Foreign Literature to study Indian History

The foreign accounts supple­ment the indigenous literature. There is no mention of Alexander’s invasion in Indian sources; we come to know about his exploits from Greek sources. The Greek writers mention Sandrokottas (identified with Chandragupta Maurya), a contemporary of Alexander. This has served as the sheet-anchor in ancient Indian chronology, as we place the accession of Chandragupta around 322 BCE.

The identification of Prince Sandrokottas (mentioned by Greek writers as a contemporary of Alexander the Great) with Chandragupta Maurya has served as the sheet anchor in ancient Indian chronology. The works of Arrian, Strabo, Pliny, Ptolemy and Periplus of the Erythraean Sea written by an anonymous Greek navigator help us in the study of ancient Indian geography and commerce. The Indika of Megasthenes, an ambassador to the court of Chandragupta Maurya, gives a descriptive account of the administration, society, and economic activities in the time of the Mauryas. The Greek accounts are not completely reliable as they are based more on hearsay than on personal experiences of the writer. Also most of the Greek writers were ignorant of the Indian languages which might have affected their impressions and knowledge of our country. 9 The best known among the Chinese travellers were Fa Xian (Fa-Hien) and Xuan Zang (HiuenTsang) who provide us with useful information regarding the social, religious and economic life during the reign of Chandragupta II and Harsha respectively. The Tibetan historian Taranath in his History of Buddhismgives us information about Buddhism and its spread. The accounts of Arab travellers mostly deal with India and its inhabitants and also throw light on trade and aspects of political history. Alberuni’s Tehquiq-iHind describes the socio-economic and political condition of India in the 11th century.

Chinese accounts have proved a valuable source for information on the Gupta period and the years immediately following the end of Gupta rule. The Chinese travellers, Fa­hsien (Record of the Buddhist Countries) and Hsuan Tsang (Buddhist Records of the Western World) who came to India to visit Buddhist shrines and study Buddhism, describe the social, economic and religious conditions of the country in the fourth-fifth and seventh centuries respectively. Hwuili’s Life of Hsuan Tsang, and Itsing’s A Record of the Buddhistic Religion as Practised in India and Malay Archipelago, which refers to Sri Gupta, are valuable for studying North India in the 7th century AD. 

The accounts of Arabs such as the merchant Sulaiman who visited India during the time of Bhoja I (AD 851), Abu Zaid, Abul Qasim (died AD 1070) who authored Tubaqat ul-Umam, a book on ancient Indian culture and science, Shahriyar, Ibn Batuta and Ibn Nazim are valuable sources for the study of ancient Indian history.
In constructing the history of medieval and British periods, we are amply helped by the various extant archi­tectural remains, historical books, letters, diaries, etc.

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