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ANCIENT INDIAN HISTORY - SOURCES & PRE-HISTORIC PERIOD
Sep 24, 2021 By Careericons
Generally, the Ancient History of India is divided into three periods –
- Stone Age
- Palaeolithic period (pre-historic period);
- Lower Palaeolithic Age
- Middle Palaeolithic Age
- Upper Palaeolithic Age
- Mesolithic period (Prime historic period) and
- Neolithic period.
The three-stone ages (old, middle and new) are known as the prehistoric period and there is no written evidence found for the study of that period. Though with the help of different sources we are able to study it in chronological order.
These sources of Ancient Indian History include coins, monuments, old weapons, toys and ornaments, etc. For the study of ancient history in good chronological order, we need to divide the different sources into three broad divisions
- Literary sources - The literary source includes literature of Vedic, Sanskrit, Pali, Prakrit, Sangam Age and other literature.
- Archaeological sources - The archaeological source includes epigraphic, numismatic, and other architectural remains. The archaeological explorations and excavations have opened the great landscapes of new information.
- Accounts of foreign travellers and writers - Foreign accounts include Herodotus, Arrian, Megasthenes etc,
A. LITERARY SOURCES
The ancient Indian literature is mostly religious in nature. The Puranic and Epic literature are considered as history by Indians, but it contains no definite dates for events and kingdoms. The effort of history writing was shown by a large number of inscriptions, coins, and local chronicles. The principles of history are preserved in the Puranas and Epics.
The Puranas and epics narrate the genealogies of kings and their achievements. But they are not arranged in chronological order.
Some of the most importnat "RELIGIOUS LITERATURE" found in Ancient Indian History
The word ‘veda’ originated from the root ‘vidi’, i.e. to know, signifying knowledge. It is also known as Shruti (to hear). The Vedic literature is in a different language called the Vedic language. Its vocabulary contains a wide range of meanings and is different in grammatical usages. It has a definite mode of pronunciation in which emphasis changes the meaning entirely.
The Vedas give reliable information about the culture and civilization of the Vedic period, but do not reveal the political history.
The Vedic literature contains mainly the four Vedas
- Samaveda, and
The Rigveda is the oldest one, and therefore, is also known as ‘the first testament of mankind’. It must have been composed around 1700 B.C. The first three Vedas are known as ‘Trayi’. It has 1017 hymns (Sukta) and is divided into ten mandalas. After the addition of the eleven Bal Khilya Sutra, the total no. of hymns becomes 1028.
The tenth mandala said to have been added later as its language differs from the other nine mandalas contains the famous Purushasukta explaining the four varnas (Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra) born from the mouth, arms, thighs and feet of the creator. Thus, the Rigveda has 10 Mandalas, 1028 Suktas and 10,580 Richas.
The 7th and 2nd Mandalas were the very first composition, later on, the other mandalas were composed. The 7th and 2nd Mandalas are called ‘Vansha Mandal’; the handwritten script of the 8th Mandal is called ‘Khila’ and the 1st and 10th are known as ‘Kshepak’.
It has 40 chapters and 2000 hymns. It is a ritual Veda and has two main texts: Krishna Yajurveda and Shukla Yajurveda. It is also called the book of sacrificial prayers. Krishna Yajurveda contains mantras (hymns) and the Shukla has commentary in prose. Kasthak, Kapishthal, Maitrayani, Taittiriya and Vajasneyi are the five branches of Yajurveda in which the first four are related to the Krishna Yajurveda and the last one is to Shukla Yajurveda.
Yajurveda is a good collection of hymns composed in both prose and poetry. Ishopanishad, the last chapter of Yajurveda, is philosophical and metaphysical whereas the rest of all parts of Yajurveda’s subject matter is the law and legislation of various yajanas.
The Samaveda is a collection of melodies. It has 1549 Shlokas (richas) but except 78 all the rest of the hymns have been borrowed from the Rigveda. These were meant to be sung at the time of soma sacrifice.
Samaveda has two parts: Purvarchika (having six subdivisions called ‘Apathaka) and Uttrarchika (having nine subdivisions called ‘Prapathaka). From the historical point of view, the Samaveda has less importance.
It is the latest of the four. It describes the popular beliefs and superstitions of the humble folk. It is divided into 20 books volumes. It contains 731 hymns and 5,987 mantras. About 1200 Mantras have been taken from Rigveda. The hymns of Atharvaveda tell how to overcome the evil spirit. Shaunk and Pippalad are the two available branches of this Veda.
The Atharvaveda is also known as Brahmaveda or Atharvagirasveda. For a very long time, it was not considered in the category of the Vedas. It is a book of magical formulae.
