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Chapter 03. Types of Sources and Historical Construction (Old NCERT History Ancient India)

3. Types of Sources and Historical Construction

Material Remains

The ancient Indians left innumerable material remains. The stone temples in south India and the brick monasteries in eastern India still stand to remind us of the great building activities of the past. But the major part of these remains lies buried in the mounds scattered all over the country (The mound is an elevated portion of land covering remains of old habitations). It may be of different types— single-culture, major-culture and multi-culture. Single-culture mounds represent only one culture throughout. Some mounds represent only Painted Grey Ware (PGW) culture, others Satavahana culture and still others Kushan culture. In major-culture mounds, one culture is dominant and the others are not so important. Multi-culture mounds represent several important cultures in succession which occasionally overlap with one another. Like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, an excavated mound can be used for the understanding of successive layers in material and other aspects of culture.
A mound can be excavated vertically or horizontally. Vertical excavation means lengthwise digging to uncover the period-wise sequence of cultures; it is generally confined to a part of the site. Horizontal excavation means, digging the mound as a whole or a major part of it. The method may enable the excavator to obtain a complete idea of the site culture in a particular period.
Since most sites have been dug vertically they provide a good chronological sequence of material culture. Horizontal diggings, being very expensive, are very few in number, with the result that excavations do not give us a full and even adequate picture of material life in many phases of ancient Indian history.
Even in those mounds which have been excavated, the ancient remains have been preserved in varying proportions. In the dry and climate of western Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and north-western India, antiquities are found in a better state of preservation, but in the moist and humid climate of the middle Gangetic plains and in the deltaic regions even iron implements suffer corrosion and mud structures become difficult to detect. It is only in the phase of burnt brick structures or stone structures that impressive and large-scale remains are found in moist and alluvial areas.
Excavations have brought to light the cities which the people established around 2500 B.C. in north-western India. Similarly they tell us about the material culture which was developed in the Gangetic plains. They show the layout of the settlements in which people lived, the types of pottery they used, the form of house in which they dwelt, the kind of cereals they used as food and the type of tools and implements they handled. Some people in south India buried along with the dead, their tools, weapons, pottery and other belongings in the graves, which were encircled by big pieces of stone. These structures are called megaliths, although some megaliths do not fall in this category. By digging them we have come to learn of the life which people lived in the Deccan from the Iron Age onwards. The science, which enables us to dig the old mounds in a systematic manner, in successive layers and to form an idea of the material life of the people, is called archaeology.
Material remains recovered as a result of excavation and exploration sire subjected to various kinds of scientific examination. Their dates are fixed by following the method of radiocarbon dating. Radio dating or Carbon 14 (C14) is a radioactive isotope of carbon which is present in all living objects. It decays, like all radioactive substances, at a uniform rate. When an object is living, the process of the decay of C14 is neutralized by absorption of C14 through air and food. However, when an object ceases to be alive, its C14 content continues to decay at a uniform rate but it ceases to absorb C14 from air and food. By measuring the loss of C14 content in an ancient object, its age can be determined. This is because, as stated earlier, the decay of C14 takes place at a uniform rate. It is known that the half-life of C14 is 5588 years. The half-life of a radioactive material is defined as the period during which one-halt of the radioactive content in an object disappears. Thus C14 content in an object which ceased to live 5568 years ago would be half of what it was when it was living and in an object which ceased to live. 11,136 years ago, its C14 content would be one-fourth of what it was when it was living.
The history of climate and vegetation is known through an examination of plant residues and especially through pollen analysis. Thus on this basis it is suggested that agriculture was practised in Rajasthan and Kashmir around 7000-6000 B.C. The nature and components of metal artifacts are analysed scientifically and as a result the sources from where metals were obtained are located and the stages in the development of metal technology are identified. An examination of animal bones shows whether the animals were domesticated and also indicates the uses to which they were put.


