Tuesday, 19 January 2016


Literary Sources:

Indian Tradition of History Writing

Many foreign scholars opined that Indians had no sense of history writing and whatever was written in the name of history is nothing more than a story without any sense.

But this appears to be a very harsh judgment.. Because the knowledge of history was given a very high place in ancient India. It was accorded sanctity equal to a Veda.

Atharvaveda, Brahmans and Upanishads include Itihas-Purana as one of the branches of knowledge.

Kautilya in his Arthashastra (fourth century B.C.) advises the king to devote a part of his time every day for hearing the narrations of history.

Puranic Literature

The Puranic literature is very vast

18 main Puranas, 18 subsidiary Puranas and a large number of other books.

According to the Puranas, following are the subject matters of history:


evolution of universe)


involution of universe


recurring of time


genealogical list of kings and sages


life stories of some selected characters

Later on description of the tirthas (sacred places of pilgrimage) and their mahatmya (religious importance) was also included in it.

They speak of four ages





Each succeeding age is depicted worse than the preceding- show decline in the moral values and social institutions.

They speak about several eras:


starts in

Vikrama Samvat


Shaka Samvat


Gupta era


Narration of Puranas were a part of the annual ritual in every village and town during the rainy season and at the time of festivals. It was treated as a powerful vehicle of awakening of cultural and social consciousness.

in all the Puranas royal genealogies are dealt with the reign of Parikshit, the grandson of Arjun, as a benchmark.

All the earlier dynasties and kings have been mentioned in past tense.

While the latter kings and dynasties have been narrated in future tense.

This may be because of the fact that the coronation of Parikshit marks the beginning of Kali Age.

Many scholars think that this also points to the fact that perhaps the Puranas were completed during the reign of Parikshit.

In the context of the Puranas it may be remembered that in ancient India, Itihas was looked upon as a means to illuminate the present and future in the light of the past.

The purpose of history was to understand and inculcate a sense of duty and sacrifice by individuals to their families, by the families to their clans, by the clans to their villages and by the villages to Janapada and Rashtra and ultimately to the whole humanity.

History was not meant to be an exhaustive compendium of the names of the kings and dynasties and their achievements etc.

The two great epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, may also be used as a source. It is generally held that there have been constant interpolations in these works.

The Puranas may not satisfy the modern definition of historiography or those who wrote it may not have been awe of the “historian’s crafts”, but they seem fully aware of the purpose of their work and the purpose of history itself.

Ramayana, Valmiki

composition started in 5BC. passed through five stage. fifth stage in 12AD

6000 verses=>12000 verses and finally 24000 verses.

As a whole, this text seems to have been composed later than Mahabharata.

Mahabharata, Vyas

reflects the state of affairs between 70BC to 4AD

originally 8800 verses, collection dealing with victory.

Later raised to 24000 verses- came to be known as Bharata after Bharat tribe

final compilation: 1 lakh verses and came to be known as Mahabharata or Satasahasri Samhita.

didactic portion from Post Maurya, Gupta times.

Puranic Literature: Limitations

Most of the ancient literature is religious in nature, and those which are claimed to be history by Indians, i.e., puranic and epic literature, contain no definite dates for events and kings.

In the Puranas and epics, we find genealogies of kings and sometimes their achievements. But it is difficult to arrange them in chronological order.

Puranic literature helps tracing Lord Ram of Ayodhya around 2000B.C. but the extensive exploration in Ayodhya donot show any settlement around that date. Similarly, Lord Krishna can be traced to 200 BC-300AD. But excavations in Mathura, donot attest his presence. Counter argument: The epics Ramayana and Mahabharata have undergone several editions through ages, hence difficult to tie up with specific era.

Vedic Literature

The Four Vedas: We cannot find much trace of political history in the Vedas, but can have reliable glimpses of the culture and civilization of the Vedic period.

Vedic literature are entirely in a different language, which can be called the Vedic language. Its vocabulary contains a wide range of meaning and at times different in grammatical usages.

It has a definite mode of pronunciation in which emphasis changes the meaning entirely. This is the reason why an elaborate means to protect and preserve the mode of pronunciation of the Vedas have been devised.

By the means of Ghana, Jata and other types of pathas we can not only determine the meaning of the mantras but also can hear the original tone on which these were sung thousands of years ago.

Because of these pathas, no interpolations in the Vedas are possible.


Six vedangas (limbs of Vedas) were evolved for the proper understanding of the Vedas.

Siksha (phonetics)

Kalpa (rituals)

Vyakarna (grammar)

Nirukta (etymology)

Chhanda (metrics)

Jyotisha (astronomy)


Each vedanga has developed a credible literature around it which are in the sutra form i.e., precepts.

This is a very precise and exact form of expression in prose which was developed by the ancient Indians.

