Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Discuss comparative strengths and limitations of archaeological sources vis-à-vis literary sources for the study of ancient Indian history.


The archaeological sources and literary sources play a crucial role in reconstructing ancient Indian history. The coins, inscriptions, monuments and material remains (pottery, tool implements) etc., constitute the archeological sources while indigenous religious and secular texts and foreign accounts form the literary sources.

The public inscriptions which are generally issued by the ruling monarch consist of prasasti (eulogical), edicts (royal orders) and land charters (copper plate inscriptions). The most noteworthy eulogical inscriptions are found at Allahabad (Samudragupta), Junaghad (Rudradhaman) and Aihole (Pulakeshi II). Land charters of Samudragupta at Gaya and Nalanda are highly informative. Also, 1818 rock edicts of Mauryan emperor Ashoka are very useful about his reign’s administrative organization. The coins of the Mauryans, Guptans, Sakas, Kushans and Indo-Greeks are indispensible for understanding the socio-economic status of their respective ages. The material remains excavated at Indus valley and Stone Age sites are also very vital.

The indigenous literary texts like Vedas (Brahmanical literature), Buddhist and Jain texts, biographies of the native rulers along with accounts of foreigner authors like Arab, Chinese, Greeco-Roman etc., are highly informative of the Indian society.

Archeological sources are said to be less biased and are regarded as primary sources of information. There are more reliable as later interpolations are not possible. However, archaeological excavations are tedious, cumbersome, costly, and suffers from inherent paleographical problems, Also, they do not provide elaborative information about non-material culture.

The literary sources are more detailed and it helps us to understand both material and non-material cultures. Also, the study of literary texts is less expensive and information is easily accessible. But the literary texts, especially indigenous texts are generally expected to be biased, subjective and exaggerating.

In conclusion, corroboration of archaeological and literary sources is essential to construct a more accurate picture. History must be pieced together drawing inference collectively from material and textual evidence to visualize a more reliable picture of ancient Indian history.

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