The history of India goes by its own significance. The Indian civilization is as old as the civilization of the Nile Valley of Egypt and Mesopotamia. Many ancient civilizations of the world are now either extinct or have failed to preserve their old traditions. However, the Indian Civilization has achieved greatness in preserving its age old traditions to the present day.
Though India is one of the earlier civilizations of the world, we are confronted with a serious problem of paucity of necessary records for the reconstruction of its ancient history.
The main purpose of history is to throw light on the past. The study of early Indian history isimportant for several points of views. It tells us how, when and where the people of India developed their earliest cultures.
Ancient Indian history is interesting because India proved to be a crucible of numerous races. Since ancient times India has been the land of several religions. Ancient India witnessed the birth of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism, but all these cultures and religions intermingled and interacted.
Types of sources of Indian history:Archeological sources
Literary sources can be broadly divided into:
Vedic texts(four Vedas)
There are two methods of excavations- Horizontal and Vertical excavations.
The dating methods are based directly or indirectly on the principle of carbon-14 or radio carbon dating.
The Ashokan inscriptions which are in a number of different languages and scripts, but mostly in the Prakrit language and Brahmi Script, i.e., written from left to right. But some were also inused in the kharosthi script, i.e. from right to left. The deciphering of Ashokan inscriptions by James Princep in 1837 was one of the great wonders of archaeology.
The largest numbers of official documents are engraved on copper plates. Mostly copper plates were used for writings inscriptions. These copper plates are called Tamrapatra or Tamraoatra or Danapatra according to their content and purpose.
Dravid style in the South.
Vesara style in Deccan i.e, in central part of India.
Potteries are one of the important part of archeological sources. These potteries help us to know about the spread of the culture and civilization.
Sculpture is the important element of Ancient Indian History. The statues made of that time provides us information about the religious conditions of the time.3 Sculpture Styles
The base of religious literary sources is formed by Brahmin texts such as Vedic texts, Sutras, Smriti, Puranas and Epics.
The oldest among the Vedas is the Rig veda which give us an idea of Rig vedic which gives us an idea of Rig vedic society, where on other hand Sam veda, Yajur veda and Atharva veda gives us information about the society of later vedic period. Vedas form a history of 900 years(1500B.C-600B.C). These texts helps us to derive out the information about the origin of Aryans, their political structure, their society, economic activities, religious perspectives, cultural achievement and a lot more.
After vedic texts, they arrived an era of Sutras, these were called as Sutra because the word or hymns were placed beautifully like pearls in a thread. These Sutras gives us information about the vedic period. Inorder to understand Vedas well, Vedangas were formed then, they were divided in six parts:
Like Vedangas a section of Upvedas also developed. There are four ‘Upvedas’ related to different Vedas:
- Ayurveda- It is related to medical science and is an upveda of Rig veda.
- Gandharva veda- It is related to music and is an upveda of Sam veda.
- Dhanur veda- It is related to war skills, arms and ammunitions. It is related to Yajur veda.
- Shilpa veda- It is related to art sculpture and architecture. It is an upveda of Atharva veda.
After sutras , Smritis texs were formed. Manusmriti is the oldest Smriti text, which was formed between 200B.C- 200A.D (400 Years). Yagyavalkaya Smriti was another Smriti text compiled between 100A.D to 300A.D. These two Smriti texts throws light on post Mauryan period.
Narada smriti(300A.D-400A.D) and Parashara Smriti(300A.D-500A.D), throws light on the social and religious conditions of the Guptas. Besides these Brihaspati smiriti(300A.D-500A.D) and Katyayana Smriti(400A.D-600A.D) was also the text of Gupta time.
After Smriti texts Purans were compiled, which were mainly 18 in number. Among these Markandey Purana, Vayu Purana, Brahma Purana, Vishnu Purana, Bhagwat Purana and Matasya Purana were possibly ancient Purana and the rest were created later.
