Political History of Ancient India (From the Accession of Parikshit to the Extinction of the Gupta Dynasty)

Item Code: NAG682
Publisher: Oxford University Press, New Delhi
Author: Hemchandra Raychaudhuri
Language: English
Edition: 2013
ISBN: 9780195643763
Pages: 886
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.5 inch X 5.5 inch
Weight 870 gm
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Book Description

About the Book

This book traces the political history of ancient India from the accession of Parikshit to the extinction of the Gupta dynasty. The text concerns itself chiefly with those kingdoms and empires whose influence transcended the provincial limits, and the bearings these kingdoms had upon the general course of events in the heart and nerve of the Indian subcontinent. ProfessorRaychaudhuri’s aim is to present materials for an authentic chronological history of ancient India through facts recovered from sources.

This book was first published in 1923. This eighth edition now includes a Commentary written by Professor B.N. Mukherjee. This new Commentary has taken into account the latest discoveries and research within the field of study. Major sections have been written and new interpretations have been given to he history of Mauryas, Indo-Greeks, Scytho-Parthians, Kushanas, Satvahanas, Imperial Guptas, and Vakatakas, making this work the most reliable and up-to-date account of the political history of ancient India.

About the Author

When Hemchandra Raychaudhuri passed away in Calcutta in the evening of the 4th of May, 1957, very few Indians realised the nature of the loss caused by the sad demise of the great scholar. But, to those who were acquainted with him personally or with his invaluable works, the news came as a rude shock, even though they knew that he had been suffering from a protracted illness and that there was little hope of his recovery. Still it Was a great loss ‘to them, since, even from his sick-bed, Raychaudhuri was acting as a source of inspiration to the sincere students of history.

At the beginning of his magnum opus, Political History of Ancient India published by the University of Calcutta, Raychaudhuri observes, “No Thucydides or Tacitus has left for posterity a genuine history of ancient India”, and he took upon himself the task of reconstructing this lost history in greater details than what was offered in the earlier part of Smith’s celebrated Early History of India. Smith’s attempt practically relates to the period beginning with Alexander’s invasion of India in 327-324 B.C. even though he wrote a few pages on the earlier period from c. 600 B.C. ButRaychaudhuri pushed back the commencement of the historical period to the 9th century B.C. when the great Kuru king Parikshit flourished according to the chronological scheme proposed by him.

In the first part of this magnificent work, Raychaudhuri dealt with the pre-Bimbisara period of Indian history on the basis of a careful analysis of the early Indian literary traditions which, as he showed, are not devoid of genuine historical elements. It was no easy task. He had to go through the entire Vedic and Epico-Puranic literature and various other Sanskrit and Prakrit works as well as the Buddhist and Jain texts. But proper utilisation of the great mass of material thus collected is more difficult, since that requires special competence. However” Raychaudhuri was eminently suited to the work. The great popularity of his Political History of Ancient India (from the Accession of Parikshit to the Extinction of the Gupta Dynasty) is clearly demonstrated by the fact that it has run no less than six editions since its first appearance in 1923.

Hemchandra Raychaudhuri was born on the 8th April, 1892, in the village of Ponabalia in the Buckergunge District. Son of Manoranjan Raychaudhuri, Zamindar of Ponabalia, and Tarangini Devi,Hemchandra received his early education at the Brajamohan Institution one of the best schools of the time, founded by Aswinikumar Datta at Barisal. He passed the Entrance examination of Calcutta University in 1907 having stood first among the students of the then province of East Bengal and Assam. Thereafter he came to Calcutta and studied first at the General Assembly’s Institution (later Scottish Churches College) and then at the Presidency College from which he graduated in 1911. Having stood first among all the Honours Graduates of Calcutta University during that year, Hemchandra obtained the Eshan scholarship. In 1913 he stood first in the M.A. examination in History and subsequently became a Griffith Prizeman in 19]9 and was also admitted to the degree- of Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) of Calcutta University in 1921.

Immediately after obtaining his M.A. degree, Raychaudhuri worked first as a Lecturer at the Bangabasi College, Calcutta, for a short time (1913-14) and then joined the Bengal Education Service and served at the Presidency College, Calcutta, for three years (1914-16). In 1916, he was transferred to the Government College, Chittagong. About this time, he was considerably distressed owing to the illness of his wife, whose untimely death soon afterwards acted heavily upon his nerves and the transfer increased his troubles. Fortunately, Sir Asutosh Mookerjee was then in need of talented young men for the new course of Ancient Indian History and Culture introduced in the University of Calcutta. He offered a lectureship to Raychaudhuri who readily gave up his post in the Bengal Education Service and joined the University as a Lecturer in 1917. In 1936 when D. R. Bhandarkar retired, Raychaudhuri succeeded him as Carmichael Professor and Head of the Department of Ancient Indian History and Culture, a position that he held down to June, 1952. Before this .appointment, for a year in 1928, he acted as Reader and Head of the Department of History at the University of Dacca.

