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Alberuni, the father of Indian Historical writing?

Ayaz Amir writes

STRANGE that one of history’s cradles, the Indian peninsula, should have so little truck with genuine history, as opposed to myth-making and mythology.

Is there any Indian Herodotus? Or Thucydides or Tacitus? One of the richest histories of the world, full of blood, conquest and great achievement without any chronicler, not even an apology of a Gibbon. Before Alberuni who accompanied the armies of Mahmud Ghaznavi, we have the Hindu holy texts, the Upanishads, Kautilya’s Arthashastra and Megasthene’s account of the court of Chandragupta Maurya. But nothing that can be credited as historical writing.

Indian history – that is, historical writing – begins with the coming of the Muslims. This is a remark made not in the spirit of drum-beating because we of the sub-continent are prickly to an inordinate degree, apt to stand on our dignity and pick quarrels about the wrong things, but just a bald statement of fact.[A travesty of history via an email from The Acorn]

Amir’s assertion is that till Muslims came to India, there was no historical writing. A civilization which was thriving from 2500 BC, did not have any “historical writing” till 1017 AD till Alberuni visited India, which is a big gap of 3500 years. Now what did Alberuni write about?

He accompanied Mahmud of Ghazni to India and stayed there for many years, chiefly, in all probability in the Punjab, studied the Sanskrit language and translated into it some works from the Arabic, and translated from it two treatises into Arabic (Elliot and Dowson:5). Sachau, translator of Alberuni’s Indica believes Alberuni “composed about twenty books on India (Sachau:xxvii), both translations and original compositions, and a number of tales and legends, mostly derived from the ancient lore of Eran and India.” He was indeed a prolific writer and his works are stated to have exceeded a camel-load. (Elliot and Dowson:3)

Let me also make another observation about Alberuni. He regards Hindus as excellent philosophers and he felt strong inclination towards Hindu philosophy but still he was a Muslim and at times does not fail to point out the superiority of Islam over Brahmanic India[India as Alberuni saw it]

Alberuni translated Patanjali’s Yoga-Sutra into Arabic (called Kitab Patanjal). He also wrote a monograph on Indic culture, Kitab al-Hind which did not achieve the prominence of other works of comparative religion written around the same time. Romila Thapar adds that Alberuni was the finest intellect of central Asia. In the ten years he spent in India, he made observations on Indian conditions, systems of knowledge, social norms and religion. His book Tahqiq-i-Hind is the most incisive made by any visitor to India. But was he the first person to indulge in some “historical writing” as Ayaz Amir writes.

Huen Tsang was a Chinese scholar who visited India in 630 A.D at the age of 26. Huen Tsang returned to China with enough statuary and texts to load twenty horses and wrote a long account of India which was based on personal observation[1]. It seems his accounts had more detail than his predecessors and was meticulous in detail [3]. Alberuni carried one camel load of books and Huen Tsang required twenty horses and so the winner is…

Around the same time Banabhatta wrote Harshacarita which provided a descriptions of significant events during the reign of Harshavardhana [3] This was the first biography in Sanskrit as well as a masterpiece of literature.[1]. At this time Alberuni’s grandfather was not even born.


Before Huen Tsang, Fa Hian, a Chinese pilgrim visited India between 405 – 411 A.D during the reign of Chandra-Gupta II. From his writings we learn about the life of the disposers of the dead, the social hierarchy, Magadha and its towns. He was not concerned about political affairs but wrote about festivals and Brahmins. He watched, “the brahmacharis come forth to offer their invitations; the Buddhas then, one after another, enter the city”. [1]. At this time, pardon my french again, Alberuni’s grandfather’s grandfather was not born.

