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Sources of Ancient Indian History

There are many sources of relation between India's history, some sources are very reliable and scientific, based on other beliefs. Main sources of information can be divided into 3 parts, in relation to the history of ancient India, these 3 sources are as follows. :

  • Archaeological sources
  • Literary sources
  • Foreign sources


Archaeological sources

Archaeological sources encompass a wide range of ancient artifacts, including records, coins, monuments, buildings, statues, and art, which serve as invaluable tools for understanding the past. These sources provide a reliable means of obtaining highly accurate information about various human activities during ancient times. They offer insights into the lives, art, lifestyles, and economies of specific civilizations. Furthermore, many of these sources can be validated through scientific evidence, lending further credibility to their historical significance. The dedicated individuals who study and analyze these ancient sources are known as archaeologists, undertaking the crucial task of unraveling the mysteries of our collective human heritage.



The significance of historical records in Indian history cannot be overstated, as they have provided invaluable insights into the past through the accounts of numerous ancient rulers. These records, often etched onto stone, pillars, metal strips, and clay objects, form the foundation of archivism and archaeology, encompassing the study and analysis of such ancient records. Epigraphy, on the other hand, focuses specifically on the study of inscriptions. Rulers commonly utilized records as a means to disseminate their edicts and proclamations.

These records are typically found on sturdy surfaces or objects, deliberately etched to withstand the test of time. Examples of such surfaces include temple walls, pillars, stupas, seals, and copper plates. These records are inscribed in various languages, with Sanskrit and Pali being the predominant ones, while South India has yielded records in multiple regional languages.

The oldest records pertaining to Indian history are derived from the Indus Valley Civilization, dating back to an average of 2500 BC. Despite significant efforts, the script of the Indus Valley Civilization remains undeciphered, obscuring the essence of these records. This ancient civilization employed symbols in their script, which have yet to be fully understood.

Other ancient records have been discovered in places like Bongazkoi in West Asia or Asia Minor, although they are not as old as those from the Indus Valley Civilization. Records from Bongazkoi date back to approximately 1400 BC and are noteworthy for their references to Vedic deities Indra, Mitra, Varun, and Nastya. Iran's Nashe-e-Rostom has also yielded ancient records describing India and West Asia during ancient times, shedding light on various aspects such as India's ancient economy and trade.

Cuneiform records have been found in Iran, while Mithni records in Syria mention names of Aryans. During his reign, Emperor Ashoka of the Maurya dynasty established numerous records, the decipherment of which was pioneered by British archaeologist James Prinsep in 1837. These records were inscribed in the Brahmi script by Emperor Ashoka, with the primary aim of disseminating his orders to the public.

Apart from Emperor Ashoka, other rulers also left behind inscribed records, often marking significant events or occasions. Notable records related to ancient India include the Hathigumpha inscription of Kharavela in Odisha, the Junagadh inscription of Rudraman, the cave inscription of Satavahana ruler Gautamiputra Shatkarni in Nashik, the pillar inscription of Samudragupta, the Junagadh records of Skandagupta, the Masharsaur records of Yashovarman, the Aihole inscription of Pulakeshin II, the Gwalior inscription of Emperor Bhoj, and the Devapada records of Vijayasen.

The majority of ancient records were composed in Prakrit language, reflecting the prevalent language of the time. However, Sanskrit was also employed in records, with evidence of Sanskrit inscriptions emerging in the second century AD. The Junagadh inscription, engraved in 150 AD by Shaka Emperor Rudradaman, stands as the earliest known Sanskrit record. Rudradaman's rule spanned from 135 AD to 150 AD.



In antiquity, the use of coins emerged as a replacement for the barter system in transactions. These coins were crafted from various metals, including gold, copper, and silver, among others. Ancient Indian coins, in particular, exhibit a distinct characteristic of lacking inscriptions. Instead, symbols are commonly found on these coins, earning them the designation of "punch-marked coins." These coins trace back to the 5th century BC. Subsequently, there was a gradual evolution in coinage, with the inclusion of dates, the names of kings, and depictions of deities. The oldest repository of punch-marked coins has been discovered in Eastern Uttar Pradesh and Magadha. Indian-Greek rulers were the first to introduce gold coins in India, utilizing the "die method" for coin production. The golden coins issued by the Kushan rulers were renowned for their exceptional purity. Conversely, the Satavahana rulers minted lead coins in the largest quantities, distinguishing their reign in terms of coin issuance.