Panini’s Ashtadhyayi, book on grammar in eight chapters is the final culmination of this excellent art of writing in sutra (precepts) in which every chapter is precisely interwoven.

Later Vedic Literature


elaborate on vedic rituals


give discourses on different spiritual and philosophical problems.



prescribe measurements for sacrificial altars. Mark the beginning of study of geometry and maths.


account of royal coronation ceremonies


domestic rituals with birth, naming, marriage, funeral etc.

Jain and Buddhist Literature


written in




was a form of Sanskrit language



as the form of Prakrit language which was in vogue in Magadha/South Bihar.

Most of the early Buddhist literature is written in this language.

With the Buddhist monks it reached Sri Lanka, where it is a living language.

provides details of contempary kings in Magadha, N.Bihar and East UP.

Ashokan edicts are also in this language.

Since the modern historians have discarded most of the dynasties mentioned in the Puranas and Mahavira and Buddha are considered historical personalities, only those portions of the puranic dynastic lists have been accepted which are supplemented and supported by the Buddhist and Jaina literature.

Jataka Stories

These are Buddhist books

Before he was born as Gautama, the Buhddha passed through more than 550 births, in many cases in animal-form.

Each birth story is called Jataka. There are more than 550 such stories.

throw light on socio-economic conditions between 5BC to 2BC.

Dhamasutras and the Smritis

these are rules and regulations for the general public and the rulers

It can be termed in the modern concept as the constitution and the law books for the ancient Indian polity and society. These are also called Dharmashastras.

These were compiled between 600 and 200 B.C.

Manusmriti and Arthashastra are prominent among them.

Kautilya’s Arthashastra

a book on statecraft was written in the Maurya period.

The text is divided into 15 chapters known as books.

Different books deal with different subject matter concerning polity, economy and society.

even before the final version of Arthashastra was written in the fourth century B.C. by Kautilya, there appeared a tradition of writing on and teaching of statecrafts because Kautilya acknowledges his debt to his predecessors in the field. Mudrarakshusha, a play written by Vishakhadatta, also gives a glimpse of society and culture.

Notable writers


Malavikagnimitram is based on some events of the reign of Pusyamitra Sunga, dynasty which followed the Mauryas.

Abhgyanshakuntalam: glimpse of Guptas.

Bhasa and Sudraka

written plays based on historical events.


Harshacharita throws light on many historical facts


wrote Gaudauaho, based on the exploits of Yasovarman of Kanauj


Vikramankadevachnrita describes the victories of the later Chalukya king Vikramaditya.


His book Rajatarangini.

Biographical Writings

Banabhatta’s Harshacharita

7th AD

Describes the early career of Harshavardhana- courtlife and social life in his age.

Sandhyakara Nandi

Ramacharita. 12th AD

conflict between Kaivarta peasants and Pala prince Ramapala. Prince wins.

Bilhana’s Vikramanakadevacharita

Vikramadity, the sixth.


Mushika Vamsha- this dynasty ruled in Northern Kerala.

Kumarapalacharita of Jayasimha,

Kumarapatacharita or Duayashraya Mahakauya of Hemachandra,

Harnmirakavya of Nayachandra,

Navasahasankacharita of Padmagupta,

Bhojaprabandha of Billal,

Prithuirajacharit of Chandbardai.

Limitations: These writers made lot of exaggerations to please their patron kings.


Printing was not known. Everything was written on soft materials like birch bark, palm leaf, paper etc.

Since the old manuscripts become fragile in course of time, they had to be manually copied. But At the time of copying, some errors tend to creep in or sometimes even additions are made.

Alexander’s Invasion finds no mention in Indian sources. We’ve to reconstruct his exploits entirely on basis of Greek sources.

Many of them religious in nature- while they give some idea on prevailing social conditions but hard to put it in context of time and place.

Sangam Literature

earliest Tamil text

Kings and chiefs patronized poets.

These poets assembled in collages and compiled poems over a period of 3 to 4 centuries. This is  Sangam literature.

Describes many kings and dynasties of South India.

This literature generally describes events upto the fourth century A.D.

Total 30,000 lines of poetry

arranged in eight Anthologies called Ettuttokai

two main groups, Patinenkilkanakku (18 lower collections) and the Pattupattu (ten songs). The former is older than the latter.

Some kings and events are supported by inscriptions also.

How is Sangam literature different from Vedic Literature?

Thus secular in nature. Poems written in praise of numerous heroes and heroines. They represent a heroic age of warriors and battles.

Talk about military exploits in detail.

Songs are not primitive, show high quality of grammar.

They talk about how Yavans came in their own vessels, purchased pepper with gold, supplied wine and women to Indian rulers.

Thus, Sangam texts are not merely artistic poems, they also provide a source of social-economic-political life of people living in the Deltaic Tamilnadu in the early Christian centuries.