Now let’s go back some 700 years to 327 B.C., when Alexander of Macedonia came to Punjab. Of Alexander’s companions, three were noted for their writing on India. Nearchus, who explored the coast between Indus and the Persian Gulf, Onesicritus, who later wrote a book about India and Aristobulus, whom Alexander entrusted with certain commisions in India. Besides this Strabo, who lived in 64 B.C – 19 A.D wrote an important geographical work of which Book XV, Chapter I deals with India. Diodorus who lived up to 36 B.C wrote an account of India based on Megasthenes. Pliny the Elder wrote about India based on Greek books and the reports of Merchants. Arrian who lived between 130 A.D. and atleast 172 A.D. wrote about India, its geography, and manners and customs. Plutarch (45 – 125 A.D.) wrote Lives and its chapters 57-67 deals with Alexander and mentions India.[4]

References to the times of Chandragupta Maurya come from Brahminical, Buddhist and Jain sources. The Brahminical sources include the Puranas, Mudrarakshasa of Visakhadatta, and the works like Kathasaritsagara of Somadeva and Brihatkathamanjari of Kshemendra. The Buddhist authorities are Dipavamsa, Mahavamsa, the Mahavamsa Tika and Mahabodhivamsa. The Jain books are Kalpasutra of Bhadrabahu and Parisishtaparvam of Hemachandra.

I have in my collection, the The Arthashastra which explains the life during the time of its author Kautilya (as noted in the Penguin Classics edition). This book is a manual on how to run a state with details from training the King to foreign policy. In the introduction L N Rangarajan writes, “The historian sees it as a valuable document which throws light on the state and society in India at that time, whether it be 300 B.C. or 150 A.D”. Megasthenes, the Greek ambassador in the court of Chandragupta Maurya, wrote a book called Indica which describes the life in times of the Mauryan empire. But for some reason Ayaz Amir dismisses them without any reason, which is fine, for we have established that there was historical writing in India even before Prophet Mohammed or Jesus Christ’s time.

But as you can see, most of these authors are foreigners, including Alberuni. So Ayaz Amir has a point when he asks, “Is there any Indian Herodotus? Or Thucydides or Tacitus?”. The answer is No. My question to him is, why does it matter? When did having a Herodotus become the standard of approval for any civilization? Do the Mayans or Sumerians or Chinese have a Herodotus ? No. Does that diminish the value of those civilizations? No. Each country does things different now and in ancient times it was no different. While Greeks have well chronicled history, early Indian history comes from coins and charters, random inscriptions, oral tradition, literary compositions and religious texts [1]. Each of these provide a version of history which can be corroborated with inputs from other sources.

Sorry to burst your bubble Ayaz. India had a documented history long before Alberuni set foot here.

References
[1] India, a History by John Keay
[2] In search of the cradle of civilization by Georg Feuerstein, Subhash Kak, David Frawley
[3] Early India by Romila Thapar
[4] Chandragupta Maurya and His Times by Radha Kumud Mookerji

41 Responses to Alberuni, the father of Indian Historical writing?

  1. Desi Pundit June 15, 2005 at 10:46 am #

    Alberuni, the father of Indian Historical writing?

    Ayaz Amir made a controversial statement that till Muslims came to India, there was no historical writing. That was enough to send JK on a path of researching historical writing and he came up with this excellent and well-researched piece. Who says bl…

  2. Ravages June 15, 2005 at 10:06 pm #

    JK, Super piece.
    Just a point of doubt, prolly you can clear it up…weren’t the puranas supposedly historical writings of the Vedic Kings and their conquests?

  3. Nitin June 15, 2005 at 11:09 pm #

    JK,

    Given the amount of time those foreign writers spent in India, I’d call them Indian 😉

  4. JK June 16, 2005 at 7:16 am #

    Ravages, Puranas are religious sectarian narratives and hence they are not acceptable as history according to Romila Thapar. For example some of the stories in Puranas are that of Manu and how he was born off Brahma and how he took a boat full of animals when there was flood etc. There is some mythology there. It also starts the lineage of the people in Mahabharata – the Ikshvaku dynasty.

    Puranas are not entirely mythology as it contains references to historical dynasties. But of the historical dynasties mentioned in the Puranas only some have cross references.

  5. JK June 16, 2005 at 10:02 am #

    Nitin, that’s how Sonia became an Indian – by spending too much time here :)

  6. pennathur June 16, 2005 at 7:17 pm #

    Varnam,

    How about mailing this to Ayaz? I am going to do it right away. It would be better still if you too did so.

