Sources of ancient Indian history | Latest Current Affairs and General Knowledge

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Sources of ancient Indian history

Sources of ancient Indian history

There are many sources available regarding the history of India, some sources are quite reliable and scientific, others are based on beliefs. The main sources of information regarding the history of ancient India can be divided into 3 parts, the following 3 sources are :
  • Archaeological source
  • Literary source
  • Foreign source
(i) Archaeological Sources

Archaeological sources are related to ancient records, coins, monuments, buildings, sculptures and paintings, these instruments are quite reliable. With the help of these sources, very accurate information about various human activities of ancient times is available. The inventors who studied such ancient sources are called archaeologists.


The location of records is very important in relation to Indian history, much important information about Indian history has been obtained from the records of many rulers of ancient times. These inscriptions have been found carved on stone, pillar, metal strip and clay objects. The study of these ancient inscriptions is called epigraphy, while the study of the script of these inscriptions is called Paleology. While the study of records is called Epigraphy. Records are commonly used by rulers to disseminate their orders.

These inscriptions are usually found on places or objects with solid surfaces, they are written on solid surfaces to make long-lasting indelible. Such inscriptions are found on the walls, pillars, stupas, seals and copper plates etc. of the temple. These inscriptions are written in different languages, the main languages ​​being Sanskrit, Pali and Sanskrit, many of the languages ​​of South India have also been found.

The oldest records related to the history of India have been obtained from the Indus Valley Civilization, these records are on an average date to 2500 BCE. Due to the script of the Indus Valley Civilization not yet decoded, the essence of these inscriptions has not yet been known. Symbols have been used in the Indus Valley Civilization script, and the script has not yet been decoded.

Many ancient inscriptions have also been found from a place called Bogazkoi in West Asia or Asia Minor, although this inscription is not as old as that of the Indus Valley civilization. The special thing about these records is that in these records, mention of Vedic deities Indra, Mitra, Varuna and Nastya is found. Ancient inscriptions Naqsh-e-Rustam have also been received from Iran, these records give a description of India and West Asia in ancient times. These records are very important in the study of the ancient history of India, it shows the economy, trade etc. of ancient India.

Kassite inscriptions have been found in Iran, while Aryan names have been described in the Mittani inscription of Syria. The Mauryan emperor Ashoka established many records during his reign. The British archaeologist James Prinsep first decoded Ashoka's inscriptions in 1837. These inscriptions were engraved in the Brahmi script by Emperor Ashoka. The main purpose of engraving the records was used by the rulers to convey their orders to the general public.

Apart from Emperor Ashoka, other rulers also got inscriptions engraved, these inscriptions were engraved by the emperor on the conquest of a region or other important occasion. Some important inscriptions related to ancient India are as follows - Hathigumpha inscription at Kharavel in Odisha, Junagadh inscription engraved by Rudradaman, the inscription of Satavahana ruler Gautamiputra Shatakarni in a cave in Nashik, Prayagastambha inscription of Samudragupta, Junagadh inscription of Skandagupta, Mandsaur inscription of Yashovarman, Aihole inscription of Pulakeshin II, Pratihara emperor Bhoj Gwalior inscription and Devpara inscription of Vijayasena.

Prakrit language has been used in most of the ancient inscriptions, the inscriptions were generally carved in the prevalent language of that time. Many inscriptions have inscriptions in the Sanskrit language as well. The use of Sanskrit is visible in inscriptions in the second century BCE, the first evidence of Sanskrit inscription is found in the Junagadh inscription, this inscription was written in the Sanskrit language. The Junagadh inscription was engraved by the Saka emperor Rudradaman in 150 AD. Rudradaman's reign was between 135 AD to 150 AD.


Coins came into circulation in ancient times after the barter system used for transactions. These coins were made from various metals like gold, copper, silver etc. A peculiarity of ancient Indian coins is that they do not have inscriptions. Marks have been commonly found on ancient coins. Thus coins are called Aahat coins. These coins belong to the 5th century BCE. After that there was a slight change in the coins, in these coins pictures of dates, kings and deities began to be printed. The oldest deposits of Aahat coins have been found from eastern Uttar Pradesh and Magadha. Gold-currency was first issued by the Indo-Greek rulers in India, and these rulers used the "dye method" to make coins. The gold currencies issued by the Kushan rulers were the purest. While the highest number of gold currencies were issued by the Gupta rulers. The Satavahana rulers issued lead currencies.

Other useful archaeological sources for information about ancient India

Records and coins provide very accurate information regarding ancient times. But apart from inscriptions and coins, there are other important sources which provide useful information regarding ancient times, among these sources, are buildings, temples, monuments, statues, pottery and painting.