Other useful archaeological sources for ancient India's information

Records and coins serve as highly reliable sources of information about ancient times. However, in addition to these, there are other significant sources that provide valuable insights into ancient civilizations. These sources include buildings, temples, monuments, statues, pottery, and paintings.

Buildings, such as temples and structures, are invaluable resources for understanding ancient architectural practices. They not only provide insights into architectural styles but also offer glimpses into the social, economic, and religious systems of the time.

Monuments hold great importance in uncovering information about ancient India. They can be categorized as native and foreign monuments. Prominent native monuments include Harappa, Mohenjodaro, Nalanda, and Hastinapur. Noteworthy foreign monuments include Cambodia's Angkor Wat Temple, Indonesia's Borobudur Temple, and statues from Bali. Sculptures from Makran in Borneo provide crucial chronological data, aiding in the understanding of the timeline. These sources offer valuable information about the architectural styles prevalent during ancient times.

Due to the emergence and growth of various religions in India, religious idols hold significant prominence. Statues serve as vital sources for acquiring information about ancient religious systems, culture, and art. Sarnath, Bharuch, Bodh Gaya, and Amravati were major centers of sculpture in ancient India. Prominent sculptural genres include Gandhara art and Mathura art.

Pottery also plays a crucial role in studying ancient civilizations, as the types and forms of pottery have evolved over time. The Indus Valley Civilization featured red pottery, while the post-Harappan period saw the emergence of gray painted pottery. During the Mauryan period, black-polished wares became prevalent. Different periods witnessed innovations and advancements in pottery techniques and styles.

Paintings offer diverse information about ancient times and society. They provide insights into the daily life, culture, and art of ancient civilizations. The cave paintings of Bhimbetka in Madhya Pradesh, for instance, reflect the cultural diversity of ancient times and offer glimpses into the artistic expressions of the era.



Literary sources

The source of literature in India's history is the most literary source. In ancient times books were written by hand, these hand written books are called manuscripts. Manuscripts were written on palm pots and festivals. This ancient literature can be divided into two parts: -


Religious literature

In India, the rise of three main religions Hindu, Buddhist and Jainism arose in ancient times. Along with the expansion of these religions, many religious books were composed by various philosophers, scholars and religious teachers. In these compositions, important information is available regarding the ancient India's society, culture, architecture, life style of the people and the economy etc. 

Literary related to Hindu religion

Hinduism stands as one of the most ancient religions worldwide. Since its inception in ancient India, a wealth of detailed information regarding ancient Indian society is derived from religious scriptures associated with Hinduism. Numerous books, treatises, and epics have been composed within the Hindu religious tradition, with the principal compositions being the Vedas, Vedangas, Upanishads, Puranas, and the epic poems of Ramayana and Mahabharata. Among these, the Rig Veda holds the distinction of being the oldest. These sacred texts provide intricate insights into the royal systems, religious practices, cultural nuances, and social orders that prevailed in ancient India.



The Vedas hold significant importance in Hinduism and are considered foundational literature within the religious tradition. The Vedas consist of four main texts: Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda, and Atharvaveda. Among them, the Rigveda stands as one of the oldest books in the world, believed to have been composed between approximately 1500-1000 BC. The Yajurveda, Samaveda, and Atharvaveda were composed during the period of approximately 1000-500 BC. Each Veda serves a specific purpose and encompasses distinct subject matter. The Rigveda primarily contains hymns praising various deities. The Yajurveda focuses on the rules and rituals associated with yajna and other religious practices. The Samaveda consists of chants and melodies used in yajnas. The Atharvaveda encompasses a wider range of topics, including religious rituals, medicine, disease prevention, and other practical aspects of life. Collectively, the Vedas provide a comprehensive understanding of the religious, spiritual, and practical dimensions of ancient Hindu society.



The Vedas have been revered and cherished by the Brahmins, who are considered the custodians of these sacred texts. Each Veda has its own set of Brahmanas associated with it. These Brahmanas are written in prose style and provide intricate descriptions of various laws and rituals. They serve as a bridge between the lofty concepts of the Vedas and their practical application in religious ceremonies. Brahmanas elucidate the essence of the Vedas in a more accessible and simplified manner, conveying their teachings in plain language. These Brahmanical texts were composed by different sages and scholars over time. Examples of Brahmanas include Aitareya Brahmana and Shatapatha Brahmana, which further expound upon the principles and teachings found within the Vedas.