  7. Sameer June 23, 2005 at 4:12 am #

    Come on,
    Since when have we taken fools like Ayaz Amir so seriously?
    He will go to the extent that India was created out of Pakistan.
    If we go about telling about the blood filled history of muslims to Ayaz Amir, about how they destroyed indegenous cultures and people of not just Iraq, Iran (Zorostrians), Central Asia (Buddhists), Afghanistan (Hindu and Buddhists and who can forget Hindukush, the slaughter ground o Hindus), ofcourse present day India, Pakistan and Bangladesh where Hindus are almost becoming second class citizens… then Ayaz will start a jehad against islam (Provided his heart is clear enough to accept reality)
    Now they(Muslims) demand reservations! Tommorrow they will demand India too.

    • mhlimz July 21, 2014 at 5:37 am #

      Don’t be crazy dear Sameer kindly do not mix politics with history the fact is the fact

  8. Pramod June 26, 2005 at 8:38 am #

    A very interesting piece there. But it would have been much better had you written it as piece about Indian history rather than as a loaded response to Ayaz Amir – whoever that is!

    But I have to say one thing though, the translation of work by Alberuni perhaps is the first work available today that looks at India in a broader perspective. I found it very interesting to read about India at that period of time. None of the works that you mention – like Arthashastra (i have read the version you had linked to and another better one but I can’t remember the translator) or Harscharita does that. No I am not questioning their quality or anythign, just mentioning that they were not travelougues or observations.

    I wonder if there are any comprehensive work done by Huen Tsang, and available in English? Again the question of camelload and 26 horses doesn’t decide on who the winner is. It depends on what came of it. Do let me know if you have some idea about the availability of some of his work.

  9. JK June 28, 2005 at 11:37 am #

    Pramod,

    1. I don’t like reading bland academic type articles on history. So I don’t like to write them as well.

    2. There seems to be books on Fa Hian and Huen Tsang on Amazon, but out of circulation. It would be interesting to read them. Have you read the writings of Greek authors?

    3. Regarding camels and horses – i should have put a smiley symbol after it. I assumed you would get the humor.

    • Juan del Amo March 12, 2014 at 10:47 am #

      Look in Low Price Publications. I have at least a book of this editorial on Hiuen Tsang containing an account of his works.

      • Kulsum April 14, 2014 at 1:12 pm #

        Well there are a lot of other considerations too. Although I completely disagree with Mr. Amir its important to understand what one constitutes as history. As a student of South Asian history I get really uncomfortable with people who call oral traditions as non historical. But of all the travelers Alberni interests me the most mostly because of this writing style and detailing. Then again I cannot pronounce a judgement on the quality of their works. Its my comfort level with a particular time frame.
        Uff and then again its so disturbing that we can’t talk about Alberuni’s work without involving contemporary projections of Islam and that fact that he came with mahmud of ghazni. Please read Romila Thapar’s Somnath.

  10. Anil Menon September 7, 2005 at 1:26 pm #

    Perrett’s article [Perrett, Roy W. “History, Time, and Knowledge in Ancient India.” History and Theory. 38(3). 1999. pp. 307-321.] makes the case that the ancient “indians” had their histories. One example is the twelfth century poet Kalhana’s Rajatarangani, a history of Kashmir. But Perrett also argues that “there was no significant value attached to history in ancient India.” It seems like a strong claim, but remember, it took Sir William Jones and the Asiatic Society to retrieve Ashoka; we ourselves had forgotten the dude long ago.

    Perrett traces the lack of interest in history to Indian epistemology. The philosopher Jitendra Mohanty traces it to Hindu metaphysics. Perhaps a metallurgist would find metallurgical causes. What really matters is that the next Alburuni will have no reason to write as the first one (1020 CE) did:

    “Unfortunately the Hindus do not pay much attention to the historical order of things, they are very careless in relating the chronological succession of their kings, and when they are pressed for information and are at a loss, not knowing what to say, they invariably take to tale-telling.” [Source: Perrett’s article]

    Ouch.

    • Kulsum April 14, 2014 at 1:14 pm #

      This is probably my favourite comment so far.

