1. Archaeological remains and Monuments:
Ancient ruins, remains and monuments recovered as a result of excavation and exploration are archaeological sources of history. The archaeological remains are subjected to scientific examination of radio-carbon method for its dates. Archaeological sources give us some knowledge of the life of the ancient people. India is rich with ancient ruins, remains, and monuments.
Many historical places are lying buried under the earth. But excavations are being carried out to bring some such places to light. The material remains discovered from excavations and ruins speak a good deal of the past. For example, the excavations at Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa brought to the knowledge of the world the existence of the Indus Valley Civilization.
Excavations have been conducted at Taxila, Pataliputra, Rajgir, Nalanda, Sanchi, Barhut, Sarnath and Mathura. They are being done at many other places too. By digging the old sites and mounds, and discovering the material remains, historians try to understand the past. Archaeology is the science and method to explore and understand the ancient ruins and remains.
Inscriptions supply valuable historical facts. The study of inscriptions is called epigraphy. The study of the writings on ancient inscriptions and records is called palaeography. Inscriptions are seen on rocks, pillars, stones, slabs, walls of buildings, and body of temples. They are also found on seals and copper plates. We have various types of inscriptions. Some convey monarchical orders regarding administrative, religious and major decisions to the public in general.
The study of coins is known as numismatics. Coins form another source of historical information. Ancient coins were mostly made of gold, silver, copper or lead. Coin moulds of Kushan period made of burnt clay have been also discovered. Some of the coins contain religious and legendary symbols which throw light on the culture of that time. Coins also contain the figures of kings and gods.
Some contain names and dates of the rulers. Coins also throw significant light on economic life of ancient people. They indicate regarding trade and commerce and help to reconstruct the history of several ruling dynasties. Coins have been the primary source of our information regarding the various Indian states during the same period.
The coins of the Kushana and the Gupta period give interesting accounts of those days. They throw light on religious, political, economic and commercial conditions. Every coin of the past has some story to convey.
1. Religious Literature:
The Religious Literature of India is too vast. It includes the Vedas, the Upanishads, the great epics like the Ramayana and Mahabharata, and the Puranas of the Hindus. These are like mines of information about religious beliefs, social systems, people’s manners and customs, political institutions, and conditions of culture.
The religious writings of the Jainas and the Buddhists are also enormous. They include the Jatakas and the Angas etc. While dealing with religious subjects, they also write about historical persons and political events. Contemporary economic and social conditions are vividly known from these sources.
2. Secular Literature:
There are many kinds of secular or non-religious literature. The law-books of ancient India known as Dharmasutras and Smritis belong to this group. They contain code of duties for kings, administrators, and people. They also contain rules regarding property, and prescribe punishments for murder, theft and other crimes.
Kautilya’s Arthasastra is a famous work. It not only speaks of the State and polity, but also of socio-economic system. Authors like Patanjali and Panini, though they wrote Sanskrit grammar, also described some political events. The dramas of Kalidasa, Vishakhadatta, and Bhasa give us useful information about the people and society.
3. Accounts of Foreigners:
We know of Chandragupta Maurya’s victory over the Greeks from the Greek accounts. They mentioned him as Sandrokottas in their writings. The Greek ambassador Megasthenes stayed in the court of Chandragupta Maurya and wrote his famous work Indika. Unfortunately this work was lost. But fragments from it were preserved in the quotations by other Greek writers. But even those brief accounts are regarded most precious to know Mauryan polity and society.
From works such as Ptolemy’s Geography, we know of India’s ports and harbours. From Pliny’s work we know of trade relations between Rome and India. These writers wrote in early centuries of the Christian era. The Chinese traveler Fa-Hien left valuable accounts on the time of the imperial Guptas. Hieuen Tsang, who is described as the ‘Prince of Pilgrims’ wrote details about the India of the age of Harsha. Another Chinese, Itsing, visited India in 7the century A.D. His accounts contain the socio-religious condition of those days.
The Archaeological Source can again be divided into three groups, namely, Archaeological Remains and Monuments, Inscriptions and Coins. The Literary Source can also be divided into three groups, namely, Religious Literature, Secular Literature and Accounts of Foreigners. A brief account of these sources is given below.
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