Evolution of Social Structures in India through the Ages (Set of 5 Books)

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Item Code: NAG298
Publisher: Indira Gandhi National Open University
Language: English
Edition: 2009
Pages: 220
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 11 inch X 8 inch
Weight 560 gm
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Book Description

About the Book


Book 1: Introductory

Book 2: Culture in Transition

Book 3: Early Historic Societies: 6th Century B.C. to 4th Century A.D.

Book 4: Early Medieval Societies

Book 5: Medieval Society-1


Book 1: Introductory


History is a continuous process of a dialogue between the present and the past, the historian and her/his sources. It is this basic process that allows an interpretative process to happen. Thus the issue of context then takes a primacy in such a dialogue. In the introductory bloc we thus begin the process with the first basic premise of any historical dialogue, the sources of history.


The first unit of block one deals with the reconstruction of the ancient society with specific reference to the sources of history. The emphasis in this unit is on sources. The pertinent question in the entire write up is with regard to the nature of the source. What is or rather what constitutes a source is one of the most discussed issues in debates over what is history.


As E.H. Carr has argued, a source is what a historian can make out to be. Given such a wide-ranging framework, it indeed becomes important to deal with what constitutes a source of history in a precise manner. The sources of history are rather well known, and they range from the epigraphy and numismatics to archaeology and texts. The moot question really is as to how to interpret the source and from which perspective. It is this issue that has been dealt with extensively in the first unit with regard to the sources mentioned above. The contested territory in the field of history is the interpretative regime, the various strands of interpretations that constitute a historical write-up. Though all the history is interpretative, the question of context cannot be left aside; historical interpretation cannot be left in the domain of total relativity. Thus we can now decisively question the colonial interpretation of our past as well as the historical interpreting of the same by some obscurantist forces. This is so because the historical interpretation is a serious endeavor where the interpretative regime has to be grounded in the multicausal contemporary evidence. The first unit deals with all those issues.


We then move on to the realm of the neolithic 'revolution', the domestication of the plants and animals and away from the original affluent society that the hunting gathering stage was to the early farming societies. It is a misconception perpetuated by the colonial anthropology that equated the 'tribal' society with the hunting and gathering stage of the evolution of the society. As Professor Shereen Ratnagar has aptly argued that this stage of society is reached only with the domestication of plants and animals and the beginning of settlements, an event that has been linked to the emergence of what IS now known as the 'tribal' society.


Pastoralism has been a neglected field of study in the South Asian context. This lack of interest however is slightly offset in the context of the pre and proto-historical phases of our past. Pastoralisni refers to that segment of society that is totally dependent for its food on its herds. We do get evidences of pastoralism in the pro to historic stage of our past, but a lot needs to be done in that area. We also need to understand that pastoralism and agriculture are not to be posited as binary opposites, rather both together constitute a subsistence regime, where one may be a predominant element. That pastoralism is an important element that influenced the unfolding of the past to the present is something that cannot be denied.


The Harappan culture constitutes the first wave of Urbanization in the sub-continent. It was truly a Bronze Age culture. Excavations at Mohanjodaro, Harappa, Lothal, Kalibangan and many other sites have unfolded the complex nature of the society and polity of the Harappan phase. The distinctive sense of the culture can be analyzed in the form of the uniform systems of weights and measures and the consolidated nature of artifacts that constituted the truly mature Harappan phase.


Book 2: Culture in Transition


This Block contains the following four units:

Unit 1 Societies reflected in vedic literature: Kinship, Varna and Jari, ritual forms of property, ideology and social structure;

Unit 2 Iron age cultures;

Unit 3 Socio-religious ferment in north-India: Buddhism and Jainism; and

Unit 4 Emergence of Buddhist central and peninsular India.


The first phase of urbanization comes to an end with the decline and the transformation of the Harappan culture. This also marks the phase of the beginnings of the early history. We do still rely on the archaeological sources here, but now we get the textual sources, the Rigveda and a host of the Vedic literature, the epics and the early Buddhist and Jain sources along with the first epigraphic data and the inscriptions of the Mauryan king Asoka. This Block covers the timeline that starts with almost 1500 BC and ends around the third century AD. It also locates the beginning of the second phase of urbanization in the Indian Subcontinent and the emergence of powerful thought processes. The Vedic, Buddhist and the Jain streams in the Indian social context. It oversees the transformation of a lineage society into a state system and then the emergence of the imperial domains. It in effect also analyses the transformation of a society from its 'tribal' phase to a more complex caste based system. It also looks at the transformations of chalcolithic cultures to iron age. However, the term iron-age can be controversial as the advent of metal and its use mayor may not herald the beginning of a transformative processes. Finally, this Block analyses the' emergence of Buddhism and Jainism as two extremely important and powerful forces in the Indian subcontinent.


The first Unit in the Block gives an overview of the society as reflected in the textual sources. However the Unit also considers the archaeological sources and does attempt a logical link between the two. This Unit discusses the nature of society from around 1500 BC to about 800 BC in terms of social structures, religious forms, economy and polity. It further analyses the vedic literature in terms of the nature of the sources as well the historical information that can be culled out of it. The gradual transformative processes of a society from being cattle pastoralists to a more settled life of an agrarian economic base is also described. The various lineage groups vying with each other was a hallmark of the so-called 'tribal society' of that period. We get to learn the conflicts and their resolutions, and the way the society was reflected in the sources both textual and archaeological. The unit also touches on the issue of the 'aryans', a linguistic term and a problem that cannot be resolved easily.