    • mhlimz July 21, 2014 at 5:50 am #

      THE DIFFICULTY OF KNOWING WHY ONE IS A HINDU
      India is a congeries of communities. There are in it Parsis, Christians, Mohammedans and Hindus.
      The basis of these communities is not racial. It is of course religious. This is a superficial view. What is interesting to know is why is a Parsi a Parsi, and why is a Christian a Christian, why is a Muslim a Muslim and why is a Hindu a Hindu? With regard to the Parsi, the Christian and the Muslim it is smooth sailing. Ask a Parsi why he calls himself a Parsi he will have no difficulty in answering the question. He will say he is a Parsi because he is a follower of Zoroaster. Ask the same question to a Christian. He too will have no difficulty in answering the question. He is a Christian because he believes in Jesus Christ. Put the same question to a Muslim. He too will have no hesitation in answering it. He will say he is a believer in Islam and that is why he is a Muslim.
      Now ask the same question to a Hindu and there is no doubt that he will be completely bewildered and would not know what to say. If he says that he is a Hindu because he worships the same God as the Hindu Community does his answer cannot be true. All Hindus do not worship one God. Some Hindus are monotheists, some are polytheists and some are pantheists. Even those Hindus who are monotheists are not worshippers of the same Gods. Some worship the God Vishnu, some Shiva,some Rama, some Krishna. Some do not worship the male Gods

  11. Mubeen Alam February 27, 2007 at 2:56 pm #

    Well, the camel load Vs 20 horses load also depends on the kind of material used for writing down the text, and the language structure.
    Content is ofcourse the crucial element…ne way I have read a little bit of al beruni’s work, but have not read any other authors account in this regard.

  12. Kam November 16, 2008 at 12:45 pm #

    You mention “Do the Mayans or Sumerians or Chinese have a Herodotus”?

    Yes. Chinese does have a Herodotus. His name is Sima Qian (ca. 145 or 135 BC–86 BC).

    Like Greece, China also has a very detailed and chronological history. Most of Chinese histories are inaccessible to the West because they are in Chinese. But I believe some of Sima Qian’s work has been translated into English.

    Kam

  13. Kshitiz January 15, 2014 at 10:23 am #

    Hi, I recently only saw this old article. Very informative. I was wondering how possible it is that many works of history by ancient and medieval Indians might have been lost due to the ransacking of great academic centers like Nalanda, Taxila etc by the medieval Islamic invaders ? It is often mentioned that the Nalanda library burnt for days after its ransacking. Could it be that many great works were lost in those ? Any commentaries in literature about these ?

  14. Juan del Amo March 12, 2014 at 11:01 am #

    I´m following this blog since time ago and myself have my own (but much unimportant) blog on Indian History.

    Years ago I embarked mysef in the adventure of translating the Tuzuk-i-Jahangiri into Spansih (and never got edition for it).

    In the prologe I wrote I also defended that where the muslim invaders who introduced the concept of history in India.

    I have read this article with much interest but it did not change my mind in this issue.
    ” coins and charters, random inscriptions, oral tradition, literary compositions and religious texts ” are not real, systematic, conscient and rigurous history, but just part of the materials that historians may use in their work.

    I´m not trying to mean (neither Ayaz Amir probably does) that Indian cultura and civilization needs any kind of approval or validation, nor that its value is of minor importance because of this. India has too many other things to contribute to the world with.

    But that no Indian history existed before muslim history is a fact.

  15. Jaipal March 21, 2014 at 7:47 am #

    @juan

    Indian history definitely existed before the Muslims.
    Its called Itihaasa-Purana.

    Itihaasa is a Sanskrit word which means “history’.

  16. Jaipal March 21, 2014 at 7:54 am #

    @Juan,

    Muslim history is not Indian history.
    Indians are Hindus, therefore their history is a Hindu based one.
    Besides the Puranas, there are plenty of historical inscriptions by
    various Indian dynasties which are very detailed.

    Infact Indian dynastical history can be told from its own inscriptional
    sources in addition to other literary works.

    Every country has their own way of recording and remembering their past.
    India is no different.

  17. Kulsum April 14, 2014 at 1:17 pm #

    Indians re Hindus. Ouch. yes. Define Hindu more flexibly though. A sort of a geographical and historical term for a lot of people.

    • Jaipal May 1, 2014 at 7:06 am #

      @Kulsum,

      Indian identity is infact the Hindu identity. Hindus also called themselves
      “Aryas’, because they followed Sanathana Dharma or Hindu religion/culture.

      Indian Muslims are just converted Hindus from the past.
      There is no such thing as Muslim culture as Muslims are not one race.
      Being Muslim is about ideology only, not about culture.

      • Juan del Amo May 19, 2014 at 11:56 pm #

        I wonder why following Hindu religion makes culture and following Muslim religion doesn´t. And also Hindu followers do not compose only one race.