Although a good number of coins and inscriptions have been found on the surface, many of them have been unearthed by digging. The study of coins is called numismatics. Ancient Indian currency was not issued in the form of paper, as is being used these days, but as metal coins. Ancient coins were made of metal—copper, silver, gold, or lead. Coin moulds made of burnt clay have been discovered in large numbers, Most of them; belong to the Kushan period, i.e the first three Christian centuries. The use of such moulds in the post-Gupta periods almost disappeared.
Since there was nothing like the modern banking system in ancient times people kept money in earthen ware and also in brass vessels and maintained them as precious hoards on which they could fall back in time of need. Many of these hoards, containing not only Ionian coins but also those minted abroad such as in the Roman Empire, have been discovered in different parts of the country. They are preserved mostly in museums at Calcutta, Patna, Lucknow, Delhi, Jaipur, Mumbai and Chennai. Many Indian coins are found in the museums of Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Since Britain ruled over India for a long time, British officials succeeded in transferring many of the Indian coins to private and public collections in that country. Coins of the major dynasties have been catalogued and published. We have catalogues of coins in the Indian Museum at Calcutta, of Indian coins in the British Museum in London and so on. But there is a large number of coins which have yet to be catalogued and published.
Our earliest coins contain a few symbols, but the later coins mention the names of kings, gods or dates. The areas where they are found indicate the region of their circulation. This has enabled us to reconstruct the history of several ruling dynasties, especially of the Indo-Greeks who came to India from north Afghanistan and ruled here in the second and first centuries B.C.
Since coins were used for various purposes such as donations, mode of payment and medium of exchange, they throw considerable light on economic history. Some coins were issued by the guilds of merchants and goldsmiths with the permission of the rulers. This shows that crafts and commerce had become important. Coins helped transactions on a large scale and contributed to trade. We get the largest number of coins in post Maurya times. These were made of lead, potin, copper, bronze, silver and gold. The Guptas issued the largest number of gold coins. All this indicates that trade and commerce flourished, especially in Post-Maurya and a good part of Gupta times. But the fact that only a few coins belonging to post Gupta times have been found indicates the decline of trade and commerce in that period.
Coins also portray kings and gods and contain religious symbols and legends, all of which throw light on the art and religion of the time.


Far more important than coins are inscriptions. Their study is called epigraphy and the study of the old writing used in inscriptions and other old records is called palaeography, inscriptions were carved on seals, stone pillars, rocks, copper plates, temple walls and bricks or images.
In the country as a whole, the earliest inscriptions were recorded on stone. But in the early centuries of the Christian era, copper plates began to be used for this purpose. Even then the practice of engraving inscriptions on stone continued in south India on a large scale. We have also in that region a large number of inscriptions recorded on the walls of the temples to serve as permanent records.
Like coins, inscriptions are preserved in various museums of the country, but the largest number may be found in the office of the Chief Epigraphist at Mysore. The earliest inscriptions were written in the Prakrit language in the third century B.C. Sanskrit was adopted as an epigraphic medium in the second century A.D. and its use became widespread in the fourth and fifth centuries. Even then Prakrit continued to be employed. Inscriptions began to be composed in regional languages in the ninth and tenth centuries. Most inscriptions bearing on the history of Maurya, post-Maurya and Gupta times have been published in a series of collections called Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum. But not too many inscriptions of post-Gupta times have appeared in such systematic compilations. In the case of south India, topographical lists of inscriptions have been brought out. Still there are more than 50,000 inscriptions, mostly of south India, which await publication.
The Harappan inscriptions, which await decipherment, seem to have been written in a pictographic script in which ideas and objects were expressed in the form of pictures, Ashokan inscriptions were engraved in the Brahmi script, which was written from left to right. But some were also incised in the Kharoshti script which was written from right to left. However, the Brahmi script prevailed in the whole country except for the north-western part, Greek and Aramaic scripts were employed in writing Ashokan inscriptions in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Brahmi continued to be the main script till the end of Gupta times. An epigraphist can decipher most inscriptions of the country up to about the seventh century, if he has carefully learnt Brahmi and its variations. But afterwards we notice strong regional variations in this script, which is called by different names.
The earliest inscriptions are found on the seals of Harappa belonging to about 2500 B.C. They have not been deciphered so far. The oldest inscriptions deciphered so far were issued by Ashoka in the third century B.C. In the fourteenth century A.D two Ashokan pillar inscriptions were found by Firoz Shah Tughlaq, one in Meerut and another at a place called Topra in Haryana. He brought them to Delhi and asked the pandits of his empire to decipher the inscriptions, but they failed to do so. The same difficulty was faced by the British when in the last quarter of the eighteenth century they discovered Ashokan inscriptions. These epigraphs were first deciphered in 1837 by James Princep, a civil servant in the employ of the East India Company in Bengal.
We have various types of inscriptions. Some convey royal orders and decisions regarding social, religious and administrative matters to officials and people in general. Ashokan inscriptions belong to this category. Others are votive records of the followers of Buddhism, Jainism, Vaishnavaism, Shaivism etc who put up pillars, tablets, temples or images as marks of devotion. Still other types eulogize the attributes and achievements of kings and conquerors and never speak of their defeats or weaknesses. To this category belongs the Allahabad inscription of Samudragupta. Finally, we have many donative records which refer specially to gifts of money, cattle, land, etc., mainly for religious purposes, made not only by kings and princes but also by artisans and merchants.
Inscriptions recording land grants, made mainly by chiefs and princes, are very important for the study of the land system and administration in ancient India. These were mostly engraved on copper plates. They record the grants of lands, revenues and villages made to monks, priests, temples, monasteries, vassals and officials. They were written in all languages, such as Prakrit, Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu.