Names of 18 available Puranas
There is a great deal of information of ancient Indian dynasties in Matasya, Vayu and Vishnu puranas. Puranas are the only available source of the dynasties which ruled after the battle of Mahabhart. Puranas are also the important element in formation of cultural history of Ancient India. Puranas provides chronology of different dynasties and their hierarchy (from lowest to highest).
Epics are also a part of Brahmanic text, Mahabharata and Ramayana being most important among them. Ramayana was created by Valmiki in Post- Mauryan period. Though, the historicity of this text is doubtful but it created a picture of ideal Indian society. Mahabharata was the second epic which was compiled by Vedvyas and it was completed in Gupta period. Initially, it was named as Jai Samhita, which later came to be known as Bharata, because it consisted of history of dynasties of India and ultimately came to be known as ‘Mahabharata’.
Pitakas are the oldest Buddhist texts. There are three types of Pitakas- Suttapitaka, Vinaya Pitaka, Abhidhamma Pitaka. It was compiled after Lord Buddha attained Nirvana:
- Suttapitaka- consists of religious ideology and sayings of Lord Buddha.
- Vinaya Pitaka- consists of the laws of Buddhist Sangha.
- Abhidhamma Pitaka- consists of Buddhist philosophies.
Besides Tripitakas, Jataka kathas were created which consisted of anecdote related to previous birth of Lord Buddha. The compilation of Jataka began in first century B.C but the present form of it was compiled in second century A.D.
Milindapanho is another Buddhist text which gives us information about the philosophical dialogue between Greek ruler Minander and Buddhist saint Nagasena. Divyavadana was another Buddhist text completed in 4th century A.D which consisted of information about different rulers. Aryamanjushrimulkalpa is another Buddhist text which consisted of information about different rulers of Gupta empire from the Buddhist perspective. Angutarnikaya was a Buddhist text which gives the names of Sixteen Mahajanapadas.
The Sinhalese texts consisted of Deepvamsha and Mahavamsha which grows like on ancient Indian history. Deepvamsha was created in 4th century A.D and Mahavamsha was created in 5th century A.D. Thus, these Buddhist texts provides us the information about the social and cultural life of that time and also gives us the knowledge of cultural relation of India and foreign counties.
The Agama texts are the main Jain texts. The Acharangasutra, a part of the Agamas which were compiled were based on the teachings of Mahavira, talks about the conduct of Jain saints. Vyakhyaprajapati commonly known as Bhagvati sutra, throws light on the life of Mahavira. Nayadhammakaha is the compilation of teaching of Lord Mahavira. There are many other Agama texts. They are total 12 in number. The Bhagvatisutra consist of the information about the 16 Mahajanapadas. The ‘Bhadrabahucharita’ which throws light on the life of Jain Acharya Bhadrabahu and Chandragupta Maurya. The most important Jain text is Parishistaparvana written by Hemchandra in 12th century A.D.
The religious texts mainly give us information about the religious ideology and philosophy. Thus, it gives us a very little information about political activity, whereas, non-religious texts throws light on almost all the aspects of the society. Few non-religious texts are:
Ashatadhayayi- It was written by Panini and is the oldest grammer/literature of India. It gives us information about the political, social and religious condition of Pre-Mauryan period.
Mudrarakshasa- of Vishkhadutta gives us information about the Mauryan period. Arthashastra was written by Kautilya also identified as Vishnugupta and Chanakya. It was divided into 15 parts. It gives us information about Indian political system. It also throws light on the condition of Mauryan age Mahabhashya of Patanjali and Malvikagnimitram by Kalidasa gives us information about ‘Shunga Dynasty’. Kamasutra of Vatsyana gives information of sexual life, social life, physical relations, family life, etc . this explains that these sources in scientific ways that it was created to give sex education to the youth of that period. ‘Mricchhakatikam’ by Shudraka and ‘Dashkumaracharita’ by Dandin also provides us information of the social life of that period.
