Ancient India

Sources of Indian History

The sources of the Indian history give details about the political, social, economic and religious aspects of that time. The sources of Indian history can be classified under the following heads

1. Archaeological Sources

(i) Inscriptions

(ii) Numismatics

(iii) Monuments and Artefacts

2. Literary Sources

(i) Religious and Secular Literature

(ii) Foreign Accounts

The Prehistoric Period

The Prehistoric period in the history of the mankind can roughly be dated from 2,00,000 BC, to about 3500-2500 BC when the first civilisation began to take shape.

Stone Age

The age when the Prehistoric man began to use stones for utility purpose is called ‘the stone age’. 

It is divided into 3 broad categories namely: Paleolithic Age, Mesolithic Age and Neolithic Age, on the basis of the specialisation of stone tools.

Paleolithic Age (Up to 100 BC)

During this period, human beings were essentially food gatherers and animal hunters.

They learned the art of making stone tools, which were used for various purposes like hunting, flaking,
tearing etc.

By this time, human beings had started using fire.

Important Paleolithic sites in India are Bellan Valley (UP), Luni Valley (Rajasthan), Bhimbetka (MP) etc. 

Mesolithic Age (9000 BC – 4000 BC)

Major climate change happened during this period.

 Stone tools belonging to this period
sharp. These are known as ‘microliths’. e.g. blades, sickle, knives etc.

 Domestication of animals and cultivation of plants were seen for the first time. Among the domesticated animals, sheep and goats were the most common.

Important Mesolithic sites in India are Brahmagiri (Mysore), Narmada, Vindhya, Sarai Nahar Rai etc.

Neolithic Age (4000 BC – 1800 BC)

It is also known as the ‘New Stone Age’. It is characterised by the starting of the agricultural activity.

An important invention of this age was wheel.

Important Neolithic sites in India are lnamgao, Burzahom (Kashmir), Mehargarh (Pakistan), Hallur (Andhra Pradesh), etc.

Chalcolithic Age (1800 BC – 1000 BC)

This period is characterised by the use of metals like copper, bronze along with the stone.

 The presence of painted pottery is a hallmark of this period.

The largest site of the period is Diamabad which is situated on the left bank of the Pravara river.

Indus Valley Civilisation

 It is also known as ‘Harappan civilisation’ because Harappa was the first site to be discovered. Geographically, Indus Valley civilisation extends upto Mandu (Jammu and Kashmir) in the North, Alamgirpur (U.P) in the East, Sutkagendor (Makran Coast) in the West and Diamabad (Maharashtra) in the South

Most important finding of the civilisation is the Harappan seal, which was made up of steatite. Important features of the civilisation were town planning, drainage system, great bath, granary, burial practices etc. Large variety of crops were grown by the Harappan people, including cotton.

 Iron was not known to the people of Indus Valley civilisation.

 Harappan script is pictographic and Boustrophedon ( is written from right to left). Important animals known were Rhino, Elephant, Tiger Buffalo, Sheep, Goat, Dog, Cat etc.

Two important deties worshipped by the people Indus Valley civilisation were Pashupatinath and Mother Goddess.

Metals known to Indus Valley people include gold, silver, copper, tin etc

Vedic Period

Vedic civilisation began with the arrival of Aryans in India. Though the original land of the Aryans is a disputed topic, still they are believed to have been migrated from Central Asia. The vedic  period can be divided into the following two categories

Early Vedic Period

This period is also known as ‘Rig vedic period’ because Rig Veda was composed during this period.

Geographical Extent

Rig Veda is the only source of knowledge for this period.

 It mentioned about 40 rivers and considered Sindhu as the most pious river.

 It also mentioned the region named Sapta Sindhu (7 rivers), Himvant (Himalaya) and Manjuvant (Hindukush).

From the names of the rivers and mountains, we get a clear idea of the geographical area in which Rig vedic people lived.


Dominated by monarchical form of government but some non-monarchical states were also there.

 Rajan (King) was the protector of the Jana (tribe).

Tribal assemblies like Sabha, Samiti, Vidhata acquired importance.

Important royal officials were Senani (army chief) Gramini (village head) and Purohit (domestic priest).


Sensor Society was Patriarchal (male dominated) in nature.

The family (Kula) was the basic unit of the social organisation .

Caste consciousness was not developed.

The word ‘Varna’ was used with reference to Arya or Dasa having fair or dark complexion respectively.

Women were respected by the society.

 There was no evidence of child marriage.


The early vedic religion was naturalistic.

The mode of prayer involves recitation of mantras and performance of sacrifices.

Important deities were Indira, Varuna, Agni,Soma.


They were pastoralist and cattle rearing people.

Cow was their major wealth.

Later Vedic Period


Aryans now moved Eastwards and occupied Western and Eastern UP and Bihar.

The centre of culture now shifted from Saraswati to Ganges (Madhya Desa).


Large kingdoms came into being.

Idea of ‘Rashtra’ emerged during this period.

Sabha, Samiti lost their importance.


Varna system got shaped and the society got divided into Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra.

Purushasukta hymn (10th mandala) talks about the varna system. Status of women declined and institutior of Gotra appeared.


Indra and Agni lost their relevance.

Prajapati (Creator) and Vishnu (Preserver) became important Gods.

Priestly class became important.


Initially trade was conducted through the barter system but later on coins called “nishka” came in use.

Vedic Literature

The term Veda’ means ‘to know or knowledge par excellence’. The Vedic literature is divided into two categories

• Shruti-Based on Hearing
• Smriti-Based on Memory

There are 4 vedas under the category of shruti. These are Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda and Atharva Veda.

Rig Veda is the oldest which consists of 1028 hymns.

Sama Veda is a book of Chants. Yajur Veda is book of sacrificial prayers and deals with the rituals and Atharva Veda contains magical formulas.


These are the prose commentaries on various vedic hymns.

They explain the hidden meaning behind the hymns.


Aranyakas means ‘belonging to forests’.

These are called ‘Forest Texts’ because they are designed for the hermits residing in forests, to give them vedic knowledge.

The Upanishads

 The Upanishads are philosophical texts.

There are 108 Upanishads and Vrihadaranyaka is the oldest Upanishad.

The word ‘Satyameva Jayate’ has been derived from Mundaka Upanishad.


There are two Mahakavyas.

Mahabharat written by Ved Vyas is the longest epic of the world.

Ramayana written by Valmiki is the oldest epic of the world.

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