Ancient Indian Historiography: A Question of Method

In recent times, the discipline of historical investigation has focused more and more on methodological concerns. After all, how history is produced is a question well asked. This goes with the assumption that all historical investigation is as much about interpretation as about facts and evidence. Historiography hence is a study of the “history of historical interpretation”. This article then is about the recent developments in the method of studying Ancient Indian history.

In the study of Ancient India, for instance, there has been much work going on recently in archaeology. This is being done through identifying and discovering artifacts, undertaking surveys, excavations, and corroborating with literary sources.

Besides the above, India consists of various types of societies that form a pre-history of sorts. Theirs is a continuous cultural survival from the stone ages up till the present day and age. This is the new discipline of ethno-archaeology where the such societies are studied for clues as to how the earlier ones lived.

Moreover, there has been, from the second and third millennium BC, historical proof excavated in the past 50 years which poses questions about the continuity of various cultures. Did the ancient Indian civilisation emerge, it asks, out of no where, or, was there a historical continuum in the flourishing of such cultures.

There is much corresponding evidence for the latter view. Plains of the Ganga River and its fringes provide a lot of clues as to the type of urbanisation that must have taken place in the middle of the first millennium in these plains. However, more excavational proof is needed to safely claim the above. Another characteristic of the peninsula are the “megalithic burials” of different types from the later part of the second millennium B.C.. They remain an enigma though.

Another aspect of study that has caught on in recent times is geomorphology. The relation between history and geography is still to be fully explored and the current findings leave a lot to be desired. What also needs investigation in this domain is the changing of cultures and ritualistic practices across lands as well as the similarity in cultural practices found in different landscapes.

A newer field of inquiry is also that of oral traditions and the study of their use in the analysis of myths and mythology as well as in the study of kinship patterns.

In the branch of linguistics too, there has been much research. The analysis of a word adds to its socio-poltical meaning and the field of socio-linguistics, as its called, tends to study the development of words, their meaning and the relationship within social structures.

However, there is still much to be done. The Indus script, for instance , has still not been deciphered owing to the multiplicity of linguistics groups in ancient India.

History then is as much about the study and research of facts as it is about the study and research of interpretations. And with the given recent developments in the field, the study sure looks promising.