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Sources of Ancient Indian History (Vedic Period)

Sources of Ancient Indian History (Vedic Period)

Introduction

  • It is the river Indus which gave India its name. The Indians knew this river as Sindhu, and the Persians, who found difficulty in pronouncing the initial S, called it Hindu. From Persia, the word passed to Greece, where the whole of India became known by the name of the western river.
  • The ancient Indians knew their subcontinent as Jambudvipa (the continent of the jambu tree) or Bharatavarsha (the land of the sons of Bharata, a legendary emperor). With the Muslim invasion the Persian name returned in the form ‘Hindustan’ and those of its inhabitants who followed the old religion became known as ‘Hindu’.
  • The ancient civilisation of India differs from those of Egypt, Mesopotamia and Greece, in that its traditions have been preserved without a break down to the present day. India and China have the oldest continuous cultural traditions in the world.  Sources of Ancient Indian History (Vedic Period)
  • William Jones’s initiative led to the founding of the Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1784 with Jones himself as President. He translated Sakuntala, Gita Govinda and the law book of Manu into English.
  • Charles Wilkins translated the Bhagvada Gita and Hitopadesa into English.
  • Max Muller who had a Sankrit name, Moksha Mula wrote two books- “India, what can it teach us?” and “Biography of Words and Home of the Aryas”. Max Muller also edited, ‘The Rig Veda’ and also another book called ‘Sacred Books of the East’.
  • James Prinsep interpreted for the first time the earliest Brahmi script and was able to read the edicts of the great emperor Ashoka.
  • In 1862, Alexander Cunningham was appointed to the post of Archaeological
    Surveyor of India. Cunningham was known as the father of Indian archaeology.
  • Archaeology is the science which enables us to dig the old mounds in a systematic
    manner, in successive layers to form an idea of the material life of the people.
  • The study of coins is called Numismatics.
  • The study of inscriptions is called Epigraphy and the study of old writing used in inscriptions and other old records is called Paleography.  Sources of Ancient Indian History (Vedic Period)
  • It was under John Mashall’s tenure as Director General of the Archaeological Survey of India that there was discovery of the Indus civilisation.
  • The enormous Sanskrit — German dictionary generally known as the St. Petersburg Lexicon was produced in the 19th century by German Scholars Otto Bohtlingk and Rudolf Roth.
    • The first systematic history of ancient India was prepared in 1904 by Vincent Arthur Smith in his book ‘Early History of India’.
    • James Mill in his book ‘History of British India’ was the first to periodise Indian history on communal lines. He classified ancient Indian history as Hindu history, medieval Indian history as Muslim history and modern Indian history as the British period. This classification is so deeply embedded in the consciousness of those studying India that it prevails to this day.
    • Radio-carbon dating is the method according to which the dates of the excavated material remains are fixed.
    • Brahmi script is written from left to right; considered to be precursor of all the Indian scripts, except the Indus script.  Sources of Ancient Indian History (Vedic Period)
    • Kharoshti script is written from right to left; used only in north-western India.
    • The Greek historian Herodotus who wrote the book ‘Historica’ is considered as the father of History.

    Sources of Ancient Indian History [Sources of Ancient Indian History (Vedic Period)]

    • The sources of ancient Indian history are multifaceted varying from literature to coins and inscriptions to archaeological remains.

    Vedic Period (1500 BC to 600 BC) [Sources of Ancient Indian History (Vedic Period)]

    • Information of the Vedic period comes from Vedic literature.
    • The scholars have divided the Vedic period into the early Vedic period and the later Vedic period.
    • The only source of information which belongs to the early Vedic period is the Rig Veda.
    • All the other components of the Vedic literature belong to the later Vedic period. The Vedic literature consists of the Samhitas, Brahmanas, Aranyakas and Upanishads. There are also Six Vedangas and four Upa-Vedas.  Sources of Ancient Indian History (Vedic Period)
    • The Samhitas are collections of hymns sung in the praise of various gods. They are four in number — Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda.

