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Indo-Persian Historical Thoughts and Writings: India 1350-1750


Roy, A, Indo-Persian Historical Thoughts and Writings: India 1350-1750, The Oxford History of Historical Writing, Oxford University Press, J Rabasa, M Sato, E Tortarolo and D Woolf (ed), Oxford, UK, pp. 148-172. ISBN 978-0-19-921917-9 (2012) [Research Book Chapter]

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This chapter explores Indo-Persian historical thoughts and writings spanning the 400 years (1350-1750) of the late medieval and early modern centuries. A historiographical study of its kind on India as a component of a global project of history-writing cannot overlook issues of approach and perception. Most histories of history-writing produced in the West in modern times, with some exceptions in recent decades, evince a hegemonic pre-eminence of forms, ideas, and values of the Western historical tradition, and a corresponding failure to involve the non-Western historical traditions. This unfortunate situation has been largely attributed to Western colonial dominance and its 'cultural, linguistic, and economic influences', giving rise to 'a thoroughly decontextualized and celebratory grand narrative of the rise of modern method that has only been challenged in recent years'. Most regrettably, the 'global dominance ofWestern academic historical practices' has tended to generate a feeling in non-Western quarters that 'not just history, but historiography' has been 'written by the victors'.

Early India's sense and consciousness of the historical past have long been questioned. That it supposedly 'lacked historical writing and, by implication therefore, a sense of history' was, until very recent times, almost 'taken as given'. Early in the twentieth century a noted British scholar asserted that ancient Indian history was 'fashioned out' of 'purely religious and priestly' compositions, which 'notoriously do not deal with history' and 'totally lack the historical sense'. Nine centuries before him, Abu Raihan al-Biruni, a celebrated Muslim scholar who spent years in India rigorously undertaking critical smdies of various arts and sciences of India, regretted that the Hindus paid little attention to the 'historical order of things', were 'very careless in relating the chronological succession of their kings', and considered it 'canonical only that which is known by heart, not that which exists in writing'.

There is sporadic and tantalizing evidence from early India indicative of its historical essence and antiquity, such as a Buddhist sculptural representation of the second century. This depicts a scene with 'three wise men' engaged in interpreting to King Shuddhodhana and Queen Maya, future parents of the yet unborn Buddha, the legendary 'dream' of Queen Maya in Buddhist tradition that portends the Buddha's ensuing birth. The important point for us in this is the depiction of a scribe sitting down and 'recording' the interpretation. Regardless, there has been a broad sense of recognition among leading historians of early India of the relative scarcity of the standard chronographic and sequential narratives of conventional annal, regnal, and dynastic forms. Early India's sense, image, quest, and representation of the past are, however, deeply and widely embedded in the profusion of oral bardic and written genealogical traditions, both on a professional level. Besides, there 'are many texts that reflect historical consciousness which later became the basis for historical traditions', as Romila Thapar affirms. The concern today, she contends, is less with the absence of historical writing in early India and more with the 'nature and assumptions of these [historical] traditions'.

Item Details

Item Type:Research Book Chapter
Research Division:History, Heritage and Archaeology
Research Group:Historical studies
Research Field:Asian history
Objective Division:Expanding Knowledge
Objective Group:Expanding knowledge
Objective Field:Expanding knowledge in history, heritage and archaeology
UTAS Author:Roy, A (Dr Asim Roy)
ID Code:85128
Year Published:2012
Deposited By:Research Division
Deposited On:2013-06-14
Last Modified:2018-03-27

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