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Literary Sources of ancient Indian history

The ancient Indian literature was mostly religious in nature and contains no definite date for events and kings for example the Puranas and the Epics. Vedic literature has no trace of political history but has reliable glimpses of culture and civilisation of the age. The epics like Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Jain and Buddhist religious texts supply with some important historical material with doses of religious messages. On the other hand the Upanishadas were the main source of Indian philosophy, also called "Vedantas." Jain Parisistapravana, Buddhist Dwipavamsa and Mahavamsa contain traditions which supply some historical materials. Gargi Samhita, a book on astronomy, the grammar of Panini and Patanjali also contain materials that help in the reconstruction 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 and Manu Smriti may be mentioned in this connection. It was a work of the Maurya period. Vishakhadatta`s Mudrarakshasa gives a glimpse of Maurya society and culture. Similarly, events of the Pushyamitra Sunga`s reign are mentioned by Kalidasa in Malvikagnimitra. 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.

Subdivided into a number of groups, the literary sources further tell the tale of ancient Indian history. In the ancient period literature was not structured for the greater purpose of preserving history but it was rather a collage of experiences, medley of varied rules of worship and even much more. Most of the literature of this period was religious. The literary sources can be further sub-divided into three groups. They comprise -

a) Brahmanical
b) Buddhist
c) Jain.

The huge Brahmanical literature with its sheer religiosity including the Puranic literature laced with its entire mystery, the Buddhist literature and indeed the Jain literature brings out the historical facts of ancient India. Brahmanical Sources of ancient Indian history: Religious significance and sheer pious ness once limned the history of the ancient Indians. Puranic Sources of ancient Indian history: In retelling the stories of history the Puranic literary sources played a great role. Buddhist literature also played a great role in shaping the ancient Indian literature. Information on the spread of Buddhism, the contribution of different people in popularising the religion and the backdrop against which Buddhism sprang up in India can be extracted from such literary sources.

Jain literature is also of immense value for the reconstruction of ancient history of India.


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