In this post, we discussed literary sources of indian history.

Literary Sources of Ancient Indian History

The ancient history of India has been very proud. But unfortunately, we find very little useful material for reconstructing our ancient history. Here, the literary sources related to Ancient Indian History helps.

In ancient Indian literature, there is often a lack of texts which in the modern definition are called “history“. 

Archaeologists have discovered many such items from the ruins of the past which provide us with valuable information related to ancient history. 

Therefore, for convenience, we can put the sources of knowing Indian history in three headings- 

  1. Literary Sources
  2. Archaeological Sources
  3. Foreign Accounts

Indian literature is religious to some extent and cosmic to some extent. Hence the literary instrument is divided into two parts- 

  1. Religious literature (Dharmik Sahitya)
  2. Cosmic literature (Laukik Sahitya)

Similarly, historical texts, biographies, fantasy-oriented literature are described in cosmic literature. Next, we will see different details.

Religious literature as Literary Sources

Religious literature is one of the important literary sources of Ancient Indian History. It discuss Brahmin Granth and non-Brahmin Granth. Vedas, Brahmins, Aranyakas, Upanishads, Vedangs, Sutras, Mahakavya (Epics), Puranas, and Smriti texts are included in the Brahmin text. 

Whereas Jain literature and Buddhist literature are included in non-Brahmin texts. 

Brahmin Literature


Veda are important sources of indian history

Talking about Vedas, their number is four –

  1. Rigveda 
  2. Samaveda
  3. Yajurveda
  4. Atharvaveda

Of this, the Rigveda is the oldest Veda, which provides information about the political system and history of the Aryans.

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Brahman, Aranyaka and Upanishads

Vedic shlokas and Samhita Tikaye (commentaries) are found in Brahman. These commentaries are in prose. 

In the Aranyaka and Upanishads, there is a collection of philosophical ideas regarding the soul, the divine, and the world. 


Apart from this, there are six vedangs – 

  1. Shiksha (education)
  2. Jyotish (astrology)
  3. Kalpa
  4. Vyakaran (grammar)
  5. Nirukta
  6. Chhand (verses)

Mahakavya (Epic)

There are two mahakavya or Epic- Ramayan and Mahabharat

The Ramayana[Buy Now from Amazon] and Mahabharata[Buy Now From Amazon] are named after the Vedas in the great poems of Sanskrit literature. Fewer people understood the Vedas but these epics were interesting to all.

These epics provide knowledge of the social, political, and economic conditions of the people of that era.

In that era, the Aryans established their very small kingdoms along the banks of the Ganges-Yamuna and their tributaries. Forests also contributed significantly to the creation of these states.

Arya was a war-loving caste. The power of the states was increasing, but no huge state could be established yet. The administration was run with the consent of ministers and councilors. The tyrannical and non-dutiful kings were removed. Sometimes kings were also given the death penalty for their crimes.

After the king died on the battlefield, the army used to run away. The caste system was also increasing day by day.

Puranas (Mythology)

The genealogies given in the Puranas are extremely helpful for historians and archaeologists in the creation of political history.

Only through the Puranas, we can study every aspect of Hinduism, its mythology, idolatry, theism, Sarveshwaraism, Bhagwatvatsalya, philosophy, superstitions, festivals, practices, and policies.

Some Western scholars believe that Puranas have come into existence only in the last hundred years in Sanskrit literature, but this opinion is no longer considered.

Puranas are religious and sacred books in the eyes of Shankaracharya and Ramanujacharya. Al-Biruni had enough information about Puranas. Al-Biruni has also listed eighteen Puranas of eighteen.

If you see it in Buddhism, the books of the Mahayana branch of Buddhism written in the first century AD are very similar to the Puranas. Substantial similarities are also found in Puranas and Lalitvistar.

The number of Puranas is eighteen but not all are of equal importance. As far as the sources of history are concerned:

  • Vishnu Purana
  • Vaayu Purana
  • Matsya Purana
  • Brahma Purana
  • Bhavishya Purana is important only.

The Puranas begin with those kings who relate their lineage to the Sun and the Moon. The geography of ancient India can also be studied by taking the Puranas as the basis.

The names of the eighteen Puranas are as follows:

Brahma PuranaPadma Purana
Vayu PuranaMatsya Purana
Narada PuranaMarkandeya Purana
Linga PuranaVaraha Purana
Garuda PuranaBrahmanda Purana
Bhavishya PuranaVamana Purana
Vishnu PuranaBhagavad Purana
Brahmavaivarta PuranaSkanda Purana
Agni PuranaKurma Purana

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Non-Brahmin Literature as Literary Sources

It includes Buddhist literature and Jain literature. Literary Sources of Ancient Indian History belonging to Non-Brahmin literature are as follows:

Buddhist literature

Buddha is founder of Buddhism. Buddhist literature add to the history.

The Tripitaka is the most important in the Buddhist text. After Mahaparinirvana of Buddha, his teachings have been compiled and divided into three parts, this is called Tripitaka.

