Alert Sign Dear reader, online ads enable us to deliver the journalism you value. Please support us by taking a moment to turn off Adblock on

Alert Sign Dear reader, please upgrade to the latest version of IE to have a better reading experience


Past present: Obscure and confused

June 24, 2012

In ancient India there was no tradition of history writing. The rulers and nobility had no interest in recording their achievements like other rulers of ancient civilisations.

The reason of disinterest towards history was the belief that life had cyclic movement and the same events repeated themselves. Therefore, what was the point in writing history which hardly changed and only repeated itself?

The absence of historical records makes it difficult for modern historians to write a comprehensive history of the ancient period. However, there are some references of historical events in myths, folk stories, and religious literature which are not enough to write complete history.

During the colonial period, the European scholars who studied the history of India argued that the region had no history because the process which creates history was stagnant. The Europeans believed that they were a superior race from an advanced civilisation compared to the Indians who were historically backward and far behind in the domain of culture. This provided them a tool to rule over such a backward nation and enable it to become civilised.

According to some European historians, the Indian village was functionally self sufficient and there was no need to have any external contact. Life was limited to a circle and there was no need to move, invent anything new or change the style of life within the village. This system hardly altered the social and cultural life of the ancient people. The only change that occurred periodically were the ruling dynasties which did not strongly impact  the social, cultural or economic fabric of the society.

To counter the colonial interpretation of ancient Indian history, some Indian nationalist historians made attempts to prove that ancient India was not backward but most advanced in the sphere of civilisation. For example, according to them the Rigveda composed around 1700–1100 BC includes hymns belonging to the geological period. They believed that the period of Vedas was the golden period of ancient India. Some historians even tried to prove that most of the modern inventions such as aircraft and missiles were actually invented by the ancient Indian scientists.

A group of modern historians including D.D. Kosambi, Romila Thapar and R.S. Sharma have written well-researched history of ancient India based on reliable sources. Their writing has brought to light forgotten and distorted history. On the basis of these writings it can be said that the ancient Indian society was not static but produced valuable ideas and thoughts.