        Religion MAKES culture, or at least religion is one of the foundations of cuture, and by far not unimportant one. When a a certain population changes into a new religion (of course I´m not meanning India, but many others) both religion and culture melt together in a new alloy.

        Both religion and culture have a beginning. The fact that Muslim religion/culture is much much younger than Hindu does not makes it unexistent.

  18. Dipak Bose May 18, 2014 at 7:28 pm #

    Ramayana is the history of the Raghu Dynasty. Mahabharata is the history of the Bharat dynasty. Dates are signified according to astronomical charts given in both of these books on every important events.

    • Juan del Amo May 20, 2014 at 12:09 am #

      Ramayana is my most preferred book, and also liked and enjoyed Mahabharata very much., but,

      Both Mahabharata and Ramayana are EPIC LEGENDS BASED (as every legend is) IN HISTORIC FACTS. That is not history.

  19. Jaipal May 30, 2014 at 12:47 am #

    @Juan del Almo,

    You seem very confused. Hinduism/Sanathana Dharma is an entire spiritual
    cultural, religious and civilizational complex. There is no compartmentalization here.
    Indian Civilization is Hindu civilization. Culture and religion are not separate in India.

    Islam is not a culture but a cult with political intentions in reality. It is just a dogmatic
    creed with some cult-like practises which does not equate to any real high culture.
    It is just a criminal creed. An Arab or a Persian do not think of themselves as being the
    same in culture. They would take offense if you suggest so. What does that tell you?

    About Hindus, well most Hindus have always been, for the most part, in the past
    as well as the present to a large extent Indians, so not surprisingly Hinduism is
    basically no different from Indian culture. Hinduism is understood largely from the
    textual sources of authors who were of Indian origin, like the Maharishis, ect.

    In a nutshell, you are making a fallacy of equating Hindusim and Islam.
    They are not interchangeable entities which you can substitute because
    they had different evolutionary origins.

    • Juan del Amo May 30, 2014 at 5:46 pm #

      Thank you, Jaipal, for your comments. I always consider discussing is the best way of finding new watchtowers.

      I’m not Indian and for sure you have a much better and documented basis for any discussion about the cultural reality in India. So please take my opinion only as the particular vision of a humble and distant observer.

      I almost agree with your first paragraph, except because you are omitting the fact that Islam is present in India since so many centuries ago. It is not possible to think that is has not had any influence in Indian culture. Culture evolves not only through introspective thinking but also (I would say mostly) hybridizing, even accepting that both Islam and Hinduism have been trying not to watch to each other. Islam disregard Hinduism as idolatric thinking and Hinduism hates Islam as the cruel invaders religion. But sure there should be mutual influences.

      Yes, probably nowhere as in Hinduism religion spreads through all extents (arts, politics, philosophy, daily live), but EVERY religion interweave itself with culture. Telling Islam is not a culture but just a creed is a short sight argument. Islam is not one and only culture, but it is inserted in the culture of many countries and gives them a common and shared vision of life.

      I also don’t consider myself equal to a British, but both British and Spanish mind is based in Greek-Roman philosophy alloyed with Christian religion (and many other things in each country). Of course Persian and Arab people don’t feel being the same in culture. Specially Persians have good reasons to defend themselves of such an assert, as Persia has a much more ancient and powerful culture and country, and Arabs were nearly nobody before Islam appearance, having nothing but some poetry. Ethnically are also different, Iranians being Arians and Arabs Semitic.

      The difference is that Hinduism (religion and culture) is a stew cooked very slowly and during a very long time in the same pot, while Islam (or Christianism) boiled in different kitchens, making different stews with mostly the common ingredients.

      By far I’m not trying to defend Islam, that, I agree with you, tends to be a criminal creed (although the holy war in the Koran is defined in defensive terms).Well, Christianism was also a very aggressive faith 500 years ago (and Islam is 500 years younger). This is one of the reasons why I admire Hinduism and Buddhism: they both did not try to impose themselves by the sword.

      ¿Equating Islam and Hinduism? No, I’m not doing so. If you think I don´t realize they have different origins and evolution, please don’t loose your time speaking with such a stupid person I should be.

