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Themes in Early Indian Cultural History: Languages and texts

Themes in Early Indian Cultural History: Languages and texts

  • Although the ancient Indians knew how to write as early as 2500 BC, our most ancient manuscripts are not older than the AD fourth century and are found in Central Asia.
    • In India, they were written on birch bark and palm leaves, but in Central Asia, where the Prakrit language had spread from India, manuscripts were also written on sheep leather and wooden tablets.
    • These writings are called inscriptions, but they are as good as manuscripts.
    • When printing was not known, manuscripts were very highly valued.
    • Although old Sanskrit manuscripts are found all over India, they mostly relate to south India, Kashmir, and Nepal.
  • Most ancient books contain religious themes.
    • Hindu religious literature includes the Vedas, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, the Puranas, and the like.
    • They throw considerable light on the social and cultural conditions of ancient times, but it is difficult to use them in the context of time and place.
  • An ancient text does not necessarily offer a simple or direct reflection of the society of its time. It constitutes a complex representation of that society and a refracted image of the past. Information has to be teased out with care, skill, and ingenuity to make historical inferences.

A text can be read in many different ways from a historical point of view, but certain important issues have to be addressed while doing so. Foremost among these are its age and authorship of Ancient Texts:

  • Ancient texts are much older than their surviving manuscripts, and have had a life of their own.
    • They have grown and changed over time and this process of growth and change—the period of composition—could in some cases have lasted for hundreds of years before they were compiled or given a more or less final shape.
  • A text can be used as a source of historical information for the period during which it was composed, but if the composition stretched over a long period of time, it becomes essential to identify its different chronological layers and the various additions or interpolations made over time.
  • Many early texts were the work of not one, but many authors.
    • It is important to identify authors’ background and the perspectives and biases they reflect, such as those of class, religion, and gender.
  • Other questions about these texts:
    • Where were they composed and in which geographical area did they circulate?
    • What was the place of these texts within prevailing social and political power structures and cultural traditions?
  • The information a text provides has to be carefully understood within the framework of the particular genre or type of literature it represents.
    • In the case of poetry or drama, the analysis requires sensitivity to the literary conventions of the time and the writer’s style and imagination.
  • A text may represent an ideal, not an actual situation and it cannot be read as a description of what was actually happening at the time.
    • Ancient texts often contain myths, and although myths can tell us indirectly about history, the two should not be confused with each other.

Languages:

Development of Sanskrit language:
  • Sanskrit is the most ancient language of our country. It has been universally accepted that sanskrit is a remote cousin of most of the language of Europe.Such relationship is indicated by several resemblances, such as pitr, “father”, matr, “mother” etc.
  • Ancient Sanskrit was Vedic Sanskrit.The earliest surviving form of sanskrit is that of Rig Veda, which has many similarity with that of  Indo-European languages.
  • After the composition of Rig Veda Sanskrit developed considerably. Gradually, the old words were forgotten or lost their original meaning and new words, mostly borrowed from non-Aryan sources were introduced.
  • Out of need to preserve the purity of the Vedas India developed the science of phonetics and grammar.
    • The oldest Indian linguistic text, Yaska’s Nirukta, explaining obsolete Vedic words, dates from the 5th century B.C.
  • The development of Sanskrit Grammar began with Panini In 400 BC. His book Ashtadhyayi is oldest book on Sanskrit Grammar. This book gave a new direction to the Sanskrit language.
    • With Panini the language had virtually reached its classical form and it developed little thenceforward. except in its vocabulary.
    • The grammar of Panini effectively stablized the Sanskrit language, presupposes the work of many earlier grammarians.
    • One of ancient India’s greatest achievements is her remarkable alphabet, commencing with the vowels and followed by the consonants, all classified very scientifically according to their mode of production, in sharp contast to the haphazard and inadequate Roman alphabet. It was only with the discovery of Sanskrit by the West that a science of phonetics arose in Europe.
    • Though its fame is much restricted by its specialized nature, there is no doubt that Panini’s grammar is one of the greatest intellectual achievements of any ancient civilization, and most detailed and scientific grammar composed before the 19th century in any part of the world.
  • The great terseness of Panini’s system makes it very difficult to follow without preliminary study and suitable commentary.
    • Later Indian grammars are mostly commentaries on Panini. e.g. “Great Commentary” Mahabhasya of Patanjali in 2nd century B.C. and the “Banaras commentary” (Kasika Vrtti) of Jayaditya.
  • All the grammarians widely accepted the Panini grammar and no one seriously dared to infringe it. With Panini the language was fixed and could only developed within the framework of his rules.
  • It was from the time of Panini onwards that the language began to be called “perfected” or “refined” or “chaste”.
  • The first important dynasty to use Sanskrit was that of the Sakas of Ujjain.
  • In inscriptions, first expression of it is found in Junagarh Rock inscription of Rudradamana at Girnar.
  • In literature, Ashwaghosha (1st century AD) is believed to have been the first Sanskrit dramatist.
  • In Gupta period, its more refined form developed. This is the period when chaste Sanskrit and its poetic style reached its culmination.
    • Evolution of ornate style is an important aspect of development of Sanskrit language in Gupta period. Sanskrit language of Gupta period represents classical trends is clearly expressed in the literary works of Kalidasa. This form of Sansknt was not only used in literature but also in coins and inscriptions.
  • The Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas and Dharmasutras are all written in Sanskrit. The Buddhist Sanskrit literature includes the rich literature of the Mahayana school and the Hinayana school also.
    • The most important work of the Hinayana school is the Mahavastu (written in mixed Sanskrit, Pali and Prakrit) which is a storehouse of stories.
    • While the Lalitavistara is the most sacred Mahayana text which supplied literary material for the Buddhacarita of Asvaghosa.
  • Thus, Sanskrit developed in following phases:
    • Development of Sanskrit literature begins with vedic literature eg. the Vedas, the Upnishadas, the Brahmanas and the Aranyakas.
    • The time period of second phase of development ranges between 600 BC to 200 BC. On the basis of development- of literature it is regarded as Sutra period.
    • The third phase of development of literature belongs to the period 200 BC to 300 AD. This period is related to literary works of chaste Sanskrit. The earliest literature related to it is of Ashwaghosha.
    • Development of Sanskrit literature reached its zenith during the Gupta Period. This is totally a period of creation of pure literature which is evident in works as epics (Mahakavya) and semi-epics(Khandakavyas).
      • One of the important aspects of development of Sanskrit literature in this period is variation in literary works. An another important aspect of it is related to ornate style in literary works.
      • Development of Dramas/plays was a significant aspect of Gupta literature. These are mostly comedies and written in verse. The stirring of emotions was considered as standard for ideal literature. One of the features of play was use of Sanskrit language by the characters of high Varna and use of Prakrit language by women and Shudras.
      • The development of Sanskrit literature of this period can be seen in the works of Kalidasa, Shudraka, Vishakhadata etc.
  • Sanskrit is perhaps the only language that transcended the barriers of regions and boundaries. From the north to the south and the east to the west there is no part of India that has not contributed to or been affected by this language
Development of Prakrit language:
  • During vedic period, the ordinary Aryan tribesman spoke a simpler tongue, more closely akin to classical Sanskrit.
  • By the time of Buddha the masses were speaking languages which was much simpler that Sanskrit. These were the Prakrits, of which several dialect have been attested. I.e.  Prakrit was associated with common people. It was much simpler than Sanskrit in both sound and grammar.
    • There is no such thing as “the Prakrit language”: The word refers to various languages of India with a complicated relationship to Sanskrit
  • The everyday speech of ancient India has been preserved for us largely through the unorthodox religions, whose earliest scriptures were composed in languages approximating to those spoken by the people.
  • The period of development of literature is between 500 BC to 800 AD.
    • Most inscriptions of pre-Guptan times, notably the great series of Ashokan edicts are in Prakrit.
    • Also the women and humbler characters of he Sanskrit drama are made to speak in Prakrit.
  • Literature of Prakrit was largely developed by Jainas.
    • It’s Maharashtrian (spoken in north-western deccan) branch was used and developed by Swetambaras and
    • Shourseni (Mathura region) branch was developed by Digambaras.
  • An important stage of development of Prakrit language was development of Paishachi. The last stage of development of Prakrit was development of Apbhramsha.
  • Some important literary works in Prakrit are Gathasaptasati written by Hala, Parishishtparvan by Hemachandra etc.
  • The grammar of Prakrit was also developed. Two important works of grammar are Prakrit Prakasha by Vasaruchi and Prakrit Lakshana by Chandra.
  • Secular texts were also written in Prakrit language. These are ethical in nature. Moralistic idealism can clearly be seen in these texts eg. Setubandha of Pravarsena, Gaudvaho of Vakapati etc.
Development of Pali language:
  • One very important early Prakrit was Pali, which became the language of the Theravadin Buddhists. It was accepted as formal language in Theravadin sect and given fiterary expressions. It developed as religious texts of Buddhism, in which Tripitakas are the most important.
  • Buddha tought in Magadhi, Magadhi was also the official language of the Mauryan court. Some scholar believe that Magadhi Prakrit is the early form of Pali. As the Theravada commentaries refer to the Pali language as “Magadhan” or the “language of Magadha”.
