(Last Updated on : 18/08/2009)
Indian history comprises more than a span of 5000 years. In order to delve into its past there are various sources and these can be classified broadly into literary sources, archaeological sources and foreign accounts. However, the sources for ancient Indian history are limited by the dearth of written historical materials. Inspite of this fact several excavations, rare manuscripts, monuments and coins have aided in restructuring the ancient history of India.
One of the important sources are the literary sources but oral tradition was prevalent in ancient India. Hence the period before 6th century B.C. is generally obscure. It is only through the Vedas
, epics and Puranas
that one can get an idea about this period. From 6th century BC to the Gupta Age several manuscripts have been found to retell the tale of the by gone days. These literary sources include the Buddhist Jatakas and Jain Canonical texts. The Jatakas, for instance, contain valuable information about the then social and economic life of the people. The biographical narratives of the Gupta kings written by the court poets also throw ample light about ancient Indian kings and their courts. However, most of these works are eulogies and at times the narratives are exaggerated as well. Besides these south Indian Tamil chronicles like Nandika-Kalambakam and Kalingathu Parani are useful sources of ancient Indian history.
Archaeological sources are one of the most authentic ways to gather information about the past. In fact, archaeology is considered the backbone of the art of historiography. Inscriptions, coins and monuments are regarded as the archaeological sources. Amongst these inscriptions are considered to be of the most significant. Engraved on stones or metals, these throw ample light on the political events like wars and conquests. They also contain dates that serve as landmarks. Next to inscriptions, the coins form an important source of history. The coins of India
bear the names of kings or dynasties, dates or the particular deities which were worshipped during that era and royal portraits. These also help to restructure the economic lives and trade relations. The Indian monuments
, the existing art and architecture of the ancient days and the ruins of old cities also aid in restructuring the by-gone eras.
Foreign accounts relating to the Persian invasions, spread of Buddhism, administration of the Indian kings and others are essential as well in tracing the events that took place in the past. Foreign writers like, Megasthenes, Hiuen Tsang, Fa-Hien, Al-beruni (Arabic scholar), Lama Taranatha and others have left behind their accounts on ancient history. These have also contributed in gathering information on the ancient history of India