DISCUSSION / VIVEKANAND JHA*
Ancient Indian Political History:
Possibilities and Pitfalls**
The theme paper 'Writing of Political History of Ancient India: New Trends and Prospects' by Professor S.R. Goyal has not come a day too soon. Professor Goyal is a senior academic based in a university and an author of several books on ancient Indian political history. His position, scholarship and experience entitle him to share his thoughts on the .'tate of the discipline. He is frankly dissatisfied with the chronological narration of political events with attention primarily focused on kings or dynasties in most research works.1 He finds monographs on two successive monarchs describing the same political and administrative set-up inane and boring. Merely paraphrasing material from literary chronicles or inscriptions is dubbed 'pseudo-history'. Treatment of political history as unrelated to history of other aspects of life is, according to him, out of date. Thus writing on the decline of Magadha in the fifth-tenth centuries AD without due stress on the phenomenon of feudalism or proper appreciation of the social, economic and religious milieu is regarded inadequate. Not identifying feudalism as the central theme of the early medieval Rajasthan polity is considered an avoidable lapse. Professor Goyal heavily underlines the need to outgrow the narrow and antiquated framework of the pioneering and distinguished authors of ancient Indian political history who were seriously handicapped by the paucity of sources and undeveloped methods and techniques of interpretation. He feels that ancient Indian political history has over the decades been losing ground to social, economic and cultural history.2 He is not sure if the position of primacy political history once held can be fully retrieved. He is, however, keen
* Director (Journal, Publications and Library), ICHR, New Delhi. "w The article has been written in response to a paper 'Writing of Political History of Ancient India: New Trends and Prospects' by Professor S.R. Goyal, Head of the Department of History, Jodhpur University, circulated among a large number of scholars for their reaction, is confined to issues raised by him and no attempt is made here to present my own comprehensive view on the subject. I am grateful to Professor R.S. Sharma, Professor Irfan Habib and Professor B.D. Chattopadhyaya for their useful comments. An earlier version was presented at the Golden Jubilee session of the Indian History Congress held at Gorakhpur University from 30 December 1989 to 1 January 1990.