Foreign Accounts

Greek Writers


Ambassadors were sent to Pataliputra by Greek kings.

Notable: Megasthenese, Deimachus and Dionysios.

They mention Sandrokottas (Chandragupta Maurya)- help fixing his date of accession at 322BC. This helps as sheet-anchor in Ancient Indian Chronology.


Notable:  Herodotus, Megasthenese, Nearchus, Plutarch, Arrian, Strabo, Pliny the Elder, and Ptolemy (Geography).

They were concerned mostly with the north western part of India and primarily the areas which were either part of the Persian and Greek Satrapies or Alexander’s campaign.


The Greek ambassador (in the court of Chandragupta Maurya c. 324-300 B.C.)

Megasthenese wrote extensively in a book called Indika which is no longer available to us.

We know about Megasthenese’s Writings through various extracts of the writings of Diodorous, Strabo and Arrian.


These fragments of Indika, provide valuable information on Maurya Administration, social classes and economic activities.

The existence of a list of 153 kings whose reigns had covered a period of about 6053 years uptill then.


Indika is not free from credulity and exaggerations.

Megasthenese had little understanding of Indian society and social systems. For example, he mentions that Indian society comprised of seven castes (jatis).

Discrepancies because he did not know any Indian language, was not a part of Indian society and psyche.


India figures in his foreign inscriptions


got Info of India from through the Persian sources.


in his “Histories” gives us much information about Indo-Persian relations


detailed account of the invasion of India by Alexander on the basis of information from those who accompanied the campaign.


Book: “Periplus of the Erythrean Sea”

by an anonymous author, who was a Greek, settled in Egypt

on the basis of his personal voyage of Indian coast in about A.D.80. He gives valuable information about the Indian coasts.


wrote a geographical treatise on India in the second century A.D.

Greek Limitations

Most of the Greek writing about India are based on secondary sources resulting in numerous errors and, contradictions.

Except for Megasthenese all others have touched Indian history in the true sense very marginally.

They were ignorant of the language and the customs of the country and their information is full of unbelievable facts and fancies.

The works of Megasthenese and other Greeks of those who accompanied Alexander, have been lost and are available only in fragments as quoted in later works.

Chinese Travelers

visited India from time to time- as Buddhist pilgrims and therefore their accounts are somewhat tilted towards Buddhism. Three important pilgrims were


visited India in fifth century A.D

Describes social-religious and economic conditions of India- in the time of Guptas.


7th Cent. In the age of Harshavardhana and some other contemporary kings of Northern India.


7th Cent.

Chinese Travelers: Limitations

Fa-Hien and Hiuen-Tsang have given somewhat exaggerated account of Buddhism during the period of their visit.

For example Hiuen-Tsang depicts Harsha as a follower of Buddhism but in his epigraphic records Harsha mentions himself as a devotee of Siva.

Counterargument: Indian rulers always have, like their subjects, been multi-religious people, it is not difficult for a foreigner to be confused.

Arab Historian: Al-Beruni

Abu Rihan better known as Al-Beruni.

born in central Asia in A.D. 973 and died in Ghazni (present-day Afghanistan) in A.D.1048

Contemporary of Mahmud of Ghazni.

When Mahmud conquered part of central Asia, he took Al-Beruni with him.

Though Al-Beruni deplored his loss of freedom, he appreciated the favourable circumstances for his work.

Unlike Megasthenese, Al-Beruni studied Sanskrit language and tried to gain a precise knowledge of Indian sources. The list of works consulted by him is long and impressive. His observations range from philosophy, religion, culture, society to science, literature, art and medicine.

Al-Beruni’s work can be termed as fairly objective and wherever he has faltered- is not because of any other reason but his lack of proper understanding.

does not give any political information of his times.

comparatively free from religious or racial biases

While Al-Beruni also possess a well defined religious and hermeneutics awareness, he was essentially a scholar and not driven to preach his faith. He was essentially a scholar and not driven to preach his faith.

However, sometime Al-Beruni does show his annoyance when he says sarcastically, “… the Hindus believe that there is no country but theirs, no nation like theirs, no kings like theirs, no religion like theirs, no science like theirs”.

#2: Archaeological Sources

Mound= elevated portion of land, covering remains of old habitations.

Mound can be excavated in two ways:

vertical excavation

helps uncover periodwise sequence of cultures


digging the mound as a whole. helps getting complete data of a site.

very expensive, done only at few places.

Impact of climate on Mounds

Dry-arid climate

Western UP, Rajasthan.

Better preserved

humid-moist climate

Gangetic basin and deltas.

Iron tools suffer corrosion and mud structure become difficult to detect.

only burnt brick structure/stone structures can be detected.


Some people in South India, buried their dead with tools, weapons, potteries etc. Such  graves were encircled by a big piece of stone. These structures are called Megaliths.

