Communalism and the Writing of Medieval Indian History: A Reappraisal
UNTIL very recently the writing of medieval Indian history primarily turned on an eloquent enumeration of the glorious achievements of great emperors; equally eloquent was the description of their failures. One way or the other, the emperor stood at the centre of all that was considered worthy of the historian's concern.
To a considerable extent this concern was inherited from the large number of Indian historians who wrote their books during the medieval centuries themselves, contemporaneously or near-contemporaneously with the events they had narrated, the contemporary historians as we call them. These contemporary historians were invariably members of the imperial or the provincial court and were often partisans of one or the other faction of the intrigue-ridden polity. Not seldom did they actually participate in the events they had described; equally frequently they or their friends or relations were eye-witnesses to such events. Inevitably, arising from each historian's predilections, his version of events was at considerable variance with those of the others even as they described the same events.1
Yet, there was much* that they shared with one another. As members of the court, their attention was confined to their surroundings. The events they narrated were events in which the court's involvement was immediate and direct: accession of a ruler, rebellions against him, his conquests, administrative measures, punishments meted out by him as also- rewards given, conspiracies hatched for or against him, his deposition or death, etc.2 Even as the historians' sympathies varied, they were all concerned about the stabilitity of the polity as a whole, though individually each might have liked it to lean in his direction, if only just a little.
Clearly the emperor was the pivot around which this whole polity revolved; he ruled on behalf of the entire ruling class, keeping all the factions together, dealing firmly with overambitious individuals or groups who tried to disrupt the overall unity and being benign to those who
*Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.