  • It was associated with common people. The development of literature began in 500 BC and continued till 700 to 800 AD.
  • An important work Pali literature is Milindpanho during the period 200 BC to 300 AD. Its content show high quality of literature which is in the form of a conversation.
  • Poetic form of Pali lanquage also developed which is more important than its prose version. In later periad, grammar of Pali language also developed to some extent.
Notes:
  • Later, hybrid Magadhi, somewhat influenced by the Western Prakrits and usually known as Ardha-magadhi (“Half-Magadhi”), became the sacred language of he Jainas, and large literature was written in it.
  • Another stage in the development of the Indo-Aryan languages was Apabhramsa (“falling away”), a vernacular of Western India which achieved literary form in middle ages and used by Jaina writers in Gujarat and Rajasthan for composition of poetry.
  • A similar degenerate Prakrit was used in Bengali by a few late Buddhist poets, and is the ancestor of modern Bengali.
Development of Dravidian Language:
  • The Dravidian languages had been flourishing for centuries. Four of these tongues-Tamil, Canarese, Telegu and Malayalam have distinctive scripts and written literatures.
    • Of these Tamil is spoken in the south, from Cape Comorin to Madras,
    • Canarese in Mysore and parts of Andhra Pradesh,
    • Telgu from Madras northwards to the borders of Orissa and
    • Malayalam in Kerala.
  • Tamil is certainly, the oldest of these languages, with a literature going back to the early centuries A.D.
  • Some authorities believe that the Dravidian languages are remotely affiliated to the Finno-Ugrian group, which includes Finnish and Hungarian. If this is the case it involves interesting corollaries concerning prehistoric race movements, but the hypothesis is not certain.
  • Dravidian is virtually an independent group of languages with a distinctive character.
  • Its varied vowels distinguish it from the northern languages.
  • Sanskrit began to affect the language very early, and by the Middle Ages the learned looked on their suffixes as nominal and verbal endings, on the analogy of Sanskrit. In the oldest texts, however, these suffixes are sparingly used.
  • The earliest Tamil literature contains comparatively few Sanskrit loan-words, and those that it does contain are generally adapted to the Tamil phonetic system.
    • The gradual growth of Aryan influence resulted in the borrowing of many more words in the Middle Ages, often in their correct Sanskrit form.
  • Telugu and Kannada, which are spoken further north, are naturally even more strongly influenced by Sanskrit.
    • The earliest Kannada inscriptions date from the 5th/6th century onwards, but the oldest surviving piece of literature in this language is the Kavirajamarga (The Royal Road of the Poets), a 9th century work on poetics.
    • Place names in inscriptions from the 2nd century CE suggest the antiquity of Telugu, while epigraphs of the 5th–6th centuries CE reflect the shaping of the classical form of the language.
      • The earliest surviving work of Telugu literature is Nannaya’s 11th century rendering of the first two-and-a-half books of the Mahabharata in mixed verse and prose.
        • This work was written at the request of the eastern Chalukya king Rajarajanarendra.
        • Telugu did not become a literary language until the 12th century and only became really important under the Vijayanagara Empire of which it was the court language.
  • Malayalam, very closely akin to Tamil, was a separate language by the 11th century.

Texts:

Brahmanical texts:
  • Classified in two forms:
    • Shruti:
      • Literally means “that which is heard” and refers to the body of most authoritative, ancient religious texts comprising the central canon of Hinduism.
      • It was revealed to the sages by the God. I.e heard by sage, that’s why known as Shruti.
      • it includes the four Vedas including its four types of embedded texts—the Samhitas, the early Upanishads, the Brahmanas and the Aranyakas.
      • They have been referred to as apauruṣeya (not created by humans).
    • Smriti:
      • The category of smriti (literally, ‘which is remembered’) texts includes the Vedanga, Puranas, epics, Dharmashastra, and Nitishastra.
      • These are a body of Hindu texts usually attributed to an author, traditionally written down, in contrast to Śrutis (the Vedic literature) considered authorless, that were transmitted verbally across the generations and fixed.
      • Smrtis represent the remembered, written tradition in Hinduism. Smrtis represent the remembered, written tradition in Hinduism.
      • The Smrti literature is a vast corpus of derivative work. All Smriti texts are regarded to ultimately be rooted in or inspired by Shruti.
      • The Smrti corpus includes, but is not limited to:
        • The six Vedangas (grammar, meter, phonetics, etymology, astronomy and rituals),
        • Upavedas (means applied knowledge) and are traditional literatures which contain the subjects of certain technical works. e.g. Āyurveda, Dhanurveda etc.
        • The Itihasa (literally means “so indeed it was”), Epics (the Mahabharata and Ramayana),
        • The texts on the four proper goals or aims of human life:
          • Dharma:
            • These texts discuss dharma from various religious, social, duties, morals and personal ethics perspective.
            • Each of six major schools of Hinduism has its own literature on dharma. Examples include Dharma-sutras (particularly by Gautama, Apastamba, Baudhayana and Vāsiṣṭha) and Dharma-sastras (particularly Manusmṛti, Yajnavalkya Smriti, Nāradasmṛti and Viṣṇusmṛti).
            • At the personal dharma level, this includes many chapters of Yogasutras.
          • Artha:
            • Artha-related texts discuss artha from individual, social and as a compendium of economic policies, politics and laws. For example, the Arthashastra of Chanakya, the Kamandakiya Nitisara, Brihaspati Sutra, and Sukra Niti.
          • Kama:
            • These discuss arts, emotions, love, erotics, relationships and other sciences in the pursuit of pleasure. The Kamasutra of Vatsyayana is most well known.
            • Others texts include Ratirahasya, Jayamangala, Smaradipika, Ratimanjari, Ratiratnapradipika, Ananga Ranga among others.
          • Moksha:
            • These develop and debate the nature and process of liberation, freedom and spiritual release. Major treatises on the pursuit of moksa include the later Upanishads (early Upanishads are considered Sruti literature), Vivekachudamani, and the sastras on Yoga.
        • The Puranas (literally, “of old”),
        • The Kavya or poetical literature,
        • The extensive Bhasyas (reviews and commentaries on Shrutis and non-Shruti texts),
        • The sutras and shastras of the various schools of Hindu philosophy,
        • The numerous Nibandhas (digests) covering politics, medicine (Caraka Samhita), ethics (Nitisastras), culture, arts and society.
  • The Shruti literature (or The vedic texts):
    • The Vedas have the status of shruti (literally, ‘that which has been heard’).
    • The word Veda is derived from the root vid which means ‘to know’. The word veda means the sacred knowledge contained in the texts known as Vedic text.
    • The texts constitute the oldest layer of Sanskrit literature and the oldest scriptures of Hinduism.
    • Vedas are also called sruti (“what is heard”) literature, distinguishing them from other religious texts, which are called smriti (“what is remembered”).
      • The Vedas are considered to be apauruseya, which means impersonal, authorless.
      • The vedas are considered revelations seen by ancient sages after intense meditation.
      • They are thought to embody an eternal, self-existent truth realized by the rishis (seers) in a state of meditation or revealed to them by the gods.
      • In the Hindu Epic Mahabharata, the creation of Vedas is credited to Brahma.
      • The Vedic hymns themselves assert that they were skillfully created by Rishis (sages), after inspired creativity, just as a carpenter builds a chariot.
    • There are four Vedas: the Rigveda, the Yajurveda, the Samaveda and the Atharvaveda. Each Veda has been sub-classified into four major text types.
      • The Samhitas (the collections of the hymns or mantras). The nature of humns varies from one veda to another veda samhita.
        • The Rigveda samhita is a collection of 1,028 hymns divided into 10 mandalas. They are the earliest compositions and hence depict the life of the early Vedic people in India.
        • The Samaveda samhita is a collection of verses mostly taken from the Rigveda but arranged in a poetic form to facilitate singing. i.e the prayers of the Rig Veda were set to tune, and this modified collection was known as the Sama Veda Samhita.
        • The Yajurveda samhita contains not only humns but also rituals which have to accompany their recitation. i.e. hymns represents mantras in performance of sacrifices.
          • The rituals reflect the social and political milieu in which they arose.
          • the rituals were to be performed publicly or individually.
        • The Atharvaveda samhita is a collection of hymns related to worldly affairs contains magical spells and charms to ward off the evil spirits and diseases.
          • Its contents throw light on the beliefs and practices of the non-Aryans.
      • the Brahmanas (these are full of ritualistic formulae and explain the social and religious meaning of rituals), and
        • Prose commentaries on samhitas.
        • They gave details and explanation of sacrificial rituals and their outcome.
      • the Aranyakas (text on rituals, ceremonies, sacrifices and symbolic-sacrifices),
        • Composed in Aryankas i.e. forest jungle.
        • They interpret sacrificial ritual in a philosophical way.
        • They represent spiritual explanation of sacrifice.
      • the Upanishads (texts discussing meditation, philosophy and spiritual knowledge).
        • The word Upanishad is derived from upa (nearby), and nishad (to sit-down), that is, “sitting down near”. Groups of pupil sit near the Guru to learn from him in the Guru-shishya parampara or tradition.
