A. K. NARAIN
Reader in the Department of Ancient Indian History, Culture and Archaeology, and Director, Archaeological Excavations, Banaras Hindu University
The historian of ancient India differs from the historian of modern India in his training, methods and results. The problems which face him are not those with which the modernist may be familiar. Like the historian of many other ancient civilizations, he has not much to do with written 'histories' or 'literary' sources. Very often he has to make use of 'non-literary' or 'unwritten' sources in writing history. Thus he at once broadens the basis of history. By widening his range of material the obsession with 'authority' from which a historian is likely to suffer when using only the 'literary' sources, receives a salutary challenge. The result is that the historian may well get a wider vision, a toleration in outlook and an 'agree to differ' attitude. But sometimes this latitude, depending upon the nature of the sources, makes the historian either too sceptical or too dogmatic. This lopsidedness of his attitude is perhaps due to a lack of scientific training in handling the different types of sources. In fact, the historian of ancient civilizations is often so preoccupied with his sources that he has no scope to develop his subjective ideas in a historical framework. I believe the historian of remoter periods of history can be comparatively more objective in his ideas of history than the modernist. This is clear when we study the works of historians who have written on all periods of Indian history and compare their treatment of each period. If the historian has betrayed his subjectivity in his treatment of the ancient period, this is only when he deliberately chooses to project the ideas of his times and the prejudices of his mind to make unwarranted comparisons and derive results which may serve a particular end, or when he takes advantage of the paucity or absence of his sources, or if he is not competent to interpret a particular type of source material and takes liberties with it.
A knowledge of the nature of the source and of how to handle it is essential for any understanding of the ideas of history in ancient civilizations as well as for estimating the assumptions of the historians. Among the 'non-literary' sources, inscriptions and coins provide the most important materials for writing the history of ancient India. But between them there is a difference in nature. Inscriptions are in fact the earliest form of written