Buildings such as temples and buildings are very useful sources for the information of ancient architecture. Along with the knowledge of architecture, these buildings also provide information about the social, economic and religious system of the time.

The monument is very important in relation to the information of ancient India, these monuments can be divided into two parts - native and foreign monuments. Among the native monuments are Harappa, Mohenjodaro, Nalanda, Hastinapur. Among the foreign monuments are the Angkor Wat Temple in Cambodia, the Borobudur Temple in Java in Indonesia and statues from Bali. Some dates are inscribed in the sculptures from the Makran of Borneo, these dates are quite useful in explaining the chronology. These sources provide important information regarding the architectural style of ancient times.

Due to the emergence and development of many religions in India, religious idols have been quite popular. Idols are an important means of getting information about the religious system, culture and art of ancient times. Sarnath, Bharhut, Bodh Gaya and Amravati were the main centres of sculpture in ancient India. Gandhara art and Mathura art predominate in various sculptural styles.

The type of pottery changed over time, red pottery in the Indus Valley Civilization, grey pottery painted in the later Vedic period, while black polished pottery was prevalent in the Mauryan period. Novelty and progress in the type and form of pottery occurred at different times.

The painting provides various information about the society and systems of ancient times. Through pictures, information about the life, culture and art of ancient people is available. The picture of Bhimbetka caves located in Madhya Pradesh shows the cultural diversity of ancient times.

(ii) Literary sources

In the context of the history of India, most sources are literary sources. Books were written by hand in ancient times, these books written by hand are called manuscripts. The manuscripts were written on palm leaves and bhojpatras. This ancient literature can be divided into 2 parts: -

1-Religious literature

In India, three main religions Hindu, Buddhist and Jainism emerged in ancient times. Along with the expansion of these religions, many religious books were composed by various philosophers, scholars and Dharmacharyas. These works provide important information regarding the society, culture, architecture, lifestyle and economy of ancient India, etc. Following are the major works of religious literature:

Literature related to Hinduism

Hinduism is one of the oldest religions in the world. Due to its emergence in ancient India, detailed information of ancient Indian society is available from books related to Hindu religion. Many texts, books and epics etc. have been composed in Hinduism, the major works among them are - Vedas, Vedang, Upanishads, Smrtiyaan, Puranas, Ramayana and Mahabharata. The Rigveda is the oldest among them. These religious texts provide detailed information about the polity, religion, culture and social system of ancient India.


Vedas are very important literature in Hinduism, the total number of Vedas is four. Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda and Atharvaveda are the 4 Vedas. The Rig Veda is one of the oldest books in the world, composed in the period around 1500-1000 BC. Whereas Yajurveda, Samaveda and Atharvaveda were composed in the period of about 1000–500 BC. The Rigveda contains the praises of the deities. The Yajurveda is related to the rules of Yajna and other religious laws. Samaveda is related to the mantras of Yajna. Whereas in Atharvaveda, religion, medicine and disease prevention etc. have been written.


The Brahmin scripture is the section of the Vedas, the holiest and highest scripture of Hinduism, in prose. The Brahmanagrantha is the second part of the Vedic poetry in order of preference, in which mystical interpretation of the gods and yajna are given in prose form and the commentary is also given on the mantras. Their language is Vedic Sanskrit. Every Veda has one or more Brahmin texts (each Veda has its own separate branch). These are the Brahmins available today with different Vedas: - An example of Brahmin texts. Left Outer Code; In which there is both a mantra (in bold letters) and a Brahmin, while in the right part a fraction of Aitareya Brahman.


The word Aranyak is derived from 'Aranya', which literally means "forest". Aranyakas are those scriptures written by sages in the forest. Spiritualism and philosophy are described in Aranyak texts, their content is quite esoteric. The Aranyaka was composed after the texts and is attached to different Vedas, but the Atharvaveda is not associated with any Aranyaka.


The Vedang, as the name suggests, are parts of the Vedas. The deep knowledge of Veda is written in simple language in Vedang. Shiksha(Education), Kalpa, Vyaakaran(grammar), Nirukta, Chaand(verses) and Jyotish(astrology) are 6 Vedangs in total.


The theme of the Upanishads is philosophical, it is the last part of the texts. Therefore they are also called Vedanta. The topic of spirituality and philosophy has been discussed through the questionnaire in the Upanishads. It is one of the oldest books of Indian philosophy. The total number of Upanishads is 108. Vrihadaranyak, Kath, Ken Aitareya, Isha, Mundaka and Chandogya are some of the prominent Upanishads.

