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P E R C E P T I O N S OF THE PAST

languages and literatures, its ethnology and religion, gradually increased.


The nineteenth century saw considerable advances in what came to be called
Indology - the study of India by non-Indians, using methods of investigation
developed by European scholars in the nineteenth century. In India the use
of modern techniques to 'rediscover' the past came into practice. Among
these was the decipherment of the brahmi script, largely by James Prinsep.
Many inscriptions pertaining to the early past were written in brahmi, but
knowledge of how to read the script had been lost. Since inscriptions form
the annals of Indian history, this decipherment was a major advance that
led to the gradual unfolding of the past from sources other than religious
and literary texts. Epigraphic sources introduced many new perspectives
that have as yet not been exhausted. They were used for firming up historical
chronology but their substantial evidence on social and economic history,
as also on the history of religious sects, was recognized only subsequently.
Numismatics took off from reading bilingual coin-legends, some in Greek
and brahmi on the Indo-Greek coins minted at the turn of the Christian era.
The name of the king written in Greek had an equivalent written in brahmi,
which provided some clues to the decipherment of brahmi. Alexander
Cunningham explored the countryside searching for archaeological remains,
using the seventh-century itinerary of the Chinese Buddhist monk, Hsiian
Tsang, as a guide, and summarized his explorations in The Ancient Geography of India. Professionally, many of these scholars were surveyors and
engineers, charting the colony in more senses than one. Textual analyses,
which had begun with Sanskrit texts, were now slowly including Pali texts
associated with Buddhism and, later, Prakrit texts of the Jaina tradition.
This was careful, meticulous work and enlarged the data on the Indian past.
The interpretation of what was found was of course most often within the
framework of a colonial perspective on the Indian past.
Many who had visited India from afar in the early past recorded their
impressions for various purposes, and these are available as Greek, Latin,
Chinese and Arabic writings, which provide different perspectives from
the Indian. The descriptions of the visitors can sometimes be correlated
with the more tangible remains of the past made possible through excavations. The corpus of evidence on Buddhism, for instance, was increased
with the availability of the chronicles from Sri Lanka. Buddhist Canonical
texts translated into Chinese and various central Asian languages filled
in lacunae, in some cases providing significant variant readings. Similarly,
texts in Arabic and Persian relating to the history of India began to be
studied in their own right, and ceased being regarded only as supplements
to Islamic culture in western Asia. Strangely, Indians travelling outside the
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