Developed as the most comprehensive textbook yet for undergraduate and postgraduate students, A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India offers a scholarly and engaging account of India’s early past. Discussions and analyses of politics, society, economy, technology, philosophy, religion, and art changing textures of life in the subcontinent over many millennia.
Upinder Singh’s book introduces students to original sources such as ancient texts, art effects, inscriptions and coins, illustrating how historians construct history on their basis. Its clear and balanced explanation of concepts and historical debates enables students to independently evaluate evidence, arguments, and theories.
This remarkable textbook allows the reader to visualize and understanding India’s rich and varied past, transforming the process of discovering that past into an exciting experience.
Upinder Singh is Professor in the Department of History at the University of Delhi. She studied history at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, and went on to receive her M.A. and M. Phil. from the University of Delhi, specializing in ancient Indian history. She obtained her Ph.D. from McGill University, Montreal.
She taught history at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, from 1981 until 2004, after which she joined the faculty of the Department of History at the University of Delhi. Professor Singh’s wide range of research interests and expertise include the analysis of ancient and early medieval inscriptions, social and economic history, religious institutions and patronage, the history of archaeology; and the modern history of ancient monuments. Her research papers have been published in various national and international journals. She is the author of several books—Kings, Brahmins, and Temples in Orissa: An Epic graphic Study (AD 300—1147) (1994); Ancient Delhi (1999; 2nd end. 2006); a book for children, Mysteries of the Past:
Archaeological Sites in India (2002); the Discovery of Ancient India: Early Archaeologists and the Beginnings of Archaeology (2004); and Delhi: Ancient History (edited, 2006).
Professor Singh lives and teaches in Delhi. She is married and has two sons.
From 1981, 1 spent over twenty years teaching the undergraduate course on ancient and early medieval India at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi. It was a daunting course, demanding coverage of many different areas and issues over enormous spans of time. I was fortunate to have students with sharp and inquisitive minds, whose questions constantly forced me to re-think my perspectives and conclusions, and who made me realize that teaching is ultimately about the quality of communication between student and teacher. Undergraduate teaching, with its enormous pressures of teaching and marking work, left very little time for research. Nevertheless, I did manage to keep my research going, and explored issues related to social and economic history, religious institutions, inscriptions, archaeology, and the modern histories of ancient sites and monuments.
A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India: From the Stone Age to the 12th Century emerged from the intersection of my experiences as a teacher and researcher. Primarily a textbook and reference work for both undergraduate and postgraduate students, this book will, I hope, also appeal to the general reader. Its aim is to provide an introduction to ancient and early medieval India through a comprehensive overview of historical issues and details within a firm chronological framework; explanations of basic concepts and terminology; an exposure to the flavor of textual, material, and visual historical sources; and a highlighting of new discoveries and research. Perhaps most importantly, this book focuses on the process, through which historical knowledge is formed, and the intellectual inquiry and debate that form part of this process.
This book is not a mere summary of existing knowledge. Rather than offer students a smoothened narrative, which they will then be expected to absorb passively, it is necessary to expose them to the complex details and textures of history. Where there are unresolved issues, they have been presented as such, rather than conveying a false sense of certainty where there are debates, the different perspectives have been presented, along with my own assessment of which arguments are convincing and which ones are not.
Historians and teachers invest far too much time and energy in telling students what to think, rather than how to think for themselves. Students need to learn to evaluate evidence and hypotheses, to relentlessly question and critique what they read or are told, and formulate and express their independent views. It is essential to acknowledge the valuable contributions made by various scholars towards the construction of historical knowledge and to understand the rigorous methodology that underlies this process. However I hope that this book encourages readers to think courageously and creatively beyond the current boundaries of academic discourse and debate.
Since this is a macro-history of the Indian subcontinent, and in a single volume at that, it outlines broad trajectories, always aware of the fact that these are only a few of multiple trajectories. Thus, for instance, while the account of the beginnings of food production may suggest that this was the inexorable direction in which things were moving, emphasis is still placed on the fact that hunting and gathering remained a preferred subsistence activity for many communities across the centuries. Similarly, the discussion of the early historical period may seem to suggest that everything was making way for the emergence of city life, but it must not be forgotten that most people of the subcontinent continued to live in villages.
The privileging of certain processes over others is partly the result of the training and tendency of a historian to focus on what appear to be significant changes, and also due to the inherent nature and inadequacies of sources arid available data. The fact is that whether we look at the archaeological or literary sources, we know much more about agricultural groups than hunter-gatherers, and much more about city-dwellers than village folk. Nevertheless, it is important to constantly remind ourselves about the partial and inadequate nature of our historical narratives.
Prehistory to c. 1200 CE 15 an enormous span of time, and it is not possible to be exhaustive on each and every issue. The structure of this book involves breaking this vast period into broad chronological units. For earlier periods, all radiocarbon dates mentioned in this book are calibrated dates. Following current usage, BCE (Before Common Era) is used instead of BC, and CE (Common Era) instead of AD. Against the background of the controversy over the dates of the Buddha’s life, c. 480 BCE has been taken as the date of the parinibbana.
