The Oxford History of India

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Item Code: NAH300
Publisher: Oxford University Press, New Delhi
Author: Late Vincent A. Smith and Percival Spear
Language: English
Edition: 2014
ISBN: 9780195612974
Pages: 963 (70 BW Illustrations)
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 7.0 inch X 4.5 inch
Weight 650 gm
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Book Description

About the Book


Since its first publication, Vincent Smith’s standard textbook on Indian history has been periodically revised, most comprehensively when Percival Spear edited the third edition and led the Times Literary Supplement to comment:


‘It was high time that Vincent Smith’s standard textbook ... should be brought up to date, because the original work which went to the making of it was so solidly done that it had permanent value. Dr Spear has been given, quite rightly, a very free hand as editor; he has himself largely re-written the account of the British period. This revision ... has brought into existence a book which, while recognizably that of Vincent Smith, is fully abreast both of modern historical scholarship and of modern political ideas.’ In the fourth edition Percival Spear, in a new section entitled ‘Independent India’, carries on the account from 1947, the closing year of the third edition, up to the declaration of Emergency in 1975. The new section examines the historical, political, cultural and economic developments in post-Independence India and surveys its foreign policy in the Nehru and post-Nehru eras to present a composite view of contemporary India, the factors that have moulded it, its problems and achievements.




The Oxford History of India was first published in 1919 carrying the Indian story down to 1911. It was entirely the work of the late Vincent Smith and was at once hailed as a monument of wide learning, of concise statement, and of forthright opinion. It came to be regarded as an invaluable compendium of the subject, and its solid merits have been such that it remains a live work after forty years of rapid change, not only in India itself but in opinion about its history. Smith’s history has been disparaged as dull and pilloried as prejudiced, but-there are few persistent readers who have not found the dullness allied to a regard for accuracy, and most of the prejudice to be expressions of honest even if sometimes mistaken judgement. Vincent Smith’s history has lived because it was basically founded on sound knowledge and shrewd judgement, and because these qualities were compounded with a vivid personality which made the book ‘alive’ in spite of its matter-of-fact approach. The fact that a work composed at the end of the imperial British age and in the spirit of that age is still read in contemporary independent India is sufficient evidence of its solid worth and enduring quality.


A second edition appeared in 1923. The book was revised by the late S.M. Edwardes who added a section bringing the record to 1921.


Since then an era in Indian history which seemed likely in 1912 to persist indefinitely has come to an end; not only maps but thought and a whole climate of opinion have changed; it is therefore inevitable that there should be considerable changes in any new edition. Nevertheless it has been found practicable to retain much of Smith’s work in Parts 1 and H. In the third edition a new chapter on the Indian pre- history which has come to light since Vincent Smith’s death has been written by Sir R. Mortimer Wheeler. The remainder of the Ancient Indian period (Books I-HI) has been revised by Professor A. L. Basham of the London School of Oriental and African Studies. The medieval or Muslim period (Books IV-VI) has been similarly revised by Mr. J. B, Harrison of the same School. It is revealing of Smith’s outlook and characteristic of his work that the revision of the medieval period should be more extensive than the ancient. For the British period, however, such methods would not suffice. The change in perspective has been too great; repair of the garment would have produced a patchwork, not a renovated piece. The whole part (Books VII-X) has therefore been rewritten by a single hand from what must be plainly stated to be a different point of view. The whole British period has been treated as a completed episode. It has been regarded, not as the story of the r-se and decline of British power in India, but as the story of the transformation of Indian under the impact of western power, techniques, and ideas, of which the East India Company was the harbinger and Britain the creative intermediary.


This fresh treatment of the British period has involved some problems of adjustment between Parts II and III. If Part III was to be a history of India in the time of the British rather than a History of the British in India, more attention had clearly to be paid Indian India at the outset. This meant that either sections of Part 11 must be omitted or some repetition incurred in Part III. I have thought the integration of the Mughul and British periods, and the weaving together of the British and Indian strands so important as to justify some over- lapping in the periods and some repetition of topics. Only thus can a proper historical perspective be achieved. These traits will be noticed in passages dealing with the Marathas, the Afghans in the eighteenth century, the Sikhs, and the closing scenes of the Mughul empire.