The word Upanishad is a combined form of the two Sanskrit word, i.e. upa and nishad which means to sit down near someone (here, the Guru) and get the secret knowledge by him.
There are 108 upanishads, e.g. Jesh, Kath, Ken, Mandukya, Brihadaranyka, Mundaka, Chhandogya, Taittiriya, Aitareya and Kaushitiki are some important upanishads.
The Upanishads are anti-ritualistic discussing the theories of creation of the universe and defining the doctrine of action with the goal to attain salvation through meditation and self-control. The Upanishads were composed by several learned saints between 800 and 500 B.C. The famous doctrine of Adwaitavad is ascertained in the Upanishads.
The famous national statement ‘Satyameva Jayate’ has been taken from the Mundaka Upanishad. All the works referred above are known as shrutis, which means ‘revelation’. The word shruti means ‘hearing’ and refers to the rhythms of the infinite hearing by the soul.
Six Vedangas are the important limbs of Vedas. They were evolved for the proper understanding of the Vedas. Also were composed in the later Vedic period.
The Vedangas are:
- Siksha (Phonetics) - Shiksha deals with the appropriate pronunciation of the Mantras.
- Kalpa (Rituals) - Kalpa is related to rituals, duties and sanskara.
- Vyakarna (Grammar) - Vyakarana deals with grammar and the science of language,
- Nirukta (Etymology) - Nirukta deal with etymology Yaskacharya’s Nirukta is very famous among them.
- Chhanda (Metrics) - Chhanda deals with rhyming schemes. Chhandasutra was composed by Aacharya Pingle.
- Jyotisha (Astronomy) - Jyotish deals with astronomy in which we find the proper calculation of the right position of the sun and the moon and various heavenly bodies to perform rituals and ceremonies. Jyothish Vedanga is a famous book for it in which we get as many as 400 slokas
Vedanga has been written in the precepts (sutra) form. This is a very precise and exact form of expression in prose, which was developed by the scholars of ancient India.
Kalpa sutra is quite famous among Sutra Literature. It has three parts - Srauta, Grihya and Dharma.
- Srauta Sutra explains the subjects of rituals and various types of yajnas ceremonies. Sankhyanan, Aashvakayan, Latkayan, Kattyayana and Bodhayan is the chief composition of Sutra literature.
- Griha Sutra deals with various sanskaras and the four Ashramas, i.e. Brahmacharya, Grihastha, Vanprastha and Sannyasa of human life.
- strong>Important deals with the social life of the Vedic era in which various codes of conduct and religious matters are explained.
- Besides these, we have strong>Important (Medical science and remedies) and Sulva sutra.
Smriti means ‘remembrance’. Smiritis, the auxiliary treatises of the Vedas, is regarded as a part of the revelation.
There are six famous smiritis:
- Manu Smriti (of the pre-Gupta period),
- Yajnvalkya Smriti (of Pre-Gupta period),
- Narad Smriti (of Gupta period),
- Parashara Smriti (Gupta period),
- Brihaspati Smriti (Gupta period) and
- Katyayana Smriti (Gupta period).
There are three tripitak - Vinay Pitaka, Sutta Pitaka and Abhidhamma Pitaka. Pitaka means ‘basket’. The original texts were written on palm leaves and kept in baskets. Therefore these works were called Pitaka. Sutta Pitaka is the gist of Buddha’s sayings, Vinay Pitaka explains the code and conduct of Buddhist organizations.
Abhidhamma Pitaka is divided into seven parts.
- Dighra Nikaya,
- Majjhim Nikaya,
- Samyukta Nikay,
- Anguttar Nikaya and
- Khuddaka (Kshudraka Nikaya)
They are the chief divisions of Sutta-Pitaka. Sutta Pitaka deals with the religious discourses of Buddha. Deepvansha and Mahavansha present the chronicles of Sri Lanka dealing with the important events related to the various rulers and their administrations.
Milindapanhs (i.e. questions of Milinda, the gando-greck rules) presents dialogues between Menander and Buddhist saint Nagsen.
Buddha charitya, Saundarananda, Sutralankar, Sariputra Prakaran and Vajra suchi is a famous book written by Ashwaghosha. Pragyaparimita Karika is the source of contemporary historical materials.
Visudhamagga, Atthakatha, Vasumitra’s Mahavibhasha Shastra and Nagarijuna’s Madhyamika Kuria are Sumangalvasini by Buddhaghosa supply us some important historical material with doses of religious messages.
There are 549 or 547 tales describing the pre-birth stories of Buddha. These are the parts of art and literature and are useful for the historical study of 3rd century B.C. They present the socioeconomic conditions of the Mauryan Period.
