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An archaeological dip into the cultural history through books that awaken the India’s glory

Spanning several thousands of years, India’s history is vast and rich, to say the least. The Indian subcontinent inhabits one of the world’s most ancient and significant civilizations. The first record of settlements was found at the site of Mehrgarh, where there was documentation of wheat and barley cultivation and poultry farming. Over the course of the years, the Indian subcontinent saw immense development in the inhabitation of the land. The first traces of civilization in this region dates back to the Indus Valley civilization. This community resided in what is today regions of Pakistan, and north-western India. They are known for their urban planning, baked brick houses, meticulously planned drainage systems and irrigational facilities. Indian history is split into many parts based on different timelines, here are some of these distinct periods: 


Early prehistoric times


The prehistoric period of time encompasses two sub-categories including the Palaeolithic and Neolithic time periods. 


  • Palaeolithic - This time period involved an African tribe known as the Hominins. They were known to be a nomadic tribe that traversed across the globe. They are believed to have settled in the Indian subcontinent at some point of their existence, making them the first inhabitants of this land, as per archaeological evidence. The earliest hominin fossils were found in the Narmada Valley situated in Central India. However, the archaeological traces of the Hominin tribe suggest that their inhabitation of the Indian subcontinent was sporadic in nature.


  • Neolithic - During this time, civilizations depended on water forms, especially rivers for their livelihood. Thus, these communities were seen on the western banks of the Indus river. These settlements slowly grew into the Indus Valley Civilization. 


Indus Valley Civilization - During this time, there was an emergence of a few urban civilizations. The cause of this sudden development of settlements in particular parts of the world was the access to rivers. Thus people started to form communities and migrate to areas that had ample water supply, primarily from rivers. This led to the growth of some of the world’s most important civilizations, including the Mesopotamian civilization, the Egyptian civilization and the Indus Valley civilization. Situated on the bank of the Indus River, the fertile soil made it possible for agriculture in this area to flourish. Archaeologists discovered many artefacts such as household items, war weapons, gold and silver accessories, that displayed the richness of this civilization. They were popularly known for their urban planning and architecture, especially their baked brick houses.


Vedic Civilization - After the Indus Valley civilization came to the emergence of the Vedic civilization along the banks of the river Saraswati. Getting its name from Hindu Vedic literature, the trademark of this time period are the Hindu epics - Ramayana and Mahabharata. 


Buddhist Era - Followed by the Vedic civilization, came the dawn of the Buddhist Era. This time period is dictated by the religion based on Siddhartha Gautama, otherwise known as, the Buddha. This revolved around the spiritual doctrines of this time period that focused on promoting a righteous life and the search for enlightenment. 


Alexander’s Invasion - Right after this, came the reign of Alexander, who invaded India by crossing the river Indus. However, the key aspect of this war was the Indian’s use of elephants, which was never seen before. 


Gupta Dynasty - The Gupta reign is also fondly remembered as India’s Golden Age in Indian history. The most prominent figure of this dynasty was Chandragupt, who is often referred to as the ‘king of kings’ due to his judicious conquests and the prosperous state of India under his rule. His empire began from the river Ganges upto Allahabad.


Medieval Indian History - This period is commonly known to have taken inspiration from Islamic kingdoms. Medieval India is best known for three distinct kingdoms, they are: 


  • The Chalukyas

  • The Pallavas

  • The Pandyas

  • The Rashtrakutas

  • The Cholas


The Mughal Rule - The next period that was a significant part of India’s history was the emergence of the Mughal Empire. This time period was responsible for the birth of systematic public administration, exemplary infrastructure, and patronage of the arts. The eminent rulers of this time period were Babar, Humayun, Akbar, Jehangir, Shah Jahan, and Aurangzeb. 


Modern Indian History - This period in Indian history was primarily surrounded by the British rule. Throughout their rule, they brought about comprehensive social, political and economic changes in the country. 


FAQ’s:


Q1. Is the Indian race a pure one? 


No, it is an amalgamation of tribal cultures that migrated to India millions of years ago. It is believed that the Indian race has emerged from three different waves of migration, namely, from Africa, Iran and Central Asia. 


Q2. Who was the first king of India? 


The very first king of India was Chandragupta Maurya, who founded the Maurya dynasty. His empire not only spanned kingdoms in ancient India, but also extended to Afghanistan and the borders of Persia.


Q3. Which book is better for Indian history?