Literary Sources

Although the ancient Indians knew writing as early as 2500 B.C. our most ancient manuscripts are not older than the fourth century A.D. and have been found in Central Asia; In India, they were written on birch bark and palm leaves, but in Central Asia, where the Prakrit language had spread from India, manuscripts were also written on sheep leather and wooden tablets. These writings are called inscriptions, but they are as good as manuscripts. When printing was not known, manuscripts were valued immensely. Although old Sanskrit manuscripts are found all over the country, they mostly belong to south India, Kashmir and Nepal. At present inscriptions are mostly preserved in museums and manuscripts in libraries.
Most ancient books contain religious themes. The religious literature of the Hindus includes the Vedas, the Ramayana and the Mahabhamta, the Puran as, etc. They throw considerable light on the social and cultural conditions of ancient times, but it is difficult to make use of them in the context of time and place. The Rig Veda may be assigned to circa 1500-1000 B.C., but the collections of the Atharva Veda, Yajur Veda, the Brahmanas, Aranyakas and the Upanishads belong roughly to 1000-500 B.G. Almost every Vedic text contains interpolations, which generally appear at its beginning, or end but are not rare in its middle. The Rig Veda mainly contains prayers, while the later Vedic texts mainly comprise not only prayers but also rituals, magic and mythological stories. However, the Upanishads contain philosophical speculations.
In order to understand the Vedic texts, it was necessary to learn the Vedangas or the limbs of the Veda. These supplements of the Veda comprised phonetics (shiksha), ritual (kalpa), grammar (vyakarana), etymology (nirukta), metrics (chhanda) and astronomy (jyotisha). A good deal of literature grew around each one of these subjects. It was written in the form of precepts in prose. A precept was called sutra because of its brevity. The most famous example of this writing is the grammar of Panini written around 400 B.C. While illustrating the rules of grammar, Panini throws invaluable light on the society, economy and culture of his times.
The two epics and the major Puranas seem to have been finally compiled by circa A.D. 400. Of the epics the Mahabharata attributed to Vyasa is older in age and possibly reflects the state of affairs from the tenth century B.C to the fourth century A.D. Originally, it consisted of 8800 verses and was called Jaya or the collection dealing with victory. These were raised to 24,000 and came to be known as Bharata, because it contains the stories of the descendants of one of the earliest Vedic tribes called Bharata. The final compilation brought the verses to 100000 which came to be known as the Mahabharata or the Satasahasri Samhita. It contains narrative, descriptive and didactic material. The main narrative which relates to the Kaurava-Pandava conflict may belong to later Vedic times, the descriptive portion might be used for post-Vedic times and the didactic portion generally for post-Maurya and Gupta times. Similarly, the Ramayana of Valmiki originally consisted of 6000 verses which were raised to 12000 verses and finally to 24000. Although this epic appears to be more unified than the Mahabharata, it has also its didactic portions which were added later. The Ramayana composition started in the fifth century B.C. Since then it passed through as many as five stages and the fifth stage seems to be as late as the twelfth century A.D. As a whole the text seems to have been composed later than the Mahabharata.
In post Vedic times we have a large corpus of ritual literature. Big public sacrifices meant for princes and men of substance belonging to the three higher varnas are laid down in the Srautasutras, which provide for several pompous royal coronation and ceremonies. Similarly domestic rituals connected with birth, naming, sacred thread investiture, marriage, funerals, etc., are laid down in the Grihyasutras, Both the Srautasutras and the Grihyasutras belong to circa 800-300 B.C. Mention may also be made of the Sulvasutras, which prescribe various kinds of measurements for the construction of sacrificial altars. They mark the beginnings of the study of geometry and mathematics.
The religious books of the Jainas and the Buddhists refer to historical persons and incidents. The, earliest Buddhist texts were written in the Pali language, which was spoken in Magadha or south Bihar. They were finally compiled in the second century B.C. in Sri Lanka, but the canonical portions reflect the state of affairs in the age of the Buddha in India. They tell us not only about the life of the Buddha but about some 6f his royal contemporaries who ruled over Magadha, north Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh. The most important and interesting portion of the non-canonical literature is provided by the stories of the previous births of Gautama Buddha, it was believed that before he was finally born as Gautama, the Buddha passed through more than 550 births, in many cases in the form of animals. Each birth ‘story is called a Jataka which is a folk tale. These Jatakas throw invaluable light on social and economic conditions ranging from the fifth to the second century B.C. They also make incidental references to political events in the age of the Buddha.