The provision of notes on authorities at the end of each chapter has been retained throughout the book. Chronological tables have been similarly retained in Parts I and II, but in Part III synchronistic chronological tables for each of the four Books VII-X have been insterted at the end of the Part. The maps and illustrations have both been completely revised.


The problem of the transliteration of Indian names and words has been a difficult one. A book hoping to be read by a wide public should be as clear as possible in its treatment of names and technical terms, but at the same time there must be some consistency and conformance to scientific usage. A further difficulty is that many Indian words have become naturalized in the English language with spellings which are familiar rather than scientific. Thus we have ‘Meerut’ for ‘Mirat’, ‘hookah’ for ‘huqa’, and ‘thug’ for ‘thag’. The last example illustrates a further complication, that of a word undergoing a change of meaning (ritual strangler to general gangster) as well as a change of spelling. The methods adopted have been as follows. In Parts I and II words have been transliterated on accepted Hunterian principles with the usual diacritical marks. The exceptions are certain well-known names, such as Akbar and Bengal. In Part III the problem has been more difficult because of the large number of Indian words naturalized into English. Here it has been felt that some sacrifice in accuracy would be well compensated by gain in intelligibility. The Hunterian system of spelling has been generally followed but diacritical marks have been usually omitted. Familiar spellings such as Cawnpore and Lucknow have been retained, but where a word has changed in meaning as well as spelling in passing into English, as ‘thug’, the correct transliteration has been given. The Concise Oxford Dictionary has been used as a guide to naturalization of Indian words into English.


Book X, Chapters 6-9, are a revised version of chapters contributed to the third edition of P. E. Roberts’s History of British India.


In preparing Part III I have received much help from many quarters. But chietly I should like to thank my wife whose encouragement and sensitive judgement have contributed so much to the completion of t-he work.




The geographical unit. The India of this book is almost exclusively’ the geographical unit called by that name on the ordinary maps of the days before partition, bounded on the north, north-west, and north-east by mountain ranges, and elsewhere by the sea. The extensive, Burmese territories, although for a time governed as part of the Indian empire, cannot be described as being part of India. Burma has a separate history, rarely touching on that of India prior to the nineteenth century. Similarly, Ceylon, although geologically a fragment detached from the peninsula in relatively recent times, always has had a distinct political existence, requiring separate historical treatment, and its affairs will not be discussed in this work, except incidentally.


Vast extent of area. Formal, technical descriptions of the geographical and physical features of India may be found in many easily accessible books, and need not be reproduced here. But certain geographical facts with a direct bearing on the history require brief comment, because, as Richard Hakluyt truly observed long ago, ‘geography and chronology are the sun and the moon, the right eye and the left eye of all history’. The large extent of the area of India, which may be correctly designated as a sub-continent, is a material geographical fact. The history of a region so vast, bounded by a coastline of about 3,400 miles, more or less, and a mountain barrier on the north some 1,600 miles in length, and inhabited by a population numbering nearly 400 millions, necessarily must be long and intricate. The detailed treatment suitable to the story of a small country cannot be applied in a general history of India. The author of such a book must be content to sketch his picture in outlines boldly drawn, and to leave out multitudes of recorded particulars.


Continental and peninsular regions. Another geographical fact, namely that India comprises both a large continental, sub-tropical area, and an approximately equal peninsular, tropical area, has had immense influence upon the history.


Three territorial compartments. Geographical conditions divided Indian history, until the nineteenth century, into three well marked territorial compartments, not to mention minor distinct areas, , such as the Konkan, the Himalayan region, and others. The three are:

(I) the northern plains forming the basins of the Indus and Ganges;

(2) the Deccan plateau lying to the south of the Narbada, and to the north of the Krishna and Tungabhadra rivers; and (3) the far south, beyond those rivers, comprising the group of Tamil states. Ordinarily, each of those three geographical compartments has had a distinct, highly complex story of its own. The points of contact between the three histories are not very numerous.


Dominance of the north. Usually the northern plains, the Aryavarta of the Hindu period, and the Hindustan of more recent times, have been the seat of the principal empires and the scene of the events most interesting to the outer world. The wide waterways of the great snow-fed rivers and the fertile level plains are natural advantages which have inevitably attracted a teeming population from time immemorial. The open nature of the country, easily accessible to martial invaders from the north-west, has given frequent occasion for the .formation of powerful kingdoms ruled by vigorous foreigners. The peninsular, tropical section of India, isolated from the rest of the world by its position, and in contact with other countries only by sea-borne commerce, has pursued its own course, little noticed by and caring little for foreigners. The historian of India is bound by the nature of things to direct his attention primarily to the north, and is able to give only a secondary place to the story of the Deccan plateau and the far south.