  1. Vinayapitaka (It explains the rules of the Union and the teachings of ethics)
  2. Sutpitaka (It contains religious doctrine or religious teachings)
  3. Abhidhammapitaka (philosophical principles are stated in it)

The greatest feature of the Tripitakas is that they give a complete description of the organization of Buddhist Sanghas.

Jataka contains the story of Buddha’s former births.

Two Pali texts named Deepavansh and Mahavansh provide information about Mauryan history.

The main text of Hinayana is Kathavastu, in which the life of Mahatma Buddha is described with many stories.

The texts of Mahayana sect are Lalitvistara and Divyavadaan.

In which Lalitvistar presents a miraculous description of Buddha’s life and his works, considering him as a deity.

While Divyavadan tell us about Ashoka’s successor to Pushyamitra Sunga.

Ashwaghosh’s name tops in Sanskrit Buddhist writers. Where the Brahmin texts do not light, we get to know facts from Buddhist texts.

Jain literature

Jain literature is called Agam or Siddhanta. The approach of Jain literature is also as religious as Buddhist literature.

In Jain texts-

  • Parishistparvan
  • Bhadrabahucharit
  • Aavashyaksutra
  • Acharangasutra
  • Bhagvatisutra
  • Kalika Purana, etc are important.

Parishistparvan and Bhadrabahucharit provide details of early and later events in the life of Chandragupta Maurya.

Acharangasutra gives details of the ethics and rules of Jain monks. An interesting account of Mahavir’s life and his works are found in the Bhagavatisutra.

Many historical events are reported from these Jain texts. The early history of Jainism is known from Kalpasutra, which was written by Bhadrabahu. Puranas also have an important place in Jain literature, also known as Charit. The Jain Puranas are believed to date from the sixth century to the 16th-17th centuries.

Cosmic Literature as Literary Sources

In cosmic literature – historical texts and semi-historical texts can be specifically mentioned. There are two types of Cosmic literature that plays an important part of literary sources of ancient Indian history

Historical Works

  • Among the historical works, Kautilya’s Arthashastra is mentioned first.
  • The most important of the historical works is the Rajatarangini composed by the Kashmiri poet Kalhan. This is the first attempt to write a history in order to historical events in Sanskrit literature.
  • Like Kashmir, many historical texts have also been found in Gujarat, in which –
    • Rasamala and Kirtikoumudi by Someshwar
    • Prabandhchintamani by Merutunga
    • Prabandhkosh by Rajshekhar

Semi-Historical Works

  • Ashtadhyayi of Panini,
  • Katyayan’s Vartik and Gargi Samhita,
  • Patanjali’s Mahabhashya,
  • Mudrarakshas of Visakhadatta,
  • Malavikagnimitram of Kalidas Etc. is particularly notable.

Vyakaran Granth of Panini and Katyayan throw light on the earlier history of Mauryans and the political situation in Maurya. Gargi Singhhita is an astrological text (Jyotish Granth) There is a history of Shungas in Mahabhashya. Information about Chandragupta Maurya is received from Mudrarakshas. The political circumstances of Sunga are described in Malavikagnimitram.

In historical biographies —

  • Buddhacharit by Ashwaghosh
  • Harshcharit by Banbhatt
  • Gaudhvaho by Vakpati
  • Vikramaang Dev Charit by Bilhan
  • Navsaahsank Charit by Padhyagupt
  • Ramcharit by Sandhyakarnandi
  • Kumarpal Charit by Hemchand
  • Prithviraj Vijay by Jayanak, Etc. is important.

Like North India, many Tamil texts have also been received from South India. Sangam- literature shows the early history of Tamil country.

Thus we tried to understand in detail the literary means at the source of knowing the history of ancient India. We read all the points of the literary instrument and learned how detailed and interesting the history of ancient India was. Brahmin literature has as much importance as Buddhist and Jain literature is also the main source in knowing history.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the main literary sources of ancient history?

The main literary sources of Ancient Indian History are Vedas, Puranas, Buddhist and Jain literature, and the works created during the empires especially by any of the court poets.

Discuss the importance of foreign literature as a source of Ancient Indian History?

Foreign literature gives important details about Ancient Indian History:
1. It provides the perspective of people from outside India.
2. These sources are unbiased about the fact related to India as they are neither ruled by the Kings about whom they are writing nor any kind of caste is considered by them.
3. It provides a chronology. These accounts are written with dates.

Examples of Literary Sources of Ancient Indian History.

Some examples are – Vedas, Puranas, Buddhacharit by Ashwaghosh, Harshcharit by Banbhatt, Gaudhvaho by Vakpati, Vikramaang Dev Charit by Bilhan.

What is the importance of literary sources in Ancient Indian history?

Importance of literary sources in Ancient Indian history :
1. Literary sources narrates the story behind the events.
2. It gives us the reason why something has happened.
3. Sometimes the biographies are written by the Court Poets of the Kings. This type of source tells us about what language is used, what was a lifestyle, and every small detail about the King. The only drawback is that they are sometimes biased.

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