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Updated: May 4, 2010 00:17 IST

On ancient Indian history and culture

Y. Subbarayalu
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This is a collection of Sankaranaryanan's 50 articles, published over a period of five decades, in various premier journals dedicated to Epigraphy, Indology, Oriental Studies, and so on. The articles are grouped under five broad themes: archaeology and epigraphy; political history; literature; philosophy; and cultural studies.

The author is a profound Sanskrit scholar and a sound Epigraphist. These two facets of his scholarship are reflected throughout. To be specific, his epigraphic knowledge provides the link for all the themes he has taken up for analysis and clarification. The range of the author's interests is quite vast, running from the Vedic times (which he would put coeval with the time of the Indus culture) to the time of Sahaji, a versatile scholar-king of the Thanjavur Maratha family of the 17th century.

On Indus seal

In the first article, he puts forth yet another interpretation of an Indus seal supposed to depict a scene relating to the performance of the Soma yaga. He is aware of the chronological gap between the Soma episode found in later Samhitas and that found on the seal which is earlier, and therefore he would like the reader to ponder over the fact that both may have a common source. There is a long article on the Mahabharata war, where it is suggested that there could have been two such events, one in the 25th century BC, having some connection to the Indus culture and the Rigvedic Age, and the second one, the more familiar war that took place in the 10th century BC.

When it comes to later political history, the evidence used is on more solid grounds, as the literary data are corroborated, to a great extent, by epigraphical evidence. There are interesting papers on certain problems pertaining to the Kushan, Ikshvaku, Vishnukundin, and Chalukya dynasties. The one on Ikshvaku history brings together several pieces of information to give a coherent account of the Deccan history during the third and fourth centuries.

An interesting episode relating to the medieval inter-state relations is candidly highlighted in the article on Chalukya-Paramara war. A general of the Paramara king is said to have become a traitor to his overlord by surrendering his forts to the enemy, the Yadava king, who employed the Kautilyan techniques of bheda and dana instead of danda. What lends poignancy to the episode is that the general's family had been serving the Paramara kings quite loyally for three generations.

The paper on “Some forgotten pages of early cultural history of Andhradesa” is interesting from the viewpoint of social history. The author quite convincingly interprets the term “raja” found in the famous Bhattiprolu casket inscriptions, not as ‘king' but as the ‘head of a tribal republic' that is frequently mentioned in the Buddhist literature. On this basis, he thinks that Buhler's dating of those inscriptions to pre-Mauryan period is vindicated, as the tribal republics ceased to exist by the time of the Mauryans. Though the argument for the date is a bit far-fetched, as tribal socio-political organisation might have survived much longer in different localities, there cannot be any dispute about the author's interpretation of ‘raja' in the present context.

Vedic rituals

There are several papers on Sanskrit education, temple and the Vedic rituals, the Vedanga tradition and Sankara, the greatest commentator-saint. The author takes up for a thorough discussion the still unresolved question of the date of Sankara and suggests a date in the middle of the fifth century, nearly three centuries earlier than the now widely accepted date. This new date is arrived at on the basis of a shrine dedicated to “Bhagavatpada” referred to in a copper-plate inscription of about 1506 found in Gujarat. Of course, he has also marshalled several other pieces of internal evidence from Sariraka-bhasya of Sankara to determine his chronological position with reference to mimamsaka (Kumarilabhatta), Bhartrihari, Dignaga, and others. At the same time, he does not give much credence to the Sankara-vijaya traditions for dating purpose. Whether the new date would be accepted beyond dispute is a moot point. On the other hand, the author's detailed study of Sankara's works vis-a-vis the Nyaya and Vaiseshika systems would be of great interest to scholars of ancient Indian philosophy. On the whole, this rich Indological collection is bound to be an authoritative reference work on Indian philosophy and Vedic culture.

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