Discussion on Vivekananda International Foundation ‘History of Ancient India’ Series
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In 2013, the Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF) published the first five volumes of its multi-volume History of Ancient India Series. Three of the remaining six volumes are to come out shortly and the last three are scheduled to be out the next year. A discussion on the Series was organized on 28 February 2018 at the VIF. Among the panelists were: Dr. Arvind Gupta, Director, VIF; Prof. Dilip Chakrabarti, Emeritus Professor of South Asian Archaeology at Cambridge University and Editor of the Series; Dr. Rakesh Tewari, former Director General of the Archaeological Survey of India; Prof. Rupendra Kumar Chattopadhyay, Presidency University; Prof. K. T. S. Sarao, University of Delhi; Prof. R. N. Singh, Banaras Hindu University; Mr. Vikas Arya, Aryan Books International; Dr. Arpita Mitra, Associate Fellow, VIF; Dr. Mihir Jha, University of Delhi; Swami Narasimhananda, Advaita Ashrama, Visiting Faculty, Jadavpur University; Prof. Tribhuwan Prasad, University of Delhi; Prof. Vikas Verma, University of Delhi; Mr. R. N. P. Singh, Senior Fellow, VIF; Prof. Sujit Dutta, Senior Fellow, VIF; Amb. D. P. Srivastava, Senior Fellow, VIF; Lt. Gen. R K Sawhney, Senior Fellow, VIF; and Amb. Prabhat Shukla, Distinguished Fellow, VIF.

Prof. Chakrabarti introduced the Series and highlighted some of the key features and strengths of the Series in the context of the present state of historical studies on ancient India. The first five volumes are: (1) Prehistoric Roots, (2) Protohistoric Foundations, (3) The Texts, Political History and Administration till c. 200 BC (4) Political History and Administration, c. 200 BC- AD 750 (from the end of the Mauryan rule to the beginning of the dominance of regional powers), and (5) Political History and Administration, c. AD 750-1300 (regional powers and their interactions). The remaining volumes are as follows: (6) Social, Political and Judicial Ideas, Institutions and Practices; (7) Economy: Agriculture, Crafts and Trade; (8) Sculpture, Terracottas, Painting, Architecture; (9) Science, Technology and Medicine; (10) Literature and Literary Ideas, and Religious and Philosophical Systems; (11) Ancient India’s Interrelations with the World (Southeast, East, Central and West Asia, the Eastern Coast of Africa, and the Mediterranean World).

Prof. Chakrabarti pointed out that since the 1950’s, “there has been a great amount of research on ancient India, especially in the field of archaeology. This research is limited not merely to the discovery of new data but also to new frames of interpretation, not many of which have yet been incorporated in the university-level ancient history books. The different volumes of the present series are specifically aimed at changing this situation.” He claimed about Volume II of the Series that “as far as the richness and regional tapestries of protohistoric India are concerned, no other published volume comes even close to this publication which also has, on the model of Volume I, a detailed section of site reports.” Furthermore, the breadth and concerns with various issues of dynastic history both in the North and the South are important features of Volumes. IV and V, and in each of these, the authors have tried to highlight the nature of the sources. Prof. Chakrabarti emphasized that the whole approach of the Series is empirical and objective, with emphasis both on what we know and what we cannot or do not know. The purpose is to emphasize with academic rigour, the wonderful richness and diversity of the historical developments of this land.

Next followed an open discussion by contributors to present and future volumes and other dignitaries present. There were suggestions for chapter themes for the forthcoming volumes that ranged from ancient Indian stone technology, ship-building, and water resource management to pilgrimage routes to Tibet and Central Asia. Many important insights thus came up, especially in the context of the last volume of the Series which is on India’s contacts with the outside world. Many interesting facts related to Indian footprints in West Asia and Central Asia came to the fore, for instance, Indian footprints in Bukhara, the pre-eminence of India’s presence, more than that of China, on the Silk Route, and so on.

Specific problems encountered while compiling contributions for the Series were also discussed. Two reasons that stood out are: Firstly, the present lack of experts on various aspects of ancient Indian history—which is, in a sense, a retrograde development, and a reversal of an earlier trend of distinguished scholars undertaking sound empirical work on various aspects of ancient Indian history; and secondly, ideological issues like the presently predominantly Left-dominated academia that hinder the process of looking at ancient India more objectively. There was a rich session of brainstorming on how to advance the cause of the study of ancient India in an objective manner and from a nationalist perspective.

Event Date: 
February 28, 2018