Sutra literature

Sutras are related to the behaviour of human beings, in which there is a description of human duties, varnasrama system and social rules. There are 3 sutras, Shrot Sutra, Griha Sutra and Dharma Sutra.


The entire works of human life have been discussed in the smrtiyaan, they are also called Dharmashaastr.
These are less complicated than the Vedas. It contains a compilation of stories and sermons. They were composed after the sutras. Manusmriti and Yajnavalkya Smriti are the most ancient smrtiyaan. Meghtithi, Govindaraj and Kullukabhatta have commented on Manusmriti. While Yajnavalkya Smriti has commented on Vishwaroop, Vigyaneshwar and Aparark. During the British rule, the Governor-General of Bengal, Warren Hastings, got Manusmriti translated into English, in English, it was named "The Gentoo Code". Initially, smrtiyaan were forwarded only orally, the word Smriti means "the power to remember".


Maharishi Valmiki composed the Ramayana. There were 6,000 verses in the Ramayana at the time of creation, but it increased with time. The number of shlokas first increased to 12,000 and after that, the number reached 24,000. Ramayana is also known as Chaturvishti Sahasri Samhita due to having 24,000 verses. Ramayana is divided into a total of 7 sections - Balkand, Ayodhyakand, Aranyakand, Kishkindhand, Sundarakand, Yudhkand and Uttarkhand.


Mahabharata is one of the world's largest epics, composed by Maharishi Ved Vyas. It is a poetic book. It is also called the fifth Veda. It is much larger than the famous Greek texts Iliad and Odyssey.

At the time of the composition, it had 8,800 verses, due to which it was called Jayasanhita. Later, the number of shlokas increased to 24,000, due to which it was called Bharat. In the Gupta period, it was called Mahabharata when the number of shlokas was 1 lakh. Mahabharata is divided into 18 parts - Adi, Sabha, Van, Virat, Udyog, Bhishma, Drona, Karna, Salya, Saptik, Stree, Shanti, Anushashan(Discipline), Ashwamedha, Ashramwasi, Mausal, Mahaprasthanik and Svargārōhaṇa. 


The Puranas describe the creation, ancient sages and kings. The total number of Puranas is 18, they are called Puranas due to the description of ancient stories. They were probably composed in the fifth century BCE. Vishnu Purana, Matsya Puran, Vayu Purana, Brahmanda Purana and Bhagavata Purana are very important Puranas, these Puranas describe the genealogies of various kings. Therefore, these Puranas are historically very important.

In the Puranas, various gods and goddesses have been described as the centre of sin and virtue, religious work etc. The Matsya Purana describes the Satavahana dynasty while the Vayu Purana describes the Gupta dynasty. There is a description of Goddess Durga in Markandeya Purana, there is also mention of Durga Saptati. Ganesha Puja is described in Agni Purana. The names of the 18 Puranas are as follows - Brahma, Markandeya, Skanda, Padma, Agni, Vamana, Vishnu, Bhavishya, Kurma, Shiva, Brahmavarta, Matsya, Bhagavata, Linga, Garuda, Narada, Varaha and Brahmanda Purana.

Vishnu, Vayu, Matsya and Bhagavata Purana contain genealogies of kings, these brief genealogies provide information regarding various rulers of ancient India and their tenure.

Literature related to Buddhism

Along with the promotion of Buddhism, its literature also increased, the main parts of Buddhist literature are the Jataka and Pitaka. The Jataka describes the former births of Mahatma Buddha. These stories are there, it gives information about the society of ancient India. Tripitaka is the oldest book of Buddhist literature, Tripitaka was composed after Nirvana of Mahatma Buddha. It is composed in Pali language. 
There are three parts of Tripitaka - Sutpitaka, Vinayapitaka and Abhidhammapitaka. Tripitaka has an idea of ​​the social and religious system of ancient India. There are 5 bodies of Sutpitaka - Dighnikaya, Majjhimnikaya, Sanyuktnikaya, Anguttarnikaya and Khudkanikaya. Vinaya Pitaka describes the rules of the Buddhist Sangha, it has four parts - Suttavibhangu, Khandaka, Patimokkh and Family Text. The theme of Abhidhammapitaka is philosophical, it describes the philosophical teaching of Mahatma Buddha. There are 7 story texts connected with the Abhidhammapitaka.

