While we read a lot of books for variety of reasons, underneath all the reading experiences, there is a learning. Fiction allows you to think about problems and solutions in lives of fictional characters in a vicarious way, while non-fiction allows you to read the author’s point of view and critical thoughts on a particular topic, providing information on an unfamiliar subject and encouraging the reader to contribute their own thoughts which could be observations from other writings or personal experiences.
Perusing the books that present the summary of Indian history based on archival studies, we came across author Vijender Sharma’s book Essays on Indic History. The book was available for reading as part of the Kindle Unlimited offers, and so here are our thoughts on the book on behalf of Team ThinkerViews.
|Book Title||:||Essays on Indic History
History of India and Everything Indian
|Published by||:||Indic History ( 10 July 2020))|
|# of Pages||:||244 (Paperback) 208; 896 KB (Kindle EBook)|
|# of Chapters||:||37|
Let us take a look at the cover page of this book.
Designed with a minimalistic approach, this cover page with a dark background is studded with a humpy cow. Reminding you of the various symbols found at archeological sites and caves, it adds to the authenticity of the book. The designers must be appreciated for making such an interesting cover page with a handful of elements.
The tagline provides the information about the book and its content effectively.
I like the cover page of this book.
The Book and our Review:
Considering the nature of the book being collection of the essays, we would combine the brief descriptions of the contents and our thoughts in one segment.
I would start with the author’s note and dedications at the start of the book which refer to the famous quest of truth paraphrased from the Nasadiya Sukta. One of our favourite translations remains the one sported in ‘Discovery of India – Bharat Ek Khoj’ – TV series – the hymn Shrishti se pehle sat nahi tha….
Do we know everything? Do we know what truth is? Is science the truth? Or is God the Truth?
As the author notes, the book is an attempt to make reading history enjoyable and yet present authentic non-political history of India.
The first chapter starts with the first footprints on Indian soil, going back to the ice age and tracing the journey of humans from Africa to India via Arabia. Stone age follows and then the tendency to form groups and live in clusters:
The human migration was not a one-time event and eventually such groups achieved domestication of crops and animals ensuring food security and population growth.
Neolithic era follows from 7500 BCE to 6000BCE and we learn about the sites Mehrgarh and Bhirrana, how they were discovered, what do they tell us about the people living in them and then the author devotes a few chapters to the findings of Harappan sites. You may have come across other works about the Harappan sites and Indus valley civilization, which was spread across almost one third area of India.
The Indus-Saraswati valley civilisation is discussed through number of chapters including various aspects like geopolitical spread and systems, transition from pastoral nomadism to a settled agricultural way of living, comparative analysis with civilisations of Egypt, Babylon and China, means of irrigation, design and building of cities, modes of transports, ways of conducting business, etc. The author describes how the civilisation has come to be known through the associated rivers that sustained those:
Statistics shows that a third of the mature Harappan sites are located in the Saraswati valley while around 37% are located in the Indus valley, 27% are in Gujarat, independent of either the Sindhu or Saraswati.
The planning and layout of Harappan cities is of envy to any modern day city:.
The obsession with precision of the Harappan times has been long lost, and most if our cities are now unplanned – and mostly have a sorry state of civic amenities and non-existent public infrastructure. Bronze age was probably better when it came to Indian cities
While we have heard a fair bit about the infrastructure, the author also discusses levels of literacy, tools and engineering, trading practices and whether the governance was through a monarch or through councils, as it appears that most of the Harappan cities were ruled independently.
Archaeologists have found striking uniformity in the weights and measure excavated from various places, which follow exactly the same binary and decimal systems with the same ratios.
This highly functional civilisation faced decline by 1800-1700 BCE, most likely due to forces of nature and changes in climate and landscape. Its people moved away from their homes in search of new homes. There are many theories and there will be some more about this change, as more evidence is unearthed:
Like every science, archaeology is also evolving. With every new site, there is likely more evidence and new scientific tools to interpret it. But with available evidence, we can say that the chariot-riding Aryans did not destroy the civilization. Multiple, non-violent, natural factors are more likely to have caused a gradual decline of the civilization.
The author devotes some chapters to various parts of India including Western and Southern regions, and then we visit the era where Alexander’s campaign took place from 334 – 329 BCE. His battles are revisited and the following era where Greeks stayed in the Northern part of the subcontinent is described. While I enjoyed reading all the above chapters, I also thoroughly enjoyed the following chapters, which now move on to new beginnings in the common era and the author introduces us to archival records, transcripts, and travel diaries that capture a screenshot here and there of the Indian society and culture as it was then. And art and culture seem to have prospered in wake of settlements that moved on from survival to comfort and affluence:
One of the signs to assess the prosperity of a society is by looking at its art and leisure activities. Basic idea being that there was surplus food to sustain families and communities. Once the basic requirement of food is met, humans start engaging in luxuries like art forms and games.
We read about the variety of records that capture discussions, e.g., Alexander’s interactions with the monks about impossible questions and impossible answers:
How long it was honourable for a man to live?
As long as he does not think it better to die than to live..
I liked the discussion about the Kushan kingdoms, focusing on the evolvement of language as well as religious influences that eventually led to works of arts like Milindpanha and the awe-inspiring images of Buddha, that have travelled the world. Kushan king Kanishka was instrumental in changing the iconography of Buddhism and the dynasty also introduced the elliptical domes in their architecture. Above all, this era is a great sample of assimilation of peoples and cultures.
The book now moves to sciences including Astronomy and Mathematics, with the source of first recorded zero being a 3rd century manuscript unearthed in Bakshali village. Many a theories have been posed about why India would be the place to have conceived zero:
The concept of zero comes from a culture that is quite happy to conceive of the infinite and of nothing, as nothing is part of their philosophical culture. The acceptance of timelessness and cyclican nature of universe and creation probably led aninet Indians to believe that our existence is not limited by our lifetime or by known history. The all accepting and expanded Indian mind was never at odds with the idea of unknown, abstract and accepted it with equal ease as it accepted the known.
Human mind also questions abstract ideas. It also tries to find answers to those abstract questions. The quest to know about our existence, the reason for our existence, to seek the truth, to escape the miseries of life, is probably as old as civilastions or may be older. Such questions fall in the realms of philosophy.
While it is good to see the Indian mathematicians, medical practitioner and scientists through their works that have now survived centuries, we also have the accounts of the travelers like Xuanzang, who braved incredible hardships to visit this land. I liked how the author points out that every piece of writing also carries the objective of the writer, and may sometimes be influenced by the author’s beliefs:
If one reads the translation of Xuanzang’s travels, one would immediately see the partisan approach in his work. These are not historical texts, just a high-level account of society and life in India they saw in their travels.
I enjoyed the book for its factual summation of the archaeological finds and surviving transcripts to sketch the history of the Indian subcontinent. In spite of multiple references to such works, the author has managed to keep the book an easy read. The boundaries and timelines are clearly explained and tables are presented with statistics for items like number of archaeological sites, details of Mahajanpada members, etc. I also liked that the author tries to cover the areas outside the Norhtern plains and shows us how more archaeological surveys may tell us more about the areas of India, which are not explored extensively yet.
An educational collection of essays that summarize the finds and known information about the historical and cultural details of life in Indian subcontinent in political and cultural aspects..
Around 7.5 stars out of 10.
Quick Purchase Links:
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- Buy - Essays on Indic History by Vijender Sharma - Kindle EBook - Amazon US
Over To You:
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