Within the broad chronological units, profiles have been constructed of the various geographical regions, incorporating the range of available literary and archaeological evidence, bringing out the complex strands of historical processes within and across different regions. The coverage of regions is necessarily dependent on available information, and the gaps and inadequacies in this information should inspire young scholars to take on the challenge of addressing them.
Each chapter looks at various aspects of a particular period on the basis of a critical survey of the available sources. The narrative is punctuated by boxes focusing on key concepts, primary sources, further discussion of specific issues or details, recent discoveries, and new directions in research. From the beginning of the historical period, the chapters start with a synopsis of political history and a discussion of political processes. This is not because these are necessarily the most important aspects of history but because it is useful for students to have a basic understanding of political context and chronology Political narrative has been accompanied, to every possible extent, with a discussion of political structures and processes.
Political, social, economic, religious, and cultural histories are discussed sequentially in order to bring out their inter-connectedness within a chronological and contextual frame. The discussion of social history looks at issues such as class, caste, gender, and subordinate and marginalized groups. Philosophical ideas are treated as an important part of the intellectual life of different periods. Religious doctrines and practices are discussed as important areas requiring detailed investigation, and not merely as part of an ideology reflecting existing power structures. I hope that the many excerpts from original sources and photographs create sensitivity towards the aesthetic dimensions of Indian cultural traditions reflected in literature, art, and architecture.
As far as possible, references have been cited to enable the interested reader to go to the original source. Translations have often been slightly modified to make them more accessible. Punctuation has been altered to suit the style of the book, especially since diacritical marks have been dispensed with. Since historical literature generally uses such diacritics and students should understand them, the conventionally used systems of transliteration for Sanskrit and Tamil have been provided towards the end of the book.
It is a matter of great satisfaction for me that this book contains over 400 illustrations—line drawings, photographs, and maps—many of a quality and range that are not to be found in any book on ancient and early medieval India. The visual element is as important for understanding prehistoric stone tools as for appreciating art and architecture. The illustrations are much more than an adjunct or supplement to the text. In many cases they convey much more than words possibly can, illuminating the past and making it vivid, meaningful, and exciting.
In spite of my best effort, I am aware that this book has certain limitations. For instance, largely because the book was already very long, the last chapter does not discuss the Delhi Sultanate or the history of Islam in the subcontinent, which are very important parts of the early medieval period. For similar reasons, the rich and varied cultural developments of this period could not be surveyed & abusively. I have instead given a brief overview, with a focus on South India, hoping that the photographs will to some extent make up for the lack of detailed discussion.
This book provides students and scholars with a foundation, encouraging to pursue further reading, depending on their needs and interests. The historical narrative given in the book relies not only on my own research but r a vast array of writing and research produced by others. My debt to this ship is acknowledged in the in-text references and the readings suggested and of the book. Readers are encouraged to follow these references for entailed treatment of various issues.
The Web supplement carries forward the features of this book, especially in of excerpts from original sources and illustrations. This resource allows a reader access to constant additions and updates to the material. This open- [less is essential, given the fact that new data and changes in perspective integral part of the discipline of history.
I hope that this book communicates how exciting and challenging an ion of the history of ancient and early medieval India can be. My students, Initially at St. Stephen’s College, and subsequently in the History Department of University of Delhi, have been an important part of my own exploration of history. That is why this book is dedicated to them.
It gives me great pleasure to acknowledge and thank the many people who have helped me in different ways in seeing this book through.
Several ideas emerged in the course of conversations with my friend and colleague, Nayanjot Lahiri. K. P Shankaran was a relentless source of ideas, which, to his apparent surprise, I always took very seriously. Rajni Palriwala gave prompt help and advice on sociological concepts and issues. Other members of the Delhi academic community who helped me at various points of time with ideas or material include T. K. V Subramanian, B. D. Chattopadhyaya, Amar Farooqui, Mahesh Rangarajan, Brij Tankha, D. E. U. Baker, Vijaya Ramaswamy, Parul Pandya Dhar, and Vikas Kumar Verma. Valuable long-distance help was given by Dilip K. Chakrabarti in the University of Cambridge and Leslie Orr in Concordia University, Montreal. Rukun Advani offered sound advice on several critical occasions. The library staffs of St. Stephen’s College were always extremely helpful in locating material.
The grant of the Daniel Ingalls fellowship (2005) by the Harvard—Yenching Institute allowed me to exploit the formidable resources of the Harvard libraries and also enabled me to do a great deal of writing. The Institute is a very lively and warm place, and this is due to Tu Weiming, Peter Kelly, Elaine Witham, Susan Alpert, Ruohong Li, and other members of the faculty and staff. I thank them all. I am confident that the Yenching Institute will continue to play an important role in providing a meeting ground for much-needed interaction between South Asian and East Asian scholars.
While I was at Harvard, S. R. Sarma and Parimal Patil provided timely suggestions on readings on science, philosophy, and religion. Neelam and Balbir Sihag gave me a home away from home, and the latter gave me access to his interesting ideas and writings on Kautilya. Sugata Bose, Ayesha Jalal, Neeti Nair, and Seema Alavi gave me friendship, which made those months at Harvard a lot of fun, apart from academically productive.
