Understanding History Sources - Part 1

January 31, 2018


 Why Important????

It is important to understand History Sources for both Prelims and Mains. We observe direct questions from this topic in Prelims and it helps to add content in our Art and Culture answers in Mains. Also, there have been direct questions in Mains like the one in 2016 mains dealing with the literary contribution of Krishnadevaraya. 


Previous Year Questions from this Section


Prelims Questions


1. Which one of the following books of ancient India has the love story of the son of the founder of Sunga dynasty?

         a) Swapnavasavadatta

         b) Malavikagnimitra

         c) Meghadoota

         d) Ratnavali


2. With reference to the religious history of India, consider the following statements:

          1) The concept of Bodhisattva is central to Hinayana sect of Buddhism

          2) Bodhisattva is a compassionate one oh his way to enlightenment.

          3) Bodhisattva delays achieving his own salvation to help all sentient beings on their path to it.


Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

         a) 1 only

         b) 2 and 3 only

         c) 2 only

         d) 1, 2 and 3


Mains Questions


1. Krishnadeva Raya, the King of Vijayanagar, was not only an accomplished scholar himself but was also a great patron of learning and literature. Discuss.


Thus it can be said that every now and then questions are being asked from this segment and thus the topic is sine qua non for any serious aspirant.


Notes with Key-points for remembering


1. Indian Grammer:





  1. They have the status of Shruti (that which has been heard).

  2. Smriti includes Vedanga, Puranas, Epics, Dharmashastras and Nitishastras.


Veda comes from the root word Vid (literally, 'to know') and means knowledge. There are 4 Vedas:

  1. Rig Veda: Collection of 1028 hymns arranged in 10 books (Mandals).

  2. Sama Veda: Consist of 1810 verses arranged according to the needs of musical notation.

  3. Yajur Veda: Deals with the details of the performance of rituals.

  4. Atharva Veda: It is the latest Veda and contains hymns, but also spells and charms which reflect aspects of popular beliefs and practices.


Each Veda is further subdivided into 4 categories, namely:

  1. Samhita: Methodical collection of verses. Book 2-7 of Rig Veda Samhita are the oldest.

  2. Brahmanas: Prose explanation of the Samhita portions and give details and explanations of sacrificial rituals and their outcomes.

  3. Aranyakas: Aranyakas means Forest books. They interpret sacrificial rituals in a symbolic and philosophical way.

  4. Upanishad: There are 108 Upanishads among which 13 are principal ones. They are closely associated with the concepts of atman and brahman.


Recensions(Shakhas) of the Vedas:

  1. Rig Veda: Shakala shakha.

  2. Sama Veda: Kautuma, Ranayaniya and Jaiminiya (or Talvakara).

  3. Yajur Veda: Divided into

    1. Shukla (White) school: Recensions are called as Vajasaneya.

      1. Madhyandina

      2. Kanva

    1. Krishna (Black) school.

      1. Kathaka

      2. Kapisthala

      3. Maitrayani

      4. Taittiriya.

    1. Main difference between the text of White and Black school is that White school contains only mantras, while Black school text contains mantras accompanied by a commentary describing and discussing various aspects of the sacrificial rituals.

  4. Atharva Veda: Shaunaka and Paippalada.


Rig Veda refers to a battle where one king named Sudas defeated 10 kings who formed a confederation against him.

Vedanga: Limbs of Vedas

  1. Aimed at helping the proper recitation, use and understanding of the Vedas.

  2. These include works on

    1. Phonetics (Shiksha)

    2. Metre (Chhanda)

    3. Grammar (Vyakarana)

    4. Etymology (Nirukta)

    5. Ritual (Kalpa)

    6. Astronomy (jyotisha)


Sanskrit Epics : Ramayana and Mahabharata


  1. Written by Valmiki.

  2. It mentions Kurus, Hastinapur, Janamejaya but not Mahabharata.

  3. It exists into two main Recensions:

    1. Northern Recension.

      1. More elaborate and polished than southern one.

    2. Southern Recension.

  4. Basics:

    1. Rama is prince of Kosala.

    2. Valmiki appears in the Balakanda where he is inspired to compose the epic and in Uttarakanda where he gives refuge to Sita who has been disowned by Rama.

  5. Different Versions of Ramayana.

    1. Jain Version: Called Paumachariu of Vimalasuri in Prakrit.

      1. In Paumachariu Ravana is presented as a tragic hero who is killed by Lakshmana, not by Rama (who embodies all the Jain virtues, including non-violence).

