How are we Tracing Changes Through a Thousand Years?: All the History

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How are we Tracing Changes Through a Thousand Years?

We all have heard the saying, “the only thing constant is change”. Nothing expresses this phenomenon better than a lesson in history. While we study history, what we are actually doing is tracing changes through ages and understanding how we got here! While the philosophical aspect of this question remains unanswered, thankfully the geographical one has been explained to quite an extent.

Tracing Changes

Cartography is a study of maps. The oldest map of Indian sub-continent that we have is from 1154, by an Arab geographer Al-Idrisi. Another one from a French cartographer in the year 1720, help us get an idea of how the geographical boundaries of the Indian Sub-continent evolved. However, since there is a gap of 200 odd years between the two cartographers, the terminologies also differ.

Terminologies: New and Old

Terminologies - New and Old

The records of history are written in several languages. For instance, the Persian chronicler Minhaj-i-Siraj is credited with coining the term Hindustan to refer to the areas of Haryana, Punjab and the land between Ganga and Yamuna. Whereas Baur used the word Hindustan to describe the entire Indian-subcontinent. The famous poet Amir Khusrao addressed it as Hind.

Sources of History
There are primarily two sources from which we derive historical accounts. First is Archaeology and second is literature. The remains of ancient monuments, weapons, utensils, currencies and other such artefacts together with any written records of the period either in papers, scriptures or simply by way of symbols and signs made on the walls, helped historians in tracing changes over a period of several years.

Chronicles from travellers and pilgrims also helped a great deal in understanding the lifestyle and other details of the period. Most of these manuscripts were in Arabic or Persian as these were among some of the earliest foreign travellers to visit and then, later on, settle in the Indian-subcontinent.

The Rise of Social and Political Groups
The period between 700 to 1750, is a challenge for historians to put together. This was mostly due to the fact that a series of developments and changes occurred during the span of these thousand years. There was extensive movement during this period. Many political groups came into being. There were Rajputs, Marathas, Sikhs, Jats, Kayasthas etc.

Agricultural practice increased leading to a reduction in forest land. As a result of this movement, the forest dwellers had to mover further inside or relocate to some other place altogether.

With many groups coming up, society became increasingly fragmented and people started getting divided into castes and sub-castes. These distinctions were done based on the occupation of the people. At the time, these ranks were not permanent and were subject to changes depending on which caste controlled the resources and influence.

Geographical Regions and Kingdoms
Majority of the country was covered by bigger empires such as that of Mughals in the North, Cholas in the south and Marathas elsewhere. A Sanskrit text describes that the empire of Sultan Balban was stretched from Bengal to Afghanistan and Delhi to South India, then known as Dravidians.

Needless to say that due to several empires claiming the coveted throne, there were many conflicts throughout the region. The decline of Mughal Empire in the 18th Century further lead to the creation of regional provinces ruled by Peshwas and another form of rulers.

Evolution of Religion
Religion and society went hand in hand. The economic and social institutions of the communities hugely influenced the religion of the period. Initially, religion was a matter of nature worship. But gradually, during this period the temples and shrines started coming up.

Statues of deities were sanctioned by the rulers. This was done on the advice of the Brahamans. They were given the task of maintaining the religious places. The privilege of knowing Sanskrit lead to the Brahmans garnering respect. Islam was not completely accepted by the rulers in India.

Division of the Historical Periods
Historians from Britain have segregated Indian History into three periods: Hindu, Mughals and British The difference in these three periods is studies by historians on the premise of economic and social factors. The period of early men, those who survived on hunting and gathering were categorised as early societies.

The period which witnessed imperialism and empirical growth such as Hindu rulers, Mughals, and the British colonisation are collectively studied under medieval period. The final phase which includes the fag end of the British Empire in India and the India that evolved from there on is called as the modern period.


Who did people refer to as a “foreigner” in the past?
Any person who was unknown and did not belong to the society or culture of the locals was considered a foreigner. For a city dweller, a forest dweller might be considered a foreigner. Same could be said of the people who visited from distant lands.