    Rig Veda:

    • The word ‘Veda’ comes from the root ‘vid’, i.e. to know. It is specifically applied to a branch of literature considered to be ‘Sruti’ i.e. sacred knowledge or divine revelation. The Rig Veda literally means Veda of praise. It is purely a religious work and most of the hymns are all invocations of the Gods. Rig Veda is divided into 10 books or mandalas. The oldest hymns are contained in the mandals II to VII which are known as ‘Family books’ on account of their compositions of different families of Sagas. Rig Veda consists of 1017 hymns (suktas) and supplemented by 11 others called Valakhilyas. Rig Veda is the only book of the Vedic literature which was dated to the early Vedic period, so it is the oldest of the four samhitas. In mandala III of the Rig Veda, composed by Visvamitra, we find the famous Gayatri Mantra, addressed to the Solar deity Savitri. In the Xth mandala of the Rig Veda is present the hymn on creation which is called the Purushasukta hymn which is the largest hymn of the Rig Veda which also mentions the chaturvarna scheme of society. The first and the tenth mandalas of the Rig Veda are considered as the latest based on the style of their composition as well as the nature of material culture revealed by them. The composition of the Rig Veda began by 1500 BC and ended by 1000 BC. Sources of Ancient Indian History (Vedic Period)Sama Veda:
      • Its’ name is derived from Saman, a song or melody. It consists of hymns taken from the Rig Veda and set to tune for the purposes of singing. It is called the ‘book of chants’ and the origins of Indian music are traced to it.

      Yajur Veda: [Sources of Ancient Indian History (Vedic Period)]

      • It is the Veda of formulae consisting of various mantras for the purpose of recitation and rules to be observed at the time of sacrifice. The two royal ceremonies of ‘Rajasuya’ and ‘Vajpeya’ are mentioned for the first time in this Veda. In contrast to the Rig Veda and the Sama Veda which are in verse entirely, this one is in both verse and prose. According to the Satapatha Brahmana, the Rig Veda, Sama Veda and Yajur Veda constitute the ‘Traya Veda’ and are composed by Aryans.

      Atharva Veda: [Sources of Ancient Indian History (Vedic Period)]

      • It was compiled 14 Atharva sage, a non-Aryan. It is the Veda of formulae, charms and spells to ward off evils and diseases. It throws light on the beliefs and practices of the non-Aryans. It also has the origins of Indian medicine. It is considered to be the most useful veda since it contains information of diverse nature about agriculture, cattle rearing, industry and is nearer to the common people and is filled with many non-Aryan words. The Sama Veda, Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda were composed in the later Vedic period dating form 1000 BC to 600 BC.

      Brahmanas: [Sources of Ancient Indian History (Vedic Period)]

      • The Brahmanas are prose commentaries on the four Vedas. The subject matter is ritual. They deal with the science of sacrifice. It provides us information not only about sacrifices and ceremonies but also theology, philosophy, manners and customs of the later Vedic period. There are a total of 18 brahmanas the most important of which is the Satapatha Brahmana. Other important Brahmanas are Aitreya, Kausitaki, Tandyamaha, Jaiminia, Taittiriya, Gopatha.

      Aranyakas:

      • These are forest books which were composed in the forest and were meant for study in the forest. They deal with mysticism and symbolism of sacrifice and priestly philosophy. The Aranyakas contain transitional material between the mythology and ritual of the Samhitas and Brahmanas, on the one had, and the philosophical speculations of the Upanishads, on the other.

      Upanishads: [Sources of Ancient Indian History (Vedic Period)]

      The word Upanishad means ‘to be seated at the feet of the Guru to receive the teaching’. There are a total of 108 Upanishads of which are 12 are considered to be ‘Shruti’ or of divine revelation. The Upanishads are philosophical texts most of which seem to have been written by Kshatriyas. The Upanishads are critical of the ritualistic interpretation of the Vedas and give a spiritual interpretation of the Vedas and stress on ‘Jnanamarga’ (path of knowledge) to attain salvation. The central theme of their metaphysics is ‘tat tvam asi’ (thou art that) which is found in Chandogya Upanishad. The idea of rebirth first appears in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. The concept of ‘Unity in diversity; is drawn from Mundaka Upanishad. The earliest reference to Lord Krishna is in Chandogya Upanishad. Shiva is mentioned for the first time in Svetasvatara Upanishad. The Upanishads constitute the Vedanta not only because they constitute the last part of them, but also because the Vedas reach the highest metaphysical state in the Upanishads. Upanishads are considered to be the highest philosophy ever conceived by the human mind. Buddhist texts are rich with material drawn from the Upanishads.   Sources of Ancient Indian History (Vedic Period)

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