Sources of History

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Sources of Indian History

History is record of past events and it is "the study of man's dealings with other men, and the adjustment of working relations between human groups." When we say that we are going to write about sources of history, it must be understood at the outset that we would be going to do so only with regard to the sources of Indian history.

Writing about the beginnings of the history of India, Dr. R.C.Majumdar has said that it goes "back to that remote period when man first settled in this country...the earliest man has left little evidence to enable us to investigate his thoughts, desires, activities or achievements. we can only dimly discern his gradual growth as a sentient being amid the geological changes and physical and biological environment in which he found himself."

Data/Sources defined

History of the ancient man's evolutionary process which surely must have covered a long period of time, is only a matter of inference based on very slender evidence. The study of this fascinating subject has made some progress ...but the little that is known shows that the prehistoric period of India presents features very similar to what we meet with the Western Asia and Europe. History of that period is reconstructed on the basis of data collected from various means known as archaeological sources. When we reach historic times, the evidence the written evidences start to emerge. Hereinafter both type of data are used to reconstruct history.

The data so collected is generally divided into main two categories i.e. Archaeological Sources and Literary sources for smooth conduct of research. These sources are further divided into various sub-categories for easy collection of information, analyses and then to be applied for testing a hypothesis. Thus history gets strong foundation on the data used in scientific way to cement the conclusions and thus raise a strong chain of events of the past which becomes history of the specific period.

Here we will first concentrate on collection of sources for reconstruction of history of India in general and the History of the Jats in particular.

Archaeological Sources

This category of sources encompass monuments, edicts, sculptures, pillars, coins, ancient remains of metals, ornaments, beads, seals and sealings, equipment made of stones and metal, food grains etc. found from ancient habitations of the man in hoary past. The studies of these sources are scientifically undertaken by the archaeologists, numismatists, etc. etc.

Archaeological Survey of India maintains several Museums all over India where antiquity remains collected from various ancient sites/places are kept and preserved for the use of research scholars.

Original Literary Sources

Vedic literature:

  • The four Vedas
  • Aitareya Aranyaka : Text Anandasarma Sanskrit Series, No. 37, Poona, 1898. Ed. with a translation into Eng. by A.B. Keith, Oxford, 1909.
  • Aitrareya Brahmana : Ed. Th. Aufrecht. Bonn, 1879. Ed. K. S. Agashe, Poona, 1896. Translated into A.B. Keith, History of Sanskrit, Vol. XXV, Cambridge, Mass. 1920.
  • Atharvaveda: Ed. R. Roth and W.D. Whitney, Berlin, 1856. Ed. with Sayana's commentary by S.P. Pandit, Bombay 195-98. Translated into English by W.D. Whitney, Cambridge, Mass, USA, 1905. Translated in part, M.Bloomfield. SBE. Volume XLII. Oxford, 1897.
  • VEDIC INDEX OF NAMES AND SUBJECTS, vols. I and II, co-authored by Arthur Anthony Macdonell and Arthur Berriedale Keith, first edition, London, 1912 and re-published by Motilal Banarsidass, Indological Publishers and Booksellers, Delhi in 1982,

The Puranas

  • The Puranas are eighteen in number which contain historical references. 18 sub-Puranas are also supposed to supplement the historical information.

The Epics

  • The Mahabharata
  • The Ramayana

Epic Ramayana as a source of Ancient History

The two epics Ramayana and Mahabharata are very important sources of History of India which should be used with caution by sifting myth from facts by using other research tools for their examination.

The internal evidence regarding timeline of the epic Ramayana proves that it is older to epic Mahabharata. "The events of the Ramayana took place when the Rigveda was in the making and the Vedas had not been classified by Dvaipayana Vyasa," who flourished later in the time of the Kurukshetra War i.e. Mahabharata Battle. Moreover, "The Rishis mentioned in Ramayana are generally those who either composed or saw Rik-hymns or Rik-mantras.... In the Rigveda the Aryans are fighting with the Asuras from the west and the black people from the south east. In the Ramayana the same Aryans are seen fighting with the Gandharavas and the Sindhu Sauviras in the west and the Rakshasas in the south and east. In the Rigveda both Rishhis and Rajas are seen engaged in fighting...In the Rigveda the stream of Aryan migration seems to flow from the west to the east and the south; the same is found in the Ramayana over a greater extent of territory from Bahlika, where the same person Ila is the progenitor of the Solar and Lunar races, to Ceylon. In the Ramayana the primitive idea of men and women exchanging their sexes like Ila and of monkeys, birds and snakes living, moving and speaking like men is found in abundance. All these considerations stamp the story of the Ramayana as very ancient. [1]

Other Literary Sources

1. Records in Archives and Repositories:

As regards literary sources in the form of MSS related to the history of India are concerned, the National Archives of India, 1-Janapath, New Delhi is one of the biggest repository in the country where millions of documents are available for use of the researchers.

