The Hindu History by Akshoy K. Majumdar forms part of the indispensable canon of works on the chronological growth of Hinduism and the Indian nation. Written in early 20th century, it is a classic which traces the origin and development of Hindustan from 3000 BV to 1200 AD. The book begins with the Aryan invasion of India and takes rise of new dynasties and kingdoms followed by the advent of foreign rule in India.
Religion and Philosophy have always been the guiding force for the Indian multitude. Together they have not on lay mounded the complex web of the society but also played an indispensable role in nation-played an indispensable role in nation-building. The Hindu History is a well-researched, exhaustive and in –depth analysis of the events that shaped Hinduism and Hindustan as it is today.
The title of this book is my own. It is, perhaps, a more dignified title
than the work properly deserves. I should tell my readers, at the very outset, that I am not appearing before the public as a rival to my illustrious countryman, the late Mr. Romesh Chand Dutt whose Ancient India is a highly admirable book; nor, to Mr. VA Smith whose Early History of India is an inimitable work. In 1891, my headmaster, the late Sri Raj Sahen Ratnamani Gupta of the Dacca Collegiate School desired me to write a history of our nation. Following his wish, I have worked so long, alone in a lonely field, groping my way in the dark ages of the past. If my chronology is satisfactory, a great puzzle will be solved and the reconstruction will become easier. Mine is an attempt at reconstruction and a very poor one, indeed. Yet, I believe, with a certain measure of confidence that whoever will work in the same field, will arrive at almost similar conclusions.
In preparing this book, I have received valuable suggestions and encouragement from many generous persons, both Indian and foreign. In the initial stage of my labours and Indian travels, I was helped by Baby Harendralal Roy, Zamindar of Bhagyakul; Babu Dharanikant Lahiri, Zamindar of Kalipur; Raja Jagat Kisore Acharya of Muktagacha; Rai Bahadur Banamali Roy, Zamindar of Pabna; and Kumar Sri Harabhamji Raoji, of Morvi (Kathiawar). Immense is my debt to my professor and patron, Mr SC Hill, who was ever alive to my interests. He brought me to the notice of his friend the late Viceroy Lord Curzon whose encouraging words cheered me at a time when my spirits were low. To Col. Sir Richard Temple, editor, Indian Antiquary, belongs the real credit of this work, as he gave me the ‘searchlight of true criticism’. (md. Antiquary, vol. XXXI, 1902.) Sir Asutosh Mukherji, Vice- Chancellor, the Syndicate and Dr G Thibaut, Registrar, Calcutta University, gave me indirect encouragement (1910). My thanks are also due to many scholars, authors, and writers of Bengal and abroad. This edition of the book is brought out with many imperfections. It is certain to have a second impression, which I trust will be brought out in due form and fashion.
The first edition having run out, I venture to publish the second, thoroughly revised and enlarged. The demand for the book is largely an indication of the readers’ indulgence due to a pioneering work, rather than its intrinsic merit.
‘Old India’ said Professor Weber, ‘is still full of riddles’. Mr RC Dutt was the first pioneer in this field. I add the political outlines, which present the whole Hindu history in a readable form. In reconstructing it, I have closely followed Hindu traditions in their rational forms. I have included all that I could carefully gather from the numerous sources, along with my own discoveries. The readers, however, would be wrong to expect an authoritative work on the subject; that is reserved for a doughty scholar.
A regular Hindu history has long been a great desideratum in the world. I tried to meet it to some extent. But great was my apprehension when I first published my work, lest it should be doomed to utter failure. To my great relief and joy, I soon found the result otherwise. From the Magistrate, Dacca, to the authorities of the India Office Library, London and the Secretary to the President, United States of America—all heartily welcomed my little work. Government of India, Foreign Department, has encouraged my humble labours. The Curator, Bureau of Education, Simla Secretariat, the governments of the Central Provinces and the Punjab have purchased a few copies. Dr ME Sadler, Vice-Chancellor, Leeds University and President, Calcutta University Commission, Mr. GF Shirras, Director-General, Department of Statistics, India, Dr John Marshall, Director-General of Archaeology in India and others have encouraged me with friendly notes of appreciation. Kumar Devendra Prasad Jam, of the All-India Jam Community, Arrah Branch, was equally enthusiastic.