As a man, Raychaudhuri had an extremely affectionate and sensitive nature. Whoever came into his contact was charmed by his amiable behaviour. He was an exceptionally successful and inspiring teacher. But he lived more or less a life of seclusion, though the urge for knowledge never allowed him any rest. He devoted all his time and energy in studies. Dr. R. C. Majumdar, while paying tribute to his memory, remarked that Hemchandra knew nothing but books.

Raychaudhuri’s scholarship was universally recognised. His treatment .of historical topics was Characterised by originality, sound judgement and learning, and he never sacrificed critical caution to the passion for novel theories. Indeed, Raychaudhuri’s name was a guarantee for dependable work. In 1946, he was made a Fellow of the Asiatic Society of Bengal and later, in 1951, was awarded the Society’s B. C. Law gold medal for his contribution to the cause of Ancient Indian History and Culture. In 1941, he had presided over a section of the Indian History Congress held at Hyderabad, while he was elected General President of the Congress for its Nagpur Session held in 1950.

It is interesting to note that, as an author, Raychaudhuri was not exceptionally prolific, and this is because he insisted on quality rather than quantity. His second famous work, entitled Materials for the Study of the Early History of the Vaishnava Sect, was published by Calcutta University and has run-two editions (1920 and 1936). It is regarded as the most useful source book by all serious students of Vaishnavism. Raychaudhuri also contributed a number of articles to learned periodicals, all of which have been incorporated in his Studies in Indian Antiquities (1932 and 1958), the second edition of which, also published by the University of Calcutta, appeared a year after hi~ death. The papers in this volume are characterised by clarity, of thought and are suggestive of the vast range of Raychaudhuri’s scholarship. He contributed chapters to such works as the Dacca University’s History of Bengal, Vol. I (1942). Even when he was bed-ridden, he contributed an important chapter to the Early History of the Deccan edited by G. Yazdani. He wrote the Advanced History of India (for B.A. Students) in collaboration with R.C. Majumdar and K.K. Datta.


In the Preface to the first edition of the Political History of Ancient India, published in 1923, Dr Hemchandra Raychaudhuri stated that the object of the book was to present a reliable political framework for the period from the accession of Parikshit’ to the rise of the family of Bimbisara of Magadha and ‘to write a history of the period from Bimbisara’ to the end of the Gupta Empire. Till then the political history of the first period had not been very seriously studied by historians. The most widely read book on ancient India (including the second of the relevant periods) was the Early History of India by V. A. Smith, which, however, did not furnish a balanced treatment of the subject. Smith’s love for Hellenism is well known. This was reflected in giving undue importance to the invasion of Alexander in the treatise concerned. On the other hand, The Cam- bridge History of India, vol. I, published in 1922, did not deal with the history of India of the times of theKushanas, post-Kushanas or the Guptas. So there was enough scope for writing a ‘new’ political history of ancient India (up to the Gupta age).

Professor Raychaudhuri, however, did not ‘intend his work to be a comprehensive survey of the political or dynastic history of every Indian province’. He was ‘chiefly concerned with those kingdoms and empires whose influence [had] transcended provincial limits and had important bearings ‘upon the general course of political events in the heart and nerve of the Indian subcontinent’ (Preface to the second edition). Prof. Raychaudhuri was striving to reach at a central theme for historical developments in India, viz. the struggle between the centripetal and centrifugal forces. Looking at history from this point of view, the act of building up an empire was an attempt at national integration. While writing ancient history in an age of nationalist movements in the first quarter of the twentieth century, the historian might have been, to some extent, influenced by the contemporary political thoughts. Nevertheless, the historian Hemchandra was deeply rooted in the sources of our knowledge about the historical developments. He critically assessed all relevant data before deducing inferences, according to his honest judgements and without being influenced by any ism. Like Leopold von Ranke, his emphasis was on facts recovered from sources. His objective was to present the past as it actually had been. (The Statesman, Miscellany, 9.8.92, pp. 8-9;Desh, 28.8.93, p. 38.)

That Hemchandra was eminently successful in accomplishing his task, is evident from the reception given to the book by successive generations of scholars and students. This treatise has not only contributed in a large measure to our knowledge of ancient India, but has also proved itself to be a seminal text book of a very high order. Its importance in the academic world is also proved by the fact that it has already gone through seven editions.

At the same time, it must be admitted that the utility of the book as containing a reliable account of ancient Indian political history in a single volume has waned over the years due to non-incorporation of the additional knowledge of the subject. The book indeed required updating Since it has not been revised since the publication of the fifth edition in 1950.

In the absence of the author, who expired in 1956, I was asked in 1992 by Oxford University Press, the publishers of the present edition, to revise the treatise. However, we decided against tampering with the text itself, which had already acquired the status of a classic. Moreover, we thought that the readers should have the right to know the last views of the author on the subjects dealt within the text. We resolved that the revision, updating, and rectification of the relevant portions would be done in a separate section to be styled ‘Commentary’.

Accordingly the ‘Commentary’ on the Text updates it. The method for using the Commentary has been explained in a note preceding it. The readers are requested to follow the instructions which will help them to utilize the Commentary profitably.