    2. Buddhist version: Dashratha Jataka in Pali.

    3. Tamil version: Iramavataram by Kamban.

    4. Ramacharitmanas by Tulsidas.



  1. Written by Vyasa as per mythology, but it is believed that it is not the work of a single individual.

  2. Consists of 18 Parvas (books) and two main recensions - Northern and Southern recensions.

  3. Outlines the Rama story in a section called Ramopakhyana. Also refers to Valmiki.


Historical Reasons that say Mahabharata happened earlier than Ramayana:

  1. Setting of Mahabharata is Indo-Gangetic divide and the upper Ganga valley while in the Ramayana centre of activity has shifted eastward to the middle Ganga valley.

  2. Strong women character in Mahabharata suggests earlier stage in social development.

  3. Practice of Niyoga (levirate) was seen in Mahabharata while in Ramayana there is stricter control over women.



  1. Purana means old.

  2. Puranas were composed by Vyasa. Although it is clear that it is not the work of a single person.

  3. There are 18 Mahapuranas:

    1. Vishnu

    2. Narada

    3. Bhagvata (10th century)

    4. Garuda

    5. Padma

    6. Varaha

    7. Matsya: It says that a flood in the Ganges led to change in the capital from Hastinapur to Kaushambi after Mahabharata.

    8. Kurma

    9. Linga

    10. Shiva

    11. Skanda (14th to 16th century)

    12. Agni

    13. Brahmanda

    14. Brahmavaivarta

    15. Markandeya : Satyamev Jayate

    16. Bhavishya

    17. Vamana

    18. Brahma

  1. Puranas were supposed to have five characteristics (pancha-lakshanas) i.e. five topics:

    1. Sarga: Creation of world

    2. Prati-sarga: Re-creation of the world

    3. Manvantaras: The period of various Manus.

    4. Vamsha: Genealogies of gods and Rishis.

    5. Vamshanucharita: Account of royal dynasties.

  2. Concept of Time in Puranas:

    1. There are four yugas - krita, treta, dvapara and kali. All consisting of thousands of years.

    2. Four yugas together form Mahayuga.

    3. 1000 Mahyuga constitute a Kalpa.

    4. Every Kalpa is divided into 14 Manvantaras, each presided over by a Manu.

    5. One Yuga follows other and the periodic destruction of the world is followed by its re-creation.

    6. Cycle of time is connected with the cyclical decline and revival of Dharma.

  3. Kali Yuga starts with the death of Krishna.

  1. Puranas do talk about Haryankas, Shaishunagas, Nandas, Mauryas, Shungas, Kanvas and Andhras (Satvahanas). Dynastic list ends with Gupta's (4th to 6th century).


Dharmashastras: Sanskrit texts especially dealing with Dharma.

  1. Purusharthas are mentioned:

    1. Dharma: Righteous Conduct.

    2. Artha: Material Well-being.

    3. Kama: Sensual pleasure

    4. Moksha: Deliverance from the cycle of rebirth.

  2. Obligation of dharma are considered as applicable to and binding on everybody. Dharma also means duty

  3. Dharmashastras are further divided into three groups:

    1. Dharmasutras (600 to 300 BCE):

      1. Part of Vedanga literature as well as Dharmashastra corpus.

      2. Vedanga literature includes the Kalpasutras (aphorisms on rituals) which are divided into

        1. Shrautasutras : Deals with vedic sacrifices that required the use of at least three fires

        2. Grihyasutras: Deal with simple domestic sacrifices like Ghee, flower and requiring the use of only one fire.It also include Samskaras i.e. rituals marking important life stage such as upanayana (initiation),              vivaha (marriage) and antyeshti (funerary rites).

        3. Dhramasutras: Deal with Dharma.

    2. Smritis (200 BCE to 900 CE)

    3. Brief and elaborate commentaries (Tikas and Bhashyas collections with comments and conclusions (Nibandhas) and compendia of views from different texts (Sangrahas) all composed between 9th and 19th century.

  4. Dharmashastras recognize three sources of Dharma:

    1. Shruti: Vedas

    2. Smriti: Smriti Texts

    3. Sadachara or Shishttachara: Good customs or the practice of the learned, cultured people.

  5. A persons dharma depend on gender, age, marital status, varna and ashrama.

  6. Varna:



    1. Brahmana

    2. Kshatriya

    3. Vaishya

    4. Shudra Note: First three of these are referred to in the Brahminical tradition as Dvija (twice born) as they alone have the right to wear the sacred thread which is considered similar to a second birth.

  7. Ashrama: It divided the life of Dvija male into 4 stages:

    1. Brahmacharya: Celibate student hood.

    2. Grihastha: Householder stage

    3. Vanaprastha: Partial renunciation

    4. Sannyasa: Complete renunciation.

These ashrams were not obligatory. They represented an ideal scheme. It was not supposed to apply, even as an ideal, to women or Shudras.

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