My special thanks are due to Lt. Col. SF Bayley, Resident in Nepal and to Major CH Gabriel, First Assistant to the Resident in Kashmir, for their interest in my humble work.
Like an Indian sage of old traditions to whose clan I belong, I cannot but sing the praise of three eminent, noble and true Hindu princes whose sympathy and appreciation have urged me to bring out this edition in a comprehensive form. My debt is not so much to their gold, as to their golden hearts, noble instincts, and genuine pleasure at the sight of a history of their remote ancestors! Blessed be the names and lines of His Highness Chandra Singh Shumsher Jung Bahadur, Maharaja—Rana of Nepal, His Highness Virendra Kisore Manikya Bahadur, Maharaja of Tripura; and His Highness Sir Bhavani Singh, Maharaja—Rana of Jhalawar in Rajputana.
I have spent my time, money and energy on the work for some thirty years. I have constantly thought of the Indian people and have written for their benefit. Recently, two gentlemen have joined me in this stupendous work. My friend Babu Indramohan Das of Dacca and Babu Nagendra Kumar Roy, a young and enterprising publisher of this town, have come forward to promote the interests of the nation, by publishing this edition at great cost.
To the generous British government is due the recovery of a considerable portion of our past history. The Archaeological Department of India has been working wonders. Still, the results of researches are not yet brought home to the people in their vernaculars.
Only the learned few possess a correct knowledge of ancient India. The masses still revel in marvels, delight in dreams and soar with hyperboles. To them, ancient India is a dreamland—a veritable paradise on earth! Judging the present by those imaginary notions, they harbors grave discontents that know no remedy, because they never study the past. In Europe and America, all classes of people love history, for history makes man wise, history makes man practical. In India, it is generally neglected. Even in the universities, it is reserved for the intellectual parrots who require no brain, but the efforts of memory to learn it! This neglect of history was one of the causes that led to the downfall of the Hindu nation. To be prosperous again, Hindus must study history carefully, remembering the wise remark of Professor Max Mueller, ‘A people that feels no pride in the past, in its history and literature, loses its mainstay of national character’.
History is a discipline where nothing is frozen in time. Every generation interprets and rewrites history in line with its new understanding of the past, based upon new evidence, unearthed through various means— archaeological or literary, which alter its understanding of the past. However, in this process of continuous renewal, one fact never changes— the new is always built upon the foundations of the old.
Thus, when every generation creates its own version of history, it does so on the basis of the history that has been written earlier. The image of the past may alter radically, it may become clearer on some previously obscure issue or event; sometimes, it may so prove that what had previously been thought to be true did not actually occur or exist. But, by and large, the historian of the present builds upon the work of the historians who came before him. It is the rare pioneer-historian who is ignored by his successors in the field. In fact, it usually turns out that his pioneering scholarship is the beginning point for the modern historian. Take, for instance, the case of the great nineteenth century historian Jacob Burkhart. Burkhart revolutionized the study of the Renaissance in Europe, through the methodology that he applied and the interpretation that he arrived at. The striking fact is that today, over a century after Burkhart wrote his magisterial tome, every serious scholar of the Renaissance, especially those specializing in the Italian variant, have to genuflect before the master. It is not that Burkhart was right or wrong, it is that history is, really speaking, a continuing dialogue between generations of historians on their favorite subject. Thus, Burkhart is the lodestar for historians of the Renaissance.
This holds true for A.K. Mazumdar, whose book, The Hindu History, is as relevant to the scholar of ancient India today as when it was first published in the early twentieth century. Remember, this is the time when the ancient history of our country was slowly but surely coming out of the shadows into the clear light of the historian’s lamp. Today, much of what we take as a known about our past, was actually unknown. The close probing into the literature of our people, and scrutinizing it ma scientific manner, thus eliciting from it historical data of the greatest import, combined with the evidence being unearthed across the country through archaeological digs, brought forward an India that even the fantasist could not have imagined.
