UPSC History Sources and Historical construction NCERT Extracts - Sources and Historical Construction

NCERT Extracts - Sources and Historical Construction

Category : UPSC

Material Remains

  • The Ancient Indians left innumerable material remains. 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.
  • 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.
  • 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
  • Material remains recovered as a result of excavation and exploration are subjected to various kinds of scientific examination. Their dates are fixed by following the method of radiocarbon dating.
  • Radiocarbon 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.
  • By measuring the loss of C14 content in an ancient object, its age can be determined.
  • It is known that the half-life of C14 is 5568 years.
  • Thus on this basis it is suggested that agriculture was practiced in Rajasthan and Kashmir around 7000-6000 B.C.



  • The study of coins is called
  • Coin moulds made of burnt clay have been discovered in large numbers. Most of them belong to the Kushan period.
  • 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.
  • 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, potion, copper, bronze, silver and gold.
  • The guptas issued the largest number of gold coins.
  • All this indicates that and commerce flourished, especially in post maurya and a good part of gupta times.
  • 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.



  • The study of the old writing used in inscriptions and other old records is called
  • Inscriptions were carved on seals, stone pillars, rocks, copper plates, temple walls and bricks or image.
  • 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.
  • In south India, a large number of inscriptions recorded on the walls of the temples to serve as permanent records.
  • The largest number of inscriptions may be found in the office of 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 began to be composed in regional language 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.
  • 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 Kharoshthi script which was written from right to left.
  • The Brahmi script prevailed in the whole country except for the north-western part.
  • Greek and Aramaic scripts were employed writing Ashokan inscriptions in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Brahmi continued to be the main script till the end to gupta times.
  • The oldest inscriptions deciphered so far were issued by Ashoka.
  • Ashokan inscriptions were first deciphered in 1837 by James Prinsep, 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,
  • 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 plants.


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.
  • In India, they were written on birch bark and palm leaves.
  • 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.C.
  • The Rig Veda mainly contains prayers. The later Vedic texts mainly comprise not only prayers but also rituals, magic and mythological stories.
  • 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.
  • The most famous example of this writing is the grammar of Panini written around 400 B.C.
  • 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 1,00,000 which came to be known as the Mahabharata or the Satasahasri Samhita.
  • The Ramayana of Valmiki originally consisted of 6000 verses which were raised to 12,000 verses, and finally to 24,000.
  • The Ramayana composition started in the fifth century B.C. Since then it passed through as many as five stages, and the fifth state seems to be as late as the twelfth century A.D.
  • In post-Vedic times we have a large corpus of ritual literature.
  • Srautasutras, provide for several pompous royal coronation ceremonies.
  • Similarly domestic rituals connected with birth, naming, sacred thread investiture, marriage, funerals, etc., laid down in the Grihyasutras.
  • Both the Srautasutras and the Grihyasutras belong to circa 600-300 B.C.
  • Sulvasutras, prescribe various kinds of measurements for the construction of sacrificial altars. They mark the beginnings of the study of geometry and mathematics.
  • The earliest Buddhist texts were written in the Pali language.
  • Each birth story of Gautam Buddha 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. The Jaina text refer repeatedly to trade and traders.
  • The Dharmashastras were compiled in 500-200 B c. an 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.
  • The Manusmrti is one of the best – known legal texes of early India, written in Sanskrit and compiled between c. second century BCE and c. second century CE.
  • An important law-book is the Arthashastra of kautilya. The text is divided into fifteen books, of which books 2nd and 3rd may be regarded as of an earlier date.
  • Its earlist portions replect 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.
  • The works of kalidasa comprise kavyas and dramas the most famouse of which is the Abhijnanashakuntalam. It provide us with glimpses of the social and cultural life of northem and central India in the age of the guptas.
  • Earlist tamiel texts found in the corpus of the sangam literature.
  • This was prodused over a period of three to four centuries by poets who assembled in colleges patronized by chiefs and kings. Such colleges were called sangam.
  • The literature prodused in these assemblies is known as the sangam literature.
  • The sangam literature comprises about 30,000 lines of poetry, which are arranged in eight anthologies called
  • The poems are collected in groups of hundreds such as purananuru (The four hundred of the Exterior) and others.
  • There are two main groups patinenkil kannakku (Eighteen lower collections) and pattuppatu (The ten songs).
  • The sangam texts are different from the vedic texts, particularly the rig vedic texts.
  • They do not constitute religions literature. The sangam texts refer to many settelements including kaveripattanam.
  • They also speak of the Yavanas coming in there own vessels purchasing pepper with gold and supplying wine and woman slaves to the natives.
  • The sangam literature is a very major source of our information for the social, economic and political life of people living in deltaic Tamil Nadu in the nearly Christian centuries.


Foreign accounts

  • The greek, Roman and Chinese visitors came to India either as travelers or religious converts, and they left Behind accounts of the things that they saw.
  • It is remarkable tht Alaxander’s invasion finds no mention in Indian sources.
  • The greek writers mention sandrokottas, a contemporary of Alaxander the great who invaded India in 326 B.C. Prince sandrokottas is identified with Chandragupta maurya, whose that of accession is fixed at 322 B.C.
  • This identification has served as the sheet-anchor in ancient India chronology.
  • The indika of Megasthenes, who came to the court of Chandragupta maurya, has been preserved only in Fragments quoted by subsequend classical writers.
  • Greek and Roman accounts of 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 belongs to the first century A.D.
  • It was was written in latin, and tells us about trade between India and Italy.
  • Fa-hsien and Hsuan Tsang were Chinese travelers. Both of them were Buddhists.
  • They come to this country to visit the Buddhist shrines and to study Buddhism.
  • The first come 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

  • We have a sort of history in the puranas, which are eighteen in number.
  • Though encyclopaedic in contents, the Puranas provide dynastic history up to the beginning of the Gupta rule.
  • The Puranas speak of four ages called krita, treta, dvapara and kali.
  • Each succeeding age is depicted as worse than 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 stared 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
  • Kharavela of kalinga records a good many events of this life year-wise in the Hathigumpha inscriptions.
  • Indians display considerable historical sense in biographical writings.
  • A good example is the composition of the Harshacharita by Bannabhatta in the seventh century A.D. 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 Ramacharita (twelfth 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 Chalukya king of Kalyan .
  • Mushika Vamsha, 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 Rajatarangini or ‘the stream of kings’ written by Kalhana in the twelfth century.
  • It is 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.


Timeline - Major Advances in epigraphy

  • 1784    -           Founding of the Asiatic society (Bengal)
  • 1810s  -          Colin Mackenzie collects over 8,000 inscriptions in Sanskrit and Dravidian languages
  • 1838    -           Decipherment of Asokan Brahmin by James Prinsep
  • 1877   -           Alexander Cunningham publishes a set of Asokan inscriptions
  • 1886   -           First issue of Epigraphia Carnatica, a journal of south Indian inscriptions
  • 1888    -           D.C. Sircar publishes Indian epigraphy and Indian Epigraphical Glossary

NCERT Extracts - Sources and Historical Construction
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