One must astonish that how historians studied our long past? How they constructed the entire Indian history into several periods? How they are able to know the social, political, economical and cultural aspect of people who live in distant past? I must say, this question is best answered on the basis of a careful reading of some good historians. One thing can be observed from the readings of good historians that they all dealt with some basic questions. For example:
- What happened?
- What was it like?
- What were some of the circumstances and happenings that took place during this period in the past?
- Why did this event occur?
- What were the conditions and forces that brought it about?
- How did this outcome come to pass?
- What were the processes through which the outcome occurred?
These are some of the questions historians keep in their mind to arrive at a conclusion. In short, historians conceptualize, describe, contextualize, explain, and interpret events and circumstances of the past. In India, historians generally constructed history of India on the basis of findings of the past. They are also said as the sources of Indian History.
Sources used for construction of History in India
Manuscripts – Manuscripts refers to ancient books, written by hand either on dried palm leaves or the thick bark of the birch tree, or on paper. They are written in classical languages (Sanskrit, Tamil, Pali, Prakrit, Arabic and others), for example Vedas, Brahmanas, Upanishads, Smritis, Ramayana, Mahabharata, Tripitakas and Sangam literature.
Archaeology – It is the study of the remains of past. Wherever human beings lived historians find belongings like pottery, jewelry, toys and other things like houses and tools used by them. In course of time, these got buried under debris. They have to be dog out carefully. Then they are studied. Buildings, monuments, temples, houses, etc. also gives important information about the life of those people.
Inscriptions and Coins – Writing which is engraved either on a stone surface or on a metal or brick is called an inscription, for example the inscriptions of king Asoka throws light on his administration, war, and various measures taken for public welfare.
History construction encompasses all periods from the various earliest signs of human activity to the very recent past i.e. from cave dwellings to Nuclear Reactors. Obviously the techniques used to study these periods different from one another. Early human activities lack written records, so the descriptions tend to depend entirely on archaeological findings and interpretation. Later, written records i.e. Manuscripts can be used along with archaeological recording. In more recent periods very details of accounts sometimes survive, with inscriptions, coins and portraits to show how history were put together and histories can be compiled from those who worked on them.
Evolution of Indian History
The clues provided by archaeology have enabled historians to discover how men and women lived in India many thousand years ago. Historians described this type of life as primitive, because the people largely depend upon nature for their livelihood. Their food was not cooked and their clothes were not sewn, and they had no houses. Since they did not cultivate crops and vegetables and lived off what they found on plants and trees, and hunted animals instead of tame them, they are called ‘food-gatherers’.
Slowly, as they learnt more and more about the plants and animals which surrounded them, and as they improved their tools and methods of making things, they began to lead an easier life. Finally, they found ways of growing plants and taming animals. This is the stage at which man is described as a ‘food-producer’. It took almost 300,000 years to change from food gathering to food-producing. Soon these people were managing their lives so well that they were not only dwelling in well-constructed huts but had leisure hours to think and record their thoughts and to improve their ways of living.
Contact between human habitations is often made because of the need to exchange items produced in different areas. Such exchanges sometimes develop into trade, and lines of communication into trade routes. Traders go from one place to another and there is therefore an intermixing of people. The earliest form of exchange and movement of people was that of pastorals and herdsmen who took their animals to different pastures, had relations with settled agriculturists and also carried with them a few items of exchange. Where such exchange was successful, there, gradually, full time traders took over the job of exchange and then commerce developed. Pastoralism, agriculture and trade, therefore, are important human activities and play a major role in the evolution of history.
People who move or migrate carry their language with them. This is then mixed with the language of those settled in the area to which a group has moved. Out of the mixture of languages, a new language may emerge. Areas that have a lot of contact with other people tend to change fast. But there are other areas which remain cut off or isolated and in such areas there is less change. In some parts of India there are such areas which have not undergone much change. These are frequently inhabited by what we have come to call ‘tribal people’. There cultures are very important to the understanding of Indian culture. They represent the way of life which was common to India at the time when Indian culture first began.