The pursuit of the Southasian past

Moving beyond the colonial-era understanding of the history of the Subcontinent gives us a whole new way of looking at the Subcontinent’s past. This now includes not just the usual explorations of politics and economy, but also of social, cultural and religious issues – as well as the writing of history in the first place.

By : Romila Thapar (courtesy Himal Magazine, July issue)

Sixty years ago, at the time of Indian Independence, we in the region inherited a history of the Subcontinent shaped by two substantial views of the past: the colonial and the nationalist. Both were primarily concerned with chronology and with sequential narratives. The focus was on those in power, a focus that has been basic to much of the writing of history. There was information on the action of kings and dynasties, on governors-general and viceroys, and on various national leaders. On these, there was broad agreement. What was contested, although only partially, was the colonial representation of early Indian society. The colonial view was a departure from earlier Indian historical traditions, and drew on European preconceptions of Indian history. The use of history to legitimise power had changed from the rule of dynasties to colonial and nationalist definitions of power. […]