        • The Upanishads mark the culmination of Indian thought and are the final parts of the Vedas. As the Upanishads contain abstract and difficult discussions of ultimate philosophical problems, they were taught to the pupils at the end. That is why they are called the end of Vedas.
          • Vedas start with the worship of the manifest, as that is obvious and then slowly transform to the knowledge of the unmanifest.
          • The Upanishads reflect the last composed layer of texts in the Vedas. They are commonly referred to as Vedanta, variously interpreted to mean either the “last chapters, parts of the Vedas”.
        • The Upanishads form an important part of our literary legacy. They deal with questions like the origin of the universe, life and death, the material and spiritual world, nature of knowledge and many other questions.
        • They represent philosophical ideas about sacrifices, universe and human body but the concepts of Brahman (Ultimate Reality) and Atman (Soul, Self) are central ideas in all the Upanishads.
        • The Upanishads are the foundation of Hindu philosophical thought and its diverse traditions.
        • The earliest Upanishads are the Brihadaranyaka which belongs to the Sukla Yajur Veda and Chand yogya which belongs to the Sama Veda. Some of the other important Upanishads are the Aitareya, Kena, Katha Upanishad.
        • Note:
          • There are more than 200 known Upanishads, one of which, the Muktika, gives a list of 108 Upanishads.
          • Only the early Upanishads are considered Sruti literature while the rest are included in Smriti literature.
      • Aranyakas are sometimes identified as karma-kanda (ritualistic section), while the Upanishads are identified as jnana-kanda (spirituality section).
    • Shruti literature as a source of history:
      • Positive aspects:
        • Main source for knowing vedic life and vedic culture from 1500 BC to 600 BC. It throws light on social, economic, political and religious life of vedic period.
        • Vedic literature forms an important part of the Brahmanical tradition—texts preserved and transmitted by a section of Brahmana males. It reflects their religious beliefs, practices, and points of view.
        • As a source of history, these texts are used for information about life and geographical information in parts of north-western and northern India during the 2nd and 1st millennia BCE. e.g. name of rivers, mountains etc.
        • Vedic texts comprise a religious literature, and references to possible historical events are few.
          • For example, Book 7 of the Rig Veda Samhita refers to a battle of 10 kings, in which Sudas defeated a number of adversaries who had confederated against him.
      • Limitations:
        • Religious literature: the religious ideas overshadow the historical facts. References to possible historical events are few. e.g. battle of 19 kings.
        • Within religions many extra-worldly things are mentioned.
        • Problem in co-relating the evidences with archaeology. There is no adequate archaeological evidences to substantiate the literary sources.
        • This are vagueness and ambiguity. Exact meaning of the words are not easy to find out.
        • Problem with dating, chronology and authorship.
          • The dates that have been suggested for the composition of this text range from c. 6000 BCE to 1000 BCE.
          • Many historians take c. 1500–1000 BCE as the period of composition of early Vedic literature and c. 1000–500 BCE as that of later Vedic texts.
        • The historical usefulness is limited to only a particular region i.e. North-western part of India.
  • Various smriti literatures:
    • Vedangas:
      • Six classes of sutras are recognized as Vedangas i.e. limbs of the Vedas. It is also known as extension of Vedas.
      • These are not books but subjects.
      • The broad period of composition of Vedanga literature is c. 600–200 BCE.
      • They are aimed at helping the proper recitation, use, and understanding of the Vedas.
      • These can be tabulated as follows:
        • Shiksha: Shiksha deals with pronunciation of Vedic Mantras (phonetics)
        • Nirukta: Nirukta is concerned with etymology (origin of words and formation os vedic words)
        • Chhanda: Chhanda as its name implies, acquaints us with metrical formation of Vedic Mantras. i.e. arrangement of the words in verse.
        • Vyakarana: Is concerned with grammar.
        • Jyotisha: Jyotisha deals with astrology..
        • Kalpasutras (aphorisms on ritual): It deals with ceremonial guides or didactic manuals on ritual practice. Broadly, the following four sub-division of the Kalpasutras can be identified:
          • Shrautasutras:
            • deal with Vedic sacrifices that required the use of at least three fires.
            • It incorporate such rituals as were derived from Shrutis (the Vedas, Brahmanas, etc.).
            • Often, these were public ceremonies, such as the Rajasuya and Ashvamedha.
          • Grihyasutras:
            • deal with the simpler domestic sacrifices involving the use of only one fire.
            • The rituals they discuss include daily sacrifices to be performed by a householder, mainly involving oblations of ghee or offerings of flowers and fruits.
            • They also describe the samskaras (literally, ‘preparation’, ‘arrangement’)—rituals marking important life stages, such as birth, upanayana (initiation), vivaha (marriage), and antyeshti (funerary rites) etc.
          • Shulbasutras:
            • It is directly attached to the Shrautasutras, lays down norms, methods and minute rules regarding the measurement and construction of sacrificial altars.
          • Dharmasutras:
            • It prescribe the norms of the daily conduct of individuals and the consequences of their violations.
            • Dharmasutra’s represents the earliest law books in ancient times written between 600-300 B.C.
            • Dharmasutras deal with dharma and recognizes three sources of dharma—
                • shruti (i.e., the Vedas),
                • smriti (i.e., the Smriti texts), and
                • sadachara or shishtachara (good custom or the practices).
            • Various Dharmasutras:
              • Gautama Dharmasutras:
                • Oldest
                • 1/4th of the total sutras on Rajdharma.
              • Apastamba Dharmasutras:
                • Second Oldest
                • 1/10th of total sutras on Rajdharma.
                • Commentary by Hardatta known as Vijjvalavrtti.
              • Baudhyana Dharmasutras:
                • Chronologically later than Apastamba.
                • 1/8th of the total sutras on Rajdharma.
              • Vasistha Dharmasutras:
                • Abouth 1/6th of the total is on Rajdharma
              • Vishnu Dharmasutras:
                • It professes to be a revealation by the Supreme being – the Dharmasutras are avowedly the works of sages.
                • Commentary by Bharuchi.
          • Notes: Sutras style of writing are in essence the ideas expressed in very short and condensed statements.
    • Upaveda:
      • Upaveda means applied knowledge and are traditional literature which contain the subjects of certain technical works.
      • They are as follows:
        • Ayurveda: Deals in Medicine and associated with the Rigveda
        • Dhanurveda: Deals in Archery and associated with the Yajurveda
        • Gandharvaveda: Deals with Music and Dance and associated with the Samaveda
        • Shastrashastra: Deals with military technology and associated with the Atharvaveda
    • Dharmashastras:
      • Dharmashastras is a genre of Sanskrit theological texts, and refers to the treatises (sastras) of Hinduism dealing specifically with dharma. These texts can be subdivided into three groups.
        • The first two are the Dharmasutras (composed during c. 600–300 BCE) and the Smritis (c. 200 BCE–900 CE).
        • The third includes brief and elaborate commentaries (Tikas and Bhashyas, respectively), collections with comments and conclusions (Nibandhas), and compendia of views from different texts (Sangrahas), all composed between the 9th and the 19th centuries.
      • The Dharmasutras are part of Vedanga literature as well as the Dharmashastra corpus.
      • There are many Dharmashastras, variously estimated to be 18 to about 100, with different and conflicting points of view.
      • Each of these texts exist in many different versions, and each is rooted in Dharmasutra texts dated to 1st millennium BCE that emerged from Kalpa (Vedanga) studies in the Vedic era.
      • A person’s dharma depends on gender, age, marital status, varna, and ashrama.
      • The texts include discussion of:
        • ashrama (stages of life),
          • The ashrama system went through several stages of development and ultimately divided the life of a dvija male into four stages—
            • brahmacharya (celibate studenthood),
            • grihastha (the householder stage),
            • vanaprastha (partial renunciation), and
            • sannyasa (complete renunciation).
          • The fourth ashrama is not obligatory.
          • The ashramas represent an ideal scheme and it should not be imagined that people in ancient India necessarily followed it in real life.
          • Further, it was not supposed to apply, even as an ideal, to women or Shudras.
        • varna (social classes)
          • The four varnas are—Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya, and Shudra.
          • The first three of these are referred to in the Brahmanical tradition as dvija (literally, ‘twice-born’) as they alone have the right to the sacred-thread ceremony, which is considered similar to a second birth.
        • purushartha (proper goals of life),
        • personal virtues and duties such as ahimsa (non-violence) against all living beings,
        • rules of just war,
        • duties and rites of the kings,
        • slaves and their rights,
        • rights to property
        • Laws related to marriage and inheritance
        • Jatis and their duties etc.
      • Apart from norms of social behaviour, Dharmashastra deals with a number of other issues including personal, civil, and criminal law.
      • These texts are normative and prescriptive—they talk about the way things should be, from the point of view of a section of Brahmana males who were the ‘dharma experts’.
      • Although the Dharmashastra texts do not directly describe the society of their time, certain inferences about social practices can be made on their basis.
        • Contradictions within or across texts may indicate different opinions among experts, differences in customary practices in different areas, or changes in social norms over time.
        • The Brahmanical tradition had some amount of in-built elasticity in order to come to terms with social reality.
