Best Notes on Historical Sources

Historical Sources

In this post, we are covering Indian History one of the most important topics “Historical Sources”. It is also known as “Primary Sources of History”. This is the second Chapter of the Indian History and Indian Freedom Struggle notes. In the first chapter, we have covered the Introduction part. This subject is a part of General Studies or General Awareness included in most of the exams covered in India. with this entire series, we are trying to cover the complete General Studies – essential topics that ask in UPSC exams, SSC exams, BIS exams, UGC NET, BPSC, UPPCS, State PCS, CDS, Railways – RRB exams, DMRC, DFCCIL, State exams and many more.

What are Historical Sources?

Historical Sources

Historical Sources are those sources that give information about the events of past times. They are the only things with which we can preserve our past. The Primary Sources of History are those sources that originated from the past and depict contemporary social, cultural and political life.

Main Sources of History

The main sources of History can be classified into Literary Sources and Archaeological Sources.

Archaeological Sources include buildings, houses, Coins, Bones, Monuments, inscriptions etc. They are more reliable than Literary Sources as it is impossible to change. Archaeological sources can be classified into Foreign inscriptions and Indigenous inscriptions.

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Important Indigenous Literary Historical Sources of Ancient Indian History

Brahmanic Text

  • Brahmanic Texts are also known as Hindu Texts. They are Shruti and Smriti.
  • Shruti Texts are
    • Samhitas or Vedas
    • Brahmanas
    • Aranyakas
    • Upanishads
  • Smriti Texts are
    • Vedangas or Sutras
    • Smrities
    • Epics (Ramayana & Mahabharata)
    • Puranas

Buddhist Text

  • The Buddhist texts are divided into two categories – Pali Texts and Anupali Texts.
  • Tripitaka is the earliest and the most important text among Pali Texts.
  • Tripitaka comprises Vinaya Pitaka, Sutta Pitaka and Abhidhamma Pitaka.
  • The Vinaya Pitaka and the Sutta Pitaka are compiled in the First Buddhist Council held in Rajagriha (Bihar) while the Abhidhamma Pitaka in the Third Buddhist Council held in Pataliputra (Bihar).
  • Vinay Pitaka contains disciplinary rules and regulations for leading a monastic life.
  • The Sutta Pitaka is the largest and the most important text among Tripitaka.
  • The Anguttara Nikaya of Sutta Pitaka contains a list of 16 Mahajanpadas.
  • The Jataka of Khuddaka Nikaya (Sutta Pitaka) contains 549 folk tales of the previous births of Gautama Buddha.

Jain Text

  • Jain Texts says about the religious and social conditions of that time.
  • Among Jain texts, 12 Angas are important. Acharanga Sutra contains disciplinary rules and regulations for Jain Monks.
  • Bhagwati Sutra throws light on the life of Mahavira and contains the list of 16 Mahajanapadas.
  • Namadhamma Katha Sutra contains the preachings of Mahavira.

Historical texts

Writer NameBook writtenFeature
KalidasaMalavikagnimitram, Abhgyanshakuntalmdepict the reign of Pusyamitra Sunga, Mauryan and Guptas.
BanabhattaHarshacharita– Based on the life of his patron King Harshavardhana.
– the earliest Biographical book
Vakpati RajGaudvaho (GaudVadhah)– Contains a description of the victories of Yashovarmana.
– the most important event is the killing (vadha) of the Gaud king by Kannauj King Yashovarmana.
PaniniAshtadhyayi– a grammar book, written during the pre-Mauryan and Mauryan periods.
PatanjaliMahabhashyait is a commentary book on Panini’s Ashtadhyayai.
Ali KufiChachnama (book of conquest)– the earliest book on the conquest of Arab on Sindh.
-written in the Persian language
VishakhadattaMudrarakshasa– a drama book
– contains a description of Chandragupta Maurya
BallalBhoja Prabandha– life story of Bhoja, the Paramara ruler of Malwa
Sandhyakar NandiRamcharita-throw light on the pala dynasty
– written in ‘Dvyasraya Kavya’ i.e. a verse with two bases (meanings)
– Narrate the stories of Rama (Ramayana’s Hero) and Rampala (Pala King)

Important Foreign Literary Historical Sources of Ancient Indian

The writings of foreign travellers and chroniclers provide valuable sources of ancient Indian history. Of these, some visited India and some others never visited India (like Herodotus, Ktesias, Pliny, Justin etc) based their accounts on information received from different sources. These accounts help in the writing of Indian history especially to resolve the problem of chronology. These have been found immensely useful in building up the framework of Indian chronology. Foreign sources can be divided into four categories – Greek-Roman, Chinese, Tibetan and Arabian. Important foreign writers’ work is mentioned in the below table:

Foreign WritersLiterary work
Megasthenese– he was a greek ambassador.
– he was sent by Seleucus Nicator (The Greek King of Persia and Babylonia) to the court of Chandra Gupta Maurya.
– wrote the book Indica.
– Indica was the first book through which ancient Europe know about India.
– Megasthenes was the first ambassador mentioned in Indian History.
Suma Chien– was the first Chinese writer who wrote about India in his text ‘Historical Memoirs’.
Fa-Hien– came India in 399 AD in the reign of the Gupta ruler Chandragupta-II (Vikramaditya)
– Wrote the book “Fo-Dyuo-Ki” i.e. Records of Buddhist Countries.
Hiuen Tsang– Came to India in the reign of Harshavardhana.
– He stayed in India for 13 to 14 years.
– Book – “Si-Yu-Ki” i.e. Buddhist Records of the Western World
– The book contains a record of the life of Harshavardhana and his activities, administration, religion, and educational system of that time.
– He is known as the “King or Prince of Pilgrims”.
Al Biladuri– He wrote ‘Futuh-ul-Buldan’. it described the Sindh Conquest by Arabs (Muhammad bin Qasim).
Al Masudi– He visited India in 915 AD in the reign of Gurjar Pratihara king Malipala-I.
– He wrote ‘Muruz-ul-Jahab’.
– in his text, he described the horses and camels of Mahipala-I, the Pratihara king. He described “paan” (beetal leaf) in detail.
Ibn Hawkal– was a merchant of Baghdad. He visited the state of Rashtrakutas.
– He wrote “Askal-al-valid”.
– He made a cartographic map of Sindh.
– He was the first person (first foreigner) who attempted to define the geographical length and breadth of India.
Alberuni– actual name: Abu Rayhan Muhammad ibn Ahmed Alberuni
– He came in India in 1019 with his patron Mahmud Ghazanavi.
– he has given a title “Vidyasagar” by hindus.
– book: Tehqiq-i-Hind i.e. Enquiry into India or Reality of India. This book is also known as “Tarikh-i-Hind or Kitab-ul-Hind”. It is believed that this is the best foreign account for India.
– Alberuni is called ‘First Real Indologist’. he was given the title of ‘The Real founder of Indology’.
Ibn Batuta– He was a Moroccan (African) traveller and came to India in the reign of Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq.
– he visited around 44 countries including India.
– His travelling accounts are published in the book ‘Rihla’ – My travels, a part of which is devoted to his experience in India.

Archaeological Historical Sources of India

  • Sir Alexander Cunningham is known as the Father of Indian Archaeology.
  • The turning point in Indian History has come with the discovery of the Harappan civilisation in 1921.
  • Archaeological sources are divided into 3 main categories – Inscriptions, Coins and Monuments.


Mauryan Inscriptions

  • Bhabru inscription is the only Ashokan inscription in which Mauryan king Ashoka called himself “Magadhiraj (Raja of Magadh)”.
  • Ashokan Allahabad pillar Edict is the inscription on which the inscription of four persons are inscribed – Ashoka, Karuwaki, Samudragupta and Jehangir.
  • The first discovered inscription of Ashoka is Meerut Delhi Pillar Edict which had discovered in 1750 AD by Joseph Teifenthaler.
  • Ashokan inscriptions are generally written in Brahmi script and Prakrit language.
  • In Manshera and Shahbajgadhi (both in Pakistan) Inscription Kharosthi script (script that is written from right to left) is used.
  • In Yerragudi inscription (Andhra Pradesh) the matter of inscription is written in Brahmi Script but right to left.

Dasharatha’s Nagarjuni Cave Inscription

  • Present in Ayodhayanagar (Uttar Pradesh)
  • These cave inscriptions are found in the Nagarjuni Hills of Jehanabad district of Bihar. As per the inscription, the grandson of Ashoka ‘Dasharatha’ gave three caves to Ajivika monks to reside in the rainy season.

Kharavela’s Hathigumpha Inscription

  • This is the first inscription in which the word ‘Bharatvarsha’ is mentioned.


  • Early Punched marked Coins are punched with certain marks or symbols such as a hill, tree, fish, bull, elephant etc. They are mainly present in quadrilateral shapes.
  • the practice of writing the names of Kings and figures of the rulers, deities etc was started by the Indo-Bactrian kings (rulers of North-Western India). Indo-Bactrian rulers first of all issued the gold coin.
  • First of all Saka ruler ‘Rudradaman’ issued dated coins in Sanskrit.
  • Satavahana rulers issued their coins in lead (mainly), copper, bronze and potin.
  • Kushana rulers were the first in India to issue gold coins regularly and on large scale.
  • during the Gupta time period, the largest number of gold coins were issued.
  • The gold coins of the Gupta are known as Dinars whereas the silver coins are called Rupak.

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Frequently asked questions

what are the prime sources of History?

The main sources of History can be classified into Literary Sources and Archaeological Sources. Text literature, coins, archaeological excavation and inscriptions are some prime sources of History.

Which type of historical sources are the most reliable source of History?

Archaeological Sources include buildings, houses, Coins, Bones, Monuments, inscriptions etc. They are more reliable than Literary Sources as it is impossible to change.

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Last updated: August 20, 2023 Updated on 10:14 AM