Special thanks are due to the readers who read this book and gave valuable suggestions and constructive criticism, which helped improve the text immensely—P 5. Dwivedi, Uma Chakravarti, Nayanjot Lahiri, Rupendra Kumar Chattopadhyay, Aloka Parasher-Sen, Naina Dayal, Shonaleeka Kaul, Meera Vishvanathan, and Mudit Trivedi. It is a source of great personal satisfaction to me that one of them—P S. Dwivedi—is my former teacher, who kindled an interest in ancient Indian history in me when I was an undergraduate student at St. Stephen’s College. And four of them—Naina, Shonaleeka, Meera, and Mudit—are my former students and now young scholars in their own right. I feel privileged to have had such relationships with my teachers and students.
I owe thanks to several institutions for the photographs in this book. Foremosi among these is the Archaeological Survey of India, which provided many photographs from its Photographic Section. Souvan Chatterji, Rajbir Singh, and Teja Singh gave ready and invaluable help, and cheerfully tolerated the enormous, messy piles of photo catalogues which Jai Prasad and I left on their tables for days on end. I would also like to thank the Archaeological Survey for permission to photograph certain artifacts in its Central Antiquities Collection in the Purana Qila, and Sarjun Prasad and his assistants for being so helpful during our shoots there.
Among the officers of the Survey who helped me source or obtain photographic material, I must especially thank R. S. Fonia, D. V Sharma, K. P Poonacha, R. S. Bisht, B. R. Mani, and Alok Tripathi. I hope that the photographs provided by the Underwater Archaeology Wing of the Archaeological Survey will inspire an interest in marine archaeology among young students. I would also like to thank Jitendra Das and his colleagues in the Hyderabad Circle of the Archaeological Survey for helping source photographs of Nagarjuna konda.
Thanks are also due to the National Museum, New Delhi, the Indian Museum, Kolkata, and the Government Museums at Chennai, Mathura, Lucknow Patna, and Chandigarh for permission to use several photographs. At the National Museum,J. E. Dawson, Rita Devi Sharma, D. P Sharma, Amarendra Nath Tripathi, and Byanktesh K. Singh were very helpful. I would especially like to acknowledge the permission given by the museum to use its beautiful coin photographs that are scattered throughout this book.
I would like to thank the American Institute of Indian Studies for providing some of the photographs reproduced in this book. I would also like to thank Kansai University, Osaka for photographs of Shravasti excavations.
Very special thanks are due to my old friend and photographer, Aditya Arya. In the past too, Aditya has somehow or other got entangled in my book ventures, but this time, his contribution, again at the cost of his time and work, was major. Watching him painstakingly photograph artefacts at the Purana Qila, and looking at the extraordinary results, made me acutely aware of the immense power of the photograph to communicate historical information. Apart from the photographs of ancient pottery and other artefacts in the Central Antiquities Collection, a large proportion of the exquisite colour photographs of ancient sculptures that appear in this book (e.g., those of Sanchi, Ajanta, and Ellora) have been shot by Aditya. The fact that he felt so passionately about making high quality photographs of both ordinary and extraordinary artifacts available to students, transformed this book into much more than what I imagined it could be.
I would like to thank Benoy Behl for allowing me to use his photographs of Ajanta, Alchi, and Tabo. I am especially grateful for the Alchi and Tabo photographs because I think it is high time students were made aware of the extraordinary natural beauty of Ladakh, Lahul, and Spiti, and the historical importance of the continuing Buddhist tradition in these areas. Goutam Dey of Berachampa contributed photographs of the Chandraketugarh terracottas. I hope that his photographs will stir concern for this important yet neglected site. Photographs of Bhita, Kaushambi, and Hire Benkal were contributed by Mudit Trivedi, those of Angkor Vat by K. P. Shankaran, and the view of Tabo monastery by Raghav Tankha. M. R. Mughal of Boston University generously stepped in to give me photographs of Mohenjodaro. Thanks to them all.
Thanks are due to Tarak Sharma for the illustrations in this book; to Uma Bhattacharya for the beautiful maps and discussions over delicious cookies; Satwinder Singh Channey and Rohit Kathuria for the design and final layout of the book; and Pooja Sharma for efficiency combined with cheer while doing the preliminary layout work. Rimli Borooah did an excellent job of tidying up the text.
At Pearson, I must, first of all, thank Kamini Mahadevan who visited St. Stephen’s College many years ago and instigated a train of thought that led to the writing of this book. Jai Prasad believed in this book and worked long and hard on it for many years, stoically bearing the brunt of my barrage of relentless e-mails and phone calls. Praveen Dev provided crucial last-minute editorial help. Debjani M. Dutta was consistently supportive. The production of this book involved inputs from many members of the Pearson team, and I thank them all. I am convinced that this kind of book could not have been produced, at this price and quality, by any other publishing house in India.
I would also like to acknowledge the role of my husband Vijay Tankha for living through my obsessive involvement with this project and for offering, as always, invaluable advice on style and content.
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