Revisiting the history of ancient India: the need for a new vision

Seventeenth Gonda Lecture, 20 November 2009

Gérard Fussman

2010 | ISBN 978-90-6984-606-4 | free

The writing of history, even very ancient history, is always linked to contemporary politics, if only because the territorial limits chosen by the historian or his publisher are too often those of a contemporary State. Titles such as The Paleolithic Age in Belgium or in Turkmenistan should therefore not come as a surprise. The territorial limits chosen by the authors of the most recent histories of Ancient India are largely those defined in The Cambridge History of India, the first volume of which was written before 1914. In other words, they are the boundaries of British India at that time, Burma (which has since gained independence) being excluded. Is it still possible to equate Ancient India with the territories of today's Bangladesh, Pakistan and the Republic of India? Would it not be better to extend those limits to countries such as Cambodia, which in 6 AD was no less Indian than Bengal or Orissa, or should we simply be content with histories of Panjab, Magadha/Bihar, Tamilnad, etc. - in other words of the few Indian countries about which we can say something certain?
The answer lies in part in the data available. There has been an enormous increase in data in the past fifty years, and our understanding of that data has also changed dramatically. New texts and inscriptions have been discovered, and documents unearthed long ago have been reinterpreted. Archaeological discoveries both within and outside the borders of British India have shed new light on earlier finds and interpretations. The social sciences and political ideas have evolved, and so has our conception of history.
Professor Fussman will address questions such as these in a lecture in which he describes what a history of Ancient India should be, from Harappan times to the arrival of the first Muslim armies.
Seventeenth Gonda Lecture by Gérard Fussman, professor of History of India and Greater India, Collège de France, Paris