Understanding Itihasa is an in-depth exploration of the traditional Indian outlook on past. It examines how early India looked at human past, how it considered and evaluated the value and significance of past and how it endeavoured to preserve the memory of the past it regarded as preservation worthy. The work may be called an elaboration and clarification Indian Philosophy of History.
Understanding Itihasa in fact stoutly and cogently contests the stereotypical view that early India lacked a sense of history. With patience, care and sympathy the monograph studies and analyzes a host of terms and concepts that developed in early India relating to human past, the methods of its preservation and the concerned expertise in those fields. The material studies spans from the Rgvedic period to the Early Medieval and includes literary, epigraphical and numismatic. The monograph gently and firmly asserts that the currently dominate view of history may not be the only valid way of looking at past.
Sibesh Bhattacharya, formerly Professor and Head, Department of Ancient History, Culture and Archaeology, University of Allahabad was a Fellow (1999-200 1) and National Fellow (2001-2004) at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla. A Gold Medalist from Allahabad University, he was a British Council Scholar at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London from 1972 to 1974. He has been a Sectional President, Indian History Congress and President, Indian Social Science Congress. His published works include Some Aspects of Indian Society from 2nd Century BC to 4th Century AD and Secular and Pluralistic Elements in the Idea of State in Early India, besides several papers.
The following pages represent a modest endeavor to examine the contention that traditional India had no conception of history. However, instead of approaching the problem from this negative focus, we have tried to approach it from a positive perspective. We have rather centered our attention, firstly, on understanding how the past was viewed and constructed in the traditional Indian worldview. And secondly, we have tried to consider to what extent this understanding is compatible with the modem concept of history. We have thus pursued a twofold objective: (i) to understand and amplify the traditional Indian point of view on past, and, (ii) to highlight the similarities and dissimilarities of the Indian point of view with the current view of history.
The present monograph has developed out of a project on 'History in Early India: Theory and Practice' for which a fellowship was kindly granted by Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla. As we pursued the theme of the project it seemed appropriate to us to somewhat enlarge its scope to include how the traditional understanding has been interpreted and elaborated by modem Indian scholars. The monograph thus has two main parts; Part One on early Indian understanding of past and Part Two on the modem understanding of the tradition. We are of the view that for the sake of placing the theme in proper perspective this enlargement was necessary. One more point perhaps calls for clarification. We have in our formulation often used the expression 'Indian' to underline the geographical and cultural contexts of our theme. However, the traditional Indian perspective did not normally think in the restricted terms of cultural or geographical identities; it preferred to think in universal and human terms. And it is in these universal human terms that the view of itihasa was perceived.
In the preparation of this monograph I have received help and encouragement from numerous quarters and persons. I am particularly beholden to the authorities of the Indian institute of Advanced Study, Shimla for kindly granting me a fellowship to prepare the monograph. The excellent support system and the facilities that the Institute provides along with the academic environment of a truly high order make working in the Institute a memorable experience. To my teacher, Professor G.C. Pande, who fortunately also happens to be the President cum Chairman of the Institute at present, I owe a debt too heavy and too subtle to express in words. But for his kindness and constant encouragement it would not have been possible to undertake and complete the work. I would rather remain eternally indebted to him than belittle his kindness by a wordy expression of gratitude. Professor Bhuvan Chandel, the Director of the Institute, has always been unfailingly kind to me. I do not know how to express my thanks to her for her innumerable acts of kindness and encouragement.
I shall be failing in my duty if do not mention the cooperation that I always received from Shri D. K. Mukherjee, the Librarian and other Library Staff of the Institute. A special word of thanks is due to Smt. Alekha Jabbar, the Asst. Librarian, who cheerfully bore my numerous demands on her expertise and knowledge. Dr. S. A. Jabbar, Dr. Debarshi Sen, Shri T. K. Majumdar, Shri A. K. Sharma, Shri Kundan Lal and other sectional heads and their staff at the Institute made my stay at the Institute comfortable and pleasant. The mess and canteen staff deserves a special word of thanks. I have also received suggestions and encouragement from a number of fellows and scholars at the Institute. Professor D. P. Chattopadhyaya was very kind to spare time from his very busy schedule of work to go through the draft of Part One of the monograph and gave a number of suggestions. I do not know how to thank him adequately for this kindness. I have also often held stimulating discussions with a number of Fellows at the Institute. Professor Suresh Chandra Pande, Professor G. C. Nayak, Professor Kishor Chakravarti, Dr. Navjyoti Singh, Professor Om Prakash, Professor S. N. Dube, Professor R. N. Misra deserve special mention. The monograph has benefited from these discussions. I am grateful to all of them.
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