      • Some important Dharmashastras:
        • Manu smriti:
          • Belongs to Post-Mauryan Period
          • Seven kinds of slaves.
          • Women could utter Mantras only at the time of marriage.
          • Women have no right to property except Stridhana.
          • Women remain under the guardianship of father, husband and son.
          • Four ashramas.
          • Condemns Niyoga
          • Condemns Gambling
          • Gods are pleased in homes where women are honoured.
          • Reference of Varnashankara
          • Reterence of Vratya-kshatriya (fallen kshatria) – term used for foreign ruling group.
        • Yajnavalkya smriti:
          • More systematic, precise and concise than Manusmriti.
          • Does not condemned Niyoga.
          • Prescribes methods to bringing gambling under slate control to add to revenue of state – but does not condemn it.
          • Defines rights of widows.
          • Accepts right of women to inherit property.
        • Narada smriti:
          • Similarities with Manusmriti.
          • Not opposed to Niyoga
          • Not opposed to remariage of women
          • Refers to 15 kinds of slaves
          • Contains detailed description on slaves
        • Brahaspati smriti:
          • First to make a clear distinction between civil & criminal justice.
          • Focus on law- little on polity
          • Follows Manusmriti very closely
      • Concept of Dharma:
        • The concept of dharma (from the root dhri, meaning ‘to maintain, support, or sustain’) is based on the idea that the universe is governed by a certain natural law and that the moral laws guiding people’s lives should be in consonance with that natural law.
        • Dharma refers to the proper, ideal conduct of a person living in society, a course of action which leads to the fulfilment of the goals of human life. These goals, known as purusharthas, are dharma (righteous conduct), artha (material well-being), kama (sensual pleasure), and moksha (deliverance from the cycle of rebirth).
        • Material gain and sensual pleasure are considered desirable goals, if pursued in accordance with dharma.
        • The concept of dharma is closely tied up with the idea of samsara—the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth.
        • The fruits of dharma include the acquisition of spiritual merit (punya), and its impact is supposed to be felt not only in this life but in future lives as well.
        • The obligations of dharma are considered as applicable to and binding on everybody. Therefore, dharma also means duty.
    • Philosophical Literature:
      • Sankhya:
        • Samkhya Sutra – By Kapila
        • Sankhya Karika – By Iswar Krishna also known as Vindhyavas – 6th century AD Most important commentary
        • Tatva Kumudi – By Vachaspali – 9th century AD
      • Yoga:
        • Yoga Sutra – By Patanjali
        • Yog Bhasya – By Vyas – Earliest Commentary
        • Rajamartanda – By Bhoj 100 AD
      • Nyaya:
        • Nyaya Sutra – Gautam
        • Nyaya Bhasya – Earliest commentary – By Pakshila Swamin Vatsayayan – 4th century AD
        • Nyaya praves – By Dinnaga (A Buddhist) – Criticises Vatsyayan
        • Nyaya Vartika – One of world’s greatest treatise on logic – By Uddyotakar – A Pasupat – Supports Vatsyayan against Dinnaga
        • Nyaya Bindu – By Dharmakirti (A Buddhist) – Supports Dinnaga against Uddyotkar
        • Tattva Chintamani – First on Modern Nyaya – By Gangesa – 12th century AD
        • Nyayavatara – By Diwakar (A Jaina) – First systematic writing on Jaina logic
      • Vaiseshika:
        • Vaiseshika Sutra – By Kanada or Kanbhuk or Uluk or Kashyap
        • Padarth Oharm Sangrah – By Prashast pad – 5th century AD
      • Purva Mimamsa:
        • Mimamsa Sutra – By Jamini – 4th century BC
        • Sabar Bhasya – By Sabar Swami 1st century AD
        • (a) Slokavartıka, (b) Tantra Vartika, (c) Tuptika, (d), Brihattika, (e) Madhyama Tika – By Kumaril Bhatt -6th-7th century AD
        • Vidhi Vivek & Bhawana Vivek – By Mandan Misra
        • (a) Sarvadarshansamgraha, (b) Jaiminiya – Nyaya – Mal Vistara – By Madhav – Brother of Sayana
        • Tattva bindu – by Vachaspati Misra
      • Vedanta:
        • Badaryan – Wrole Brahmasutra or Vedant Sutra
        • Gaudpad – Mentor of Shankara First systematic commentary – Agama Sastra & Gaudpadkarika
        • Shankara – Brahmasutra Bhasya
        • Sri Harsa – Wrote Khandana Khanda Khadya on Advaita
        • Ramanuj – Lived in 11th century – Wrote Vedant Sar or Vedanta Samgraha or Vedant Dip
        • Nimbarka- Wrote Parijat Saurav – Commentary on Brahmasutra – Expounded Dvaita Dvaita
        • Madhav or Anandtirtha or Purnaprajna – Commentory on Brahmasutra – Wrote Anuvyakhyan Expounded Dvaita
        • Mandan Misra – Wrote Brahma Siddhi
        • Vallabha – Wrote Anubhasya – On Brahmasutra – Expounded Suddha Advaita
    • Purana:
      • The word Purana literally means “ancient, old” ( ‘story of the old days’), and it is a vast genre of Indian literature about a wide range of topics, particularly legends and other traditional lore.
      • The Purana emerged out of Bardic traditions. I.e. The original authors of the Puranas like those of the epics, were the Sutas or the bards.
        • Bards were professional class used to recite the ancient lores.
        • In almost all the Puranas the Suta Lomaharshana or his son Ugrasrava appears as narrator.
      • Composed primarily in Sanskrit, but also in Tamil and other Indian languages, several of these texts are named after major Hindu deities such as Vishnu, Shiva, Brahma and Shakti.
      • Although we cannot date puranas by its character of repeating the stories of the old days, one can trace their composition from 300 CE to 1000 CE.  The earliest Puranas were compiled in the Gupta period.
      • There are eighteen Puranas and about the same number of Upapuranas. Some of the well known Puranas are – Brahma, Bhagvat, Padma, Vishnu, Vayu, Agni, Matsya and Garuda.
        • Vishnu, Narada, Bhagvata, Garuda, Padma & Varaha Puranas are vaisvainite
        • Matsya, Kurma, Linga, siva, Skanda and Agni Puranas are saivite
        • One Brahma Purana is also known as Adi Purana for it is first in chronology.
        • Bhagvata Purana is the most popular– a work of 9th century – contains 12 books – Book X is devoted to the life of Krishna – Kapila (Sankhya System) and Buddha appear as incarnation of Vishnu. This purana rejects superiority of Brahman on the basis of birth
        • Agni purana has an encycopaedic character – it deals with subjects like astronomy, geography, grammer, law, medicine, politics etc. – It is saivite and deals with cult of Linga, Durga, Ganesh etc.
        • The Brahmavaivarta Purana,shows “Brahma” to be the creator of the world.
        • In the Garuda Purana more emphasis is laid on various forms of Vishnu-worship. Like the Agni Purana, this work too has assumed as encyclopaedic form.
          • The contents of the Ramayana the Mahaharata and the Harivamsa are retold and there are sections on cosmography, astronomy and
          • astrology, omens and portents, chiromancy, medicine metrics, grammar, knowledge of precious stones (ratnapariksha) and politics (niti).
        • The most important purana is Vishnu Dharmottara purana.
          • It is encyclopedic in nature.
          • Along with the narratives, it also deals with cosmology, cosmogony, geography, astronomy, astrology, division of time, pacification of unfavourble planets and stars, genealogies (mostly of kings and sages), manners and customs, penances, duties of Vaishnavas, law and politics, war strategies, treatment of diseases of human beings and animals, cuisine, grammar, metrics etc.
      • Puranas are mythological works which propagate religious and spiritual messages through parables and fables.
        • They have a potent influence in the development of the religious lives of the people. These are meant for the celebration of religion, the glorification of saints and kings, and the edification of readers, whose faith is to be strengthened.
        • They are full of myths, stories, legends and sermons that were meant for the education of the common people.
          • Thus, they are the instruments of popular education. Dharma or social duty reflects the same Hindu law codes basically Brahminical, and is given in illustrative stories, and in lecture form.
        • Puranas is devotional material from the bhakti tradition; the stories about the gods who are the objects of people’s loyalty, and practices of various kinds appropriate to the worship of those gods.
        • The gods are stratified, for there appear both vedic and post vedic deities together. Of the vedic gods, indra, agni, soma, vayu and surya reappear in puranic lore, but they are no longer central, as they were to vedic ritual and some of their functions have changed. It is as if they have been demoted in favour of the famous Hindu ‘triad’ of Brahma, the creator, Visnu the preserver, and Siva the destroyer, who dominate puranic literature.
      • Some of these Puranas have a local tinge so that the Brahma Purana may represent the Orissa version of the original work just as the Padma may give that of Pushkara, the Agni that of Gaya, the Varaha that of Mathura.
      • From the historical point of view the most important Puranas giving ancient royal-genealogies are the Vayu, Brahmana, Matsya and the Vishnu.
      • Alberuni mentions all the 18 puranas.