The term "Aaranyak" finds its origins in the Sanskrit word "Aranyya," meaning "forest." Aaranyak texts represent a category of religious literature that were authored by the rishis (sages) in the solitude of forests. These texts delve into profound spiritualism and philosophy, containing content that often carries deep esoteric meanings. Aaranyak compositions emerged after the main body of Vedic texts, and they are associated with different Vedas. However, it is important to note that the Atharvaveda does not have any specific Aaranyak linked to it. These Aaranyak texts serve as a continuation and further exploration of the profound spiritual and philosophical themes found within the Vedas, shedding light on the intricacies of Vedic thought and practice.



As the name suggests, Vedanga refers to the auxiliary disciplines or limbs associated with the Vedas. Vedanga texts present the profound knowledge and wisdom contained within the Vedas in a more accessible and practical manner. There are six branches of Vedanga, each dedicated to a specific area of study and practice. These include Shiksha (phonetics and pronunciation), Kalpa (rituals and procedures), Vyakarana (grammar and linguistics), Nirukta (etymology and interpretation), Chandas (prosody and metrics), and Jyotisha (astrology and astronomy). Each Vedanga serves as a vital support system, providing essential tools and understanding to fully comprehend and apply the teachings of the Vedas in various domains such as education, arts, language, rituals, interpretation, and celestial sciences.



The Upanishads represent the philosophical culmination and final section of the Vedic texts, earning them the epithet "Vedanta," which means "the end of the Vedas." The Upanishads delve deeply into the realms of spirituality and philosophy, exploring profound concepts through intense inquiry and contemplation. Considered part of the Shruti texts, they hold a significant position within the corpus of Hindu scriptures. Within the Upanishads, intricate discussions are presented on the nature of divinity and the interconnectedness of the spiritual realm and the individual self. As one of the oldest philosophical works, the Upanishads consist of a total of 108 texts. Notable Upanishads include Brihadaranyaka, Katha, Kena, Aitareya, Isha, Mundaka, and Chandogya, among others, each offering unique insights into the nature of existence and the pursuit of higher truths.


Formula literature

The sources of ancient Indian knowledge encompass the intricate interplay between human behavior, societal norms, and the duties prescribed for individuals within the varnashram (the fourfold social system). These sources can be broadly categorized into three key components: the Shruti texts (which include source formulas), the Grihya Sutras (which comprise home formulas), and the Dharma Sutras (which encapsulate the principles of righteous conduct). The Shruti texts are considered the most authoritative, consisting of sacred scriptures that were heard or revealed by ancient seers. The Grihya Sutras provide detailed guidelines for domestic rituals and ceremonies, offering insights into familial and social practices. Lastly, the Dharma Sutras contain concise aphorisms and legal codes, emphasizing moral duties, societal rules, and ethical conduct for individuals in various contexts. Together, these sources serve as invaluable guides, providing a comprehensive framework for understanding and navigating the intricacies of human behavior and social responsibilities in ancient Indian society.


The genre of Smritis, also known as Dharmashastras, offers a comprehensive exploration of various aspects of human life, encompassing a wide range of topics including religious and legal principles. Smritis are considered theological texts and are comparatively less complex than the Vedas. They consist of compilations of stories, teachings, and moral precepts, representing a significant development following the earlier formulation of the Vedic formulas. Among the oldest Smritis, Manusmriti and Yagnavalkya Smriti hold prominence. Manusmriti has been the subject of commentary by scholars such as Medhatithi, Govindaraja, and Kulluka Bhatta, while Yagnavalkya Smriti has received commentary from Vishnusharma and Apararka. Notably, during the period of British rule, Warren Hastings, the Governor-General of Bengal, translated Manusmriti into English and titled it "The Gentoo Code". It is worth mentioning that originally, the Smritis were transmitted orally, with the term "Smriti" itself meaning "that which is remembered".



The epic Ramayana is attributed to the revered sage Maharishi Valmiki. Initially composed with 6,000 verses, the Ramayana gradually expanded over time. It grew to encompass 12,000 verses before reaching its final form of 24,000 verses. This significant verse count has led to the Ramayana being referred to as the "quadrangular cosine code." The epic is divided into seven distinct sections, each with its own thematic focus and narrative arc. These sections are Balakand, AyodhyaKand, Aranyakanda, Kishkindadhand, Sundar Kand, War Kand, and Uttarkand. Each section delves into different aspects of the epic's overarching story.



The Mahabharata, composed by the revered sage Maharishi Ved Vyas, stands as one of the most significant epics in the world. This grand poetic treatise is often referred to as the Pancham Veda, highlighting its importance and stature among ancient texts. The magnitude of the Mahabharata surpasses even renowned Greek epics such as the Iliad and the Odyssey.