The next unit is about the' iron age'. In the context of early India, the use of iron is linked to an argument regarding the change-in the lineage society itself and that it, amongst other things paved the way for the early state formation in the gangetic valley and ushered in the second phase of urbanization in the sub continent. This unit discusses the spread, use and implications of the same in the context of the 'iron age' in India. It looks at a period that is dated from about 1000 BC to about 100 AD. It is in this timeline that the iron technology spreads in the sub-continent and peninsular India. One major point made in the unit is the weak link between the technology and the state, as opposed to the Bronze Age. We also need to understand that the so-called 'iron age' has been questioned in terms of the use and spread of technology itself.


Book 3: Early Historic Societies: 6th Century B.C. to 4th Century A.D.


This block deals with a conglomeration of themes. We hope to illustrate the nature of early historic societies through them. The first unit i.e. Unit 8 deals with what is called the second urbanisation in India. It seeks to familiarise you with the nature of this urbanisation and show you how in this process merchants and artisans emerged as distinct social groups. The unit will also cover the process of formation of guilds as distinct organisation of merchants, artisans and craftsmen, which emerged in this period. We will also show you how the caste system accommodated different groups, which came up in this period and strengthened itself. Unit 9 deals with the vexed question of Chaityas and Viharas and their interaction with tribal groups. It examines the general social milieu within which Chaityas and Viharas get established. Then it investigates the notion of a tribe. Finding evidence of the interaction with tribes insufficient it posits that we need greater commitment to research to find such linkages. The Unit 10 on early Tamil society takes us southwards and examines the Tamil region and its cultures in some detail. It brings out the valuable evidences of Hero stones to highlight the importance of the cult of hero worship in the early historical society in the Tamil region. Unit 11 focuses on the diverse practices of marriage by comparing the Vedic and the Buddhist sources. How the practice of Marriage was influenced by the changing notions of Vama and Jati is further examined in this unit.


Book 4: Early Medieval Societies


This Block deals with the story of the move towards Early Medieval Societies. We start with the transition of Early Medieval Societies and the related debates. The question of Urban Decline is discussed with the help of views of different scholars on this theme. The next two Units deal with proliferation and consolidation of castes and jatis in this period and with the question of religion in society. The discussions take into account varieties of local developments. The meta-generalisations are treated with a healthy questioning attitude in these Units and the regional and local is brought into focus.


Book 5: Medieval Society-1


The village in India has always been the focus of various social, political, economic and academic discussions. It has been usually perceived that the clue to the understanding of Indian society lies in the village. The centrality of villages in Indian history can be seen in the administrative reports of the colonial administrators, political philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi, the pragmatic reports of early government officers' and writings of various sociologists, anthropologists and historians. The discussions have been usually on the themes of village community, system of land tenures, structure of landed relations and rights and the nature of rural society, The ideas of the Indian village that we come across in these writings are varied:

a) Indian villages are seen as idyllic communities, characterized by brotherhood and equality. The idea of village solidarity and collectiveness is strongly embedded in the rural society.

b) Indian villages are self-sufficient and are not dependant on any kind of economic interactions with the outside world.

c) The villages are characterized by static, unchanging rural societies and the changes outside the village boundaries have no effect within the village. Therefore, the village is an isolated unit and inward looking.

d) The village has been primarily a revenue extracting unit. for the state. Therefore, the relationship between the village and the state is based on the mechanisms of surplus extraction only.


However, the various inscriptions, records, and documents of the vi lIage and the state in the pre-rnodern period clearly reflect the complex nature of the village and the rural society. The rural society was not only sensitive to the changes within the village, it was also responding and reacting to the changes and developments outside the village, the larger milieu in which it was situated. Neither was it self-sufficient, interactions were taking place beyond the village boundaries with the neighbouring as well as far off villages on an extensive scale. Various studies have termed the villages as "little communities" having constant interaction with "greater communities" and both are considered to be necessary for each other's existence. Social inequity and not equality was the characteristic feature of the village society. The relations between the rural classes was based upon caste, class, and power structures,' primarily related to land, and thus creating a complex agrarian hierarchy, that was both complementary and contradictory.


In this Block we will discuss the rural society and its various aspects and what do they reflect on the nature of the village itself in the medieval period. The subject matter of this Block will revolve around:

1) Historiography on the nature of village, rural society and the village community

2) Village Community

3) Characteristics of the rural society

4) Rural society in North India

5) Rural society in Deccan

6) Rural society in South India


We will try to analyse various components within these themes to present you an outline of the rural society and village community in medieval India.




Block 1 Introductory



Reconstructing Ancient Society with Special Reference to Sources



Hunting-Gathering, Early Farming Society, Pastoralism



Harappan Civilization and Other Chalcolithic Cultures



Block 2 Cultures in Transition



Societies Represented in Vedic Literature



Iron Age Cultures



Socio-Religious Ferment in North India: Buddhism and Jainism



Emergence of Buddhist Central and Peninsular India



Suggested Readings



Block 3 Early Historic Societies: 6th Century B.C. To 4th Century A.D.



Urban Classes: Traders and Artisans, Extension of Agricultural Settlements



Chaityas, Viharas and their Interaction with Tribal Groups



Early Tamil Society - Regions and their Cultures and Cult of Hero Worship



Marriage and Family Life, Notions of Untouchability, Changing Patterns in Varna and Jati



Suggested Readings



Block 4 Early Medieval Societies



Transition to Early Medieval Societies



The Problem of Urban Decline: Agrarian Expansion, Land Grants and Growth) If Intermediaries



Proliferation and Consolidation of Castes and Jatis



Religion in Society



Suggested Readings



Block 5 Medieval Society-1



Historiography of the Rural Society



Village Community



Rural Society: North India



Rural Society: Peninsular India



Suggested Readings



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