      • Theme (subject matter) of Purana:
        • Have five core subjects:
          • Sarga, the original creation of the universe
          • Pratisarga, the periodical process of destruction and re-creation
          • Manvantara, the different eras or Cosmic cycles
            • Four ages/yugas are mentioned in purana: Krita, Treta, Dwapar and Kaliyug.
            • According to purana, each next, is phase of deterioration and degeneration in all aspect (particularly moral).
            • This cycle of time connected with cyclical decline and revival of dharma.
          • Surya Vamsha and Chandra Vamsa, the histories of the solar and lunar dynasties of Gods and sages
          • Vamshanucharita, the genealogies of kings.
            • Dynastic history of Haryanka, Nanda, Maurya, Shunga, Satavahana etc are given. The list ends with Guptas. indicating that most puranas were compiled during this time.
        • Around this core skeleton of the five subjects any Purana adds other diverse materials:
          • Social traditions and customs,
          • Social ceremonies and sacrifices, rituals,
          • Festivals,
          • the duties of various castes,
          • different types of donations,
          • Also reflect the emergence of religious cults based on devotion- Vishnu, Shiva, Shakti etc.
          • Purana reflects interaction of Brahmanical and non-Brahmanical culture traditions and development of Hindu religious practices.
          • details of the construction of temples and images, and
          • descriptions of places of pilgrimage.
          • Description of details of Mantras are mentioned in Puranas
          • Description of priestly class and
          • Description of many folk tradition e.g. tree worship,
          • Details of Astronomy,
          • Details of medicines,
          • deal with cosmology,
          • Details of rules and laws,
          • Interestingly, one purana, viz., vayu-purana attempts at geography, music, etc.
            • Gives account of mountains, rivers and places etc.
        • The law books of Gupta age allowed shudras and women to study puranas. So, Purana had larger reach. That means larger spread.
          • Purana played a role in spreading both religious and secular ideas in ancient times.
        • The Puranas are the meeting point of diverse religious and social beliefs, are linked with the vital spiritual and social needs and urges of the people, and are a unique outcome of the ever-continuing synthesis based on an understanding between various groups of vedic Aryans and non-Aryans.
      • Problem with Purana as a source of History:
        • There is a vital difference between history and mythology.
          • History follows a certain method and therefore, it is possible to dispute what a historian claims, because history tries to gather as many evidences (not facts) as possible.
          • Puranas, however, are altogether different. The relevance of evidences is totally alien to puranas. It is, therefore, impossible to refute what puranas claim. Nor can we defend the same.
        • Apart from the neglect of evidence, puranas suffer from one more defect. All puranas combine legends related to gods and demons, life after death, etc. which disqualify mythology from becoming worthy of serious philosophical study.
        • In defence of puranas, it can be said that though puranas are related to mainly theological issues, they include almost all activities of life and hence they ought to occupy an important position in the list of disciplines. But this all inclusiveness itself is a serious defect.
    • Itihasas (also called epics):
      • The two Sanskrit epics, the Mahabharata and Ramayana, fall within the category of smriti as well as itihasa (traditional history), although the Ramayana is sometimes classified as kavya (poetry).
        • Ramayana by Valmiki, and the Mahabharata by Vyasa.
        • The Ramayana and the Mahabharata are two epics which have influenced literature for several centuries in all parts of India.
        • The Mahabharata and the Ramayana have several renderings in different Indian languages.
      • Similarities in language and style suggest that they emerged from a common cultural milieu.
        • The Mahabharata refers to Valmiki and the Ramayana, and outlines the Rama story in a section called the Ramopakhyana.
        • The Ramayana in turn mentions the Kurus, Hastinapura, and Janamejaya, although it does not mention the Mahabharata war.
        • The two epics were clearly aware of each other, at least in their later stages of development.
      • The composition of the Mahabharata can be placed between c. 400 BCE and c. 400 CE, and the Ramayana between the 5th/4th century BCE and the 3rd century CE.
      • The aim of the epics is to drive home to all the laws of the smritis and the principles of the shruti by means of the exploits of their great national heroes – Rama and Krishna.
      • The epics are magnificent texts with powerful stories that have captured the imagination of millions of people over the centuries. To use them as historical sources, it is necessary to identify their internal chronological layers, which is not an easy task.
        • According to tradition, Rama lived in the treta yuga (age) and the Mahabharata war happened later, in the dvapara yuga.
        • However, some historians argue that the events and characters associated with the Mahabharata reflect a slightly earlier period than those of the Ramayana.:
          • This is because the setting of the Mahabharata is the Indo-Gangetic divide and the upper Ganga valley, while in the Ramayana, the centre of political gravity had clearly shifted eastwards, to the middle Ganga valley.
          • The strong women characters of the Mahabharata suggest an earlier stage of social development, when women were less subordinated to men compared to later times.
          • The practice of niyoga (when a husband deputes his conjugal rights over his wife to another man in order to produce an heir) in the Mahabharata also suggests a social stage that is prior to that of the Ramayana, which reflects much stricter controls over women.
        • The epics can be read in many different ways from the historical point of view. While most scholars have focused on debating the historicity of their events, some have tried to describe their many different cultural layers.
        • Another approach is to read such texts as a response to a specific kind of historical context. For instance, James L. Fitzgerald has argued that the Mahabharata was a Brahmanical response to certain specific historical developments:
          • The increasing popularity of religious traditions such as Buddhism and Jainism, and the rise of dynasties such as the Nandas and Mauryas, who extended support to them, were perceived by a section of the Brahmanas as threatening the Brahmanical order. The Mahabharata was their response to this perceived crisis.
      • Ramayana:
        • Of seven Kandas (books), of which the first (Bala Kanda) and last (Uttara Kanda) are later interpolations.
        • The Ramayana exists in the form of two main recensions—northern and southern. The language of the northern recension is more elaborate and polished than that of the southern one.
        • The compact vocabulary and style indicate that the core of the text was the work of a single individual, traditionally identified as Valmiki.
        • Excavations at the site of Ayodhya have indicated the existence of a settlement here from the Northern Black Polished Ware (NBPW) phase, which may go back at the earliest to c. 700 BCE.
          • However, as with the Mahabharata, the archaeological evidence does not tell us whether there is any historical basis to the events or the characters of the Ramayana.
        • Ramayana is the account of the deeds of a divinely great hero who set an example for the entire human race.
        • It deals with ideal conditions of humanness a sense of brotherhood obedience to moral law firmness of character, honesty, sacrifice and unbounded goodness.
        • The Ramayana presents a picture of an ideal society.
        • The Ramayana accepts the principles of Sanatana Dharma and duties of ruler in particular.
        • The popularity and dynamism of the Rama story is indicated by the fact that apart from the Valmiki Ramayana (which seems to be the oldest version) there are numerous other tellings of the Rama story
          • a Jaina version (the Paumachariu of Vimalasuri, in Prakrit),
          • a Buddhist version (the Dasharatha Jataka in Pali),
          • a 12th century Tamil version by Kamban (the Iramavataram), and
          • the Ramcharitmanas (16th century) by Tulsidas, to name only a few.
          • There are also innumerable oral versions of the story.
          • The Rama legend has enjoyed great popularity in other parts of Asia as well and there are various tellings of the story in Tibet, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, and Indonesia.
        • The various tellings often have different beginnings and endings, and characters and events are moulded in different ways.
          • For instance, in the Paumachariu, Ravana is presented as a tragic hero who is killed by Lakshmana, not by Rama (who embodies all the Jaina virtues, including non-violence).
      • Mahabharatha:
        • The Mahabharata consists of 18 Parvas (books) and has two main recensions—a northern and southern.
        • It has a more profound theme which involves history, mythology, ethics and metaphysics.
          • The Mahabharata is truly an encyclopaedic work, and it boasts of this fact. A heroic story formed the core to which many other stories, sermons, and didactic portions containing teachings, were added over centuries.
          • Whether a bitter war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas ever happened cannot be proved or disproved. It is possible that there was a small-scale conflict, transformed into a gigantic epic war by bards and poets.
        • According to tradition, Mahabharata was composed by Vyasa, but in its present form, it is clearly not the work of a single individual.
        • Originally, it was written in Sanskrit and contained 8800 verses and was called “Jaya” or the collection dealing with victory.
          • These were raised to 24,000 and came to be known as Bharata, named after one of the earliest Vedic tribes.
          • The final compilation brought the verses to 100,000, which came to be known as the Mahabharata or the Satasahasri Samhita. It contains narrative, descriptive and didactic material, relating to conflict between the Kauravas and the Pandavas.
        • The Mahabharata contains the famous Bhagavad Gita which contains the essence of divine wisdom and is truly a universal gospel. Though it is a very ancient scripture, its fundamental teachings are in use even today
      • The epics are essentially different from the early Vedic literatures. They arose not among the priestly classes but among traditional bards called sutas.
        • These also served as charioteers who witnessed the actual battle-scenes and described them at first-hand in their ballads.
        • They are martial poetry, concerned not with the praise of deities but of kings and nobles, not connected with the details of sacrifices, but with events like wars, and imbued not with higher philosophical motives, but with the practical purpose of gaining some reward from the audience before whom they were recited.
      • We do not have them in their original and untampered form.
