The Importance of Ancient Indian History


“A Man who has no knowledge of his Past history, Origin & Culture is like a tree without its roots.”  – R.K. Narayan

“.. it [a study of history] makes us aware of how different people have been in other ages and accordingly enlarges our awareness of the possibilities of human experience, and at the same time it impresses upon us those tendencies in human beings which have not changed and which accordingly are unlikely to, at least in the immediate future. Viewed from a slightly different vantage point, an understanding of the history of our own culture gives some inkling of the categories of possibilities within which for the time being we are born to live.”  – Winthorp Jordan in his work “The White Man’s Burden: Historical Origins of Racism in the United States”

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The study of ancient Indian history is important for several reasons –

  • it tells us how, when and where people developed the earliest cultures in our country;
  • it indicates how they started agriculture which made life secure and settled;
  • it shows how the ancient Indians discovered and utilized natural resources;
    • how they created the means for their livelihood;
    • how they took to farming, spinning, weaving, metal-working, and so on;
    • how they cleared forests;
    • how they founded villages, cities, and finally large kingdoms.

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Write

People are not considered civilized unless they know writing. The different forms of writing prevalent in India today are all derived from the ancient scripts. This is also true of the languages that we speak today. The languages we use have roots in ancient times, and have developed through the ages.

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Races and Clans

Ancient Indian history is interesting because India proved to be a crucible of numerous races. The pre-Aryans, the Indo-Aryans, the Greeks, the Scythians, the Hunas, the Turks, etc., made India their home. Each ethnic group contributed its mite to the making of Indian culture. All these people mixed up so inextricably with one another that at present none Of them can be identified in their original form

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Diversity

India has since ancient times been the land of several religions. Ancient India witnessed the birth of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism, but all these cultures and religions intermingled and acted and reacted upon one another in such a manner that though people speak languages, practise different religion, observe different social customs, still certain common styles of life are seen throughout the country. Our country shows a deep unity in spite of great diversity.

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Unity

The ancients strove for unity. The Indian subcontinent was geographically well-defined and its geographical unity was supplemented by cultural integration. This vast subcontinent was named Bharatavarsha, after of an ancient tribe called the Bharata, people were called Bhavatasantati (descendants of Bharata). Our ancient poets, philosophers, and writers viewed the country as an integral unit. They spoke of the land stretching from Himalayas to the sea as the proper domain of a single, universal monarch. The kings who tried to establish their authority from the Himalayas to Cape Comorin and from the valley of the Brahmaputra in the east to the land beyond the Indus in the west were universally praised. They were called Chakravartins.

The idea that India constituted one single geographical unit persisted in the minds of the conquerors and cultural leaders. The unity of India was also recognized by foreigners. They first came into contact with the people living on the Sindhu or the Indus, and so they named the whole country after this river. The word Hind is derived from the Sanskrit term Sindhu, and in course of time the country came to be known as ‘India’ in Greek, and ‘Hind’ in Persian and Arabic languages.

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Lingua-franca

We find continuous efforts for the linguistic and cultural unity of the country. In the third century B.C. Prakrit served as the lingua franca of the country. Throughout the major portion of India, Asoka’s inscriptions were written in the Prakrit language. Later Sanskrit acquired the same position and served as the state language in the remotest parts of the country. The process became prominent in the Gupta period in the fourth century AD. Although politically the country was divided into numerous small states in the post-Gupta period, the official documents were written in Sanskrit.

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Epics

Another notable fact is that the ancients epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, were studied with the same zeal and devotion in the land of the Tamils as in the intellectual circles of Banaras and Taxila. Originally composed in Sanskrit these epics came to be presented in different local languages. But whatever the form in which Indian cultural values and ideas were expressed, the substance remained the same throughout the country.

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Indian Society

Indian history deserves our attention because of a peculiar type of social system which developed in this country. In north India arose the varna/caste system which came to prevail almost all over the country. The foreigners who came to India’ in ancient times were absorbed in one caste or the other. The caste system affected even the Christians and the Muslims. The converts belonged to some caste, and even when they left Hinduism to join the new religion they continued to maintain some of their old caste practices.

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Bibliography : Old NCERT – Ancient India

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