(Last Updated on : 04/04/2012)
Right from delineating the root of Indian history to mirror the socio economic condition of ancient India, Puranic sources have played a major role. Puranas are coined as the real histories of ancient India, because they hold the most methodical record of Indian historical tradition. Puranas comprise eighteen in number and there are Up-Puranas of an equal number. Five of these Puranas-Vishnu, Vayu, Brahma, Bhagvata and Matsya Puranas-are of a great deal of historical consequence. Every Purana is divided in five parts--1. Sarga, 2. Prati Sarga, 3. Vansha, 4. Manwantar and 5. Vansha Nucharita.
These hold the dynasties of kings and speak about the accomplishments of kings. Besides assisting to know the historical geography of ancient India, the Puranas renders an image of the political, social, economic and religious conditions of India in various times. According to Smith, 'the Puranic genealogies cannot be treated as of much value for account of pre-historic period, but they are of immense help in reconstruction of the political history of India for a period subsequent to 600 B.C.' Thus it can be seen that Puranas are a priceless source of history of India from 600 B.C. to succeeding periods. Still, there is requirement of vigilance in restructuring the history on the foundation of Puranas, because there are specific flaws in them. They start mostly with a myth and ends in history. Moreover, they are paradoxical. Hence, a measured and vigilant study is called for, so that plenty historical materials may be deduced from Puranas
Brahmans and Upanishads
-Another class of literature associated with the Vedas are Brahmans and Upanishads. Brahmans are the prose commentaries on Vedic hymns. The Upanishads contain the philosophical ethical preachings. Through Upanishads, the religious and cultural thoughts of the Aryans can be recognised. They are detailed dissertations on God, Soul and Salvation. Furthermore, they give priceless information about the reigns of King Parikshit to Bimbisara.
-It additions to Brahmans and Upanishads, there are six Vedangas. Vedangas are dissertations on science and art. These Vedangas were meant to assist in the understanding of the Vedas. The six Vedangas xomprise- (1) Phonetics, (2) Astronomy, (3) Ritual, (4) Grammar, (5) Etymology, and (6) Metrics.
-For better apprehension and study of different branches of Vedas, certain schools came into being in course of time and each school had its individual texts, which are known as Sutras. The most significant of the Sutras comprise- (1) Kalpa Sutras, (2) Grihya Sutras, and (3) Dharma Sutras. Kalpa Sutras contain rituals and has four divisions. Grihya Sutras illustrate the rituals, sacrifices etc. These furnish a flamboyant picture of the social and religious life of people during those periods. Lastly, the Dharma Sutras relates with Dharma or Law.
-Epics are the legendary tales, yet they are momentous to that extent because they furnish plentiful information concerning the economic, religious, social and political conditions of the later Aryans. The two epics, 'Ramayana' and 'Mahabharata' represents Hindu society of their times. The writers assign their period from 4th century B.C. to 4th century A.D. Dr. Ram Naresh Tripathy comments, "No doubt, they give interesting pictures of the religious and social conditions, but as chronicles of political events, they seen lamentably full of tale-telling and chronological aberrations". But, these epics do provide ample information regarding historical materials. For example, 'Ramayana' which is in Sanskrit and written by Valmiki, illuminates everybody about the conflict between the Aryans and non-Aryans. The execution of Ashwamedha described in 'Ramayana' demonstrates that powers of kings had amplified and that one icing had avowed his domination over other kings. Furthermore, the Aryans had expanded their influence towards the south. From the point of view of political conditions of the epic era, 'Mahabharata' is more imperative.