Originally consisting of 8,800 verses, it was known as the Janshita. However, as time progressed, the number of verses expanded to 24,000, earning it the name Bharata. During the Gupta period, when the verse count reached 100,000, it came to be recognized as the Mahabharata. The epic is divided into 18 sections, each exploring different facets of the narrative. These sections include Adi Parva, Sabha Parva, Vana Parva, Virata Parva, Udyoga Parva, Bhishma Parva, Drona Parva, Karna Parva, Shalya Parva, Sauptika Parva, Stri Parva, Shanti Parva, Anushasana Parva, Ashwamedhika Parva, Ashramavasika Parva, Mausala Parva, Mahaprasthanika Parva, and Swargarohana Parva.

The Mahabharata encompasses a vast array of subjects, providing detailed accounts of justice, education, medicine, astrology, governance, yoga, crafts, and astronomy, among others. Its depth and breadth offer profound insights into various aspects of life and society.



The Puranas serve as comprehensive repositories of ancient wisdom, chronicling the lives of revered sages, monks, and kings. With a total count of 18, these Puranas derive their name from their purpose of narrating ancient tales. They are believed to have been composed around the fifth century BC. Among the Puranas, the Vishnu Purana, Vayu Purana, Brahmanda Purana, and Bhagavata Purana hold great significance. Within these mythological texts, detailed genealogies of different kings are recorded, making them valuable sources from a historical perspective.

The Puranas delve into various aspects such as sin, virtue, Dharma (duty), karma (action), and contemplate different goddesses as objects of meditation. The Matsya Purana describes the Satavahana dynasty, while the Vayu Purana delves into the Gupta Dynasty. The Markandeya Purana highlights Goddess Durga, including the mention of Durga Saptami. Ganesh worship is extensively discussed in the Agni Purana. The 18 Puranas are named as follows: Brahma Purana, Markandeya Purana, Skanda Purana, Padma Purana, Agni Purana, Vamana Purana, Vishnu Purana, Bhavisya Purana, Kurma Purana, Shiva Purana, Brahmavaivarta Purana, Vayu Purana, Bhagavata Purana, Linga Purana, Garuda Purana, Narada Purana, Varaha Purana, and Brahmanda Purana.

The Vishnu, Vayu, Matsya, and Bhagavata Puranas contain comprehensive genealogies of kings, offering succinct insights into the reigns of various rulers in ancient India. These genealogies play a vital role in understanding the historical landscape of ancient India and the tenures of its rulers.


Buddhist literature

With the expansion of Buddhism, its literary tradition also flourished, and the primary corpus of Buddhist literature comprises the Jataka and Pali Tripitaka. The Jataka tales narrate the previous lives of Gautama Buddha, offering valuable insights into ancient Indian society. Among the Buddhist scriptures, the Tripitaka, also known as the Pali Canon, holds a significant place. It was compiled after the passing of Gautama Buddha and is written in the Pali language. The Tripitaka consists of three major divisions: the Suttapitaka (discourses), Vinayapitaka (monastic rules), and Abhidhammapitaka (philosophical analysis).

Within the Tripitaka, one finds a reflection of the social and religious systems prevalent in ancient India. The Suttapitaka comprises five collections, namely the Digha Nikaya (Long Discourses), Majjhima Nikaya (Middle-length Discourses), Samyutta Nikaya (Grouped Discourses), Anguttara Nikaya (Numbered Discourses), and Khuddaka Nikaya (Short Discourses). The Vinayapitaka expounds the rules and regulations governing the Buddhist monastic community, with its four sections known as the Suttavibhanga, Khandhaka, Parivara, and the Patimokkha. The Abhidhammapitaka, on the other hand, delves into the philosophical teachings of Gautama Buddha and offers profound insights into Buddhist philosophy. Alongside the Tripitaka, there are seven additional texts associated with the Abhidhamma teachings.


Jainism related literature

The ancient Jain scriptures are known as Agamas, which elucidate the teachings and principles established by Mahavira. These texts are written in the Prakrit language. Among the Jain literary corpus, the Agamas hold immense significance. They consist of twelve angas (limbs), twelve upangas (subsidiary limbs), ten mulas (roots), and six chedas (holes).

The Agamas were composed by the teachers of the Shwetambar sect of Jainism and are available in Prakrit, Sanskrit, and Apabhramsha languages. The compilation of Jain scriptures took place in the 6th century CE by Vallabhiman, a scholar from Gujarat. Besides the Agamas, other essential Jain texts include the Ashthapahuda, Bhagavati Sutra, Upasakadasah, and the Bhadrabahu Charit. These texts provide valuable insights into the philosophical, ethical, and spiritual aspects of Jainism.


