Sources of ancient Indian History can be described under the following five headings:-
- Literary Sources: The ancient Indian literature were mostly religious in nature and contains no definite date for events and kings eg. the Puranas and the epics. Vedic literature has no trace of political history but has a reliable glimpses of culture and civilisation of the age. The epics like Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Jaina and Buddhist religious texts supply us with some important historical material with doses of religious messeges.Upanishadas: Main source of Indian philosophy; also called "Vedantas"
Jaina Parisistapravana, Buddhist Dwipavamsa and Mahavamsa contain traditions which supply us some historical materials. Gargi Samhita , a book on astronomy, the grammer of Panini and Patanjali also contain materials that help us in the recontruction of the history of the ancient period of India.
From the second half of the ancient period of Indian history, there are not only panegyrics of kings and emperors but also political treatises dealing with the principles of administration. Kautilya's Arthasastra andManusmriti may be mentioned in this connection. It was a work of the Maurya period. Vishakhadatta'sMudrarakshasa gives a glimpse of Maurya society and culture. Similarly, events of the Pushyamitra Sunga's reign are mentioned by Kalidasa in Malvikagnimitram. Among the personal accounts of ancient period, Banabhatta's Harshacharita , dealing with the character and achievements of Harshvardhana as also history of his times, Bakpatiraja's Gaudabaho describings how Yasovarman conquered Gauda deserves special mention. Poet Bilhana described the history of the reign of Chalukya king Vikramaditya VI in his Vikramanka Charita . Sandhyaakar Nandi's Ramacharita is a description of the reign of Rampal, a king of the Pala dynasty of Bengal. Kalhana's Rajatarangini is a valuable book on the history of the kings of Kashmir. Likewise, Padmagupta's Nabasahasanka Charita, Hem Chandra's Dwasraya Kavya , Nyaya Chandra's Hammir Kavya , Ballal's Bhoja Prabandha contains important historical materials.
- Archaeological Evidence :The archaeological evidence is obtained by the systematic and skilled examination of building monuments, and work of art. The credit for excavating the pre-Aryan past goes to Sir William Jones of Asiatic Society of Bengal (established on 1st January 1784). General Sir Alexander Cunningham, one of its Royal Engineers, dugged out the ruins of ancient site of pre-Aryan culture. From his arrival in India in 1831, Cunningham, the Father of Indian Archaeology devoted every minute he could spare from his military duties to the study of material remains of ancient India, until in 1862, the Indian government established the post of Archaeological Surveyor, to which he was appointed. Until his retirement in 1885, he devoted himself to the unravelling of India's past with complete single-heartedness.In 1901, Lord Curzon revived and enlarged the Archaeological Survey and appoint John Marshall its Director General. The discovery of India's oldest cities dating back to the second Inter-Glacial period between 400,000 and 200,000 BC in 1921 by Daya Ram Shahni was the biggest achievement of Archaeological Survey of India under Marshall, the first relics of which were noticed by Cunningham. The cities discovered were named Harappa and Mohenjodaro and the civilisation as the Indus Valley Civilisation.
In 1922, an Indian officer of the Archaeological Survey, R.D.Banerjee, founded further seals at Mohenjodaro in Sindh, and recongnized that they were remains of a pre-Aryan civilisation of great antiquity. Under Sir John Marshall's direction, the sites were systematically excavated from 1924 until his retirement in 1931.
- Inscriptions : Inscriptions are the most reliable evidence and their study is called epigraphy . These are mostly carved on gold, silver, iron, copper, bronze plates or stone pillars, rocks temple walls and bricks and are free from interpolations. Inscriptions again are mainly of three types:- royal eulogy, official documents like royal rescripts, boundary marks, deeds, gift, etc. and private records of votive, donative or dedicative type.Inscriptions in Prakrit, Pali, Sanskrit, Telgu, Tamil and other languages have been discovered. But most of the inscriptions are in Brahmi and Kharosti scripts.
James Prinsep, the Secretary of the Asiatic Society of Bengal succeeded for the first time in deciphering the Brahmi script. Among the inscriptions of ancient past, those of emperor Ashoka are by far the best historical evidence about his reign. Inscriptions of Kharvela, king of Kalinga, Saka rular Rudradamana, Allahabad Prasasti by Harisena, the court poet of Samudragupta, are important evidences for the reconstruction of the history of India.
- Coins : The study of coins is known as numismatics. Thousands of ancient Indian coins have been discovered from which idea about the contemporary economic condition, currency system, development of the matallurgical art has been obtained. The image of Samudragupta playing on a lyre gives us an idea of his love of music. From the dates on the coins, it has been possible to understand the contemporary political history. Samudragupta's Aswamedha coins and Lion-slayer coins gives us an idea of his ambition and love of hunting.
- Accounts of the Foreigners : A great deal of our knowledge of ancient Indian History are supplemented by the writing of foreigners.
Literary Works of Foreign Authors
|Magasthenes(G)||Indica||Valuable information on administration and socio-economic of Mauryan India|
|Ptolemy(G)||Geography||Geographical treatise on India in 2nd Century AD|
|Pliny(G)||Naturakus Historia||Accounts trade relations between Rome and India in 1st Century AD|
|Anonymous(G)||Periplus of the Erythrean Sea||Records personal voyage of Indian coasts in 80 A.D.|
|Fa-Hien(C)||Record of the Buddhist Countries||Records the Gupta Empire in the 5th Century AD|
|Hiuen Tsang(C)||Buddhist Records of the Western World||Describes the social, economic and religious conditions of India in the 5th and 7th Century AD.|
|I-tsing(C)||A record of the Buddhists religion as practised in India and Malay Archipelago.||Studies the Gupta period under Sri Gupta in the 7th Century AD.|
|Hwuili(C)||Life of Hiuen Tsang||Accounts Hiuen Tsang's travel in India.|