        • They are added to by different hands at different periods. To the nucleus many pieces of the ancient bardic poetry containing legends connected or unconnected with the life of the epic heroes, of sacred poetry dealing with numerous myths and legends of brahmanical origin.
        • And large sections devoted to philosophy and ethics, cosmologies and genealogies in the fashion of puranas, legends, fables and parables. These additions indicate the great popularity which this epic has enjoyed at all times. The zealous spirit of compliers to bring together all that could be collected in it.
    • One of the distinctive features of Itihasa-Purana tradition is that the doctrine of avatar (divine incarnation) is fully developed in the epics and the puranas.
      • The purpose of an avatar is;
        • for protection of the virtuous,
        • for destruction of the wicked and for the establishment of dharma (moral order).

Buddhist Literature:

The earliest Buddhist works were written in Pali, which was spoken in Magadha and South Bihar. The Buddhist works can be divided into the canonical and the non-canonical.

  • The Canonical literature:
    • Canonical texts are the books which lay down the basic tenets and principles of a religion or sect. The various Buddhist schools classify their canonical literature in different ways, some into 9 or 12 Angas, others into 3 Pitakas.
    • There are Pali, Chinese, and Tibetan versions of the Tipitaka (The Three Baskets/ Collections).
      • The Pali Tipitaka of the Theravada school is the oldest of them all.
      • Pali was a literary language which developed out of a mixture of dialects, particularly those spoken in the Magadha area of eastern India.
    • The canonical literature is best represented by the “Tripitakas”- Vinaya Pitaka, Sutta Pitaka and Abhidhamma Pitaka.
      • Vinaya Pitaka:
        • It has rules for monks and nuns of the sangha (monastic order).
        • It includes the Patimokkha—a list of transgressions against monastic discipline and atonements for these.
      • Sutta Pitaka:
        • contains the Buddha’s discourses on various doctrinal issues in dialogue form.
        • contains dialogues and discourses on morality and deals with Dharma.
        • In the Buddhist context, sutta refers to texts that are supposed to contain what the Buddha himself said.
        • Largest & most important of the Tripitakas, contains the teachings of Buddha.
        • It is divided into five “Groups” (Nikayas):
          • Digha (long) Nikaya:
            • The collection of long sermons ascribed to the Buddha, with accounts of the circumstances in which he preached them.
          • Majjhima (medium) Nikaya:
            • Shorter sermons.
          • Samyutta (connected) Nikaya: 
            • Collections of brief pronouncements.
          • Anguttara (Graduated) Nikaya:
            • Collection of over 2,000 brief statements, arranged in eleven sections
          • Khuddaka (Minor) Nikaya: 
            • Contains miscellaneous works in prose and verse.
            • Among the contents of the Khuddaka are:
              • Dhammapada (verses on virtue) :-
                • containing a summary of Buddha’s universal teachings.
              • Theragatha (Hymns of the elder monks)
              • Therigatha (Hiymns of the elder Nuns):
                • describes women’s experience of renunciation, and it is one of the very few surviving ancient Indian texts composed by or attributed to women.
              • Jatakas:
                • he Jatakas are one of the 15 books of the Khuddaka Nikaya, and their composition can be placed between the 3rd century BCE and the 2nd century CE.
                • They are a collection of over 500 poems which describe the previous births of Buddha, many of them being in the animal forms.
        • According to Buddhist tradition, the Sutta and Vinaya Pitakas were recited at the first council of monks at Rajagriha immediately after the Buddha’s death, and 100 years later at the second council at Vaishali.
          • But their composition must have extended over several centuries, up to the time of the third council convened in the 3rd century BCE during the reign of Ashoka.
          • The composition of the basic core of the Pali Tipitaka can therefore be placed between the 5th and 3rd centuries BCE.
      • Abhidhamma Pitaka:
        • is a later work, and contains a thorough study and systemization of the teachings of the Sutta Pitaka through lists, summaries, and questions and answers.
        • deals with philosophy and metaphysics.
        • It includes discourses on various subjects such as ethics, psychology, theories of knowledge and metaphysical problems.
    • The Mahayana sutras are a broad genre of Buddhist scriptures that various traditions of Mahayana Buddhism accept as canonical. They are largely preserved in the Chinese Buddhist canon, the Tibetan Buddhist canon, and in extant Sanskrit manuscripts.
      • Around one hundred Mahayana sutras survive in Sanskrit, or in Chinese and Tibetan translations.
      • Mahayana Buddhists typically consider the Mahayana sutras to have been taught by Gautama Buddha, committed to memory and recited by his disciples.
  • Non-canonical literature:
    • The non-canonical literature is best represented by the Jatakas.
      • Jatakas are the most interesting stories on the previous births of the Buddha.
      • It was believed that before he was finally born as Gautama, the Buddha practicing Dharma passed through more than 550 births, in many cases even in the form of animals. Each birth story is called a Jataka.
      • The Jatakas throw invaluable light on the social and economic conditions ranging from the sixth century BC to the second century BC. They also make incidental reference to political events in the age of the Buddha.
    • Milind Panho:
      • It contains dialogue between Indo-Greek king Menander and Buddhist monk Nagasen on philosophical issues.
      • It is written in Pali (during post-Mauryan period, 1st century BCE–1st century CE).
    • Niti Gandha or Nettipakarana (The Book of Guidance)
      • It gives the account of teaching of Buddha and written in Pali.
      • 1st century BCE–1st century CE
    • Atthakatha (Commentary on tri-pitaka):
      • It was written (in Pali) by Buddhaghosh in 5th century A.D.
    • The first connected life story of the Buddha occurs in the Nidanakatha (1st century).
    • Dipvamsa and Mahavamsa:
      • It was written (in Pali) in Srilanka (4th-5th century AD).
      • contain a historical-cum-mythical account of the Buddha’s life, the Buddhist councils, the Maurya emperor Ashoka, the kings of Sri Lanka, and the arrival of Buddhism on that island.
    • Apart from texts in Pali, there are several Buddhist works in Sanskrit, and in a mixture of Prakrit and Sanskrit. 
      • The trend towards the use of Sanskrit intensified in the Mahayana schools, but some non-Mahayana texts were also composed in Sanskrit or mixed Prakrit-Sanskrit.
        • For instance, the canon of the Sarvastivada school is in Sanskrit.
      • Mahavastu (a Hegiography):
        • has some Mahayana elements
        • It is a sacred biography of Buddha.
        • It gives the detail of the rise of monastic orders i.e. “Sangha”.
        • Usage mixed language Sanskrit and Prakrit.
      • Lalitvistara:
        • Hagiography of Buddha.
        • associated with the Sarvastivada school but strongly tinged with Mahayana elements
        • Usage mixed language Sanskrit and Prakrit.
      • Buddhacharita written by Ashwaghosha:
        • It was written in Sanskrit and mainly deals with Buddha’s life.
      • Avadana literature: (Avadana means ‘Legends’)
        • It is a type of Buddhist literature correlating past lives’ virtuous deeds to subsequent lives’ events.
        • These are stories that illustrate the workings of karma by revealing the acts of a particular individual in a previous life and the results of those actions in his or her present life.
        • This literature includes around 600 stories in the Pali language (“Legends”).
        • There are also a large number in Sanskrit collections, of which the chief are the Mahasaṃghika’s Mahavastu (“Great Book”) and the Sarvastivada’s Avadanasataka (Century of Legends, 2nd century) and Divyavadana (The Heavenly Legend, 4th century), which have stories connected with the Buddha and the Maurya emperor Ashoka.
        • These latter collections include accounts relating to Gautama Buddha and Ashoka
      • The 1st century Ashtasahasrika-prajnaparamita and Saddharma- pundarika offer accounts of the various Buddhas, bodhisattvas (future Buddhas), and Mahayana doctrines.
      • Later works of Mahayana thinkers such as Nagarjuna, Vasubandhu, Asanga, Aryadeva, Buddhapalita, and Dignaga are all in Sanskrit.
  • Buddhist texts are important sources for the history of Buddhism, its doctrines, monastic order, and royal patrons such as Ashoka, revealing many other facets of the polity, society, and economy of their times as well.
    • They offer a non-Brahmanical window into ancient India; however, the Brahmanical perspective is replaced by a Buddhist one.
Jaina Literature:
  • The sacred books of the Jainas are collectively known as the Siddhanta or Agama.
  • The language of the earliest texts is an eastern dialect of Prakrit known as Ardha-Magadhi.
  • The Jain texts were finally compiled in the sixth century AD in Valabhi in Gujarat.
  • In Ancient time only canonical literature later in medieval time development of non-canonical literature takes place.
  • The Jaina monastic order came to be divided into the Shvetambara and Digambara schools, perhaps in about the 3rd century CE. Both schools accept and give prime importance to the Angas.
    • According to Shvetambara tradition, the Angas were compiled at a council held at Pataliputra.
    • The compilation of the entire canon is supposed to have taken place in the 5th or 6th century at a council held in Valabhi in Gujarat, presided over by Devarddhi Kshamashramana.
  • Agamas: It is a term used for Jaina canonical literature. It include:
    • 14 Purvas: 
      • The text books of old Jain Scriptures.