      But this discussion started about history in Muslims and Indians. And I have to insist:
      History, as the group of past events, obviously it always existed.
      History, AS THE DISCIPLINE OF RECORDING AND INTERPRETING HUMAN EVENTS, did not exist in India before Islam arrived.

      Nice to speak with you. Till next me, best regards.
      Forgive my poor English.

  20. Jaipal May 30, 2014 at 12:56 am #

    @Juan Del Almo,

    About Ramayan and Mahabharatha, they are not mythical legends.
    I pointed this out earlier, that the Sanskrit term for them is “Itihaasa” which
    means “history” or “that which happened”. The characters you read about
    were indeed historical people and the events are also historical, like the Battle
    of Kurukshethra. There is nothing legendary about it. The dynasties are real.

    There is nothing mythical about it.

    • Juan del Amo May 30, 2014 at 5:58 pm #

      I open the Ramayana randomly. I read: “Long time ago, during the Kritayuga, the mountains had wings. ¿Nothing mythical here?

      I open the Mahabarata randomly. Indra send a most furious rain trying to save his wood Khandava from the big fire started by Agni. Arjuna, shuts so quickly that a ceiling made by his arrows stop the rain. ¿Noting mythical? ¿Pure history?

      I´m sorry, if we are speaking about religious convictions I’ll give up.

      • desicontrarian May 31, 2014 at 8:55 am #

        Can we do a thought experiment. Nuclear war, Solar flares, green house effect, whatever. Humanity has gone blind. Lost the sense of sight.

        Thus shapes, colours, forms, changes of state of these properties etc cannot be perceived. They do not see clouds, the blue sky, the far-away stars, birds flying silently in the sky, distant blue seas, lush green forests and so on. Undoubtedly a greatly diminished life, compared to people like us.

        Now, if one or two of them acquire eyes somehow, a whole new world opens up. They start experiencing and describing things that seem incredible to other people. They may be considered to have too much imagination, or even mad. They may eventually be persecuted or thrown out of the human community.

        The history of science itself has plenty of these happenings. Until radio waves were discovered, Science did not know of its existence, though radio waves have existed for all time. This example extends to x-rays, gamma radiation and many other phenomena discovered at some point in time.

        If due to some future catastrophes, suddenly the faculty of colour is lost, then Science will gradually start to deny the existence of colour. If people with long memories, or memories of their ancestors’ tales, talk about these things, they will be considered superstitious.

        • Juan del Amo June 1, 2014 at 12:31 am #

          According to your arguments::

          a) ANYTHING could be asserted because perhaps belongs to an ancient time and a lost sensibility. There is nothng mythical. You may defend one thing and the opposite.
          b) Human being knows less and less every day (!?).

          I´m sorry, this accommodates not with reason. At least with MY reason, the only one I have, the one that helps me to understand what is around.

          (By the way, colour DOES NOT exist. It is only the way that our brain interpretates certain wavelengths, the minimmum part of the wide range of possible electromagnetic wavelengths for wich our carbon-based live has found chemical structures with sensible capabilities.)

          • desicontrarian June 1, 2014 at 8:42 am #

            And shapes do not exist either. Neural code in the brain detects lines, edges and differences within or outside the shapes to interpret a figure.

            So letters do not exist either. Trained neural encoding interprets/classifies the letters that you see. Encoding is matched against existing memory databank and you recognize the letters. Similarly words. And sentences. And meanings.

            Hope you get the drift. What we do not perceive through the senses, does not exist for us.

            Reasoning is also acquired as mental habits. It needs to be admitted that there are many levels of Reason.

    • jk June 10, 2014 at 8:02 pm #

      Jaipal,

      You have to be careful with the “historical” part of it. According to the tradition, the initial version was small and it was revised few times.

      • Jaipal June 18, 2014 at 12:25 am #

        @JK,

        Be more specific will you? You seem confused.
        If any revisions did happen, it was not of the strictly historical parts
        of the narrative, but rather an interpretation of the significance of the
        historic parts or more specifically the mythical aspects of the narrative.

        For example, Rama was a historical king whose father was Dasharatha.
        They ruled in North India, particularly in Ayodhya. He belonged
        to the Ikshvaku dynasty. No revisions have ever disputed this fact.

