A Tribute to a Savant
Jaya Tyagi
EARLY INDIAN HISTORY AND BEYOND: ESSAYS IN HONOUR OF PROFESSOR B.D. CHATTOPADHYAYA by Osmund Bopearachchi and Suchandra Ghosh Primus Books, 2019, 567 pp., 1395.00
May 2020, volume 44, No 5

The work of historians is to deconstruct the past and re-present it, not necessarily as a coherent whole or one of consensus (Joan Scott, Gender and Politics of Representation) but rather, to explore the complexities in the past—including fissures and the conflicts that existed. Historians of Ancient India (at least the ones we encountered as students in the two main universities in Delhi) have consistently attempted to reconstruct the multiple histories of the past—with its social and cultural complexities, its inequalities and its conflicts. They realigned historical periodization, ‘secularizing it’, employed innovative methodologies and have been constantly problematizing and scrutinizing the material evidence from the past, even while being acutely attuned to and sensitive about the politics and social inequalities around them in contemporary India.

BD Chattopadhyaya, as an integral part of this intellectual tradition, has helped in unravelling ancient Indian society with its complex intertwining of power and social relations—allowing subsequent scholars to pick up the exposed strands to do deeper studies, going well ‘beyond’ the notions that existed about Ancient India. The editors, Bopearachchi and Ghosh are to be complimented in undertaking this exercise as the scholars in this volume, one by one (although not uniformly) pay a fitting tribute to BD Chattopadhyaya’s way of approaching his craft (to borrow from Marc Bloch), appreciating his ‘empirical soundness and critical acumen’ and his ‘deep understanding of social science disciplines’. BD Chattopadhyaya’s response to the feudalism debate, with his notion of integrative processes in ancient India, his term ‘third urbanization’ and attention to the rural scenario of early medieval India, his emphasis on ethnicity and regionality (as a marker of identities rather than only religion) are pointed out by Suchandra Ghosh in ‘Away from the Beaten Track to Break New Grounds’.

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