As we know India has a rich and diverse cultural background. Indian civilization is considered to be one of the most ancient civilizations. History cannot be known without the help of evidences. It cannot be created with the help of imagination. We need to have concrete evidences about our past. Now the questions arises how do we know about our past. In fact, there are various sources of knowing about Indian history. These sources can be divided into two groups, details of which are as follows:
1. Literary Sources
It includes religious Hindu literature such as four Vedas (Rig Veda, Sam Veda, Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda), Brahamana, Upanishads, Aranyakas, Vedanga, Sutra, Smritii, Puranas and Epics (Ramayana and Mahabharata). Rig Veda is major source of knowing the early Vedic age while other Vedas let us know about the later period of Vedic society.
Likewise the epics such as Ramayana and Mahabharata make us aware about the prevailing social trends and social structure of ancient India. In addition to it, they speak much about India’s great philosophical achievements.
Buddhist literature provide us huge information about their times. Three Pitakas of Buddha, Vinayapitaka, Sutt-Pitaka, Abhidhamma Pitaka and Jataka Kathayein are creation sources to know the Buddhist religion. Jain literature provides us information about their times, culture and civilization. The Vrahat Kalpa Sutra Bhasya, the Kalika Purana Katha Kosh and alike other Jain religious texts also provide useful historical material.
It includes writing by foreign travelers. These foreign travelers gave the vivid description of their time. Some of the Greeks, Romans, Muslims, and Chinese travelers delineated what they observed here. In this regard, Sulaiman, Al Masudi and Alberuni gave the important accounts of India.
Biographical books also provide us much information about history. Banabhatta’s Harshacharit; Vakpati’s Vikramankadeva, Kalhan’s Rajatarangini, Mahabhashya of Patanjali , Vishakhadatta’s Mudrarakshushas , Kalidasa’s Malavikagnimitram and Bilhan’s Vikramankadevachnrita.
2. Archaeological Sources
Archaeological sources play important role in providing us information about the history. Archaeological sources include inscriptions, coins, monuments, pottery, weapons, tools and remains of cities etc.
Several inscriptions written by Emperor Asoka, Samudragupta’s Prashashti on the Asoka pillar at Allahabad, the Nasik inscription of King Gautami Balsree, King Bhoj’s Gwalior inscription, inscription of Chalukya king Pulkesin II, and Vijay Sen’s Deopara inscription provide vital information about their time.
Temples, Mosques, Forts, Palaces, Churches, Gurudwaras also can provide ample information about history. Temple of Khajuraho, Konark and Dilwara make us aware about the then time. Likewise Jama Masjid, Moti Masjid, Fatehpur Sikri Dargah provide much information about the medieval history.
Coins help in finding out the names and dates of various rulers. They also provide information about the economic and religious conditions of the time. They also help us in finding out the economic life of the people in the past. Earliest coins were punch marked coins. Coins of Mauryan, Kushana and Gupta and Mughal period provide much information about that time.