Carbon-Dating principle

Half life=period during which, half of the material decays out.

Half-life of C14 is 5568 years.

Carbon is associated with all living beings.

When an object ceases to live, it stops receiving fresh supply of Carbon C14

And its existing undergoes decacy into an isotope C12.

We can measure the decaying of C14 to C12 and identify the number of years elapsed. The object with less C14=older than object with more C14.


One of the most important and reliable sources of history writing are inscriptions.

An inscription, being a contemporary document, is free from later interpolations.

It comes in the form it was composed in and engraved for the first time. It is almost impossible to add something to it at a later stage.

The earliest system of writings is found in the Harappan seals. (2500BC) However, there has been no success in deciphering it. They are pictographic script- ideas/objects expressed in form of picture.

Thus, the writing system of the Ashokan inscriptions (in Brahmi script) are considered to be the earliest (3rd AD).

Ashoka’s views on dhamma and conquests of Samudragupta, and several others would have remained unknown without their epigraphs.

Limitation of inscription: they never speak of defeats/ weaknesses

Ashokan Inscription

These were recorded in different years of his reign and are called edicts because they are in the form of the king’s order or desire.

They also give a glimpse of Ashoka’s image and personality as a benevolent king concerned with the welfare of not only his subjects but also of the whole humanity.

These are found written in four scripts.


script used in Ashokan Edicts



Greek scripts


3) Kharoshthi. Kharoshthi evolved on the Varnantata system of the Indian languages is written from right to left.

Kalsi in the north in Uttaranchal upto Mysore in the south.

4) Brahmi.

written from left to right.

its individual letters were modified century after century and through this process all the scripts of India, including Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam in the south and Nagari, Gujarati, Bangla., etc. in the north have developed from it.

This modification in the form of individual letters gave another advantage. It has made it roughly possible to ascertain the time or the century in which the inscription was written

Firoz Shah Tughlaq

He found an Ashokan Pilar inscription from Topra, Haryana, brought it to Delhi and asked Pandits to decipher it. They failed.

Later, British started epigraphic studies in the late eighteenth century and deciphered it.

James Prinsep:

Made a complete chart of Ashokan Alphabets in 1837. After this the study of epigraphs became a subject in itself. India is particularly rich in epigraphic material.

Inscriptions of the Indo-Greeks, Saka-kshatrapas and Kushanas adopt Indian names within two or three generations. These inscriptions show them engaged in social and religious welfare activities like any other Indian.


Most of the Gupta epigraphs give genealogy. This became the practice of the subsequent dynasties. They took the opportunity to give an account of their conquests and achievements of their predecessor including mythology of their origins.

Sanskrit came to occupy a prune place since the Gupta period.

Junagarh Rock inscription

of Rudradaman is considered as an early example of chaste Sanskrit, written in mid second century A.D.

Allahabad Pillar

enumerates the achievements of Samudragupta

Aihole inscription.

Chalukya king Pulkeshin II gives a dynastic genealogy

Gwalior inscription

of Bhoja gives full account of his predecessors and their achievements.

From the inscriptions we also came to know that Learned Brahmans (called Agraharas) were given grant of land, free from all taxes.


We could not have known about most of the Ind-Greek, Saka-Parthian and Kushana kings without numismatic sources.

This is considered as the second most important source for reconstructing the history of India, the first being inscriptions.

Ancient India did not have banking system. People kept money in earthen posts as precious hoards. Later they’re found while digging field or excavating foundation for the construction of a building, making road etc.

Some coins were issued by merchants and guilds with permission of rulers=prove that commerce had became important in later history of Ancient India.

Largest number of coins found in post-Maurya period=>trade had increased.

Few coins from Post-Gupta period=>trade had declined.

Coins found in systematic excavations are less in number but are very valuable because their chronology and cultural context can be fixed precisely.


Earliest coins

coins are the earliest coins of India and they bear only symbols on them.

Each symbol is punched separately, which sometimes overlap the another.

They do not bear and inscription, or legend on them

These have been found throughout the country. from Taxila to Magadha to Mysore or even further south.

Made from silver and copper. Some gold punch-marked coins are also reported to have been found, but they are very rare and their authenticity is doubtful.


silver and copper and rarely in gold. The Indo-Greek coins show beautiful artistic features on them.

The portrait or bust of the king on the observe side appear to be real portraits.

On the reverse some deity is depicted.

From these coins we know that than forty indo-Greek rulers who ruled in a small north-western region of India.

We know about several Saka-Parthians kings about whom we would have no information from any other sources.


Kushanas issued mostly gold coins and numerous copper coins which are found in most parts of north India up to Bihar.

Indian influence can be seen on them from the very beginning.

The coins of Vima Kadphises bear the figure of Siva standing beside a bull.

In the legend on these coins the king calls himself Maheshwara, i.e. devotee of Siva.

