Early India: From the Origins to AD 1300

Romila Thapar

University of California Press 2002
A book review by Danny Yee © 2003 http://dannyreviews.com/
Early India is a broad-ranging history of India down to 1300 AD, covering politics, society, art, religion, economics and more and drawing on what feels like an encyclopedic knowledge of written sources, Indian and foreign, and archaeological evidence. Some excerpts from documents and inscriptions, maps, and site plans are included, but the text is mostly unadorned. The result is dense and sometimes dry, but never dull, as Thapar has a knack for integrating details into the broader picture.

The two opening chapters cover Indian historiography and geography; the remainder are ordered chronologically, though towards the end they are also split into north/south pairs. Though they provide a chronological framework, individual chapters are organised thematically. The chapter "Threshold Times: c. AD 300-700", for example, has sections on "classicism", "the Guptas and their successors", "Harsha", "indicators of a changing political economy", "urban life", "social mores", "systems of knowledge", "creative literature", "architecture, art and patronage", "religious formulations", and "India and Asia".

Thapar keeps her speculation restrained but tries to tease out, from the often limited evidence, broad aspects of political systems, structures of ordinary life, and patterns of social change. At the same time she tries to do justice to the diversity of India, both regional and temporal, and to avoid unwarranted generalisations. She is balanced and dispassionate, and for that very reason has been attacked by Hindu nationalists who view history primarily as a weapon in contemporary political disputes.

Early India is a synthesis, not a survey, and it lacks full references. What it has is probably more useful for most readers: twenty five pages of select bibliographies, broken down not only by chapter but by section within each chapter. Early India is not a rewrite of Thapar's earlier A History of India, but a completely new work. It is intended to be the first volume of a three part history of India, but can stand by itself.

November 2003

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- details at University of California Press
Related reviews:
- books about India + Indian history
- more ancient history
- books published by University of California Press
%T Early India
%S From the Origins to AD 1300
%A Thapar, Romila
%I University of California Press
%D 2002
%O hardcover, bibliography, index
%G ISBN 0520238990
%P xxx,556pp