly Sikhism).
"O my Lord, a person who is chanting Your holy name, although born of a low family like that of a Chandala, is situated on the highest platform of self-realization. Such a person must have performed all kinds of penances and sacrifices according to Vedic literatures many, many times after taking bath in all the holy places of pilgrimage. Such a person is considered to be the best of the Arya family" (Bhagavata Purana 3.33.7).
According to Swami Vivekananda, "A child materially born is not an Arya; the child born in spirituality is an Arya." He further elaborated, referring to the Manu Smriti: "Says our great law-giver, Manu, giving the definition of an Arya, 'He is the Arya, who is born through prayer.' Every child not born through prayer is illegitimate, according to the great law-giver: "The child must be prayed for. Those children that come with curses, that slip into the world, just in a moment of inadvertence, because that could not be prevented – what can we expect of such progeny?..."(Swami Vivekananda, Complete Works vol.8)
The word ārya (Pāli: ariya), in the sense "noble" or "exalted", is very frequently used in Buddhist texts to designate a spiritual warrior or hero, which use this term much more often than Hindu or Jain texts. Buddha's Dharma and Vinaya are the ariyassa dhammavinayo. The Four Noble Truths are called the catvāry āryasatyāni (Sanskrit) or cattāri ariyasaccāni (Pali). The Noble Eightfold Path is called the āryamārga (Sanskrit, also āryāṣṭāṅgikamārga) or ariyamagga (Pāli). Buddhists themselves are called ariyapuggalas (Arya persons). In Buddhist texts, the āryas are those who have the Buddhist śīla (Pāli sīla, meaning "virtue") and follow the Buddhist path. Those who despise Buddhism are often called "anāryas".
The word Arya is also often used in Jainism, in Jain texts such as the Pannavanasutta.
In the 19th century, linguists still supposed that the age of a language determined its "superiority" (because it was assumed to have genealogical purity). Then, based on the assumption that Sanskrit was the oldest Indo-European language, and the (now known to be untenable) position that Irish Éire was etymologically related to "Aryan", in 1837 Adolphe Pictet popularized the idea that the term "Aryan" could also be applied to the entire Indo-European language family as well. The groundwork for this had been laid by Abraham Hyacinthe Anquetil-Duperron  and in 1819, when Friedrich Schlegel, a German scholar who was an important early Indo-Europeanist, came up with a theory that linked the Indo-Iranian words with the German word Ehre, 'honor', and older Germanic names containing the element ario-, such as the Swiss [sic] warrior Ariovistus who was written about by Julius Caesar. Schlegel, who never used the word "Arier" in his Über die Sprache und Weisheit der Indier (1808)  theorized that far from being just a designation of the Indo-Iranians, the word *arya- had in fact been what the Indo-Europeans called themselves, meaning [according to Schlegel] something like 'the honorable people.' (This theory has since been called into question.) In 1830 Karl Otfried Müller used "Arier" in his publications.
Following this linguistic argument, in the 1850s Arthur de Gobineau supposed that "Aryan" corresponded to the suggested prehistoric Indo-European culture (1853–1855, Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races). Further, de Gobineau believed that there were three basic races – white, yellow and black – and that everything else was caused by race miscegenation, which de Gobineau argued was the cause of chaos. The "master race", according to de Gobineau, were the Northern European "Aryans", who had remained "racially pure". Southern Europeans (to include Spaniards and Southern Frenchmen), Eastern Europeans, North Africans, Middle Easterners, Iranians, Central Asians, Indians, he all considered racially mixed, degenerated through the miscegenation, and thus less than ideal.
By the 1880s a number of linguists and anthropologists argued that the "Aryans" themselves had originated somewhere in northern Europe. A specific region began to crystallize when the linguist Karl Penka (Die Herkunft der Arier. Neue Beiträge zur historischen Anthropologie der europäischen Völker, 1886) popularized the idea that the "Aryans" had emerged in Scandinavia and could be identified by the distinctive Nordic characteristics of blond hair and blue eyes. The distinguished biologist Thomas Henry Huxley agreed with him, coining the term "Xanthochroi" to refer to fair-skinned Europeans (as opposed to darker Mediterranean peoples, who Huxley called "Melanochroi").
This "Nordic race" theory gained traction following the publication of Charles Morris's The Aryan Race (1888), which touches racist Ideology. A similar rationale was followed by Georges Vacher de Lapouge in his book L'Aryen et son rôle social (1899, "The Aryan and his Social Role"). To this idea of "races", Vacher de Lapouge espoused what he termed selectionism, and which had two aims: first, achieving the annihilation of trade unionists, considered "degenerate"; second, the prevention of labour dissatisfaction through the creation of "types" of man, each "designed" for one specific task (See the novel Brave New World for a fictional treatment of this idea).
Meanwhile, in India, the British colonial government had followed de Gobineau's arguments along another line, and had fostered the idea of a superior "Aryan race" that co-opted the Indian caste system in favor of imperial interests. In its fully developed form, the British-mediated interpretation foresaw a segregation of Aryan and non-Aryan along the lines of caste, with the upper castes being "Aryan" and the lower ones being "non-Aryan". The European developments not only allowed the British to identify themselves as high-caste, but also allowed the Brahmans to view themselves as on-par with the British. Further, it provoked the reinterpretation of Indian history in racialist and, in opposition, Indian Nationalist terms, and – in following a special interpretation of Max Müller's identification of "Aryan" as a national name – this gave rise recently among Hindu nationalists (the "Saffron Brigade") to the "indigenous Aryans" or so-called "Out of India" theory, disputed by many scholars in academia, which seeks an Indian origin of the Indo-European "Aryans".
