Modern Historians of Ancient India

In India, research related to ancient history started around the 2nd half of the 18th century when the colonial administration was set up by the Britishers. Here we discuss different views and contributions of Modern Historians of Ancient India.

Colonialist view and contribution:

Modern research in the history of ancient India started in the 2nd half of the 18th century because of the need for the colonial admiration set up by the British.

Bengal and Bihar came under the rule of the East India Company in 1765. The Company rule found it difficult to administer the Hindu law of inheritance. For better administration, the Manusmiriti (The law book of Manu), was translated into English as a “Code of Gentoo Laws”. The Pandits were associated with British judges to administer the civil law of Hindus and Maulavis for the same law of Muslims.

  • Asiatic Society of Bengal was established in Calcutta by Sir William Jones a civil servant of the East India Company in 1784. He translated Abhijnanashakuntalam.
  • Bhagavadgita was rendered into English by Wilkins in 1785.
  • Bombay Asiatic Society was set up in 1804
  • The Asiatic Society of Great Britain was set up in London in 1823.
Max Muller:

The greatest push for Indological studies was given by German-born scholar Friedrich Max Muller (1823-1900). He spent most of his time in England. The revolt of 1857 was a great eye-opener for them,  The British realized that a deeper knowledge of the manners and the social system of alien people is needed to rule over them. His famous books were Sacred Books of the East, and Chips from a German Workshop.

  • Max Muller was one of the founders of the Western academic disciplines of Indian studies and religious studies.
  • To fulfill this need ancient scriptures were translated on a massive scale under the editorship of Max Muller.
  • Altogether 50 volumes, some in several parts were published under the Sacred Books of East series.
Vincent Arthur Smith (1843-1920):

His book ‘Early History of India’ was based on a deep study of the available sources that gave primacy to political history.

  • Smith’s approach to history was pro-Imperialist.
  • He emphasized the role of foreigners in ancient India.
  • Alexander’s invasion accounted for almost one-third of his book.

Nationalist approach and contribution:

Rajendra Lal Mitra (1822-1891):
  • Rajendra Lal Mitra published some Vedic text and wrote a book named ‘Indo-Aryans’.
  • As he was a great lover of ancient heritage, He took a rational view of ancient society and produced a forceful tract to show that in ancient times people took beef.
Ramakrishna Gopal Bhandarkar (1837-1925, Maharashtra):
  • G. Bhandarkar reconstructed the political history of the Deccan of the Satvahans and the history of Vaishnavism and other sects.
  • He was a great social reformer, through his research he advocated widow marriages and castigated the evils of the caste system and child marriage.
Vishwanath Kashinath Rajwade (1869-1926, Maharashtra):
  • K Rajwade went from village to village in Maharashtra in search of Sanskrit manuscripts and sources of Maratha history.
  • The sources published in twenty-two
  • He did not write much, but the history of the institution of marriage he wrote in Marathi will continue to be classic as it was written on the basis of Vedic and other texts.
Pandurang Vaman Kane (1880-1972):
  • He was a great Sanskritist Scholar and social reformer.
  • He continued the earlier tradition of scholarship.
  • His work entitled ‘The History of the Dharmasastra’ published in five-volume, in twentieth-century, is an encyclopedia of ancient social laws and customs.
  • His work enables us to make study social processes in Ancient India.
Devadatta Ramakrishna Bhandarkar (1875-1950):
  • Devadatta Bhandarkar was an epigraphist.
  • He published books on Ashoka and on ancient and political institutions.
Hemachandra Raychaudhary (1892-1957):
  • Raychaudhary reconstructed the history of ancient India from the time of the Mahabharata war, i.e. 10th century B.C to the end of the Gupta empire.
  • Though he recognized the contribution of V.A. Smith to the reconstruction of early Indian history, also he criticized the British Scholar on many points.
R.C. Majumdar (1888-1980):
  • In the writings of R.C. Majumdar, a stronger element of Hindu revivalism appears.
  • He was a profile writer and general editor of the multi-volume publication ‘History and Culture of the Indian People’.
K.A Nilakanta Sastri (1892-1976):
  • He was a great historian from South India.
  • He followed the same approach as other writers, he also did not give adequate attention to South India in his book ‘A History of Ancient India’.
  • This was more than rectified in his book ‘A History of South India’.
  • Nilakanta Sastri emphasized the cultural supremacy of the Brahmanas and also highlighted the harmony that prevailed in early Indian society.

Some scholars such as K.P Jayaswal (1881-1937), and A.S Altekar (1898-1959) overplayed the role of the indigenous ruling dynasties in liberating the country from the rule of the Sakas and Kushans, little realizing that the central Asian and some other people became part of parcel of India’s life and did not exploit its resources for their original homeland.

K.P Jayaswal (1881-1937):
  • P Jayaswal exploded the myth of Indian despotism.
  • He wrote several articles to show that the republics existed in ancient times and enjoyed a measure of self-government.
  • His finding finally appeared in ‘Hindu Polity’ in 1924.
  • His basic thesis regarding the practice of the republican experiments is widely accepted, and his work ‘Hindu Polity’ is now in its sixth edition.

Shift to Non-Political History:

A.L Basham (1914-1986):
  • He was a British Historian and a Sanskritist by training.
  • He questioned the wisdom of looking at ancient India from the modern point of view.
  • His book ‘Wonder That Was India’ in 1951.
  • The book is a sympathetic survey of the various facts of ancient Indian culture and civilization free from the prejudices that plague the writings of V.A. Smith or other British writers.
  • His book marks a great shift from political to non-political history.
D.D. Kosambi (1907-1966):
  • His book ‘An Introduction to the Study of Indian History (1957)’ also shows the shift from political to non-political history.
  • Later popularized in the ‘Civilization of Ancient India in Historical Outline (1965).
  • Kosambi blazed a new trail in Indian History.
Modern Historians of Ancient India

Modern Historian of Ancient India- work and books


History textbook-  NCERT

Governors General of India


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