Non - religious literature

Apart from religious texts, there exists a category of literature known as non-religious literature. This encompasses historical books, biographies, and stories, among others. Prominent compositions by scholars and diplomats contribute to this body of literature, which is relatively reliable and provides valuable insights into various aspects of governance, economy, lifestyle, and contemporary society.

In the 6th century, the renowned Sanskrit scholar Panini made significant contributions to Sanskrit grammar with his work "Ashtadhyayi." This text sheds light on the society of the 5th century BCE. During the Maurya period, Kautilya's treatise "Arthashastra" offered crucial insights into governance and economics. Works such as Somdev's "Katha Saritasagara" and Vishakhadatta's "Mudrarakshasa" provide extensive information about the Mauryan period, encompassing religious, economic, and social systems.

Patanjali's "Mahabhashya" and Kalidasa's "Malavikagnimitra" contribute to our understanding of the history of the Shunga dynasty. Shudraka's "Mricchakatika" and Dand's "Dashakumara Charita" shed light on the social system of the Gupta period. King Harshavardhana is glorified in Banabhatta's biography "Harshacharita," while the achievements of Vikramaditya VI of the Chalukya dynasty are praised in "Gaudavaho" composed by poet Vakpati.

The accomplishments of King Ramapala of the Pala dynasty find mention in Sandakarnandi's "Ramacharitamanasa." Hemachandra's "Diksharaja Kavya" celebrates the rule of Raj Kumar Kumar, the ruler of Gujarat. The Parmar dynasty and Prithviraj Chauhan are described in Padmagupta's "Navasahasankacharita" and Jayaan's "Prithviraj Vijaya," respectively. Kalhana's "Rajatarangini" is a significant historical account for chronology in Indian history, providing detailed genealogical information about different states. This 12th-century work comprises eight chapters.

Regarding the history of South India, Sangam literature offers insights through Tamil and Sanskrit compositions. These texts, such as Nandikkalambagam, Kalatattuparani, and Cholchitra, provide detailed descriptions of the social, economic, and cultural systems of the Chola, Chera, and Pandya dynasties.


Foreign sources

Foreign literature offers valuable insights into ancient Indian history, providing accounts from writers who visited India either alongside foreign rulers or independently. These writers documented various aspects of Indian society, economy, and geography. Foreign literary sources can be categorized into three main parts: Greek and Roman writers, Chinese writers, and Arabic authors. Each of these categories contributes unique perspectives and information about India's past, enriching our understanding of its historical context.


Romans and Greek writers

The description of Herodotus and Ticius is the oldest among Greek writers. Herodotus wrote a book called "Historica", which was highlighted on the relationship between India and Persia, Herodotus is also called the father of history. Many Greek writers come along with the ruler of Sikander, Nayarks, Anasicratus, Aristobulus The accounts are important. Aristobulsk wrote a book called "History of the War", while Anacicratus wrote the biography of Alexander. The contribution of megasthenes, diemacus and dinosaeas after Sikandar is also important. Describes Maurycolan society, administration and culture in the famous book Indica of Megasthenes. In Pliny's book "Natural Historia", the vegetation of India, Along with livestock and minerals, trade relations between India and Italy can also be seen. "Geography" by Tallemi and books in Plutarch and Strabo are also given details of various aspects of India.


Chinese author

Chinese came mainly from India for the purpose of religious pilgrimage They came to India primarily to study Buddhism. Fahyan, Hwantsang and Ipsang are among the passengers coming to China from India. Fahyan came to India during the reign of Chandragupta II, he described Indian society, politics and culture in his book "Fo-Why-Ki". When Hwantsang came to India during Harshvardhan's reign, he highlighted India's economic and social status in his travelogue. Tibetan writer Taranath has highlighted Indian history in his book "Kangur", "Tangure".


Arabic Writer

Arab writers came to India with Muslim invasions. In the eighteenth century Arab rulers started invading India, along with the Arab rulers, their writers and poets also came to India. In the 9th century Sulaiman came to India, wrote about Pal and Pratihar kings. Alamsudi has written the story of Rashtrakuta kings. While Alburini has written in his book "Tahkik A Hind" about the society after the Gupta period


Some important books of ancient times and their authors

Book name







Kama Sutra





Under bharat

Sun theory




Five independence

Vishnu Sharma



Prithviraj Rajoso




Song govind






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