In The Secret Doctrine (1888), Helena Petrovna Blavatsky described the "Aryan root race" as the fifth of seven "Root races", dating their souls as having begun to incarnate about a million years ago in Atlantis. The Semites were a subdivision of the Aryan root race. "The occult doctrine admits of no such divisions as the Aryan and the Semite, ... The Semites, especially the Arabs, are later Aryans — degenerate in spirituality and perfected in materiality. To these belong all the Jews and the Arabs." The Jews, according to Blavatsky, were a "tribe descended from the Tchandalas of India," as they were born of Abraham, which she believed to be a corruption of a word meaning "No Brahmin". Other sources suggest the origin Avram or Aavram.
The name for the Sassanian Empire in Middle Persian is Eran Shahr which means Aryan Empire. In the aftermath of the Islamic conquest in Iran, racialist rhetoric became a literary idiom during the 7th century, i.e., when the Arabs became the primary "Other" – the anaryas – and the antithesis of everything Iranian (i.e. Aryan) and Zoroastrian. But "the antecedents of [present-day] Iranian ultra-nationalism can be traced back to the writings of late nineteenth-century figures such as Mirza Fatali Akhundov and Mirza Aqa Khan Kermani. Demonstrating affinity with Orientalist views of the supremacy of the Aryan peoples and the mediocrity of the Semitic peoples, Iranian nationalist discourse idealized pre-Islamic [Achaemenid and Sassanid] empires, whilst negating the 'Islamization' of Persia by Muslim forces." In the 20th century, different aspects of this idealization of a distant past would be instrumentalized by both the Pahlavi monarchy (In 1967, Iran's Pahlavi dynasty [overthrown in the 1979 Iranian Revolution] added the title Āryāmehr Light of the Aryans to the other styles of the Iranian monarch, the Shah of Iran being already known at that time as the Shahanshah (King of Kings)), and by the Islamic republic that followed it; the Pahlavis used it as a foundation for anticlerical monarchism, and the clerics used it to exalt Iranian values vis-á-vis westernization.
In the United States, the best-selling 1907 book Race Life of the Aryan Peoples by Joseph Pomeroy Widney consolidated in the popular mind the idea that the word "Aryan" is the proper identification for "all Indo-Europeans", and that "Aryan Americans" of the "Aryan race" are destined to fulfill America's manifest destiny to form an American Empire.
Gordon Childe would later regret it, but the depiction of Aryans as possessors of a "superior language" became a matter of national pride in learned circles of Germany (portrayed against the background that World War I was lost because Germany had been betrayed from within by miscegenation and the "corruption" of socialist trade unionists and other "degenerates").
Alfred Rosenberg—one of the principal architects of Nazi ideological creed—argued for a new "religion of the blood", based on the supposed innate promptings of the Nordic soul to defend its "noble" character against racial and cultural degeneration. Under Rosenberg, the theories of Arthur de Gobineau, Georges Vacher de Lapouge, Blavatsky, Houston Stewart Chamberlain, Madison Grant, and those of Hitler) all culminated in Nazi Germany's race policies and the "Aryanization" decrees of the 1920s, 1930s, and early 1940s. In its "apalling medical model", the annihilation of the "racially inferior" Untermenschen was sanctified as the excision of a diseased organ in an otherwise healthy body, which led to the Holocaust.
By the end of World War II, the word "Aryan" among a number of people had lost its Romantic or idealist connotations and was associated by many with Nazi racism instead.
By then, the term "Indo-Iranian" and "Indo-European" had made most uses of the term "Aryan" superfluous in the eyes of a number of scholars, and "Aryan" now survives in most scholarly usage only in the term "Indo-Aryan" to indicate (speakers of) North Indian languages. It has been asserted by one scholar that Indo-Aryan and Aryan may not be equated and that such an equation is not supported by the historical evidence, though this extreme viewpoint is not widespread.
The use of the term to designate speakers of all Indo-European languages in scholarly usage is now regarded by some scholars as an "aberration to be avoided." However, some authors writing for popular consumption have continued using the word "Aryan" for "all Indo-Europeans" in the tradition of H. G. Wells, such as the science fiction author Poul Anderson, and scientists writing for the popular media, such as Colin Renfrew. Notions of the "Aryan race" as an elite group that is regarded as being superior to other races survive in some far-right European groups, such as Neo-Nazi parties, Russian ultra-nationalists, as well as in certain Iranian nationalist groups.
Echoes of "the 19th century prejudice about 'northern' Aryans who were confronted on Indian soil with black barbarians [...] can still be heard in some modern studies." In a socio-political context, the claim of a white, European Aryan race that includes only people of the Western and not the Eastern branch of the Indo-European peoples is entertained by certain circles, usually representing white nationalists who call for the halting of non-white immigration into Europe and limiting illegal immigration into the United States. They argue that a large intrusion of immigrants can lead to ethnic conflicts such as the 2005 Cronulla riots in Australia and the 2005 civil unrest in France.
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