Why did the Indians not record history correctly?

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Feb 2013
599
Sources of Indian history and records probably out number anything anywhere else.

Because of the volume we lack proper analysis. The records themselves exist in abundance.

Historians have also been lazy and easily misled by left and right wing desire to distort.
 

tornada

Ad Honoris
Mar 2013
15,388
India
Sources of Indian history and records probably out number anything anywhere else.

Because of the volume we lack proper analysis. The records themselves exist in abundance.

Historians have also been lazy and easily misled by left and right wing desire to distort.
That's not being fair to either historians or to non indian sources. There are abundant indian sources, but due to the fact that they were only committed to written forms during the Gupta period, there is too much interpolation and editing of the source material by later authors, this is particularly true of the Puranans.

Also the Puranas were not written as "historical texts" and thus do not follow a linear recording of historical events. In comparison Herodotus Pliny, Strabo, etc wrote "histories". Now accuracy is not the point, but they tried to record material in a linear manner.

Now it is possible that the Indians did have a tradition of writing historical texts but these texts were specifically targeted for destruction. Also unlike religious texts and propaganda texts (both of which can be used to describe the Puranas) proper historical texts are usually concentrated in educational and monastic institutions. Even today, you can get a copy of the Bhagvad Gita anywhere, but a copy of Romila Thapar's history book will only be available in libraries (i am discounting bookshops).

The reason for this assertion is that i find it unlikely that a work as well organised and concise as the Raj Tarangini existed in a vacuum. The style of the author indicates that he was educated in a specific style of writing which is a linear recording of history. If he was educated, chances are others were too, and they also wrote texts. But since educational institutes and History texts in particular were a favorite target of invaders (particularly the sultanate) and so it is likelier that our historical texts are destroyed.

A similar comparison could be made to the burning of the library of Alexandria by Ottoman invaders, or the destruction of Aztec records by Cortez as "writings of the devil" which is why we know so little of these periods for which texts are destroyed
 
Feb 2013
599
Records from Western sources are equally fragmented. Megasthenes descriptions only fragments exist. Hipparchus is totally lost except what others quoted. Spanish inquisition and Roman church burnt whatever was inconvenient.

But whatever remained was well analysed. Homers epics for example suffered multiple editing in later times just like our own epics.

Brahmana literature for example is very extensive. But is not systematically examined to my knowledge. I dont know if anyone has studied all the existing Brahmanas for proper historical analysis. We are still surviving by Buhlers original analysis over 100 years ago.

I have met history MA and PhD students. None were Sanskrit scholars. I was not impressed with their thesis topics. Nor with their ability to execute.

Name another country having 100, 000 pages of written historical material to analyse from 800 BC.

Greek sources are as unreliable as Puranas. Later editing or recovery from later commentary is equally a problem there. Everything passed through the Arab and then Christian selective editing.

All our best students want to become computer programmers and do part time amateur historical research on discussion fora.

None of our history students is willing to learn Sanskrit as a tool of the trade. Leave alone Pali or Prakrit.

We should not blame lack of sources. Budhist sources are also very vast.

In fact indian historical sources and archeological sites probably outnumber Chinese and European sources.
 
Last edited:
Mar 2013
1,048
Breakdancing on the Moon.
"India probably has more historical texts than X, Y, or Z"

This is called a fallacy from supposition, you feel it to be true therefore you hypothesise without evidence. Its a silly assertion. Nor is it likely true. You are indeed being unfair both to Indian sources and Historians. I agree with Tornada.

A phenomenal amount of work has been done, especially in the last 30 years or so. On the Brahmanas and indeed elsewhere. The problem isn't that Sanskrit literature is under studied, though that may be the case in India itself, the problem is that post Sanskrit literature is often understudied. Due to the nature of early British-Indian interactions, a disproportionate amount of weighting is given to the Sanskrit texts. Pali and Prakritic sources have only recently started to come into their own.

Also despite being somewhat central-right in my politics, I certainly don't see a left leaning in native Indian historiography. I see a lot of solid work being labelled as left or marxist willy willy and then thrust aside. It is worrying that you can't find basic introductions like Thapar's easily.

