Nature of Sources and Historical Construction

Revision or Short Notes (PRELIMS + MAINS)

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  1. Material Remains-
  • A mound is an elevated portion of land covering the 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 the Painted Grey Ware (PGW) culture, others Satavahana culture, and yet others that of the Kushans.
  • In major-culture mounds, one culture is dominant and the others are of secondary importance. Multi-culture mounds represent several important cultures in succession which occasionally overlap with one another.
  • Vertical excavation means lengthwise digging. Horizontal excavation entails digging the mound as a whole or a major part of it
  • In the dry arid climate of western UP, Rajasthan, and north-western India, antiquities are found in a better state of preservation, but in the moist and humid climate of the mid-Gangetic plains and in the deltaic regions even iron implements suffered corrosion and mud structures become difficult to detect. Only the burnt brick structures or stone structures of the Gangetic plains are well preserved.
  • Villages- people established around 6000 BC in Baluchistan.
  • People in south India buried in graves, along with the dead, their tools, weapons, pottery, and other belongings, and these were encircled by large pieces of stone. These structures are called
  • Radiocarbon dating is the most important to fix the date. Radiocarbon or Carbon 14 (C14) is a radioactive carbon (isotope). Half-life of C14 is 5568 years.
  • history of climate and vegetation is known through an examination of plant residues, and especially through pollen analysis. Agriculture was practised in Rajasthan and Kashmir around 7000– 6000 BC.
  1. Coins-
  • Ancient coins were made of metal— copper, silver, gold, and lead.
  • Indian coins are preserved mostly in museums in Kolkata, Patna, Lucknow, Delhi, Jaipur, Mumbai, and Chennai. There are many Indian coins in the museums of Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Catalogues of the coins in the Indian Museum at Kolkata, of Indian coins in the British Museum in London.
  • Indo-Greeks who came to India from north Afghanistan
  • largest number of Indian coins date to the post-Maurya period. These were made of lead, potin, copper, bronze, silver, and gold. The Guptas issued the largest number of gold coins.