It is hard for us to imagine that people were ignorant of a figure such as the Buddha, but the fact of the matter is that as late as the mid- nineteenth century, he was a mere shadow. The chronology of dynasties which ruled small and large kingdoms and empires in ancient times was either totally unknown, or pure conjecture, for which there was no proof at all. The doors to our past were sealed so fast that we had forgotten the existence of a ruler such as Ashoka, who stands tall among monarchs. And even as revelation after revelation was made, knowledge of it was confined to the lucky few. For, archaeological data was not easily accessible, as it took a long time to be properly assessed, compiled, and made available to scholars. To the vast majority of people, the exciting new knowledge of the past was not easily ascertained.
The principal writings on the history of ancient India were also being done by European scholars. This is not to deny their importance, or to denigrate them. What they did was something for which we have to be grateful. For, after all, if history was being largely ignored by Indians, it was their fault, not that of the Europeans. It is the supreme irony that the people from whom we were trying to free our country, were actually letting us know about our past, whatever be their motive. Indian scholars were few and far between, who were ready to take on the onerous task of examining our past—and making it our own. One of those hardy few was Maunder. The first edition of Maude’s book was published in 1917, and a corrected edition came out in 1920.
Some will look askance at the title itself, but it must be noted that division of Indian history into the tripartite Hindu, Muslim, and British periods was the norm for the time. it was in no way a reflection of prejudice for or against any particular community. It was, quite simply, the way people approached the study of history in India, where modern tools were only just making their presence felt.
It is necessary to remember also that at this time, it was often said that Indians did not really have any sense of history, or even interest in it, and were satisfied by fantasies posing as history. As Mazumdar himself laments, ‘Only the learned few possess a correct knowledge of ancient India. The masses still revel in marvels, delight in dreams and soar with hyperboles. To them, ancient India is a dreamland—a veritable paradise on earth!’ But historians, Mazumdar among them, had begun to realize that our ancient epics and other writings were a key to an understanding and knowledge of the past, and should not be dismissed out of hand. It was important to ally a reading of textual evidence with the new evidence of archaeology, to distill the core of ancient India’s history. This is exactly what Mazumdar has done. We can see this method at its best in his careful reading of the Vedas and the Puranas to describe the social and economic condition of the people, and the manner in which Mazumdar creates a chronology for the Solar and Lunar dynasties.
It must also be noted that Mazumdar was- -quite naturally—a child of his time. It is interesting to note how matters as since then have acquired a certain measure of controversy. For instance, Mazumdar, was the norm in his day, has read the epics as indicating an invasion of India by the Aryans, who came into conflict with the original inhabitants of the land. Today, there is less surety that there was an invasion, and that it may actually have been a series of migrations. There is today, of course, even a school of thought with an interpretation of its own, which believes that the Aryans in fact, originated in India. These are of course, inevitable in a book such as this, rooted in its time.
Mazumdar’s work is a pioneering work by a pioneering historian of ancient India. Based on extensive and intensive research in extant sources as the bibliography shows, and meticulous in its approach, this volume continues to provide a roadmap for researchers and scholars in our time for a fruitful exploration of our past.
What comes across forcefully, even after the passage of eighty years, is Mazumdar’s scholarly zeal and enthusiasm, and his desire to recreate the history of ancient India. And recreate it not just as a scholastic exercise, but as an attempt to bring within the sphere of knowledge of his countrymen, a clear and authentic history of India, based not on wishes and dreams, but rooted in evidence. It is this element which justifies any reading of this book today. Our dialogue continues with Mazumdar, this historian of ancient India, in our never-ending quest for knowledge. I congratulate the publishers, Rupa & Co, for making available once again this classic work of Indian history.
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