Primary and Secondary Sources (Ancient Indian History)

What is Primary and Secondary Sources?

The sources used in the reconstruction of ancient Indian history can be broadly divided into two categories of Primary and Secondary sources. This classification is based on the relationship of sources with a particular development or time period.

Difference between Primary and Secondary Sources

Primary sourceSecondary source
Primary source contains a first-hand accountSecondary source contains second-hand accounts.
Writer of Primary sources eye-witness to development or event described if the source is literary.The writer of secondary sources was not present on the spot when the event described in it took place. His knowledge about development described by him was drawn from other sources.
A primary source is contemporary in natureSecondary source belongs to a different time period.
Primary source is the original sourceSecondary source lacks originality
Primary sources could suffer from the limitation of personal bias of the writerA secondary source has the benefit of avoiding the personal bias of a particular writer
Primary source covers a shorter periodSecondary source covers a longer period
It lacks chronological orderadvantage of providing chronological details
No such limitationsSecondary source can also suffer from limitations of primary sources
Difference between Primary and Secondary Sources

Critical examination of positive and negatives of Primary and Secondary sources

  1. A primary sources is likely to be more accurate because it provides contemporary information and first-hand account.
    • Primary source provides detailed information about the incident described in it.
    • Primary sources could suffer from the limitation of personal bias of the writer, especially of Court poet. Such scholars living under the patronage of a king is likely to glorify the achievement of their master and overlooked their failure.
  2. A secondary source has the benefit of avoiding the personal bias of a particular writer because the author of secondary sources enjoys the freedom to draw information from multiple sources after the careful critical examination.
    • A secondary source covers a longer period. Because of this, a longer phase of human history can be comprehended by using one particular work itself.
    • A secondary source has the advantage of providing chronological details because events belonging to different time periods can be classified chronologically without much difficulty.
    • A secondary source can also suffer from limitations of primary sources from which information was drawn by write especially if limited primary sources are available.

Examples of Primary sources and Secondary sources

  1. Both literary sources, as well as archaeological sources, can be classified into primary and secondary source categories.
  2. While most of the literary works fall in the category of secondary sources, most of our archeological evidence falls in the category of primary sources.
  3. The evidence gathered through excavation and exploration is mostly primary because these belong to the period represented by them.
    • Only some inscription such as a Junagarh Rock inscription of Rudradaman can be classified in the category of secondary sources. This inscription belonging to 2nd-century AD provides information about the Mauryan age.
  4. The literary work like Arthshastra, Nitisar, and Harsha Charita of Banbhatt are primary in nature because they inform contemporary firsthand accounts.
    • Literary work like Mudrarakshas of Vishakhadatta is secondary in nature. Vishakhadatta lived in 6th-century AD. and his book Mudrarakshas deal with the Mauryan period.
  5. A particular literary work can be primary and secondary in part because it may contain contemporary as well as non-contemporary information.
    • Kalhana’s Rajtarangini is one such source. It contains the history from the Mahabharata age to the middle of the 12th century AD. The event of 12th century AD eye-witnessed by Kalhana and can be considered as primary and the events belonging to earlier period would fall in the category of secondary sources because these were drawn from other sources.

The primary and secondary sources are equally important for the reconstruction of early Indian history because both supplement and complement each other. One type of source can be used to examine The authenticity of other sources.

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