Modern Historians

This chapter on Modern historians explains the evolution of Indian history in the written form. Initial history writing in India began with the understanding of India’s past by the British. British not only wanted to learn Indian culture but also study it as that was going to help them in the governance of the country. Thus a plethora of Modern historians emerged in the 19th century with the quest in Europe for learning Indian culture . As an illustration Max Mueller compiled ‘The Sacred Books Of The East Series’ which has 50 Volumes and many of which have many parts.

Colonialist view

  • 1776 : Manusmirti was translated into English as ‘Code of Gentoo Laws
  • William Jones : set up ‘Asiatic Society of Bengal’ in Calcutta in 1784
  • Also translated ‘Abhijnanashakuntalam’ into English in 1789
  • Wilkins : Translated ‘Bhagwadgita’ into English in 1785
  • 1804: Bombay Asiatic Society
  • 1823: Asiatic Society of Great Britain
  • Jones emphasized the point that European languages were quite similar to the Sanskrit and Iranian languages.
  • This aroused the interest of the European scholars in Indological studies.
  • 1st half of 19th century chairs of Sanskrit were established in England and several other European countries.
  • F. Max Mueller : provided the greatest push
  • Under his editorship massive scale translation of Ancient scriptures were undertaken
  • Altogether 50 volumes (some with several parts) were published under the ‘Sacred Books of the East Series’.
  • Generalizations were made:
    • Ancient Indians lacked sense of history
    • Indians were accustomed to despotic rule
    • Were engrossed in the problems of the next world and were least bothered about the problems of this world.
    • Indians had never experienced the feelings of nationhood or self-government
    • Most generalizations appeared in ‘Early History of India’ by Vincent Arthur Smith.
    • It was a first attempt of systematic history of Ancient India.
  • Some interpretations of Indian history served to denigrate Indian character and achievements and justify the colonial rule.
  • Some were valid as Indians did not show a strong sense of chronology like the Chinese.
  • But most generalizations made were grossly exaggerated
  •  British had to take care of the this worldly affairs of Indians

             Nationalist approach (Indian Modern Historians)

There were many Modern Historians of Indian origin who also gave a unique contribution to Modern Indian History writing. They tried to remove the defects which the Europeans introduced in History writing, which according to them was biased.

  • Rajendra Lal Mitra : Wrote ‘Indo Aryans’ and published
    • Took a rational view of ancient history and produced a forceful tract to prove that in ancient times beef was eaten commonly.
  • R.G Bhandarkar: reconstructed the political history of Satvahanas in Deccan
    • Advocated widow remarriages and criticized the evils of caste system and child marriages.
  • V.K. Rajwade : Compiled the Sanskrit manuscripts and Maratha history in 22 volumes.
    • History of institution of marriage remains a classic even today.
  • Pandurang Vaman Kane : Wrote ‘History of the Dharmasastras’ published in 5 volumes.
    • It presently acts as an encyclopedia of social laws and customs.
  • D.R. Bhandarkar : Published books on Ashoka and on ancient Indian political system.
  • Hemchandra  Roychaudhary : reconstructed ancient history from 10 B.C. till the end of Gupta empire
  • R.C. Majumdar : edited a multi volume publication ‘History and culture of Indian People’.
    • His works showed elements of Hindu  revivalism
  • K.A. Nilkantha Sastry: wrote ‘History of South India’
    • Emphasized the cultural supremacy of the brahmanas and also highlighted the harmony that prevailed in early Indian history.

Thus Modern historians both European and Indian contributed in inducing flesh and blood to the dry skeleton of History. Modern historians have liberated our minds by deepening our sympathies of our past. They have also helped in fortifying our will and critically evaluating our culture and our past. This enables us to not only control the society but also ourselves. More importantly the contributions of Modern Historians have prepared us to live more humanely in the present and to meet rather than to foretell the future. Historical knowledge enables us to place our perceptions of the contemporary world into a meaningful context and to discern the cause-and-effect relationships between events that serve as the basis for future expectations.

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