Also no way are Greek sources as unreliable as the Indian stuff, again this shows a lack of acquaintance, sorry.

@Tornada again. I don't know, I get the impression that the Indians did have various local historical traditions...but I don't think they were ever that bothered. Most of the stuff we have tends to focus on linguistics - not only grammar but also semantics, or mathematics. Dynastic narratives aren't the same as history don't forget.

The question isn't why didn't the Indians but more, why did the Greeks develop something so odd in attempting history. Why did the Chinese do something similar. Its not the normal course of events.

As for India, time will tell, there shan't be any Indian Herodotoses I don't think. What will happen is more and more inscriptional evidence shall come to light and scholars will move onto lower register Sanskrit stuff - like college dramas, satires etc and non Sanskritic sources and develop a comprehensive social history and mine that for details.

The problem is, there isn't the manpower. People don't want to get involved. I don't blame them.
 
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tornada

Ad Honoris
Mar 2013
15,388
India
"India probably has more historical texts than X, Y, or Z"

This is called a fallacy from supposition, you feel it to be true therefore you hypothesise without evidence. Its a silly assertion. Nor is it likely true. You are indeed being unfair both to Indian sources and Historians. I agree with Tornada.

A phenomenal amount of work has been done, especially in the last 30 years or so. On the Brahmanas and indeed elsewhere. The problem isn't that Sanskrit literature is under studied, though that may be the case in India itself, the problem is that post Sanskrit literature is often understudied. Due to the nature of early British-Indian interactions, a disproportionate amount of weighting is given to the Sanskrit texts. Pali and Prakritic sources have only recently started to come into their own.

Also despite being somewhat central-right in my politics, I certainly don't see a left leaning in native Indian historiography. I see a lot of solid work being labelled as left or marxist willy willy and then thrust aside. It is worrying that you can't find basic introductions like Thapar's easily.

Also no way are Greek sources as unreliable as the Indian stuff, again this shows a lack of acquaintance, sorry.

@Tornada again. I don't know, I get the impression that the Indians did have various local historical traditions...but I don't think they were ever that bothered. Most of the stuff we have tends to focus on linguistics - not only grammar but also semantics, or mathematics. Dynastic narratives aren't the same as history don't forget.

The question isn't why didn't the Indians but more, why did the Greeks develop something so odd in attempting history. Why did the Chinese do something similar. Its not the normal course of events.

As for India, time will tell, there shan't be any Indian Herodotoses I don't think. What will happen is more and more inscriptional evidence shall come to light and scholars will move onto lower register Sanskrit stuff - like college dramas, satires etc and non Sanskritic sources and develop a comprehensive social history and mine that for details.

The problem is, there isn't the manpower. People don't want to get involved. I don't blame them.
It is my belief that interpreting or trying to guess at the motives of individuals in ancient history is often a futile task since any number of logical theories are possible. Trying to interpret the motives of an entire civilisation is probably more futile
 

tornada

Ad Honoris
Mar 2013
15,388
India
I still do not understand as to how mythological events be recorded as history.
because within the mythology there is historical data to be gathered. As any good history student knows : history becomes Legend and Legend becomes Mythology. Historians try to sift through the patently false and attempt to separate the history. But to do that one must have an open mind. Clearly you've been taught that the entire corpus of Vedas and Upanishads, etc are mythologies. If one has a pre-conceived notion about the value of certain things, then one can never do an objective analysis of them. You are free to dismiss everything as mythology, but that doesn't mean the historical and academic community has to believe your illogical assumptions.

While were on the topic, maybe you should consider why very few Pakistani Historians are well regarded when it comes to the analysis and history of Pre-Islamic era, in comparison to the international acclaim many Indian Historians like R.S Sharma, Romila Thapar, Upinder Singh, etc get. It's because Pakistani History is warped from the school level, while Indian Historians at least try to be objective.
 