The Jaina texts were written in Prakrit and were finally compiled, in the sixth century A.D. in Valabhi in Gujarat. They, however, contain many passages which help us to reconstruct the political history of eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in the age of Mahavira. The Jaina texts refer repeatedly to trade and traders.
We have also a large body of secular literature. To this class belong the law-books called the Dharmasutras and Smritis which, together with their commentaries, are called Dharmashastras. The Dharmasutras were compiled in 500-200 B.C. mid the principal Smritis were codified in the first six centuries of the Christian era. They lay down the duties for different varnas as well as for kings and their officials. They provide the rules for marriages together with the laws according to which property is to be held, sold and inherited. They also prescribe punishments for persons guilty of theft, assault, murder, adultery, etc.
An important law-book is the Arthashastra of Kautilya. The text is divided into fifteen books, of which Books II and III may be regarded as of an earlier date. They seem to have been the work of different hands. This text was put in its, final form in the beginning of the Christian era, but its earliest portions reflect the state of society and economy in the age of the Mauryas. It provides rich material for the study of ancient Indian polity and economy.
We also possess the works of Bhasa, Sudraka, Kalidasa and Banabhatta. Apart from their literary value, they mirror the conditions of the times to which the writers belonged. The works of Kalidasa comprise Kavyas and dramas, the most famous of which is the Ahhijnanashakuntalam. Besides being great creative compositions, they provide us with glimpses of the social and cultural life of northern and central India in the age of the Guptas.
In addition to Sanskrit sources, we have some of the earliest Tamil texts found in the corpus of the Sangam literature. This was produced over a period of three to four centuries by poets who assembled in colleges patronised by chiefs and kings. Such colleges were called Sangam and the literature produced in these assemblies is known as the Sangam literature. The compilation of the corpus is attributed to the first four Christian centuries, although final compilations may have been completed by the sixth century.
The Sangam literature comprises about 30,000 lines of poetry, which are arranged in eight anthologies called Ettuttokai. The poems are collected in groups of hundreds such as PurananunL (The Four Hundred of the Exterior) and others. There are two main groups Patinenkil Kannakku (The Eighteen Lower Collections) and Pattuppattu (The Ten Songs). The former is generally assumed to be older than the latter and hence considered to be of much historical importance. The Sangam texts have several layers, but at present they cannot be established on the basis of style and content. As shown later, these layers can be detected on the basis of stages in social evolution.
The Sangam texts are different from the Vedic texts, particularly the Rig Vedic texts. They do not constitute religions literature. The short and long poems were composed by numerous poets in praise of numerous heroes and heroines. Thus they are secular in nature. They are not primitive songs, but they show a high quality of literature. Many poems mention a warrior or a chief or a king by name and describe his military exploits in detail. The gifts made by him to bards and warriors are celebrated. These poems may have been recited in the courts. They are compared with heroic poetry of the Homeric age, for they represent a heroic age of warriors and battles. It is difficult to use these texts for historical purposes. Perhaps the proper names, titles, dynasties, territories, wars, etc., mentioned in the poems are partly real. Some of the Chera kings mentioned in the Sangam texts also appear as donors in inscriptions of the first and the second century A.D.
The Sangam texts refer to many settlements Including Kaveripattanam whose flourishing existence is now attested archaeologically. They also speak of the Yavanas coming in their own vessels purchasing pepper with gold and supplying wine and women slaves to the natives. This trade is known not only from Latin and Greek writings but also from the archaeological record. The Sangam literature is a very major source of our information for the social, economic and political life of the people living in deltaic Tamil Nadu in the early Christian centuries. What it says about trade and commerce is attested by foreign accounts and archaeological finds.