The literature of the Swetambaras is written in Ardhamagadhi Prakrit including 12 Angas, 12 Upangas, 10 Prakirnakas, 06 Chhedasutras, 04 Mulasutras and 02 Sutra Granthas.
- 12 Angas - (Acharang Sutta, Suyagandang Sutta, Thanang, Samvayang Sutta, Bhagvati Sutta, Nayadhammakaha Sutta, Uvasagdasao Sutta,) etc.
- 12 Upangas - (Aupapatik, Rajprashniya, Jeevabhigam, Pushya Chulika, etc).
- 10 Prakirnanas - (Bhati Pariksha, Sanstar, Tandul Vaitalik, etc.)
- 06 Chhed Sutras - (Nisheeth, Mahanisheeth, Vyavahar, Panchkalpa, etc.)
- 04 Mula Sutras - (Uttradhyayan, Khadavshyak, Dashvaikali, Pakshik, Sutta, etc.)
- 02 Sutra Granthas. -
All the Jain granthas were compiled in the Council of Vallabhi in A.D. 516 in which we can find the exposition about Prasenjit, Ajatshatru, Vimbishar etc.
Parishtaparvan and Bhadrabahucharit supply descriptions about Chandragupta Maurya. Parishistaparvan, Trishishta Shalaka, Purusham Choritra, Dwayashray Mahakavya, Mahaveer Charit, Kumarpal Charit are important religious books helpful for the study of ancient history.
Sangam was a college or assembly of Tamil poets held under the Royal patronage of Pandayan Kings in Madurai. It is said that the assembly lasted for 9,990 years and was attended by 8,598 poets and 197 pandyas.
The narrative texts are called Melkannakku (consisting of 18 major works and 10 idylls) show that the early Tamil people were pastoral. These are heroic poetry giving ideas of the state formation in which the army consisted of the groups of warriors, and the taxation system and judiciary.
The didactic texts cover the early centuries of the Christian era. Padnekilkanakku is called Kilakanakku (18 minor works) describes the code of conduct and occupations of various social groups. Kural or Muppal, a part of Padnekilkanakku, was written by Tiruvalluvar is called ‘The Bible of Tamil Land’.
2. ARCHAEOLOGICAL SOURCES
The systematic study of ancient buildings, monuments and works of art presents evidence and knowledge about the ancient world. Coins, Inscriptions, Monuments and Materials from excavations are the great sources through which we study the old civilization and culture of ancient times.
The credit for excavating the Pre-Aryan past goes to Sir William Jones of Asiatic Bengal Society (established on 1st Jan 1784). James Prinsep, the Secretary of ABS succeeded for the first time in deciphering the Brahmi script. Sir Alexander Cunningham, the father of Indian archaeology, arrived in India in 1831. He judged out the ruins of the ancient site of Pre-Aryan Civilization. He judged out the ruins of the ancient side of pre-Aryan culture. He was appointed Archaeological surveyor by the Indian Government.
Later on, in 1901, Lord Curzon revived this work and John Marshall was appointed as its director-general and he discovered the cities Harappa and Mohenjodara. Rakhal Das Banerji, in 1922, found seals at Mohenjodaro. It was the remains of pre Aryan civilization. Later on, the sites were excavated under the direction of Marshall from 1924 to 1931.
Sir R.E. Mortimer Wheeler made important discoveries at Harappa after the Second World War. Indian epigraphists as Bhanu Daji, Bhagavanlal Indraji, Rajendralal Mitra and R.G. Bhandarkar contributed to the excavations of new sites.
Monuments and buildings reflect the growth of material prosperity and the development of culture. The ancient monuments of Taxshila provide information about the Kushanas and its sculpture imparts the knowledge of Gandhar Kala. The Mauryan history is known by the Stupas, Chaityas and Vihars.
3. ACCOUNTS OF FOREIGN TRAVELLERS AND WRITERS
Before the arrival of Alexander, some Greek authors like Herodotus, Ktesia, Hiketious and Skylaix wrote some scripts of information about India. With the expedition of Alexander the great some men of letters came to India and took interest in Indian philosophy and culture.
Herodotus was dependent upon the Persian sources for his information about India. Herodotus in his book Histories (written in many volumes) describes the IndoPersian relations. A detailed account of the invasion of India by Alexander was written by Arrian.
The Greek kings send their ambassadors to Pataliputra. Megasthenes, Deimachus, and Dionysius were some of them.
Megasthenes came in the court of Chandragupta Maurya. He had written about Indian society and culture in his book called ‘Indica’. Though the original work has been lost, it had been frequently quoted in the works of later writers.