No southern power could ever succeed in mastering the north, but the more ambitious rulers of Aryavarta or Hindustan often have extended their sway far beyond the dividing-line of the Narbada. When Dupleix in the eighteenth century dreamed of a Franco-Indian empire with its base in the peninsula he was bound to fail. The success of the English was dependent on their acquisition of rich Bengal and their command of the Gangetic waterway. In a later stage of the British advance the conquest of the Panjab was conditioned by the control of the Indus navigation, previously secured by the rather unscrupulous proceedings of Lords Auckland and Ellenborough. The rivers of the peninsula do not offer similar facilities for penetration of the interior.


Changes in rivers. The foregoing general observations indicate broadly the ways in which the geographical position and configuration of India have affected the course of her history. But the subject will bear a little more elaboration and the discussion of certain less conspicuous illustrations of the bearing of geography upon history. Let us consider for a moment the changes in the great rivers of India, which, when seen in full flood, suggest thoughts of the ocean rather than of inland streams. Unless one has battled in an open ferry-boat with one of those mighty masses of surging water in the height of the rains, it is difficult to realize their demoniac power. They cut and carve the soft alluvial plains at their will, reeking of nothing. Old beds of the Sutlej can be traced across a space eighty-five miles wide. The Indus, the Ganges, the Kosi, the Brahmaputra, and scores of other rivers behave, each according to its ability, in the same way, despising all barriers, natural or artificial. Who can tell where the Indus flowed in the days of Alexander the Great? Yet books, professedly learned, are not afraid to trace his course minutely through the Panjab and Sind by the help of some modern map, and to offer pretended identifications of sites upon the banks of rivers which certainly were somewhere else twenty-two centuries ago. We know that they must have been somewhere else, but where they were no man can tell. So with the Vedic rivers, several of which bear the ancient names. The rivers of the Rishis were not the rivers of today. The descriptions prove that in the old, old days their character often differed completely from what it now is, and experience teaches that their courses must have been widely divergent. Commentators in their arm-chairs with the latest edition of the Indian Atlas opened out before them are not always willing to be bothered with such inconvenient facts. Even since the early Muslim invasions the changes in the rivers have been enormous, and the contemporary histories of the foreign conquerors cannot be understood unless the reality and extent of those changes be borne constantly in mind. One large river-system, based on the extinct Hakra or Wahindah river, which once flowed down from the mountains through Bahawalpur, has wholly disappeared, the final stages having been deferred until the eighteenth century. Scores of mounds, silent witnesses to the existence of numberless forgotten and often nameless towns, bear testimony to the desolation wrought when the waters of life desert their channels. A large and fascinating volume might be devoted to the study and description of the freaks of Indian rivers.


Position of cities. In connexion with that topic another point may be mentioned. The founders of the more important old cities almost invariably built, if possible, on the bank of a river, and not only that, but between two rivers in the triangle above the confluence. Dozens of examples might be cited, but one must suffice. The ancient imperial capital, Pataliputra, represented by the modem Patna, occupied such a secure position between the guarding waters of the Son and the Ganges. The existing city, twelve miles or so below the confluence, has lost the strategical advantages of its predecessor. Historians who forget the position of Pataliputra in relation to the rivers go hopelessly wrong in their comments on the texts of the ancient Indian and foreign authors.


Changes of the land. Changes in the coast-line and the level of the land have greatly modified the course of history, and must be remembered by the historian who desires to avoid ludicrous blunders. The story of the voyage of Nearchos, for instance, cannot be properly appreciated by any student who fails to compare the descriptions recorded by the Greeks with the surveys of modem geographers. When the changes in the coast-line are understood, statements of the old authors which looked erroneous at first sight are found to be correct. The utter destruction of the once wealthy commercial cities of Korkai and Kayal on the Tinnevelly coast, now miles from the sea and buried under; sand dunes, ceases to be a mystery when we know, as we do, that the coast level has risen. In other localities, some not very distant from the places named, the converse has happened, and the sea has advanced, or, in other words the land has sunk. The careful investigator of ancient history needs to be continually on his guard against the insidious deceptions of the modem map. Many learned professors, German and, others, have tumbled headlong into the pit. The subject being a hobby of mine I must not ride the steed too far.