Foreign Accounts

Indigenous literature can be supplemented by foreign accounts. To India came the Greek, Roman and Chinese visitors, either as travellers or religious converts and they left behind accounts of the things that they saw, It is remarkable that Alexander’s invasion finds no mention in Indian sources and it is entirely on the basis of the Greek sources that we have to reconstruct the history of his Indian exploits.
The Greek writers mention Sandrokottas, a contemporary of Alexander the Great who invaded India in 326 B.C. Prince Sandrokottas is identified with Chandragupta Maurya, whose date of accession is fixed at 322 B.C. This identification has served as the sheet-anchor in ancient Indian chronology. The Indika of Megasthenes, who came to the court of Chandragupta Maurya, has been preserved only in fragments quoted by subsequent classical writers. These fragments, when read together, furnish valuable information not only about the system of Maurya administration but also about social classes and economic activities in the Maurya period. The Indika is not free from credulity and exaggerations, which is true of many other ancient accounts.
Greek and Roman accounts of the first and second centuries A.D. mention many Indian ports and enumerate items of trade between India and the Roman Empire. The Periplus of the Erythrean Sea and Ptolemy’s Geography, both written in Greek, provide valuable data for the study of ancient geography and commerce. The date ascribed to the first ranges between A.D. 80 and 115, while the second is attributed to about A.D. 150. The Periplus of the Erythrean Sea which was written by an anonymous writer describes the Roman trade in the Red Sea, Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean. Pliny’s Naturalis Historia, which belongs to the first century A.D., was written in Latin and tells us about trade between India and Italy.
Of the Chinese travellers mention may be made of Fa-hsien and Hsuan Tsang. Both of them were Buddhists and came to this country to visit the Buddhist shrines and to study Buddhism. The first came in the beginning of the fifth century A.D. and the second in the second quarter of the seventh century A.D. Fa-hsien describes the social, religious and economic conditions of India in the age of the Guptas and Hsuan Tsang presents a similar account of India in the age of Harsha.

Historical Sense

Ancient Indians are charged with the lack of historical sense. It is obvious that they did not write history in the manner it is done now, nor did they write it in the way the Greeks did. We have a sort of history in the Puranas, which are eighteen in number (Eighteen was a conventional term). Though encyclopaedic in contents, the Puranas provide dynastic history up to the beginning of the Gupta rule. They mention the places where the events took place and sometimes discuss their causes and effects. Statements about events are made in future tense; although they were recorded much after the events had happened. The authors of the Puranas were not unaware of the idea of change, which is the essence of history. The Puranas speak of four ages called krita, treta, dvapara and kali. Each succeeding age is depicted as worse them the preceding one and as one age slides into the other, moral values and social institutions suffer degeneration. The importance of time and place, vital elements in history, is indicated. It is said that dharma becomes adharma according to changes in time and place. Several eras, according to which events were recorded, were started in ancient India. The Vikrama Samvat began in 57 B.C., the Shaka Samvat in A.D. 78 and the Gupta era in A.D. 319. Inscriptions record events in the context of time and place. During the third century B.C. Ashokan inscriptions show considerable historical sense. Ashoka ruled for 37 years. His inscriptions record events that happened froth the eighth to the twenty-seventh regnal year. So far events relating to only nine regnal years appear in the inscriptions that have been discovered. Future discoveries may throw light on events relating to the remaining years of his reign. Similarly in the first century B.C. Kharavela of Kalinga records a good many events of his life year-wise in the Hathigumpha inscription.
Indians display considerable historical sense in biographical writings. A good example is the composition of the Harshacharita by Banabhatta in the seventh century A.D. It is a semi biographical work written in ornate style, which became the despair of ater imitators. It describes the early career of Harshavardhana. Although full of exaggerations, it gives an excellent idea of the court life under Harsha and the social and religious life in his age. Later several other charitas or biographies were written. Sandhyakara Nandi’s Ramachcirita (twelth century) narrates the story of conflict between the Kaivarta peasants and the Pala prince Ramapala, resulting in the latter’s victory. Bilhana’s Vikramanakadevacharita recounts the achievements of his patron, Vikramaditya VI (1076-1127), the Ghalukya king of Kalyan. Even the biographies (charita) of some merchants of Gujarat were written in the twelfth-thirteenth centuries A.D. Similar historical works may have been written in south India. But so far only one such account has been discovered. This is called the Mushika Vamsha, which was written by Atula in the eleventh century. It gives an account of the dynasty of the Mushikas, which ruled in northern Kerala. But the best example of the earliest historical writing is provided by the Rajatarartgini or The Stream of Kings written by Kalhana in the twelfth century. It is a string of biographies of the kings of Kashmir and can be considered to be the first work which possesses several traits of history as it is understood in our times.