        Same goes with Shri Krishna of Mahabharatha. His parents were
        Vasudeva and Devaki. He belonged to the Yadava tribe, which is also a
        historical tribe mentioned in the Rig-Veda. No revised versions have ever
        disputed this fact. That is because it is HISTORY.

        Also read my last post down below this page. I spoke about Shivaji Singh
        and his view of Indian history. He rejects the notion of Indians lacking
        historical agency.

  21. Jaipal June 4, 2014 at 1:30 am #

    @Juan Del Almo,

    When I spoke about the historicity of Ramayan and Mahabharatha,
    I was referring to the historical dynasties and people who are represented in them.
    Obviously, a winged mountain is just an entertainment because history writing
    was made to be more interesting to common people, so a little bit of imagination
    here and there does not detract from the worth of these sources.

    Even Greek historians sometimes insert in their history writings about the influence
    of the Gods on temporal affairs ect. But that does not undermine the strictly
    historical value of such sources, even if they contain some flights of fancy or
    imagination. It is the same with Ramayan and Mahabharatha.

    • Juan del Amo June 5, 2014 at 12:04 am #

      Exactly, Jaipal.

      That´s a legend: a story BASED in historical events, mixed and embellished through the centuries with non historical facts, would they be mythologic or literary inventions. Much more when those accounts has been transferred word of mouth from fathers to sons, so changed and diverted from the original in every new teller, every new generation, every new adition, so in the tale at the end there is by far much more of invention than real facts, barely a general and slight idea of what it really happenned,

      There could be a ” strictly historical value of such sources”, as you say, but not of such stories.

      Yes, old Greek literature have much of invetion: THAT´S WHY WE CALL IT MYTHOLOGY.

      In the other hand, India could have had a SENSE of history, but not a WORK on history, as history shuld be or should try to be strict, accurate, rigurous and systematic.

      Some words may have an ambiguous neaning, but “history” i not one of them. We may call Ramayana or Mahabarata legend, we may craete a new word fo them if we have the feeling that “legend” is of too little importance for them. BUT WE MAY NOT CALLED THEM HISTORY.

      Jaipal, we may prolong this discussion forever if we want, but I´m affraid it will be a steril try. still I will think you are not using the word and concept of history in its real meaning and you will continue thinking that I´m another sceptical blind.

      So lets jut take it as an unbridgeable but friendly discreppancy and lets keep in contact for any other dialogue.

      (I should say again that Ramayana is my prefferred book. Please let me enjoy it in my own way).

      Best regads,

      Juan.

  22. Jaipal June 4, 2014 at 1:35 am #

    @Juan Del Almo,

    A professor by name of Shivaji Singh, who taught history has rejected the notion
    that Indians lacked historical sense. In his own words, I quote below:

    Prof Singh, former Head of Gorakhpur University’s Ancient History Department, rejected the frequent charge that Indians have no sense of history.
    ”Ancient Indians had a robust historical tradition that originated in the Rig Vedic times and continued to develop and proliferate till the end of the medieval period.

    ”This tradition has created a rich and huge mass of historical literature that is unparalleled in the world,” he said.

    Prof Singh explained that the Indian sense of history was unique, intended to help man’s self-fulfillment and self-realisation, not furtherance of vague objectives.

    ”You have to understand that the Indian sense of history is grounded in Indian culture and it should not be judged by the yardstick of how the Westerners write their history,” he said.

  23. thecuriousdesi June 28, 2015 at 2:24 am #

    Interesting post and subsequent comments! I have read Edward Sachau’s book ‘Alberuni’s India’ and really liked it. Only history documented prior to that, in my limited knowledge, is Kalhana’s Rajtarangini which is history of Kashmir region.

    While we talk about visitors to Ancient India (Greeks, Arabs, Chinese…), I am curious to know about Indians who visited other countries or regions and wrote about them. I have read a bit about history of India and could not find any. Reason I ask this is that an outsider always has a wider perspective and motivation to know about the new place.

    I am glad I found this blog. Have bookmarked it and have can see lots of interesting posts already. I also have started a blog on India/Curiosity/History – http://www.thecuriousdesi.com

    Cheers

    • Juan del Amo December 7, 2015 at 11:54 am #

      Well, I was at a certain time also curious about any Indian traveller…and got the same result than yourself: non.
      Alberuni´s is a great book, no doubt

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