Mar 2013
1,048
Breakdancing on the Moon.
Myth and History: This is a methodological problem: Earlier scholars (ca 19/20th c) assumed all mythemes to be based on a historical kernel, strip away the improbable and you're left with something real. This ignores the different typology of myths, e.g oral and saga traditions, folk memories, aetiological myths etc and modern research, especially Anthropology, has done much to shed light on this. So nots it not always the case, in fact more often than not mythology hides as history. Work on early Roman "history" by Dumezil and his school have shown many historical episodes to be derived from mythology, others have suggested similar issues with English foundation myths.

Now in India the situation is particularly impressive and problematic since due to the longevity of its culture you have to full gamut of mythic typologies. The Mahabharata may conceal a real kernal of a historical episode...it also borrows much from foundation, aetiological, familial myths etc.

Historians and the Vedas etc: Only some Indians tend to read these as blank historical documents, Historians themselves use these not for chronology etc, but because they contain an absolute wealth of cultural, social, religious etc data. What we extrapolate from them may differ from blind readings, so for example many of the earlier impressions we had about the Aryaa can be shown to be wrong.

Well there are no reputable Pakistani historians because, like FYROM, they're trying to build a past for a nation that's very recent. I'm sure 100 years from now they'll be producing sensible work too.
 

tornada

Ad Honoris
Mar 2013
15,388
India
Myth and History: This is a methodological problem: Earlier scholars (ca 19/20th c) assumed all mythemes to be based on a historical kernel, strip away the improbable and you're left with something real. This ignores the different typology of myths, e.g oral and saga traditions, folk memories, aetiological myths etc and modern research, especially Anthropology, has done much to shed light on this. So nots it not always the case, in fact more often than not mythology hides as history. Work on early Roman "history" by Dumezil and his school have shown many historical episodes to be derived from mythology, others have suggested similar issues with English foundation myths.

Now in India the situation is particularly impressive and problematic since due to the longevity of its culture you have to full gamut of mythic typologies. The Mahabharata may conceal a real kernal of a historical episode...it also borrows much from foundation, aetiological, familial myths etc.

Historians and the Vedas etc: Only some Indians tend to read these as blank historical documents, Historians themselves use these not for chronology etc, but because they contain an absolute wealth of cultural, social, religious etc data. What we extrapolate from them may differ from blind readings, so for example many of the earlier impressions we had about the Aryaa can be shown to be wrong.

Well there are no reputable Pakistani historians because, like FYROM, they're trying to build a past for a nation that's very recent. I'm sure 100 years from now they'll be producing sensible work too.
I honestly didn't know that FYROM referred to macedonia. had to google it!

But your right about the use of the Puranas, though i should point out that it isn't some who read them as blank historical documents. The number of extremist idiots who regard them as the holy writ of historical texts are an unfortunately large number in our society. More the pity.

Much of Ancient history is extrapolation and inferences drawn. Which is why it is usually more controversial on dating and other similar aspects, in comparison to medieval history. That said it is also my opinion that this is what makes it more fascinating in comparison to medieval or modern history.
 
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Mar 2013
1,048
Breakdancing on the Moon.
I honestly didn't know that FYROM referred to macedonia. had to google it!

But your right about the use of the Puranas, though i should point out that it isn't some who read them as blank historical documents. The number of extremist idiots who regard them as the holy writ of historical texts are an unfortunately large number in our society. More the pity.

Much of Ancient history is extrapolation and inferences drawn. Which is why it is usually more controversial on dating and other similar aspects, in comparison to medieval history. That said it is also my opinion that this is what makes it more fascinating in comparison to medieval or modern history.
Agree, that's why I specialised on ancient rather than medieval in fact. Its just more interesting. Honestly though when it comes to India, I find the late antiquity/medieval stuff more interesting just because of the literature.

I think with the Puranas we have to be careful in making it explicit that even if we can't use them as direct historical documents, they're still valuable for historians. Like I said, most of the breakthroughs in Indian history now will be in using non standard sources anyway, moving more into the Prakrits etc.

Yes, FYROM want to be called Macedonia. Which on the face of it isn't that bad - Macedonia was the name of the Roman/Byzantine province/thema and for most of the middle ages was multi-ethnic and Slavophonic. Though most Greeks go insane when you mention that. HOWEVER, they're trying to extend their history back onto Hellenised people like Philip and Alexander and massively distort history as part of the bargain. Which is not cool.
 
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