Constructing History

So far numerous sites, both prehistorical and historical, have been excavated and explored, but the results do not find a place in the mainstream of ancient Indian history. Stages of social evolution in India cannot be comprehended without taking into account the results of prehistoric archaeology. Historical archaeology is equally important. Although more than 150 sites belonging to the ancient historical period have been excavated, yet their relevance to the study of social, economic and cultural trends in ancient times has not been discussed in the survey books. This needs to be done, particularly in the context of the urban history of ancient India. So far the importance of mostly Buddhist and some brahmanical sites has been highlighted, but religious history needs to be seen in relation to social and economical developments.
Ancient history has been constructed so far mainly on the basis of literary sources, foreign and indigenous. Coins and inscriptions play some part, but the texts receive more weightage. Now new methods deserve attention. We have to establish co relation between the Vedic age on the one hand and the Painted Grey Ware and other types of archaeological finds on the other. Similarly, early Pali texts have to be related to the Northern Black Polished Ware (NBPW) archaeology. Further, the information derived from the Sangam texts needs to be tied up with that inferred from inscriptions and early megalithic archaeology in peninsular India.
Archaeological evidence should be considered far more important than long family trees given in the Puranas. The Puranic tradition could be used to date Rama of Ayodhya around 2000 B.C., but diggings and extensive explorations in Ayodhya do not show any settlement around that date. Similarly, although Krishna plays an important part in the Mahabharata, the earliest inscriptions and sculptural pieces found in Mathura between 200 B.C to A.D. 300 do not attest his presence. Because of such difficulties the ideas of an epic age based on the Ramayana and the Mahabharata has to be discarded, although in the past it formed a chapter in most survey books on ancient India. Of course several stages of social evolution in both the Ramayana and the Mahabharata can be detected. This is so because the epics do not belong to a single phase of social evolution; they have undergone several editions, as has been shown earlier in the present chapter.
Many inscriptions are dismissed so far on the ground that they possess little historical value. Historical value is taken to mean information needed for reconstructing political history. Compared to Puranic traditions, inscriptions are certainly more reliable. Thus the former are used to push back the origin of the Satavahanas, which is placed in the first century B.C. on the epigraphic basis. Inscriptions may indicate the reign period of a king, his conquest and its extent, but they also show trends in the development of polity, society, economy and religion. The present book, therefore, does not use inscriptions merely for political or religious history. Epigraphic land grants are valued not for the family trees and lists of conquest but more Importantly for the rise of new states and changes in social and agrarian structure, particularly in post-Gupta times. Similarly, coins need to be used not only for the reconstruction of the history of the Indo-Greeks, Shakas, Satavahanas and Kushans, but also to illuminate the history of tribal and urban life.
In sum, careful collection of the material derived from texts, coins, inscriptions, archaeology, etc., is essential for historical construction. We have seen that this raises the problem of the relative importance of the sources. Thus, coins, inscriptions and archaeology are considered more important than mythologies found in the epics and Puranas. Mythologies may support dominant norms, validate social mores and justify the privileges and disabilities of people organised in castes and other social groups, but the events described in them cannot be taken as true. Past practices can also be explained with the help of some ancient survivals in our own times or with the insights derived from the study of primitive people. A sound historical reconstruction cannot ignore developments in other ancient societies. A comparative view may remove the obsession with the idea of the rare or unique in ancient India and may bring out those trends which ancient India shares with the past societies of the other countries.


1 Explain the meaning of the following terms and concepts:
Material culture, numismatics, epigraphy, palaeography, vertical and horizontal excavations, megaliths, archaeology, inscriptions, secular literature.
2 How are ancient objects dated? Explain-how the system of Carbon14 Dating works.
3 Describe the importance of coins and inscriptions in the study of the political, social and economic history of India.
4 Discuss the relative importance of various sources in reconstructing the past.
5 Mention the languages and scripts used in inscriptions of
6 Explain the significance of Sangam literature in the study of the history of south India in ancient times.
7 Visit a museum to see the types of sources mentioned in the text.
Try to identify the script and the language used in coins, inscriptions and ancient manuscripts which you see.
8 When did the use of paper start in India? What was the material used for manuscripts before the use of paper started?
9 If possible, visit an archaeological site and find out how an archaeologist works.
10 Take up a group project to compile a list of literary sources of ancient Indian history. The project can be an on-going one and you can go on adding to the list. The project may also include information on the sources such as the period when it was written, its original language and script and brief description of its main contents.
11 Why is it necessary to corroborate the evidence of literary sources with other sources? Discuss in the classroom.

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