 

·         Discovery of India by Jawaharlal Nehru

 

·         Freedom at Midnight by Dominique Lapierre, and Larry Collins

 

·         The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity by Amartya Sen

 

·         India after Gandhi: The History of the World's Largest Democracy by Ramachandra Guha

 

·         The Wonder That Was India by A.L. Basham

 

·         The Last Mughal: Chronicle of Indian History explaining India before Independence by William Dalrymple

 

·         India: A History by John Keay

 

·         Alberuni'S India: An Account of the Religion, Philosophy, Literature, Geography, Chronology, Astronomy, Customs, Laws and Astrology of India about A.D.1030 by Dr. Edward C. Sachau


Q4. Which book is Recognised as the first History of India?

 

‘RAJATARANGINI’ is the first historical book of India. It is written by the famous author KALHAN (12th century). He wrote the work in Sanskrit between 1148 and 1149. Rajatarangini ("The River of Kings") is a metrical legendary and historical chronicle of the north-western Indian subcontinent, particularly the kings of Kashmir. The work consists of 7826 verses, which are divided into eight books called Tarangas ("waves"). The Rajataringini provides the earliest source on Kashmir. Although inaccurate in its chronology, the book still provides an invaluable source of information about early Kashmir and its neighbors in the northwestern parts of the Indian subcontinent.


Q5. What are the three types of Indian history?

 

Ancient: India, the name comes from the Indus valley. Earlier known as Bharata on the ancient mythological emperor Bharata. Involves Indus Valley Civilization; Vedic civilization; the Invasion of Alexander; The Gupta dynasty

 

Medieval: from Islamic kingdoms - The Cholas during the 19th century-- the Mughals Empire started to rise in the 16th century - Babar, Humayun, Sher Shah Suri, Akbar, Jahangir, Shahjahan, and Aurangzeb

 

Modern: After the Mughal, the Britishers arrived in early 1600 as traders (East India Company). Ruled over India for two centuries. Then the rise of freedom fighters and all the Indians fought for freedom secured in 1947.


Q6. What is the importance of Indian history?


History helps us in knowing the past people, their cultures, their religions, and their social systems, and suggests to us how to make the future better. It makes us learn lessons from past mistakes for the present and future and reminds us not to repeat, which led to various man made calamities and disasters like wars.


History guides us to ignore the bad things of the past to promote harmony, peace, and prosperity in the present society. It promotes, cultivates, and unites exponents of different religions by bringing them together (samavaya) in religious assemblies. History gives a society or a nation an identity.


Q7. Which is the best book to read about Indian history?

 

Indian History is Unique and extremely Complex, approximately 3000 years old (maybe even older).To Know everything about Indian History, I would recommend reading ‘The History and Culture of the Indian People’. The book has 11 volumes and is written by the most respected Indian historian ever R.C. Majumdar.

 

On the initiative of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, he took up the mantle of editing a multi-volume digest on Indian History for 26 years, traveled extensively, and took help from several historians to describe Indian history and culture. It may be a little expensive voyage, but it's worth it.


Q8. Which is the oldest book in History of India?


The oldest book in Indian history is believed to be the Vedas, written between 1700 and 1100 BCE, the Vedic period being the starting point of Indian civilization. The Vedas are the foundation of Hinduism and are still used in religious ceremonies and rituals. The Four Vedas are Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda and Atharvaveda.


The Vedas were passed down orally for centuries before they were finally written down in Sanskrit. Each Veda includes the Samhitas (mantras and benedictions), the Aranyakas (text on rituals, ceremonies, sacrifices, and symbolic sacrifices), the Brahmanas (commentaries on rituals, ceremonies, and sacrifices), and the Upanishads (texts discussing meditation, philosophy, and spiritual knowledge).


Q9. How can I study Indian history?


Don’t treat History as boring, instead like it as a story. Be curious to know more and appreciate India’s past which has shaped the present. History would be more relevant and interesting. Make notes in chronological order when studying history enabling quicker and easier revision.


Study a particular section for the second time from a different source. A different layer of information about the same topic would be known. Make sure to learn the topics from a variety of perspectives such as women’s perspective, educational perspective, administration perspective, etc. to gain fresh ideas about other subjects like politics, social issues, economics, etc.


Q10. Who is the best historian of India?


Sir Jadunath Sarkar (1870-1958) is widely regarded as one of the greatest historians of India. Known as the Doyen of Indian Historians, Dr. Ramesh Chandra Majumdar is noted not only for his spectacular life achievements but also for his contributions to documenting ancient as well as modern Indian history, sometimes literally from the scratch.


His most spectacular achievements are the 11 volumes of ‘The History and Culture of Indian People’ and the 3 Volumes ‘History of the Freedom Movement in India’. His co-authored book, ‘An Advanced History of India’ (popularly called the Three Doctors) is considered a staple for any scholar of Indian history.