Empirical Richness and Rigour
Upinder Singh
STATE AND SOCIETY IN PRE-MODERN SOUTH INDIA by R. Champakalakshmi Cosmobooks, Thrissur, 2004, 223 pp., 495.00
January 2004, volume 28, No 1

Most narratives of the historiography of ancient India inspire a strong sense of déjà vu. There is the mandatory bashing of the imperialist historians, followed by a litany of complaints against the nationalist historians. This is followed by an account of post-Independence developments, in which the writing of ancient Indian history is presented as coming of age, with the imbalances and biases of the earlier eras replaced by a more sophisticated and sounder understanding of the past. This simple tripartite division of ancient Indian historiography (imperialist, nationalist, recent) does not work. It conceals the fact that there are spill-overs from one phase to another. For instance, the ‘nationalist’ glorification and idealization of the ancient past today serves other political agendas. The tripartite division of ancient Indian historiography also conceals the fact that while certain features and frameworks of ‘imperialist’ historiography have rightly been discarded, there are others that have been internalized and absorbed into post-colonial history writing.

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