by Romila Thapar
Harvard University Press, 2013
eISBN: 978-0-674-72651-2 | Cloth: 978-0-674-72523-2
Library of Congress Classification DS483.65.T53 2013
Dewey Decimal Classification 934.0072

ABOUT THIS BOOK | REVIEWS | TOC
ABOUT THIS BOOK

“An authority on thousands of years of India’s past, Thapar has a rare and special perspective on the country it was and the country it is becoming.” —Financial Times

Winner of the Kluge Prize Romila Thapar presents a sweeping survey of the historical traditions of North India, revealing a deep consciousness of history embedded in classical Indian literature.

The claim, often made, that India—uniquely among civilizations—lacks historical writing distracts us from a more pertinent question, according to Romila Thapar: how to recognize the historical sense of societies whose past is recorded in ways very different from European conventions. In The Past Before Us, a distinguished scholar of ancient India guides us through a panoramic survey of the historical traditions of North India. Thapar reveals a deep and sophisticated consciousness of history embedded in the diverse body of classical Indian literature.

The history recorded in such texts as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata is less concerned with authenticating persons and events than with presenting a picture of traditions striving to retain legitimacy and continuity amid social change. Spanning an epoch of nearly twenty-five hundred years, from 1000 BCE to 1400 CE, Thapar delineates three distinct historical traditions: an Itihasa-Purana tradition of Brahman authors; a tradition composed mainly by Buddhist and Jaina scholars; and a popular bardic tradition. The Vedic corpus, the epics, the Buddhist canon and monastic chronicles, inscriptions, regional accounts, and royal biographies and dramas are all scrutinized afresh—not as sources to be mined for factual data but as genres that disclose how Indians of ancient times represented their own past to themselves.


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