How it concerns all social actions and their mutual

How the Indian historiography has evolved
from precolonial to post-colonial period?



Over the three
millenniums, India has developed opulent and complex layers of culture, since
geographically India lies at crossroads of trading routes. From ancient times, people
from diverse background and ethnicity came into India as traders and invaders
via land as well as sea routes. They settled down here and, over the time,
India assimilated them in its cultural and social mosaic. Also,
India remained a home of host of empires and kingdoms with each having a
peculiar history. Pre-colonial empires and kingships had history but it would
be told orally and would occasionally be chronicled. It were the Europeans
particularly the British armed with documentation and statistical knowledge who
introduced a systematic chronology of the Indian history upon seizing India. The
modern Indian historiography was initiated by the British in the late
eighteenth century. Ever since the historiography of India not being
homogeneous is in state of evolution.  However,
since emerging as a discourse, Indian history has been a contentious subject. Different
interpretations informed by a variety of themes have given rise to multiple
perspectives in Indian history.

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It is important to
note that in discussing historiography, we highlight history writing as well as
the cultural dynamics. Historiography is way of history writing in which we
contemplate its art, method and inspiration. Therefore, the study of
historiography includes the looking into the evolution of a people’s social and
historical thinking. The key function of historiography is to comprehend and
critically explain a historian’s point of view and its significance to a given
time. This relationship highlights that historiography is not a static entity. It
has to flow with time.


Again when we talk
about the history writing in India, earlier it revolved around the colonial
interpretation ad and then its reinterpretation in subsequent periods. However,
new evidence and new approaches of looking at existing evidence have led to
historiographical change. The emergence of perspectives like studies of
societies, languages, texts, literatures, religions, economies, environment and
archeology have encouraged reconfigurations in interpreting the past. This
resulted from probing questions different than asked before from the sources.
If previous writings in history were mainly focused on politics, these days it
concerns all social actions and their mutual connection.


Further, South
Asian historiography has achieved a remarkable level of depth and
sophistication in the last three decades or so. . As Jalal and Bose have argued
that “the cracking and crumbling of the modern nation-state system, the
disintegration of the socialist alternative, the disillusionment with the false
promises of capitalism, and the resurgence of redefined social identities
thought to have been obliterated by the steam-roller of modernization have all
rendered interpretations of the modern era in South Asian and world history much
more complex. Recent themes in South Asian historiography have been the role of
intermediate social groups in the construction of the British raj and that of
‘subaltern’ social groups in anti-colonial resistance; the part played by the
colonial state in the reinvention of communal and caste categories; the
refashioning of social relations of class by the linking of Indian economic
regions to wider capitalist systems; and the impact of the interplay between
national, communal and regional levels of politics on the process of decolonization.”1


In past, the West stereotyped
India with the terms such as ‘oriental despotism, and ‘Asiatic mode of production’,
but as Partha Chatterjee have contended that “contrary to earlier judgment of
imperialist, nationalist, and even Marxist historians, recent researchers show
that the economic and social institutions of precolonial India, far from
impending the growth of capitalism, actually accommodated and encouraged most
of the forms associated with early modern capital.” 2 The connection
of the South Asian region to the Indian Ocean and beyond also has attracted
fresh scholarship. Now it has emerged that pre-modern empires, rather than
being centralized, autocratic and bureaucratic, were rather nuanced flexible


Looking at Indian historiography,
we can distribute the Indian historiography into three schools:


 (i) The colonial discourse        (ii)   the
Nationalist discourse       (iii) the
post-colonial discourse.


The Colonial Interpretation: this was continuity or discontinuity


The historiographical landscape of
India was originated by the East India Company in the last quarter of
eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The historiography was done with the
presupposition that the Indian culture was a-historical and hence unique. This
resulted in the process ‘discovering of the Indian past’ by the colonial
historians. The discovery of Indian past and its revelation to Europe in the
late eighteenth century was largely the work of Jesuit scholars, the European
travelers and the civil servants of the East India Company.