Greek or Roman Writers:
Herodotus and Thucydides are the oldest Greek and Roman writers. Possibly, these two writers attained information about Iran. Despite of the Greek writers the writing of those travelers who came along with Alexander, Nearchus, Onesiecritus are considered to be more authentic. The another important account is ‘Indica’, which is unfortunately unavailable in thepresent time other Greek and Roman writers created their works based on Indica. These Foreign writers wrote on the condition and aspects which was ignored by the Indian writers. Thus, their writings proved to be of immense importance in the construction of Ancient Indian History.
Periplus of the Erythrean sea is another Greek work written by an unknown writer provides us the information about the Indian ports and the names of commodities imported and exported from India. Ptolemy wrote about the geographical description of India, in 2nd century A.D. ‘Pleny the elder’ Roman historian who wrote ‘Naturalis Historia’ in 1st century A.D proves to be of great importance as it provides plenty of information about animals, crops and minerals in India.
It is important to mention about all those Chinese travellers who travelled to India and wrote about the conditions that they witnessed. The Chinese writers consist the name of Fa-Hien, Huen Tsang and It-tsing. Fa-Hien visited India in the 5th century A.D and stayed here for fourteen years. He wrote basically about Buddhism and less about the political condition of that time. Huen- Tsang visited India during the time of Harsha and stayed here for sixteen years. He wrote about the religious condition as well as the political condition of that time. He also wrote about the cultural society and education of that time. It-tsing visited India by the end of seventeenth century A.D. He stayed for long time in Vikramshila and Nalanda Universities. Thus, described about the educational institutions of India. Besides these he also described about the food habit and costumes of India.
The Arab travelers began to write about India in 8th century A.D. Sulaiman- al-tajir visited India in the middle of 9th century A.D and wrote about the Palas, Pratiharas and Gurjars. Al-Masudi stayed in India for two years(941- 943A.D) and wrote about the rulers Rashtakuta dynasty. Abu-rehan-alberuni was the most famous writer among the other Arab writers in his Kitab-ul- hind. He gave detailed information about mathematics, geography, philosophy and other religious practices, culture and traditions and social conditions which is worth appreciation.PRE-HISTORIC AND PROTOHISTORIC PERIODS
The earliest period of history of India has been described as pre-historic age.
Man has been living in India roughtly from 500,000 B.C. There is no unanimity among the scholars regarding the exact area where man first of all existed in India. Some scholoars are of opinion that man first of all lived in the Sewalik hills, while the others are of the opinion that Deccan was the original place of man in India, because the oldest stone implements have been discovered there.
However, the man in the process of his development passed through different phases of Stone Age. In this unit you will study three different phases of Stone Age, that is Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic ages according to the kind and nature of the stone tools.
In India the first human occupation on the basis of stone tools, is not earlier than the middle Pleistocene which perhaps began about 500,000 years ago.600,000 - 60,000 B.C : Early or Lower Palaeolithic Age
40,000 B.C - 10000 B.C : Upper Palaeolithic Age
The climate of this period saw dramatic changes. The climate was less humied. It was the last phase of ice age and climate became comparatively warm. In the world context, it marks the appearance of new flint industries and men of the modern type (Home Sapiens). The use of blades became more common.
The life of Palaeolithic people living in different parts of the subcontinent were based on their adaptations to the specific environment. They were mainly hunting – gathering communities. They lived in caves and hollows of Trees. Their shelters were made of rock, branches, grass, leaves or reeds. There was no permanent settlement.
The characteristic tools of the Mesolithic Age are Microliths or tiny tools. Microliths range in length from under 1 cm to 5 cm. The tools are mostly made on short parallel sided blades made of crypto – crystalline silica stone such as quartlite, chaleodong, jasper and agate.
The chief food of Neolithic age was fruits, vegetables, roots, and nuts, flesh of the animals, fish, pulses and milk products.
People used very scanty dresses. Generally they covered their bodies with barks of trees and skin of animals. At a later stage they discovered clothes of cotton and wool.
