January 27, 2005

History of India by Hermann Kulke and Dietmar Rothermund

A serious single volume history of India that covers within 400 pages a time-span that includes the Indus Valley Civilization from 3000 BCE and the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 is so ambitious that it is bound to fall short of expectations. Surprisingly, it succeeds in its primary mission to provide the grand sweep of Indian history. In particular, to highlight the large ancient empires and the various regional kingdoms in medieval India. These parts of Indian history get lost in most published books on the history of India which either concentrate on the later period of the Mughal or British empires or dwell only on pre-Buddhist India mostly for jingoistic rhetoric.

The book starts off strongly with two well-written chapters: `Early Civilizations of the Northwest' and `The Great Ancient Empires'. The first chapter discusses the Aryan migration into India, with a precise discussion of the evidence and why certain things are generally believed by contemporary historians about this topic. There is also a nuanced discussion of the Aryan `invasion' and a modern view on that topic.

The next two chapters on medieval India and the Middle Ages are more muddled, perhaps due the the confusing morass of the actual history of the period. The only interesting part was the discussion on the reasons for the spread of Indian religion and culture to Southeast Asia in this period.

While the Central Asian invasion of India and the subsequent Mughal empire in India are more familiar historical topics, the struggle for power between the various Indian parties during the fall of the Mughals are detailed here. Particularly interesting was the relationship between Shivaji and the sultan of Golconda, his Muslim ally, who supported his campaign in South India and the future negotiations between the chief minister (vezir) of the Mughal empire, Nizam-ul-Mulk and Baji Rao of the Marathas (Shivaji's grandson). Baji Rao, in the mid-1700s captured Delhi in a surprise cavalry attack, but left within a few days showing that while the Marathas could have defeated the Mughal empire, they were unable to hold it on their own.

The remainder of the book is a quick look at the colonial rule of the British and the subsequent formation of the Indian republic. This period has been the topic of many history books. The discussion of the Bombay Presidency and the Madras Presidency was a useful counterweight to the usual discussion of Oudh as an example of the rise of British influence in India. The overview of the politics of the freedom movement was particularly well represented even though many of the details were necessarily left out.

There are minor issues that were inconsistently represented in the book. For example, there is no discussion of India before the Aryans and Dravidians when there is ample linguistic evidence of such a previous people (there is book on the topic called "Pre-Aryan and pre-Dravidian in India" by Sylvain LÈvi). Also, the exclusion of the history of Pakistan, Bangladesh after the Partition except where they intersect with events in India was jarring but expedient.

Table of Contents:

  1. Early Civilizations of the Northwest
    • Prehistory and the Indus Civilization
    • Immigration and settlement of the Indo-Aryans
  2. The Great Ancient Empires
    • The rise of the Gangetic culture and the great empires of the east
    • The end of the Maurya empire and the northern invaders
    • The classical age of the Guptas
    • The rise of South India
  3. The Regional Kingdoms of Early Medieval India
    • The rise and conflicts of regional kingdoms
    • Kings, princes and priests: the structure of Hindu realms
    • Gods, temples and poets: the growth of regional cultures
    • India's impact on Southeast Asia: causes and consequences
  4. Religious Communities and Military Feudalism in the Late Middle Ages
    • The Islamic conquest of northern India and the sultanate of Delhi
    • The states of central and southern India in the period of the sultanate of Delhi
  5. The Rise and Fall of the Mughal Empire
    • The Great Mughals and their adversaries
    • Indian landpower and European seapower
    • The struggle for supremacy in India
  6. The Period of Colonial Rule
    • Company Bahadur: trader and ruler
    • Imperial structure and the regional impact
    • The pattern of constitutional reform
  7. The Freedom Movement and the Partition of India
    • The Indian freedom movement
    • The partition of India
  8. The Republic
    • Internal affairs: political and economic development
    • External affairs: global and regional dimensions

%T History of India
%A Hermann Kulke
%A Dietmar Rothermund
%I Routledge (first published in 1986 by Croom Helm: Australia)
%D 1998
%G ISBN: 0415154820 (pb)
%G ISBN: 0415154822 (hc)
%P 395
%K history

Date written: 2000/10/12

Posted by anoop at January 27, 2005 12:09 AM