Kanishka, Huvishka and Vasudeva etc. all have this depiction on their coins.

We find many Indian gods and goddesses depicted on Kushana coins besides many Persian and Greek deities.


issued largest number of Gold coins.

Guptas appear to have succeeded Kushanas in the tradition of minting coins. They completely Indianised their coinage

kings are depicted engaged in activities like hunting a lion or rhinoceros, holding a bow or battle-axes, playing musical instrument or performing Ashwamedh yajna.


In addition to epigraphic and numismatic sources there are many other antiquarian remains which speak much about our past.

Temples and sculptures are found all over the country right from the Gupta period upto recent times. These show architectural and artistic history of the Indians. They excavated large caves in the hills in Western India which are mostly Chaitya and viharas.

Temples carved out of rocks

Kailusa temple




Excavation: What did we find?

up to the 1920s, it was believed that Indian civilization was considered to have begun about sixth century B.C.

But with the excavations at Mohenjodaro, Kalibangan and Harappa the antiquity of Indian civilization has gone back to about 5000 B.C. The finds of prehistoric artifacts has shown that human activities had started here as early as about two million years ago.

The subsequent discovery of sites of Kalibangan. Lothal, Dholavira, Rakhigarhi etc. show the extent of this civilization upto Gujarat, Maharashtra, Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.

The period between 1500 and 600 B.C. was known as the dark period of Indian history because not much was known about this period.  But the archaeological discoveries of such cultures as Black-and-Red Ware, Painted Grey Ware, Malwa and Jorwe cultures since 1950s have filled these chronological gap

It is through archaeological discoveries that we know now that Indians domesticated sheep and goat and started agriculture about 8000 years ago. Also iron came in regular use about 1600 B.C.

Archaeological excavations also brought to light the townships of Taxila. Kausambi, Kasi (Rajghat), Ayodhya, Vaisali, Bodhigaya, etc. belonging to Buddha’s time. All of these places except Taxita are said to have been visited by Buddha in the 6th Cent.BC

human activities started in the subcontinent as early as two million years ago. (from Kashmir and Narmada valleys)

Rock painting was started more than twelve thousands years ago.

 East India Company wants Indian History:

1765-66: Bengal and Bihar under East India Company. But the company officers found it difficult to administer Hindu Law of Inheritance=> Manu-smriti translated=>A Code of Gentoo Laws was written.

By 1804 we find a marked shift in British attitude towards India. After the defeat of French forces in the hands of British and weakened Maratha power, the British were sure of their rule over India.

But they were worried of the fact that British civilians coming to India were getting Brahmanised and developing inferiority complex.

To overcome this problem and to inculcate a sense of superiority complex among the British officers about western culture, they started writing a distorted version of Indian history.

Christian Missionaries want Indian History:

Most of the missionary writings were more driven by the desire to preach their faith rather than provide objective narration of history- like Al-Beruni did.

Christian Missionaries and European Historians were more interested in learning and writing about Indian history in order to depict its flaws and prepare the ground for evangelical activity.

Good: This led to the accumulation of large amount of contributions about Indian history

Bad: Indian history became the victim of political and religious problems of Europe.

A large section of the European scholars became worried when the greatness of India’s past started becoming popular and the Indian philosophy, logic and writings on such things as origin of universe, humanity and its age etc. started gaining acceptance.

In the Bible story of Creation. Bishop Usher had calculated that the whole universe was created at 9.00 a.m. on 23rd October 4004 B.C. and the Great Flood took place in 2349 B.C.

But these dates and creation stories were being threatened to be wrong in the face of Indian mythologies which talked in terms of four Yugas and several hundred million years. This threatened the very foundation of the faith in Christianity.

Hence some European historians launched a mission to discredit Indian History.

Friedrich Max Muller (1823-1902)


One of the most respected Indologists of 19th Century.

Was a German but spent most of his life in England.

After 1857 munity, British realized they needed a deeper knowledge of the manners and social system of Indians, to govern them.

Christian Missionaries wanted to know the vulnerable points in Hindu religion, to win the converts, spread their religion and strengthen British Empire.

for both of them Max Muller undertook massive jobs of translating Ancient Indian texts in English.

He published 50 volumes under the “Sacred books of the East Series”- even included some Chinese and Iranian books.

But his approach and intention were never free from prejudice. They were necessitated by his religious belief and political requirements. He coloured the entire approach for the writing and interpretation of Indian history. He made following generalizations about India:

Ancient Indians lacked any sense of History, factor of time or chronology.

Indians were accustomed to despotic rule.

Indians were so engrossed in the problems of spiritualism and paid least attention to the problems of this world.

Indians had neither experienced feelings of nationhood nor any kind of self government.

Caste system was most vicious form of social discrimination.