During medieval times, Rajasthan rulers had very intimate relationship with the Mughals. They kept a continuous dialogue with the Delhi Government and kept a record of every bit of event, happening and its consequent action and reaction. This plethora of records and correspondence is written in Persian, Rajasthani, Hindi etc. is in MSS form and is kept at Rajasthan State Archives, Bikaner. Some of the rare books like Nansi-ri Khyat in three volume, Suryamall Misrans, Vamsa Bhaskar, and Veer Vinod are historical books found at the RSA, Bikaner.

Some of the original Farmans issued by the Mughal Emperors and Nishans have been translated into English by J N Sarkar. The documents are being used by the research scholars interested in medieval Indian history in general and history of Rajasthan and adjoining region.

The old land records and Land Settlement Reports, Revenue Records etc. kept at erstwhile native states headquarters like Jaipur, Alwar, Kota, Bharatpur,Jodhpur, Udaipur, Bikaner, Jaisalmer, Bundi etc. of Rajasthan containing land records, revenue demands, correspondence of various types, land settlement records etc provide multi faceted sources of history of those days which are used to study socio-economic, cultural and political conditions of the medieval and modern history.

These sources have been used by scholars and as regards history of the Jats since the time the Mughals entered the Indian political scene is concerned, many a monographs and research articles have appeared mainly based on the records available in the Rajasthan State Archives and other repositories. They are really mines of information on various issues and are being used by the research scholars.

Most of the documents related with the history of Punjab are available at Lahore. Some records relating to PEPSU and the East Punjab are kept at Punjab State Archives, Patiala.

Records for writing the history of Haryana are kept at Haryana State Archives, Panchkula which include mostly copies procured from the National Archives of India regarding medieval history and original documents starting from 1857 onwards.

Natnagar Sodh Sansthan, Sitamau [MP] is very rich in archival sources for history of medieval India in general and the Jats of 17-18th Century in particular. It was established by Dr. Raghubir Simha, the Kunwar of the Sitamau native state. Old MSS of several treatises and letters exchanged between various rulers and the Delhi Emperors and the Marathas are worthy possessions of this repository.

Peshwa Daftar Records, Pune contains a large number of letters pertaining to various facets of the history of India during the tumultuous days particularly of Eighteenth and early nineteenth century when the Peshwas enjoyed control over the Maratha confederacy. Many of the records and documents have been translated into English and published for the benefit of the researchers.

Khudabux Library, Patna contains rich collection of rare books belonging to the Sultanate and Mughal period of Indian History.

Nagari Pracharini Sabha Varanasi has brought out many old MSS in the form of printed books and has saved the precious source material for history writing from destruction. As regards sources of the Jat History, the Sabha has brought Sudan's Sujan Charit and Somanath Granthawali in book form which are original sources of information on the History of Bharatpur royal dynasty in general and Maharaja Suraj Mal in particular.

Buddhist Literature

Milindapanha is an ancient historic document consists of questions by King Milind and answers by the Buddhist scholar on various issues of contemporary concern.

Panini's Astadhyayi

Panini, the author of Astadhyayi, the Sanskrit grammer has provided a lot of information for the reconstruction of history of ancient India and also provided the first reference directly related with the origin of the word Jat: as " जट झट सङ्घाते " (Jat Jhat Sanghate). And, this reference highlights that the terms 'Jat' and 'democratic federation' are synonymous. He has also mentioned many Jat clans as settled in Punjab and North-West areas. For details kindly see, [2]

Rajtarangini of Kalhan

Raso Literature

Records of Foreign Travellers

Si Yu Ki [The Records of the Western World] by Huen Tsang is a detailed travellogue of first part of seventh century A.D. India which has come as a welcome addition to our knowledge of the Ancient Indian History. It contains references to the places and the kings visited by him and also refers to other issues like religion, pilgrim centres, economy, architectural styles, religious faiths, social set up etc. For identification of many lost towns and cities, it has been usefully put to use by Archaeologists in general and Alexander Cunningham in particular. Writing about the importance of this Record as source of Ancient Indian History, V A Smith says: "The prince of pilgrims, the illustrious Hiuen Tsang, whose fame as Master of Law still resounds through all Buddhist lands, deserves more particular notice. His travels, described in work entitled Records of the Western World, which has been translated into French, English, and German, extended from A.D.629 to 645, and covered an enormous area, including almost every part of India, except the extreme south. His book is a treasure-house of accurate information, indispensable to every student of Indian antiquity, and has done more than any archaeological discovery to render possible the remarkable resuscitation of lost Indian history which has been recently affected."

He goes on to add: "Although the chief historical value of Hieun Tsang's work consists in its contemporary description of political, religious, and social institutions, the pilgrim has increased the debt of gratitude due to his memory by recording a considerable mass of ancient tradition, which would have been lost but for his care to preserve it. The Life of Hieun Tsang, composed by his friend Hwui-li, contributes many details supplemental to the narrative in the records, though not quite so trustworthy."


  1. M.M.H. P. Sastri's Introduction to A.S.B. Purana Manuscripts cited by S.C.Dey, Historicity of Ramayana and the Indo-Aryan Society in India and Ceylon, (1976), Delhi, pp.76-77