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A Text of Intellectual Depth and Critical Thought


Rajan Gurukkal

EARLY INDIA: FROM THE ORIGINS TO A.D 1300
By Romila Thapar
Penguin Books, Delhi, 2003, pp. xii 556, Rs. 395.00

VOLUME XXVIII NUMBER 4 April 2004

This up-dated and significantly expanded edition of Thapar’s most widely read book, Early India, is now available in paperback. Incorporating the essentials of new data and fresh explanations besides retaining the relevant among older arguments, the book is yet structured mostly within the original edition’s framework of worldwide recognition. A change that is conspicuous other than what the profusely added substance could make, is the shift of the terminus ad quem from AD 1526 to c. AD 1300. The book covers the Stone Age prehistory and Bronze Age proto-history, as antecedents while the formation of kingdoms, urban revival, integration of an empire and disintegration into regional kingdoms constitute the historical process that it recounts. What is central to the revised edition is the judicious absorption of viable alternatives of interpreting the past, thanks to the author’s conviction that history is not information passed on unchanged along generations.   The book consists of thirteen chapters including two comprehensive ones, on ‘Perception of the Past’ and ‘Landscapes and Peoples.’ The first is a critical historiography, a prelude to understanding history as a form of knowledge, providing recognition of the intellectual context of history, i.e examining who the historians were, why they were writing and what the intellectual and ideological influences that shaped their histories of India in the age of British colonialism were. It reviews the Indologists’ nostalgic appreciation, Utilitarian allegations, Orientalist postulation of ‘the other,’ discovering of India’s antiquity, racialist predilections, and nationalist responses, showing how from the state of Indology the country’s history emerged as a part of the social and human sciences through the debates generated by Marxist epistemology, in spite of the decades long colonial seeding of communal history. This discussion provides a critical appreciation of the contending conceptual paradigms such as ‘mode of production,’ ‘integrative polity,’ ‘segmentary state’ and so forth in which contemporary historiography of India remained entrenched.   The section seeks to show further how the theories of the formation of the state, especially the theory of Marx, have enabled reconstruction of the structure of the state in histories of various early societies, and invalidated the ready-made models of the state portrayed in historiography. A significant result of this historical reconstruction inspired by social theory was the reassertion of the pivotal position of the discipline of history where all social sciences converged making history a social and human science. In the light of ...


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