He had even written to Secretary of State for India, “The ancient religion of India is doomed, and if Christianity does not step in whose fault will it be?”

According to the Christian book of Genesis, the world started at 4000 BC. Max Muller tried to ‘fit’ Indian history within that timeframe, even where events had taken place before 4000BC. Other writers- William Jones, Vincent Smith et al also followed the same approach.

Lacking any firm basis of his own and rejecting every Indian evidence, he arbitrarily dated the entire Sanskrit literature taking the earliest i.e. RigVeda to be of 1500 B.C., once again within the safe limits of Christian Genesis chronology.

Sir William Jones (1746-94)

Civil servant in East India company

Translated Abhijanashakuntalam into English.

Setup Asiatic Society of Bengal to understand ancient laws and customs.

Claimed European languages were similar to Sanskrit and Iranian languages. This made German, France, Russian and other European countries interested in Indological studies.

Undertook the responsibility of unravelling Indian chronology for the benefit and appeasement of his colleagues.

Claimed that foundation of the Indian empire above 3080BC – hence safely within the limits of Christian creation date of 4004 B.C.

Thus he effectively guaranteed that the new admiration for Hinduism would reinforce Christianity and would not work for its overthrow. Sanskrit literature was not an enemy but an ally of the Bible, supplying independent corroboration of Bible’s version of history.

Thus, the fate of Indian history now got intertwined with the safety and pleasure of Christianity.


famous for his Sanskrit- English and English-Sanskrit dictionaries

He wrote: “when the walls of the mighty fortress of Brahmanism [Hinduism] are encircled, undermined and finally stormed by the soldier of the Cross, the victory of Christianity must he single and complete”.

Colonel Boden

He setup Boden Professorships of Sanskrit at Oxford University to promote the Sanskrit learning among the English to enable his countrymen to convert Native Indians to Christianity.

Prizes were offered to the literary works undermining Indian tradition and religion and for refutation of the Hindu religious systems.

Thomas Maurice

The daring assumptions of certain skeptical French philosophers with respect to the Age of the world argument principally founded on the high assumptions of the Brahmins… (which) have a direct tendency to overturn the Mosaic system, and, with it, Christianity

Sir William Jones

some intelligent and virtuous persons are inclined to doubt the authenticity of the accounts delivered by Moses. Either the first eleven chapters of Genesis… are true or the whole fabric of our national religion is false, a conclusion which none of us. I trust, would wish to be drawn.

Thus, we can safely say that most of the works done on Indian history during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were:

guided by the preconditions imposed by the belief in the Christian Genesis

to counter all the writing that were projecting India’s past in terms of great civilization and Indian philosophy about the origins of universe and human beings.

Utilitarian School: James Mill.

James Mill wrote six volumes on history of India between 1806 and 1818,

Without ever visiting India or knowing any Indian language!

Without any logic and Justification, he divided Indian history into three periods –

first Hindu Period.

second Muslim Period

third British Period

He presented an extremely denigrating picture of Hindu periods.

He condemned every institution, idea and action of the Hindu period and held Hindus responsible for all the ills of the country.

This book was introduced as a text book in the Harleybury school in England which was established to educate the young Englishmen coming to India as administrators and civil servants.

Thus, Utilitarian school of thought, played a very important role in shaping the imperialist policy in India and the future of Indian education in the core of which was the distorted history of ancient India.

Later his son John Stuart Mill, and his disciple Thomas Macauley also traded on the same path.

V.A. Smith (1843-1920)

Vincent Arthur Smith, An ICS officer serving the British Government in India

Book: Early History of India in 1904.

As a loyal member of the civil service, he emphasized the role of foreigners in ancient India. Hence his approach to history writing was “pro-imperialist.”

Alexander’s invasion accounted for almost one-third of his book.

His racial arrogance is obvious when he writes, “The triumphant progress of Alexander from the Himalayas to the sea demonstrated the inherent weakness of the greatest Asiatic armies when confronted with European skill and discipline”

He gives the impression as if Alexander had conquered whole of India from Himalayas to seas while the fact is he only touched the north-western borders of India hence his ‘Indian-victory’ was a virtual non-event.

V.A Smith said, India as a land of despotism which did not experience political unity until the establishment of British rule. Autocracy is substantially the only form of government with which the historians of India are concerned.

His book served as a textbook for nearly fifty years and still used by scholars.

Thus, the approach of Imperialist Historians/ Utilitarian Scholars was:

Denigrate Indian character and achievements to justify the colonial rule.

generalizations made by these historians were either false or grossly exaggerated.

They could serve as good propaganda material for the perpetuation of the despotic British rule.

Ancient/Medieval India had One man rule system – hence the office of Viceroy with concentration of all powers=was justified.

Indians had never experienced self-rule, hence it was duty of the British colonial masters to look after Indians.