      • These are a large body of Jain scriptures that was preached by all Tirthankaras (omniscient teachers) of Jainism encompassing the entire gamut of knowledge available in this universe.
      • The persons having the knowledge of purvas were given an exalted status of Shrutakevali or “scripturally omniscient persons”.
      • Both the Jain traditions, Svetambara and Digambara hold that all the fourteen purvas have been lost
    • 12 Angas: 
      • Jaina doctrine / Rules of conduct history of Mahavir.
      • It is most important deals with doctrine, rules and life and work of Mahavira.
    • 12 Upangas:
      • Associated with each Angas.
      • The subject matter is creation, universe and periodization.
    • 10 Prakirnas:
      • Doctrinal matters / in verse form. These are supplements to Angas and upangas.
    • 6 Cheda sutras: 
      • Rules for monks / nuns.
      • Its importance in Jainism is same as Vinay Pitaka in Buddhism.
    • 4 Mala sutras:
      • Subject matter is sermons, life in the Sangha and duties of the monks.
    • Niryuktis: 
      • Commentaries on Angas prepared in 100 AD.
    • Kalpasutra: 
      • History of Janism from its birth, written by Bhadrabahu.
    • Acharang Sutras:
      • Oldest Jaina text containing monastic rules.
    • Nandi Sutra
    • Anuyogadvara
  • The non-canonical Jaina works are partly in Prakrit dialects, especially Maharashtri, and partly in Sanskrit, which started being used in the early centuries CE.
  • Commentaries on the canonical works include the Nijjuttis (Niryuktis), Bhashyas, and Churnis in Maharashtri and Prakrit; the early medieval Tikas, Vrittis, and Avachurnis are in Sanskrit.
  • Among the important Jain scholars, reference may be made to Haribhadra Suri, (eighth century AD) and Hemchandra Suri, (twelfth century AD).
  • Jainism helped in the growth of a rich literature comprising poetry, philosophy and grammar. These works contain many passages which help us to reconstruct the history of many parts of India.
    • The Jain texts refer repeatedly to trade and traders.
    • The vast Jaina didactic story (katha) literature in Sanskrit, Prakrit, and Apabhramsha can offer historians clues on the everyday life of their time.
    • Jaina literature offers information regarding the history and doctrines of Jainism, the doctrines of rival schools, the life stories of the saints, and the life of monks and nuns in the sangha.
    • The texts can also be used for information on other aspects of the cultural history of their times.
    • Jaina texts have not, however, been studied or used as extensively by historians as Buddhist sources.
    • The Parishishtaparvan (12th century) by Hemachandra gives a history of the earliest Jaina teachers and also mentions certain details of political history.
    • A number of Prabandhas (12th century onwards) from Gujarat offer semi-historical accounts of saints and historical characters.
Sangam Literature:
  • The earliest literature of South India is represented by a group of texts in old Tamil, often collectively referred to as Sangam literature.
  • Sangam literature represents a vast collection of rich literature in Tamil produced during the Sangam Age (400-300 BC to 300-400 AD) in South India.
  • They are secular literature but depicts various aspects of religious life. In the early period it was written in Brahmi, later Grantha script was used.
  • It is product of three Sangams (assemblies of litterateurs and poets) under the auspices of Pandayan kings.
  • The works of First sangam do not exist now.
  • The Second sangam produced the great work on grammar Tolkappiyam (written by Tolkappiyar).
  • The Third sangam produced:
    • Patthu Patu (Ten Idyll),
    • Ettuthokai (Eight Collections)
    • 19 minor didactic poems, the most popular being Kural or Tirrukural (written by Tiruvalluvar),
    • 10 epics, the most important being Silapaddikaram and Manimekalai.
  • The Sangam literature is essentially poems which represent two broad categories:
    • Agam (Love) and
    • Puram (War and Praise of kings).
  • There is further division of Agam literature on the basis of regions viz.,
    • (a) Kurinchi – Hills,
    • (b) Palai – Dry land,
    • (c) Mullai – Forest land,
    • (d) Maaruntham – Cultivated land and
    • (e) Neithal – Coastal region.
  • The sangam literature throws light on social, economic, religious and political life of sangam age.
  • It depicts the life of ruling classes as well as common people. It provides information about dynastic history, exploits of kings, wars etc.
  • It provides information about social classes, economic pursuits and religious practices and beliefs.
  • The case for the historicity of at least the third Sangam is that some of the kings and poets associated with it are historical figures.
  • Note:
    • Early medieval Tamil literature includes the inspired and intense devotional poetry of the Vaishnava saints (Alvars) and Shaiva saints (Nayanars or Nayanmars) and their hagiographies.
    • In the 10th century, Nathamuni collected the Alvar hymns into the canon known as the Nalayira Divya Prabandham.
    • The Alvarvaipavam is a sacred biography of the Vaishnava saints.
    • The hymns of the Nayanar saints were compiled in the 10th century by Nambi Andar Nambi and this compilation formed the core of the Shaiva canon, the Tirumurai.
    • Nambi also wrote a work called the Tiruttondar Tiruvantati about the saints.
    • In the 12th century, the accounts of the Shaiva saints were collected in a text called the Periyapuranam.
    • All these texts provide valuable insights into the religious and social history of early medieval South India.
    • Of the many Tamil renderings of the Rama legend, the most famous is Kamban’s Iramavataram. Tamil versions of the Mahabharata story were also written.
Other kind of literature:
  • Technical literature:
    • There is a vast body of ancient and early medieval technical literature on varied subjects such as grammar, mathematics, statecraft, astronomy, medicine, architecture, poetics, dramaturgy, and philosophy.
      • Grammatical texts-
        • Grammatical texts like Panini’s Ashtadhyayi, Patanjali’s Mahabhashya, Vararuchi’s Prakritaprakasha, Tolkappiyam tell us about the structure of ancient languages and they also contain incidental historical references to their time.
        • Most of these works were not historical texts, i.e., they were not written with the conscious aim of maintaining an account of what happened in the past. But, texts of any kind can be used as sources of history.
      • Text on statecraft– Kautilya’s Arthashastra
      • Astronomical texts– Aryabhata’s Aryabhatiya and Varahamihira’s Brihatsamhita .
      • Other technical treatises include the Kamasutra (on sensual pleasure), the Charaka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita (on medicine), the Natyashastra (on theatre and the performing arts), and the Shilpashastras (on architecture and sculpture).
      • A Sanskrit work on agriculture called the Krishi-Parashara was composed in Bengal some time between the 6th and 11th centuries CE. The early medieval literature of this region also includes the Dakar Bachan and the Khanar Bachan in old Bengali. These contain aphorisms and wise sayings, mostly concerning agriculture, but also other issues such as family life, illness, and astrology.
    • Apart from indicating the level of expertise and knowledge in their respective fields, such treatises also provide various kinds of useful historical information.
  • Philosophical texts and commentaries:
    • Philosophical texts and commentaries reflect the ideas and intellectual debates of their times.
    • Apart from the Buddhist and Jaina texts, there is a voluminous darshana (literally, ‘a way of looking at things’) literature belonging to the Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Purva Mimamsa, and Uttara Mimamsa schools. These also mention the philosophical ideas of schools whose texts have not survived, such as the materialist Charvaka or Lokayata school.
  • Sanskrit Drama/ Plays and Poetry:
    • Rig Veda and Natyashastra:
      • Dialogue Hymns of the Rigveda represent earliest elements of Drama.
      • Bharata’s Natyashastra is the earliest extant work on sanskrit dramaturgy.
    • Asvaghosha:
      • Credited with authorship of 3 Buddhist dramas in Sanskrit.
      • Ashvaghosha was the author of the Buddhacharita (which he describes as a mahakavya), Sariputraprakarana, and Saundarananda.
    • Bhasha:
      • 2nd or 3rd century AD (before Kalidas)
      • Wrote largest number of plays
      • Kalidasa makes a reverential reference to him
      • Wrote at least 13 plays in Sanskrit
      • Same important are –
        • Pancharatra,
        • Dutavakya,
        • Balacharita,
        • Svapna-Vasavadatta.
        • Madhyama Vyayoga,
        • Pratima Natak,
        • Abhishek Natak (takes themes from Ramayana),
        • Charudata (Theme is love affair between Vasantsena & Charudatta – this is also theme of the play Mrichchhakatika by Sudraka),
      • Used Prakrit also.
    • Sudraka:
      • Before Kalidasa
      • Wrote the play Mrichchhkatika in Sanskrit
      • Based on plot of Charudatta of Bhasa – but in Sudrak’s play the theme is combined with political event and Vasantsena eventually became lawful wile of Charudatta.
      • Character Vidusak is also there
    • Kalidasa:
      • A Brahman of Ujjain and Saivite
      • 4th century AD
      • Recognised as gem of sanskrit literatures.
      • First Play – Malvikaagnimitra – comedy theme : Agnimitra falls in love with a maid
      • Second play – Vikramorvasiya – a fairy-tale of love of celestial nymph and a mortal elements borrowed from Rigveda, Satapath Brahman.