Literature related to Jainism

The ancient Jain texts are called the purv. It describes the principles propounded by Mahavira. It is written in the Prakrit language. Agama is very important in Jainism literature, it has 12 Ang, 12 upang, 10 prakirna and 6 Chhed sutras. It was composed by the Acharyas of the Shvetambara sect of Jainism. They have been composed in Prakrit, Sanskrit and Apabhramsa. Jainism texts were compiled by Vallabhi Nagar of Gujarat in the 6th century. Other main Jain texts are Acharangasutra, Bhagwati Sutra, Parishishtaparvan and Bhadrabahucharit.

2. Non-religious literature

Literature other than religion is called non-religious literature. This includes historical books, biographies, accounts etc. The works of scholars and diplomats are prominent in non-religious literature. This literature is relatively accurate. It provides useful information about the existing polity, economy, lifestyle of the people and the society of the time.

Panini was the famous Sanskrit scholar in the 6th century. "Ashtadhyayi" is a Sanskrit grammar composed by Panini, it highlights the society of 5th century BC. In the Mauryan period, Kautilya's book "Arthashastra" provides important information about governance. There is a lot of information about the Mauryan period from "Mudrarakshas" composed by Visakhadatta, "Kathasaritsagara" composed by Somdev and "Vrihatkathamanjari" by Kshemedr. All aspects of the religious, economic and social system are known in these books.

The history of the Sunga dynasty is known from "Mahabhashya" composed by Patanjali and "Malavikagnimitra" composed by Kalidasa. The "Mruthakatikam" by Shudraka and "Daskumarcharit" by Dandi throw light on the social system of the Gupta period. Harshavardhana's biography "Harshcharita", written by Banabhatta, praises Emperor Harshavardhana. Whereas the "Gaudvaho" composed by Vakapati commemorates the achievements of Yashovarman, the ruler of Kannauj and the "Vikramankadevacharit" of Vilhan in Chalukya ruler Vikramaditya Sastha of Kalyani.

Sandhyakaranandi's 'Ramcharitmanas' describes the achievements of Pala King Rampal. The "Dwaashraya Kavya" composed by Hemachandra commemorates the achievements of Kumarapal, the ruler of Gujarat. Padmagupta's "Navasahsankachhirat" describes Parmar dynasty and Jayanaka's "Prithviraj Vijay" describes Prithviraj Chauhan. "Rajatarangini" written by Kalhan is a very important book for the chronology of Indian history. In this, the genealogies of various states are described in detail. This book was written by Kalhan in the 12th century. 

Information about the history of South India is obtained from Sangam literature. This literature is mostly in Tamil and Sanskrit. There is a detailed description of the social system, economy and culture of Chola, Chera and Pandya reign in Sangam literature. After that, information is received from Nandikkalambakkam, Kalingatuparni, Cholcharit etc.

(iii) Foreign sources

Foreign literature also gives a lot of information about the ancient history of India. This foreign writer came to India with foreign kings or visited India, after which he described the social, economic and geographical system of India. Foreign literary sources can be divided into 3 parts - 

  • Greek and Roman writers
  • Chinese writers 
  • Arabic writers.
Roman and Greek writer

The description of Herodotus and Tisius is the oldest of the Greek writers. Herodotus wrote a book called "Historica", this book highlights the relationship between India and Persia, Herodotus is also called the father of history. 
The Greek ruler Alexander came to India with many Greek writers, among them Nearchus, Anasikratus, Aristobulus. Aristobulus wrote a book called "History of the War", while Anasikratus wrote a biography of Alexander. After Alexander, the contribution of Megasthenes, Dymecus and Dionysius is also important. The famous book Indica of Megasthenes describes the Mauryakalen society, administration and culture. Pliny's book "Natural Historica" ​​mentions India's trade, animals and minerals, as well as trade relations between India and Italy. "Geography" composed by Ptolemy and books by Plutarch and Strabo also give details of various aspects of India.

Chinese writer

The Chinese came to India primarily for the purpose of religious travel. He came to India mainly for the purpose of studying Buddhism. Fahyan, Hwangsang and Etsing are the main travellers coming from China to India. Fahyan came to India during the reign of Chandragupta II, he has described Indian society, politics and culture in his book "Pho-Kyon-ki". Hewtsang came to India during the reign of Harshavardhana, he highlighted the economic and social situation of India in his travelogue. Tibetan writer Taranath has highlighted Indian history in his book "Kangyur" "Tangyur".

Arabic writer

Arabic writers came to India with Muslim invaders. Arab rulers started attacking India in the eighth century.  Writers and poets also came to India along with Arab rulers. Suleman came to India in the 9th century, he has written about the Pala and Pratihara kings. Almasudi has written an account of the Rashtrakuta kings. While Alberuni has written about the post-Gupta society in his book "Tehkiq-e-Hind"

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