At the heart of all such generalisations lay the need of demonstrating that Indians were incapable of governing themselves.

Although some generalizations were valid e.g. Indians did not show any strong sense of chronology / history: compared to Chinese; the negative points about caste-system.

Historians who did not visit India

Based on the huge amount of literature produced in Europe during the seventeenth and eighteenth century Europe, many scholars and intellectuals who had never travelled to India, also wrote about Indian history. Example


viewed India as the homeland of religion in its oldest and purest form; and also as the cradle of worldly civilizations

was convinced of the priority of Indian achievement in the area of secular learning and worldly culture

Describes Indians as the people, “to whom we owe our numbers, our backgammon, our chess, our first principles of geometry and fables which have become our own.”

“In short I am convinced that everything – astronomy, astrology, metaphysics, etc. – comes to us from the bank of Ganges”.

Pierre de Sonnerate

French naturalist and traveler

believed that all knowledge came from India which he considered as the cradle of civilizations

Metaphysician  Schelling

What is Europe really but a sterile trunk which owes everything to oriental grafts?

Philosopher Emannual Kant

The great philosopher also acknowledged greatness of ancient Indian culture and civilization.

Their religion has a great purity … (and) one can find traces of pure concept of divinity which cannot easily be found elsewhere

He also declared that Indian religious thoughts were free of dogmatism and intolerance.

Nationalist Approach

The educated Indian intelligentsia of the nineteenth century was horrified at the distortions of the ancient Indian history by these European Historians.

They decided to reconstruct Ancient Indian history in such manner- to make a case for social reform, self-governance and Hindu revivalism.

In the late nineteenth century some scholars like Rajendra Lai Mitra, R.G. Bhandarkar, and V.K. Rajwade tried to look at the ancient Indian history from the Indian point of view.

The contributions of all these great scholars helped in clearing the mist built by the missionaries and the imperialist historians.

(More on them given in appendix)

Marxist School of History

The Marxist school of historiography used to be the most influential school of history in the second half of the last century.

Despite the inherent contradiction and total failure of Marxist model of history writings it is academically important to discuss it and give respect to the contributions it has made.

The Marxists believe in universal laws and stages of history. They believe that all the societies pass through at least five stages of history –

Primitive Communism





These stages were defined by Karl Marx and F. Engels, the propounders of Communism. They were influenced by F.W. Hegel and Lewis Henry Morgan

the stages of history proposed by Marx and Engels was based on their understanding of European history.

But Before we come to Indian Marxist historiography it is important to know as to what Hegel and Marx said about Indian history and civilization.

G.W.F. Hegel (1770-1831)

was a great western philosopher.

But he was not an Indologist and made no attempt to learn Sanskrit or any other Indian language.

He made use of translations and reports etc. His writings on Indian history and philosophy were based mainly on the writings of William Jones, James Mill and other British writers whose main approach was to denigrade ancient Indian history as we saw earlier.

Thus, when Hegel based his writing on the research of those Imperial Historians, the results were indeed disastrous.

Initially, Hegel felt that India, as the Orient in general, has to be excluded from the history of philosophy!

Later, Hegel reluctantly accepted that India had a philosophical system and its history had great antiquity, BUT he explicitly considered it to be inferior to that of the Greeks and the Romans.

Thus, whatever Hegel had to say about the Indian world, turned out to be very insufficient: and the result was a caricature which shows that he ventured on a task for which he was not qualified.

Despite such shortcomings Hegel’s influence is not confined to Europe alone, even some Indian Marxist Historians walk the same path.

Karl Marx and Indian History/Culture

Just like Hegel, Karl Marx was also very superficial in his knowledge about India and not really free from racial considerations.

Most of what Marx had to say about India is found in newspaper articles.

Marx took his lead from Hegel. Marx was a great votary of India being enslaved by British and dismissed India as a backward and uncivilized nation with no history!

He wrote, “India, then could not escape being conquered, and the whole of her past history, if it be anything, is the history of the successive conquests she has undergone. Indian society has no history at all, at least no known history. What we call its history, is but history of the successive intruders who founded their empires on passive basis of that unresisting and unchanging society…”

Marxist School after Independence

During British rule, these Hegelian and Marxian approach to Indian history remained dormant.

But, after the independence of India, the Marxist school of historiography became one of the most influential and dominant schools.

These new Indian Historians followed Marx’s scheme, and began re-writing Indian History.

Recall that Marx and Engels gave five stages to any history: primitive communism, slavery, feudalism, capitalism and communism. These new Marxists Historians applied the same, while writing Indian History also.

Just like the imperialist school, this Marxist school does not find anything good with Indian civilization.

They feel that all that is good in Indian civilization is the contribution of conquerors and that is why, the Kushana period is the golden period and not the Satavahanas or Guptas.