      • The most important play Abhijnan Sakuntala
        • borrowed the story of Sakuntala from Mahabharat, theme revolves around Dushyant and Sakuntala –
      • Kalidasa wrote two Mahakavya also
        • Raghuvamsa:
          • Based on Ramayan & some Puranas,
          • Describes 30 kings of solar race one is Raghu
        • Kumarsambhav: 
          • Story of birth of Kumar, son of Shiva & Parvati who vanquished the demon Taraka
      • Kalidasa wrote a lyrical poem Meghaduta and other poem Rituvsamhara
        • Meghaduta:
          • Theme : Yaksha seperated from his beloved through his master’s curse requests clouds to carry his message from Ranagiri to Alaka,
        • Ritusamhara:
          • Describes 6 seasons
    • Harsha: 3 plays are ascribed to him:
      • Ratnavali:
        • Most perfect play,
        • First work,
        • Closer imitation of Kalidasa
      • Priyadariska:
        • New Device Garbha-natak (Drama witinin a drama) – First time in Sanskrit play, later used by Bhavbhuti in Uttavaramacharit and by Rajshekhar in Balramayan
      • Nagnanda:
        • Depicts the story of Jimutavahana,
        • Buddhist tinge,
        • Last work
    •  Bhavbhuti:
      • Beginning of 8th century AD
      • Born in Vidarbha
      • Court poet of Yasovarman (King of Kannauj) – according to Rajtarangini
      • Wrote 3 plays –
        • Mahavir Charita:
          • Describes early life of Rama,
          • Based an Ramayana,
        • Matti Madhav
          • Describes love between Malti & Madhav with happy ending
        • Uttararamacharita: 
          • Deals with the story of Uttarakhand of the Ramayana,
          • Last among 3 plays,
          • Use of Garbha-Natak
      • Surpassed Kalidas in depicting sentiments – particularly Karuna (Pathos or tenderness)
      • No Vidushak in his plays negation of Hasya (Hurmour)
      • Love theme is more spiritual than sensuous (as in Kalidas)
    • Vishakhadutta:
      • 7th century AD
      • Son of Maharaja Bhaskardatta or Minister Prithu
      • Wrote Mudrarakshasa
        • Based on political & historical themes,
        • Drama without a heroine,
        • Without Sringara (sentiments),
        • Describes role of Chankya in winning over Rakshasa, the minister of Nandas
      • Wrote Devichandragupta
        • Centres on an incident set in the reign of the Gupta king Ramagupta.
        • Describes how Dhruvadevi was saved by Chandragupta II from the Sakas
      • Wrote Abhisarikavanchitak or Bandhitaka
        • Based on legend of Udayana and Padmavati
    • Rajshekhara:
      • Son of minister Darduka
      • Belonged to Yayavara family of Maharashtra
      • 9th century Ad
      • Was Guru of Mahendrapala (Pratihara)
      • His wife was Avantasundari, an accomplished pricess of Chahamana family
      • Composed 4 dramas:
        • Balramayan:
          • Uses Garbha Natak,
          • A Rama play,
        • Balbharata: For the king Mahipala (Pratihara),
        • Viddhasalabhanjika,
        • Karpuramanjari: It was composed at the instance of Awantsundari
      • Wrote Kavyamimamsa on poetics and Harivilasa and Bhuvanakosa on geography.
    • Kshemisvara: Also known as Kshemendra (but not Kashmirian writer Kshemendra)
      • Wrote Chandakausika for Mahipala (Pratihara)
      • 11th century AD
      • Wrote Naishadhnand
    • Some other plays:
      • Prasanna-raghav – Jayadev
      • Tapati Samvama – Kulshekhar (King of Kerala)
      • Karnasundari – Bilhan (Court of Vikramaditya VI)
      • Lalitavigraharajanatak – Somdev for Chahamana king Visaldev
  • Katha or story literature:
    • Panchtantra is the earliest story collection.
      • It is compiled by Vishnu Sharma.
      • This book is of Gupta period.
      • It was written to educate the foolish sons of king Amarkirti.
    • Hitopadesh by Narayan is second famous collection of Indian stories.
    • Brihatkatha – By Gundhya – in Paisachi Prakrit – lost now, – probably 1st century AD.
    • Brihatkathaslovkasamgraha – By Buddhaswamin – 8th century AD – A version of Brihatkatha
      • Nepalese version of Brihatkatha
    • Brihatkathamanjari – By Kshemendra – 11th century AD
      • Kashmirian version of Brihatkatha
      • Kshemendra was court-poet of king Anant of Kashmir – He wrote Bharat Manjari, Ramayan Manjari, Padya Kadambari & Dasavatara Charita
    • Kathasaritsagar‘-. By Somdev – 11th century AD – Kashmirian version of Brihatkatha – This book was written for Suryamati, the wife of king Anant of Kashmir
    • Other story collections are-Shukptati, Baital Panchvishatika, Sinhasan Dwatrishika,
  • Books on science and technology:
    • In the field of astronomy, the most important Indian name is of Aryabhata who flourished in the 5th century CE.
      • His work Aryabhatiyam, deals with astronomy and mathematics.
      • He is the author of Aryabhata-siddhanta.
    • The close contemporary of Aryabhata was Varahamihira who included the study of horoscope and astrology in astronomy.
      • His Panchasiddhantika (Five schools) discusses about the five astronomical systems (siddhanta) of which two- Romakasiddhanta and Paulishasiddhanta shows a close knowledge of Greek astronomy.
      • His another work, Brihatsamhita is encyclopaedic. It covers wide ranging subjects of human interest, including astrology, planetary movements, eclipses, rainfall, clouds, architecture, growth of crops, manufacture of perfume, matrimony, domestic relations, gems, pearls, and rituals.
      • The Laghu and Brihat-jataka are his works on horoscopy and became popular during the Gupta age.
    • The branch of medical science was represented by two important scholars : Charaka and Shushruta.
      • Charak-samhita is divided into 8 sections, each one of it dealt with different diseases, their diagnosis, cure, medicines, and other related philosophical issues.
      • Shushruta-samhita deals with the cure of diseases of various body parts through different kinds of surgery.
        • Shushruta lays down all the principles of plastic surgery, i.e., accuracy, precision, economy, and haemostasis in his work.
        • For example- Reconstruction of a nose (rhinoplasty) which has been cut-off has been described.
    • Hastyayurveda is a work to cure elephant’ diseases.
    • Asvasastra by Salihotra is a work on horse science.
  • Books on Polity:
    • Science of polity is known by different names – Arthashastra, Dandaniti, Nitisastra, Rajniti
    • Arthasastra – By Chanakya or Vishnugupta
    • Pratipad Panchik – Commentary on Arthashastra – By Bhattswami
    • Nitisar By Kamandak – Bth century AD
    • Sukra Niti Sar – By Sukra Charya
    • Laghu Arhan Niti Sastra, – By Hemchandra

The nature of Ancient Indian Historical  traditions

  • Is there any evidence of an interest in preserving the memory of the past, of a historical tradition, in ancient texts?
    • Romila Thapar has made a useful distinction between ‘embedded’ and ‘externalized’ forms of history.
      • Embedded history is where the historical consciousness has to be prised out, as in myth, epic, and genealogy.
      • 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.
    • Later Vedic Texts:
      • Later Vedic texts contain certain types of compositions that reflect a historical consciousness. These include the dana-stutis, gathas, narashamsis, and akhyanas. All these types of compositions were directly connected with the performance of sacrifices (yajnas).
        • The dana-stutis are hymns praising the generosity and exploits of kings.
        • The gathas are songs in praise of kings, sung on the occasion of certain sacrifices.
        • Narashamsis were used in rituals and are preserved in texts such as the Brahmanas and Grihyasutras.
        • Akhyanas are narrative hymns in dialogue form, referring to mythical and possibly historical events.
      • The king-lists in the Puranas and epics represent more substantial evidence of an ancient Indian historical tradition.
      • The epics are known as itihasa, and are supposed to record things that actually happened (whether they did happen in the way in which they are described is another issue).
    • Bards:
      • Bards known as sutas and magadhas played an important role in maintaining these historical traditions.
      • 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.
    • Mythico-historical account:
      • The Buddhist Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa, which offer a mythico-historical account of how Buddhism travelled to Sri Lanka, represent a historical tradition as well.
      • Mention may also be made of sacred biographies in the Buddhist, Jaina, and Hindu traditions.
    • Royal biographies and inscriptions:
      • Notwithstanding their eulogistic nature, royal biographies too reflect a historical tradition.
      • Mention can also be made of royal inscriptions, many of which have a prashasti containing the king’s genealogy and references to his exploits, usually with a view to shower praise on him.
    • Royal archives to preserve official records:
      • The Arthashastra and the Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang mention royal archives preserving official records in every Indian city, while Al-Biruni’s 11th century Tahqiq-i-Hind refers to the archives of the Shahi kings of Kabul. Unfortunately, no such ancient archives survive.
    • Different notion of history:
      • While there is evidence of different kinds 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 aspects of the past they consider 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 texts do not.
        • The historical traditions of ancient India were connected with religious, ritualistic, and court contexts.
        • History in our times is an academic discipline based on research, linked to modern institutions such as universities and research institutes.
        • The ways in which the past was understood and represented in ancient texts are very different from the methods, techniques, and goals of historical research today.

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