A book ‘Periplus of the Erythrean Sea’ written by an anonymous Greek author who settled in Egypt on the basis of his personal voyage of the Indian coast in about A. D. 80 gives valuable information about the Indian coasts.
In the second century A. D., Ptolemy had written a geographical treatise on India.
The Greek writing about India, however, is based on secondary sources. They were ignorant of the language and the customs of the country and hence their information is full of errors and contradictions.
Many Chinese travellers visited India as Buddhist pilgrims from time to time; three important pilgrims were:
- Fa-Hien (Faxian) - visited India in the 5th century A.D.
- Hiuen-Tsang (Xuanzang) - visited India in the 7th century and
- I-Tsing (Yijing) – visited India in the 7th century.
Hiuen-Tsang had given valuable accounts about Harshavardhana and some other contemporary kings of Northern India.
Fa-Hien and Hiuen-Tsang travelled many parts of the country and they have given an exaggerated account of Buddhism during the period of their visit.
Hiuen-Tsang mentioned Harsha as a follower of Buddhism while in his epigraphic records, Harsha mentions himself as a devotee of Siva. Such contradictions may be considered due to the fact of multi-religious nature of Indian rulers, which might confuse a foreigner.
AI-Biruni gave important information about India. He was an Arab scholar and contemporary of Mahmud of Ghazni. AI-Biruni studied Sanskrit and acquired knowledge of Indian society and culture through literature. Therefore, his observations are based on his knowledge about Indian society and culture, but he did not give any political information of his times.
Among them Aristobulous, Aunesicritous and Neorkous are very famous. Megasthenes, the ambassador of Seleukos Nikator to Chandragupta Maurya, wrote a highly valuable account of India, in his book ‘INDICA’.
This book was translated by Maicrindal. Tsumachin (100 B.C.), the father of the history of China, was the first Chinese historian to describe India. Tibetian writer Lama Taranath wrote Kangyur and Tangyur through which we know about Shaka, Kushan and Parthians. In about the 8th century A.D. close relationship sprouted between India and Arab countries.
Arab writers and travellers started taking interest in writing about Indian society and its code and conducts which became a source of knowledge through which a datewise history could be constructed.
- The Buddhist books are called Jataka stories. They have been given some historical importance because they are related to the previous births of the Buddha. There are more than 550 such stories.
- The historic information mentioned in Jaina literature also helps us in reconstructing the history of different regions of India.
- The Dharmasutras and the Smritis were the rules and regulations for the general public and the rulers. It can be equated with the constitution and the law books of the modern concept of polity and society. For example, Manusmriti.
- Dharmashastras were compiled between 600 and 200 B.C.
- Arthashastra is a book on statecraft written by Kautilya during the Maurya period. The book is divided into 15 parts dealing with different subject matters related to polity, economy, and society.
- The final version of Arthashastra was written in the 4th century B.C.
- Kautilya acknowledges his debt to his predecessors in his book, which shows that there was a tradition of writing on and teaching statecrafts.
- Mudrarakshasha is a play written by Visakha datta. It describes the society and culture of that period.
- Malavikagnimitram written by Kalidasa gives information on the reign of the Pusyamitra Sunga dynasty.
- Bhasa and Sudraka are other poets who have written plays based on historical events.
- Harshacharita, written by Banabhatta, throws light on many historical facts about which we could not have known otherwise.
- Vakpati wrote Gaudavaho, based on the exploits of Yasovarman of Kanauj.
- Vikramankadevacharita, written by Bilhana, describes the victories of the later Chalukya king Vikramaditya.
- Rajatarangini, written by Kalhana, is the best form of history writing valued by modern historians. His critical method of historical research and impartial treatment of historical facts have earned him great respect among modern historians.
- The Sangam literature is in the form of short and long poems consisting of 30,000 lines of poetry, which are arranged in two main groups i.e. Patinenkilkanakku and the Pattupattu. It describes many kings and dynasties of South India.
- The Sangam was the poetic compilation by a group of poets of different times mainly supported by chiefs and kings.
- The Sangam literature was composed by a large number of poets in praise of their kings. Some kings and events mentioned are also supported by the inscriptions.
- The Sangam literature generally describes events up to the 4th century A.D.
Some of the prominent biographical works, which are based on the lives of the kings are:
- Kumarapalacharita of Jayasimha,
- Kumarapalacharita or Dvayashraya Mahakavya of Hemachandra,
- Hammirakavya of Nayachandra
- Navasahasankacharita of Padmagupta
- Bhojaprabandha of Billal
- Priihvirajacharit of Chandbardai
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