The period from the Gupta’s to the conquest of Muslims in the twelfth century A.D. has been termed as the “Period of Feudalism” i.e. “Dark Age” during which everything degenerated.

This has been despite the fact that, irrespective of political upheaval, there was an all-round development in the fields of literature, sciences, art, architecture, economy etc.

Also when it came to literary evidence and its chronology, they largely follow Max Muller and other British historians.

Indian Marxist historians lay great emphasis on economic interpretation of all social and religious ideas, customs and institutions.

Being allergic to religion and spirituality their irreverence for saints and sages is too obvious.

However, it must be mentioned that their writings, nevertheless, have contributed immensely towards the understanding of various aspects of Indian history which had remained ignored earlier.

Notable Indian Historians from Maxist School

Bipan Chandra

Romila Thaper

R.S. Sharma

Irfan Habib

Satish Chandra

D.D. Kosambi

D.R. Chanana

Decline of Marxist School:

In the Marxist scheme of history Marxism is an ideal philosophy and polity and the Soviet Union was the ideal state.

Since the break-up of Soviet Union and almost the total eclipse of Marxian polity and economy, the historians are finding it difficult to explain the reasons for the collapse.

Hence Marxist historiography has lost its luster.

Non-Political historians

They questioned the wisdom of looking @ancient India with modern point of view.

Past should be read out of curiosity and pleasure, free from the prejudices.

Example; AL Basham: Wonder that was India.

Multi-disciplinary Approach

In the last ten years due to the huge accumulation of data from various disciplines like archaeology, paleontology, anthropology, astronomy and space research, there has been renewed interest in studying the ancient Indian history.

Many scholars have broken the shackles of the old molds and have been looking at ancient Indian history in the light of data obtained from different disciplines. This is known as the multidisciplinary approach


Few Indian writers still magnify the role of religion, believe everything is good and great, originated from their country

Western writers no longer insist that all such things came to India from outside.

But they underscore the divisive features responsible for stagnation in India- religious ideas, rituals, caste, kinship and tradition. Hence Underdevelopment is integral part of Indian character. Thus, they use India’s past to present its present progress.

 Appendix: Nationalist Historians

hardly relevant for GS, but may be useful to those with History optional. Here it goes:

Rajendra Lal Mishra

Book: Indo Aryans. Took rationalist approach. Showed that in Ancient times, People took beef.

Ramgopal Bhandarkar

Worked on the history of Maharashtra region and reconstructed the social, political and economic history of the area.

Satvahan, Vaishnavism,

advocated widow remarriage, opposed child-marriage and caste system

Vishwanath Rajwade

evolution of marriage system in India, Maratha history.

D.R. Bhandarkar (1875-1950)

His books on Ashoka and on ancient Indian polity helped in clearing many myths created by imperialist historians.

K.P. Jayaswal (1881-1937).

In his book Hindu Polity, published in 1924, Jayaswal effectively knocked down the myth that Indians had no political ideas and institutions.

showed that India was not a despotic country as propagated by the imperialist historians.

Beside the hereditary kingship, India had the tradition of republics right from RigVedic times. = self-rule did exist. (although other scholars counter him).

Indian polity and art of governance was far more developed than that of any other part of contemporary world.

Foreign rulers had become part and parcel of India’s life and did not exploit its resources for their original homeland (like British were doing)

His book Hindu Polity is considered as one of the most important book ever written on ancient Indian history.

H.C. Raychaudhury

in his book Political History of Ancient India reconstructed the history of ancient India from the time of Mahabharata war to the time of Gupta empire and practically cleared the clouds created by V.A. Smith.

But his approach was Militant Brahmanism- when he criticized Ashoka’s policy of peace.

R.C. Majumdar

is considered as the doyen among Indian historians.

He was one of the most prolific writers and has written on almost every aspect of Indian History. He wrote a large number of books covering the time period from Ancient India to the freedom struggle.

Book; History and Culture of the Indian People in eleven volumes

This multi-volume series deals with Indian history and civilization right from the prehistoric times to the India’s independence in 1947 and remains a singular reference work.

K.A. Nilakant Sastri

contributed immensely towards the understanding of South Indian history. His books like A History of Ancient India and A History of South India are the shining examples of brilliant scholarship

R.K. Mookerji

His books like Hindu Civilization, Chandragupta Maurya, Ashoka and Fundamental Unity of India put the cultural, economic and political history of India not only on firm ground but also made it accessible even to a lay reader when it came to expressing even the most difficult subjects in simple terms.,

P.V. Kane

His monumental work entitled History of Dharmasastra in five volumes running into over six thousand pages is an encyclopedia of social, religious and political laws and customs.

K.A.Nilakanta Sastri

Historian from S.India but like most Nationalist Historians, he also did not give adequate attention to South India.

His general observation about South Indian polity and culture, is questioned by several scholars.


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