List of Illustrations



List of Abbreviations



Part I: Ancient and Hindu India





Book I:

Ancient India



Prehistoric India: the elements of the population



Literature and civilization of the Vedic and Epic periods; the Puranas; caste



The pre-Maurya states; the rise of Jainism and Buddhism; the invasion of Alexander the Great; India in the fourth century B.C.



Hindu India from the Beginning of the Maurya Dynasty in 322 B.C. to the Seventh Century A.C.



Chandragupta Maurya, the first historical Emperor of India, and his institutions; Bindusara



Asoka Maurya and his institutions; diffusion of Buddhism; end of the Maurya dynasty; the successors of the Mauryas



The Indo-Greek and other foreign dynasties of north-western India; the Kushans or Indo-Scythians ; Greek influence; foreign commerce; beginning of Chola history



The Gupta period; a golden age; literature, art, and science; Hindu renaissance; the Huns; King Harsha; the Chalukyas; disorder in northern India



Indian Influence in South-east Asia


Book III:

The Medieval Hindu Kingdoms from the Death of Harsha in A.D. 647 to the Muslim Conquest



The transitional period; Rajputs; the Himaiayan kingdoms and their relations with Tibet and China



The northern and western kingdoms of the plains



The Kingdoms of the Peninsula



Part II: India In The Muslim Period


Book IV:

The Muslim Powers of Northern India



The rise of the Muslim power in India and the Sultanate of Delhi, A.D. 1175-1290



The Sultanate of Delhi continued; A.D. 1290 to 1340; the Khilji and Tughluq dynasties



The decline and fall of the Sultanate of Delhi, A.D. 1340-1526; the Tughluq dynasty concluded; Timur; the Sayyids; the Lodi

dynasty; Islam in Indian life



The Muslim kingdoms of Bengal, Malwa, Gujarat, and Kashmir


Book V:

The Southern Powers



The Bahmani dynasty of the Deccan, 1347-1526



The five Sultanates of the Deccan, and Khandesh, from 1474 to the seventeenth century



The Hindu empire of Vijayanagar, from A.D. 1336 to 1646


Book VI:

The Mughul Empire



The beginnings of the Mughul empire; Babur, Humayun, and the Sur dynasty, A.D. 1526-56



The early European voyages to and settlements in India; the East India Company from 1600 to 1708



Akbar, 1555-1605






Shahjahan and the War of Succession; climax of the Mughul empire



Aurangzeb Alamgir (1658-1707)



The later Mugnuls; decline of the empire; the Sikhs and Marathas



Part III: India In The British Period





Book VII:

The Rise of the British Dominion, 1740-18



English and French



The British in Bengal



Afghans, Mughuls, and Marathas



The Maratha Polity



The Age of Hastings



The Company and the State






The South, 1780-1801



Shore and Wellesley



Interlude: Barlow and Minto



Lord Hastings and Hegemony


Book VIII:

Completion and Consolidation, 1818-58



General: Hastings to Dalhousie



The Political Thread: Hastings to Hardinge, 1818-48



Foreign Policy, 1818-48: Burma and the north-west



Sind and the Panjab



Government and People: Organization of Power



The People and the Government: The Village, the Land, and Trade



Social Policy and Cultural Contacts






The Mutiny


Book IX:

Imperial India, 1858-1905



Calming and Reorganization



The Political Thread: Elgin to Elgin



Foreign and Frontier Policy, 1862-98



Economic Policy and Development, 1858-1939



The New India: Western influences



The New India: the Indian response



The States



Lord Curzon


Book X:

National India, 1905-47



The Political and Personal Thread, 1905-47



Edwardian India



The First World War and the Montford Reforms, 1914-21



The Montford Era



The Genesis of Pakistan



The 1935 Act and after



India and the War, 1939-45



Independence and Partition



Economic and Cultural Development


Book XI:

Independent India, 1947-15






Nehru’s India



Crisis and Consolidation



Planning end Hope



Difficulty and Perplexity



Post-Nehru India



Interlude and Crisis






Crisis, Confidence and Perplexity



Chronological Tables






Supplementary (Book Xl)



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