Medieval India: Sources

Learning Goals:

Different sources are used by historians to study the past, depending on;

Historians and their sources

The sources used by historians in the period 700 to 1750 (the Medieval Period) were quite different from the ones used in the period of Gupta dynasty and Hashavardhana. There is definitely some continuity in the sources used by the historians of both the distinct periods. For example, for obtaining information they still relied on

But there is also significant discontinuity in the sources used by the historians of both the distinct periods. Some of the changes in the sources are as follows:

Use of Paper

Paper was used to write holy texts, chronicles of rulers, letters and teachings of saints, petitions and judicial records, and for registers of accounts and taxes. Manuscripts were collected by wealthy people, rulers, monasteries and temples. They were placed in libraries as well as archives. These manuscripts and documents were rich and vital sources of information for the historians. But they were difficult to use.

Copying manuscripts

Since printing press was not available in the ancient times, scribes copied manuscripts by hand. This was a challenging task because there are instances where the handwriting is not very clear and legible. Hence, while copying they were forced to guess what was written. Consequently there are small but significant changes in the original record and the copied record. Over many rounds of copying, these small differences got accumulated and became big enough to bring about a substantial difference in texts. This is a serious matter because we rarely find the original manuscript of the author today. We are therefore dependent on the copies made by later scribes. Hence historians have to read many copies of manuscripts, i.e. different versions of manuscripts before concluding what was originally written.

Revision of Chronicles: Some authors revised their chronicles at different times. The fourteenth century chronicler Ziyauddin Barani wrote his chronicle first in 1356 and wrote another version two years later. Both the versions differ from each other. Historians were not aware of the existence of the earlier version till the 1960s because it remained lost in large library collections.

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