  • study of inscriptions 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, copperplates, temple walls, wooden tablets, and bricks or images. Largest number of inscriptions may be found in the office of the chief epigraphist at Mysore.
  • earliest inscriptions were written in Prakrit in the third century BC. Sanskrit was adopted as an epigraphic medium in the second century AD.
  • Inscriptions bearing on the history of the Maurya, post-Maurya, and Gupta periods have been published in a series of collections called Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum Ashokan inscriptions were engraved in the Brahmi script, which was written from left to right, but some were also incised in the Kharoshthi script which was written from right to left.
  • Greek and Aramaic scripts were employed in writing Ashokan inscriptions in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but Brahmi continues to be the main script till the end of Gupta times.
  • Inscriptions found on the seals of Harappa belonging to about 2500 BC
  • Ashokan inscriptions are generally written in Brahmi script and Prakrit language in the third century BC. They throw light on Maurya history and Ashoka’s achievements. In the fourteenth century AD two Ashokan pillar inscriptions were found by Firoz Shah Tughlaq, one in Meerut and another at a place called Topra in Haryana.
  • Epigraphs were first deciphered in 1837 by James Prinsep, a civil servant in the employ of the East India Company in Bengal.
  • Allahabad Pillar inscription of Samudragupta-eulogize the attributes and achievements of kings and conquerors, and ignore their defeats or weaknesses.
  1. Literary Sources-
  • Manuscripts 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 old Sanskrit manuscripts are relate to south India, Kashmir, and Nepal.
  • Rig Veda may be assigned to 1500–1000 BC, the Atharva Veda, Yajur Veda, the Brahmanas, Aranyakas, and the Upanishads date roughly to 1000–500 BC.
  • Rig Veda mainly comprises prayers, whereas the later Vedic texts comprise prayers as well as rituals, magic, and mythological stories. The Upanishads contain philosophical speculations.
  • supplements of the Veda comprised phonetics (shiksha), ritual (kalpa), grammar (vyakarana), etymology (nirukta), metrics (chhanda), and astronomy (jyotisha).
  • grammar of Panini written around 450 BC.
  • Mahabharata consisted of 8800 verses and was called Jaya or a collection dealing with victory. These were increased to 24,000 and came to be known as
  • final compilation increased the verses to 100,000 which came to be known as the Mahabharata or the Shatasahasri Samhita. It contains narrative, descriptive, and didactic material.
  • main narrative which relates to the Kaurava–Pandava conflict may relate to the later Vedic period, the descriptive portion might be of the post-Vedic period, and the didactic portion generally relates to the post-Maurya and Gupta periods.
  • Ramayana of Valmiki originally consisted of 6000 verses which were raised to 12,000, and eventually to 24,000. The Ramayana composition started in the fifth century BC.
  • Grand public sacrifices to be made by princes and men of substance belonging to the three higher varnas are set out in the Shrautasutras, domestic rituals connected with birth, naming, sacred thread investiture, marriage, funerals, etc. are prescribed in the Grihyasutras.
  • Both the Shrautasutras and the Grihyasutras relate to c. 600–300 BC. Sulvasutras prescribe various kinds of measurements for the construction of sacrificial altars.
  • earliest Buddhist texts were written in Pali, which was spoken in Magadha or south Bihar, and was basically a form of Prakrit. They were finally compiled in the first century BC in Sri Lanka
  • It was believed that before Buddha was actually born as Gautama, he passed through over 550 births, in many cases in the form of animals. Each birth story is called a Jataka, which is a folk tale. The Jaina texts were written in Prakrit and were eventually compiled in AD sixth century in Valabhi in Gujarat.
  • lawbooks, called the Dharmasutras and Smritis, which, together with their commentaries, are called Dharmashastras. The Dharmasutras were compiled in 500–200 BC
  • Arthashastra of Kautilya- the text is divided into fifteen books, of which Books II and III may be regarded as being of an earlier date Astadhyayi-
  • The works of Kalidasa – Abhijnanashakuntalam.
  • The corpus of Sangam literature.
  • This literature was produced over a period of three to four centuries by poets who assembled in colleges patronized by chiefs and kings. Such colleges were called Sangam, and the literature produced in these assemblies was known as Sangam literature.
  • The compilation of the corpus is attributed to the first four Christian centuries, although they were really completed by the sixth century.
  • The Sangam literature comprises about 30,000 lines of poetry arranged in eight anthologies called Ettuttokai. The poems are collected in groups of hundreds such as Purananuru (The Four Hundred of the Exterior).
  • There are two main goups Patinenkil Kannakku (The Eighteen Lower Collections) and Pattuppattu (The Ten Songs). The Sangam texts are different from the Vedic texts, particularly the Rig Veda. They do not constitute religious literature.
  • The short and long poems were composed by numerous poets in praise of various heroes and heroines and are thus secular in nature.
  • They are not primitive songs, but literature of high quality. The Sangam texts refer to many settlements, including Kaveripattanam whose flourishing existence has now been archaeologically corroborated.
  • They also speak of the Yavanas coming in their own vessels, purchasing pepper with gold, and supplying wine and women slaves to the natives. not only from Latin and Greek writings but also from the archaeological record.
  • The Sangam literature is a major source of our information for the social, economic, and political life of the people living in deltaic Tamil Nadu.
  1. Foreign Accounts-
  • The Greek writers mention Sandrokottas, a contemporary of Alexander the Great, who invaded India in 326 BC. Prince Sandrokottas is identified with Chandragupta Maurya, whose date of accession is fixed at 322 BC.
  • The Indik- Megasthenes
  • The Periplus of the Erythrean Sea, which was written by an anonymous author, describes the Roman trade in the Red Sea, Persian Gulf, and the Indian Ocean.
  • The last Graeco-Roman scholar who wrote on India was called Kosmos Indikopleustes- wrote the Christian Topography
  • Fa-hsien and Hsuan Tsang-The first came in the beginning of the fifth century and the second in the second quarter of the seventh century. Fahsien describes the social, religious, and economic conditions in India in the age of the Guptas, and Hsuan Tsang presents a similar account of India in the age of Harsha.
  1. Historical Sense-
  • Vikrama Samvat began in 57–8 BC, Shaka Samvat in AD 78, and the Gupta era in AD 319.
  • Harshacharita by Banabhatta in the seventh century.
  • Sandhyakara Nandi’s Ramacharita (twelfth century) narrates the story of the conflict between the Kaivarta peasants and the Pala prince Ramapala
  • Bilhana’s Vikramankadevacharita recounts the achievements of his patron, Vikramaditya VI (1076–1127), the Chalukya king of Kalyan.

Constructing History-

  • Gandhara grave culture in which the horse was used and the dead were cremated in the second millennium BC.
  • Early Pali texts have to be related to the Northern Black Polished Ware (NBPW) archaeology.


Note-The above notes are designed for quick study and revision not for detailed study.


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