Hunting and fishing was the main occupation of the people. The art of agriculture was not known to them during early stage but later on they developed the art of cultivation of grains. They were also demosticated various animals. There was no specific religion. People of Neolithic age generally worshipped spirits of their ancestors and forces of nature.The people of this age used large varity of tools and implements of polished stone. The most common being the axes, which have been found in the greater part of the country. The other important tools made by the people of Neolithic age included celts, chisels, mace-heads, arrow – heads, saws etc. Animal bones were also used to make needles, blades and other tools.
3000 B.C. - 1000 B.C - Chalcolitic Age
Copper was the first metal to be discovered in India. On the basis of the use of metal a new culture developed, which is called Chalcolithic culture.
While in Northern India copper was the metal that came to be used after stone, in Southern India iron replaced stone without the intermediate stage of use of copper.
It is general belief of the scholar that the chalcolithic culture was a rural culture. People belonging to this period usually founded rural settlement on the banks of river. They used stone tools supplemented by some copper tools. They were the first to use painted pottery. They founded large villages in peninsular India and cultivated food grains in abundance. They domesticated different animals.
The Challolithic peole worshipped the mother goodess as in proved by the discovery of terracotta figures of women
The people of Stone Age had neither currency nor coinage and conducted exchanged through barter. The Harappans had a very extensive trade net work based on barter.
So far the scholars have no unanimity on language and unable to decipher the Harappa script. A total of about 3700 inscribed objects have been discovered from Harappan sites. Most of the writing appears on seals and sealings, some on copper tablets, copper and bronze implements, pottery and other objects. Most of the inscriptions are very short, with an average of five signs and the longest one has 26 sings. There are 400 – 450 basic signs and the script is logosyllabic i.e., each symbol stood for a word or syllable. The people were familiar with the art of writing. They wrote from right to left.Harappan civilization was the first urban culture in South Asia.
The main products were wheat, barley and cotton etc.
Myth of Aryan Invasion/Migration Theory (AIT/AMT)
“Research showed the Vedic culture was developed by indigenous people of South Asia,” Shinde asserted.
and also proves that the “Harappans were the Vedic people”.
1500 - 1000 B.C - Early Vedic Age
The history of the Vedic period is based mainly on Vedic texts which were compiled during the Vedic Age. The Vedic literature is divided into three periods
First period refers to Samhitas or texts or the four Vedas Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda. The collection of Vedic hymns or mantras were known as the Samhitas.
1500-1000 B.C : Rig Veda
The Rig Veda is the only source which gives most valuable information about the life of the early Vedic people and society. Though Rig Veda was not a historical work it provides useful information about the history
The circulation of coins as medium of exchange was started probably in Vedic period. These ancient coins were known as Nishka, Suvarna, Karshopana, Shatamana and Pada. These may have been metal pieces of definite weight, not necessarily full fledged coins.
RISE OF HETERODOX SECTS
EMERGENCE OF EMPIRE
a. The Mahajanapadas
c. The Nandas
Kautilya, the minister of Chandragupta Maurya, has incidentally refered to the counterfeiters of coins in his Arthasastra, the book on statecraft, which was complied in the 4th century BCE.
The earliest coins which have been discovered by archaeologist in the subcontinent are punch marked coins made mostly of silver and copper. They are usually rectangular, sometimes square or round on the basis of their manufacturing technique.
A new phase in the history of Indian coinage is marked by the die-struck Indo-Greek coins of the 2nd and 1st century BCE. These are very well executed, usually round and mostly in silver. They bear the name and portrait of the issuing ruler of the obverse coins of the Sakas, Parthians and Kshatrapas follow the basic features of Indo Greek coinage.
The Kushana (1st to 3rd century A.D.) were the first dynasty of the subcontinent to mint large quantities of gold coins.
The earliest Indian Kushana coins are those which were issued by Kujal Kadphises in copper. Kaniska, who like his predecessor, issued coins only in gold and copper.
It might be interesting to know that the earliest find on the punch – marked coins in the country was discovered in the south. In 1800 A.D. Col. Caldwell had found such coins in the district of Coimbatore.