The monograph India in Ancient Epoch by prominent Soviet scholars Dr. G.M.Bongard-Levin, Corresponding Member of the USSR Academy of Sciences, and Professor G.F.Ilyin covers the Indian history from the Palaeolithic period to the Middle Ages. It embraces an exceedingly wide scope of problems including India’s ethnic history, state system, class and caste structure, village-community, economic development, science, art, philosophy, religion, historical and cultural ties. Wide use has been made of written sources available in Sanskrit, Pali, Prakrits and Greek as well as of data of archaeology, ethnography, linguistics and numismatics.
Modern Indology rapidly forges ahead. This is due to a number of factors, above all, the exceptional interest of the Indian public in the study of their national history and culture. Every year has been bringing interesting discoveries of ancient monuments of the material culture and art, epigraphy documents; new literary texts, philosophical, religious and scientific treatises and pertinent commentaries are being brought into scholarly circulation, monographs on various periods of Indian history are being published. Notable successes in the study of its early stages have been achieved by scholars of many countries. The analysis of historical texts, archaeological and epigraphy data, follows new methods of research. Indology is establishing closer cooperation with other branches of human and natural sciences, revising traditional conceptions and previously adopted datings, specifying facts of political, social and cultural history. It all creates prerequisites for the writing of generalizing and summing-up works based on newly obtained data. The need in such works is fairly great: they are called upon to sum up the results of conducted and stimulate subsequent research.
The objective analysis of processes of the historical and cultural evolution of mankind makes it imperative to consider the contribution of the Indian peoples to world civilization. At present, scholars investigate the problem of typology of ancient cultures of the East and West, Indian material opening up broad prospects to these efforts. A juxtaposition of Ancient Indian phenomena and institutions with their Graeco-Roman counterparts makes it possible to bring out both basic similarity in the evolution of the two civilizations and the specific features of each.
It is common knowledge that it is impossible to understand the present of a country without knowing its past. India is a particularly vivid example: features of distant times have been found to be exceedingly enduring in its social relations and culture. This shows an amazing stability of India’s traditions. A number of features of the past, though rapidly changing, organically enter into the fabric of its modern life. The determining of the place and significance in present-day India of the family, village-community, caste, religion (a far from complete list of social and ideological institutions) largely depends on the level of knowledge of what they were like in the distant past, of how they originated and developed. Nowadays, problems of a country’s history and culture are not only an object of purely academic interest, but one of an acute political dispute. Naturally, the objective study of different aspects of the social and spiritual life of Ancient India is of topical relevance now. An important role in the development of these problems is played by Indian scholars. Some of their works, published in Russian, have been welcomed by Soviet readers but, regrettably, none of them bear a generalizing character. The present monograph is intended to fill the resulting gap.
In the Soviet Union the past 15 years — the period since the publication of the work Ancient India: A Historical Outline, by the same authors (in Russian) — has been marked by notable achievements in Indology: many pages of the history of some Eastern countries directly connected with India have been re-estimated and considerable advances have been registered in Sanskritology, Indo-European studies, Buddhology, Central Asian archaeology and the study of the Graeco-Roman world.
The Introduction briefly outlines the history of study of Ancient India in India itself and in Europe, contains a detailed review of pre-revolutionary Russian and Soviet literature on India and discusses the specific features of the present state of Indology.
The monograph’s three basic parts embrace the main periods of India’s ancient history. The first opens on a description of the Stone Age. Special attention is also given to problems connected with the rise of civilization in the Indus Valley.
An individual chapter touches on questions of the ethnogeny of Northern and Southern India. A particularly detailed treatment is given to what is known as the “Aryan problem” — a set of questions connected with the origin of the peoples which now speak the Indo-Aryan languages, with the time and routes of their migration to India and their relations with its non-Aryan population.
The development of the Ganges Valley, which began in the second millennium B.C., led to the emergence of a new focus of civilization, which held the lead throughout the ancient period since it had come into existence. Of great scientific importance is the fact that the study of the history of this period relies on data of Vedic literature. This imparts greater confidence to judgements about social relations (slavery, varna system), forms of statehood, culture and religion. In accordance with a long-established scholarly tradition, the authors refer to the period in the history of the Gangetic civilization which lasted until the mid-1st millennium B.C. as Vedic.
The second part of the book is devoted to the history of formation of the Mauryan Empire, the specific features of the social relations and culture of the Magadha-Mauryan era, those of the rise and development of Buddhism and Jainism and traces the basic processes of social and spiritual life in Southern India.
The third part, which covers the Kushan-Gupta era, analyzes disputable problems of Kushan chronology and history with due account of relevant recent works by Soviet and foreign scholars. The authors cite data pertaining to the class-caste structure of Indian society and the beginnings of feudalism in India, describe Hinduism, Mahayana, as well as the most important philosophical systems. The concluding chapter is connected with the country’s historical and cultural contacts.
As a whole, the present monograph constitutes a fundamental inquiry reinterpreting many cardinal problems of the history and culture of Ancient India.