History is the study of the past (from the Greek word historia, which means "enquiry" or "knowledge gained by research"). History is a broad phrase that refers to both historical events and the gathering, organisation, presentation, and interpretation of knowledge about them.

It is split into three sections: Prehistory, Proto-history, and History.

  • Prehistory: Prehistory refers to events that took place before the introduction of writing. The three stone eras reflect prehistoric times.

  • Proto-history: It is the time between pre-history and history when a culture or organisation has yet to exist but has been recorded in the written records of modern literate civilisation. For example, the Harappan civilization's writings have yet to be decoded; nonetheless, because its presence is recorded in Mesopotamian literature, it is considered proto-history. Vedic civilisation, which lasted from 1500 to 600 BCE, is often regarded as proto-history. Archaeologists regard the Neolithic and Chalcolithic cultures to be proto-history.

  • History: It is the study of the past once writing was invented, as well as the study of literate cultures based on written documents and archaeological evidence.

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Ancient Indian History Construction

The following sources aid in the reconstruction of history:

  • Non-literary materials

  • Religious and secular literature are among the literary sources.

Non-literary Materials

Coins: Ancient Indian coinage was provided in the form of coins rather than paper. The first coins discovered in India were punch-marked silver and copper coins with only a few symbols, but subsequent coins had names of rulers, gods, dates, and other information. The locations where they were discovered indicate the circulation region. This allowed the history of various reigning dynasties to be reconstructed, particularly during the Indo-Greek Empire, which migrated to India via Northern Afghanistan and governed in the 1st and 2nd century BCE.

Coins shed insight on the economic history of many dynasties, as well as several factors such as the writing, art, and religion of the time. It also aids in comprehending metallurgical, scientific, and technological advancements (Numismatics refers to the study of coinage.)

Archaeology/Material Remains: Archaeology is the science that deals with the methodical excavating of old mounds at consecutive levels in order to build a concept of the people's material lives. The material remnants discovered during excavation and investigation are submitted to a variety of tests. Radiocarbon dating was used to determine their ages.

For example, excavated sites from the Harappan period provide insight into the lives of those who lived at that time. Similarly, Megaliths (south Indian burials) shed insight on the lives of people who lived in the Deccan and South India before to 300 BCE. Plant leftovers, particularly pollen analysis, can reveal information about climate and vegetation history.

Prashastis (inscriptions): The study and interpretation of ancient inscriptions is called epigraphy. Engraved writings on hard surfaces like stone and metals like copper, which generally record certain achievements, thoughts, royal commands, and choices, aid in comprehending diverse faiths and administrative systems of the time.

For example, inscriptions outlining Emperor Ashoka's state policies and inscriptions chronicling land donations by Satavahanas, Deccan Kings.

Foreign accounts: Foreign accounts can be used to augment indigenous literature. Visitors from Greece, China, and Rome came to India as tourists or religious converts, leaving behind a rich record of our history. Among them were the following notables: Megasthenes, the Greek ambassador, published "Indica," which contained vital information on Mauryan society and governance.

Both The Periplus of the Erythrean Sea and Ptolemy's Geography published in Greek, provide vital information on the ports and trade goods between India and the Roman empire.

A Buddhist wanderer named Fa-Hein Faxien (337 CE – 422 CE) provided a detailed description of the Gupta period.

A Buddhist pilgrim named Hsuan-Tsang visited India and described India under the time of King Harshavardhana, as well as the splendour of the Nalanda University.

Literary Sources

Religious Writing: Religious literature sheds information on the ancient Indian period's social, economic, and cultural situations. The following are some of the sources:

  • The Vedas: The Vedas are said to have been written between 1500 and 500 BCE. The Rigveda primarily comprises prayers, although subsequent Vedic writings (Samaveda, Yajurveda, Atharvaveda) include rites, magic, and legendary stories in addition to petitions. In the linked article, you may learn more about the four Vedas.

  • The Upanishads: The Upanishads (Vedanta) include philosophical discourses on the concepts of "Atma" and "Paramatma."

  • Mahabharata and Ramayana Epics: The Mahabharata is the elder of the two epics, and it may reflect events from the 10th century BCE to the 4th century CE. It originally included 8800 verses (called Jaya Samhita). The Mahabharata, or Satasahasri Samhita, was born when the verses were finally compiled to a total of 1,00,000 verses. It includes narrative, descriptive, and instructional content. The Ramayana initially had 12000 verses, but it was eventually expanded to 24000. There are didactic sections in this epic that were added afterwards.

  • Sutras: Shrautasutras (which feature sacrifices and royal crowning) and Grihya Sutras are examples of ceremonial literature found in sutras (which include domestic rituals like birth, naming, marriage, funeral, etc.)

  • Buddhist religious literature: The early Buddhist scriptures are known as the Tripitaka (three baskets) - Sutta Pitaka, Vinaya Pitaka, and Abhidhamma Pitaka. These documents provide a great deal of insight on the social and economic realities of the time. They also make political references during the Buddha's time.

  • Religious writings of Jaina: The Jaina scriptures, known as "angas," were composed in the Prakrit language and include the Jainas' intellectual views. They contain several manuscripts that aid in the reconstruction of Mahavira's political history in eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Trade and traders are mentioned several times in the Jaina literature.

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Secular writing

There is a huge number of secular literature as mentioned below:

  • Dharmashastras/Law books: These lay forth the responsibilities of the several varnas, as well as the monarchs and their officials. They specify the procedures for holding, selling, and inheriting property. They also specify penalties for stealing, murder, and other crimes.

  • Arthashastra: The Kautilya Arthashastra represents the status of society and economics during the Maurya period.

  • Kalidasa’s literary works: Kalidasa's literary works include kavyas and plays, the most famous of which is Abhijnanasakuntalam. They provide analysis of the social and cultural activities of northern and central India during the Gupta era, in addition to being artistic compositions.

  • Rajatarangini: This classic work by Kalhana describes the political and social life of Kashmir in the 12th century CE.

  • Charitas/Biographies: Charitas are biographies composed by court poets in honour of their kings, such as Banabhatta's Harshacharita for King Harshavardhana.

  • Sangam literature: This is the oldest south Indian literature, composed by a group of poets (Sangam), and it contains important information on the social, economic, and political lives of many individuals in deltaic Tamil Nadu.

    Silappadikaram' and 'Manimekalai' are two literary jewels from Tamil literature.


Q1. What does it mean to be prehistoric?

Ans. Prehistory include the Neolithic Revolution, Neanderthals and Denisovans, Stonehenge, the Ice Age, and other events that occurred before written records or human recordkeeping.

Q2. What exactly is the distinction between history and prehistory?

Ans. History may be described as the study of the past and how it pertains to people's lives. The major distinction between history and prehistory is the presence of records; history refers to historical events that have been documented, whereas prehistory refers to the period before writing was invented.

Q3. What are the three types of historical literary sources?

Ans. Archaeological and literary sources are the most common types of sources used to track history. Literary sources are written sources of information, such as journals, letters, novels, reports, and other papers.

Q4. What exactly are archaeologists? What exactly do they do?

Ans. Archaeologists are scientists who research historic and prehistoric humanity. They research handicrafts, pottery, architectural constructions, cemeteries, and other human relics.

Q5. How many periods is history divided into?

Ans. On the basis of some distinguishing traits of each era, history is split into historical periods. The following are the three time spans that history is split into:

Prehistory, Proto-history, and History are the three periods of human history.


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