The Commentary, printed after the end of the Text, has taken into account the discoveries and researches during the last four decades. New trends in research have been clearly indicated. At the same time, emphasis has been given, like the author himself had given, on the history of the big kingdoms and empires, which have been, in their contexts, the integrating forces of the subcontinent. Economic factors in the development of political history have also been indicated, wherever evidence to that effect is available. Major sections have been written on and/or new interpretations have been given to the history of the Achaerninids, Mauryas, Indo-Greeks, Scytho-Parthians, Kushanas, Satavahanas, Imperial Guptas and Vakatakas. In course of writing the Commentary which is meant for

students as well as for established scholars, speculative theories, which often tend to distort history, have “been avoided as far as possible. The Text and the Commentary, taken together, are expected to provide the readers with a reliable and up-to-date account of the political history of ancient India up to the end of the Gupta age.


Part I

From The Accession of Parikshit to the Coronation ofBimbisara


Chapter I



I. Foreword



II. Sources


Chapter II

Kurus and Videhas


I. The Age of the Parikshitas



II. The Age of the Great Janaka



III. The Later Vaidehas of Mithila



IV. The Deccan in the Age of the Later Vaidehas


Chapter III

Mahajanapadas and Kingship


I. The Sixteen Mahajanapadas



II. An Epic Account of the Mahajanapadas



III. The Fall of Kasi and the Ascendancy of Kosala



IV. Kingship


Part II

From the Coronation of Bimbisara to the Extinction of the Gupta Dynasty


Chapter I



I. Foreword



II. Local Autonomy and Imperial Unity


Chapter II

The Rise of Magadha


I. General Character of the Period



II. Republics in the Age of Bimbisara



III. The Minor Principalities and the Great Monarchies



IV. Magadha Crescent-Bimbisara



V. Magadha Militant-Kunika-Ajatasatru



VI. Ajatasatru’s Successors-The Transfer of Capital and the Fall of Avanti



VII. Chronology of the Haryanka-Saisunaga Kings



VIII. The Nandas


Chapter III

The Persian and Macedonian Invasions


I. The Advance of Persia to the Indus



II. The Last of the Achaemenids and Alexander


Chapter IV

Themaurya Empire: the Era of Digvijaya


I. The Reign of Chandragupta Maurya



II. The Reign of Bindusara



III. The Early Years of Asoka


Chapter V

The Maurya Empire: the Era of Drama Vijaya and Decline


I. Asoka after the Kalinga War



II. The Later Mauryas and the Decline of their Power


Chapter VI

The Baimbika Sunga Empire and the Bactrian Greeks


I. The Reign of Pushyamitra



II. Agnimitra and his Successors



III. Importance of the Baimbika-Sunga Period of Indian History


Chapter VII

The Fall of Me Magadhan and Indo-Greek Powers


I. The Kanvas, the Later Sungas and the Later Mitras



II. The Satavahanas and the Chetas



III. The End of Greek Rule in North-West India’


Chapter VIII

Scythian Rule in Northern India


I. The Sakas



II. The Pahlavas or Parthians



III. The Great Kushans



IV. The Nagas and the Later Kushans


Chapter IX

Scythian Rule in Southern and Western India


I. The Kshaharatas



II The Restoration of the Satavahana Empire



III. The Sakas of Ujjain and Kathiawar



IV. Administrative Machinery of the Scythian Period


Chapter X

The Gupta Empire: The Rise of the Gupta Power


I. The Foundation of the Gupta Dynasty



II. Chandra Gupta I



III. Samudra Gupta Parakramanka


Chapter XI

The Gupta Empire (Continued): The Age of theVikramadityas


I. Chandra Gupta II Vikrarnaditya



II. Kumara Gupta I Mahendraditya



III. Skanda Gupta Vikramaditya


Chapter XII

The Gupta Empire (Continued): The Later Guptas


I. Survival of the Gupta Power after Skanda Gupta



II. Puru Gupta and Narasimha Gupta Baladitya



III. Kumara Gupta II and Vishnugupta



IV. Budha Gupta



V. Successors of Budha Gupta



VI. The Line of Krishna Gupta





Appendix A: The Results of Asoka’ s Propaganda in Western Asia



Appendix B: A Note on the Chronological Relation of Kanishkaand Rudradarnan I



Appendix C: A Note on the Later Guptas



Appendix D: The Decline of the Early Gupta Empire



Commentary : By B.N. Mukherjee



A Note on the use of the Commentary








Bibliographical Index to the



Text General Index to the Text



Index to the Commentary








India in the Age of Janaka (facing)



Ancient Dakshinapatha (facing)



The Mahajanapadas of Ancient India and East Iran (facing)



Bharatavarsha (facing)



India in the Age of the Later Guptas (facing)



Genealogical And Synchronistic Tables


Genealogy of the Parikshita Family



Succession of Some Vedic Teachers



Traditional Genealogy of the Pradyotas



Suggested Chronological Table [of the Bimbisarid SaisunagaPeriod]



Genealogy of the Maurya Dynasty



The Satvahanas


Sample Pages

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