The Nature of Ancient Indian Historical Traditions
As we have seen, a wide number of literary sources are available for ancient and early mediaeval India. Is there any proof of significance in maintaining in such texts the memory of the past, of a historical tradition? Romila Thapar distinguishes between embedded and externalised historical forms. It is an embedded history in which historical consciousness, as in myth, epic and genealogy, must be prized.
Externalized history reflects a more evident and self-conscious historical consciousness, reflected for instance in chronicles and biographies. Thapar points out that the embedded forms of historical consciousness tended to be connected with lineage-based societies and the externalized ones to state societies.
In addition to the list of teachers, later Vedic texts included such forms of compositions, such as the Dana-stutis, Gathas, Narasham-sis and Akhjanas. Dana-stutis are hymns celebrating the generosity of Gathas kings and deeds, songs of praise to the kings that were sung for certain sacrifices.
Narashamsis were used in rituals and are preserved in texts such as Brahmanas and grihyasutras. Akhynas are narrative hymns in dialogue form, referring to mythical and possibly historical events. It is interesting to note that all these types of compositions were directly connected with the performance of sacrifices.
The king lists in the Puranas and Epics indicate that an older Indian historical tradition is more substantial. As mentioned earlier, the epics are known as itihasa and should document things that happened in reality. In retaining this ancient practise, bards known as sutras and magadas played an important part.
The poets and bards of the ancient Tamil land who eulogized their royal patrons can also be seen as creators and transmitters of a historical tradition. The Buddhist dipavamsa and mahavamsa, which offer a mythical-historical tradition.
The Buddhist dipavamsa and mahavamsa, which offer a mythical- historical account of how Buddhism travel to Sri Lanka, represent a historical tradition as well. mention may also be made of sacrad biographies in the Buddhist, Jaina, and Hindu traditions.
Regardless of their eulogistic intent, royal biographies represent a historical tradition. There is also a royal inscription to be remembered, all of which include a prashasti containing Kings’ geneology and his feats, generally with a view to showering him praise.
The artasastra and the Chinese pilgrim Xuan Zang mention royal archives preserving official records in every Indian city, while Al-biruni’s 11th-century Tariq-i-hind refers to the archives of the Sahi kings of Kabul. Unfortunately, no search for ancient archive survives.
While there is evidence of different kind of historical traditions in ancient and early medieval India, these traditions were very different from our modern notions of history the intellectuals of every age and society select the aspect of the past they considered important, and interpret and present them in their own way. since ancient and modern societies differ from each other in so many respects, it is not surprising to find major differences in their ways of looking at the past. Modern historians distinguish between myth and history, ancient text does not.
The historical traditions of ancient India were connected with religious, ritualistic and coat context. history in our times is an academic discipline based on research linked to a modern institution such as universities and research institutes. The ways in which the past was understood and represented in the ancient text are very different from the method, techniques and goals of historical today.