Early India: Economy, Polity and Society

Home/ Early India: Economy, Polity and Society
Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation ElectiveSUS1HS4034

Semester and Year Offered: Winter Semester 2019

Course Coordinator and Team: Dr. Aadil Zubair

Email of course coordinator: adil[at]aud[dot]ac[dot]in

Pre-requisites: None


This course will familiarize students with economy, polity and society of the Indian subcontinent from the pre-historic times up to the 8th century, and intends to analyse the significance of understanding the varied dimensions of India’s historical past and its ramifications in the modern period. The purpose is to allow students to explore the diversity of the land and its people, as a geographical zone where races and tribes intermingled for centuries that shaped the contours of the country. The aim will be to evaluate /analyse the complex process of the evolution of religion, philosophy and cultures in the Indian subcontinent, emergence of power relations and state structures as well as social stratification with reference to Varna system and gender. These will help trace the aspects of marginality and hierarchy in early India.

Course Outcomes:

  1. Develop familiarity with the sources, interpretations and historiographical trends crucial for understanding the history of Early India from an analytical perspective.
  2. Acquire basic historical research skills to ask and respond to historical questions, evaluate data, and to examine existing paradigms.
  3. A broader understanding of the emergence and development of early cultures of Indian Subcontinent (pre-historic, proto-historic and historic).
  4. Critical appreciation of the social, economic, political and religious milieu of Early India.
  5. Identifying the continuities and disjunctions between the past and present.

Brief description of modules/ Main modules:

  • Significance of studying early history of Indian sub-continent; early Indian notions of history and history writing; historical views and interpretation: colonial and post-colonial; sources for reconstruction of history.
  • Introduction to pre-historic to historic cultures; early human organizations; distribution/spread of pre-historic cultures; the advent of food production.
  • Harappan Civilization/Bronze Age; distribution/spread of Harappan Civilization; town and urban planning; agriculture and domestication of animals/economy; material and spiritual culture of the Harappan people; decline
  • Advent of the Aryans: Use of iron; racial theory; spread of the Aryan culture; Vedic literatures; religion and culture; pastoralism; tribal polity and kinship, tribal assemblies - Sabha and Samiti; social differentiation, family and status of women.
  • Later Vedic Phase: Transition to state and social orders; transition to agricultural economy, use and significance of iron; settlements: Jana, Janapadas; social organization: family, consolidation of patriarchal system, emergence of social stratification - caste, gender; political organization, emergence of the term ‘rashtra’, tributaries, tax/revenues.
  • Emergence of new religions and religious philosophies; Jainism and Buddhism: social change; contributions, significances.
  • Rise of territorial states and early state formations; changing material conditions; early India’s contact with Iran, Macedonia, cultural and literary influence
  • Rise of the first Empire - Mauryan Empire; Sources: Arthashastra, Indika, Mudrarakshasha; imperial and state structures; significance of Mauryan age: political control, material culture and state mechanism, social structures, art and architecture; causes of its decline.
  • India and the outside World: contacts with Central Asia; socio-economic and political conditions of the time
  • Early history of the Deccan; Sangam Age; state formations-kingdoms: Chola, Pandya and Chera; social classes, economy and trade links, Arab traders
  • The Age of the Guptas; feudal beginnings, socio-economic condition of the time; re-emergence of Brahmanical cult; the later Gupta period; decline
  • Art, architecture and literature/economy, trade and commerce: science and technology in early India

Assessment Details with weights:


Assessment Type




Home Assignment/Class Presentation

First week of February



Home Assignment/Class Presentation

Third Week of March



End Semester Exam

As per SUS Schedule



Essential Readings:

  • Romila Thapar, Early India: From the Origins to the A.D. 1300
  • A.L. Basham, Wonder That was India
  • D.N. Jha, Early India in Historical Outline (Chapter 8)
  • Upinder Singh, A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India: From the Stone Age to the 12th Century
  • R.S. Sharma, India’s Ancient Past
  • Dilip K. Chakrabarti, India: An Archaeological History (Chapter II to VII)
  • Noboru Karashima, A concise History of South India: Issues and Interpretations (Chapter 1,2 & 3)
  • Shereen Ratnagar, Understanding Harappa: Civilization in the Greater Indus Valley
  • Ranabir Chakravarti, Exploring Early India up to c. A.D 1300.
  • R. Champakalakshmi, Trade, Ideology and Urbanization: South India, 300 BC to AD 1300 (Chapters 1 to 4)


  • D.D. Kosambi, An Introduction to the Study of Indian History.
  • Nayanjot Lahiri, ed. The Decline and Fall of the Indus Civilization.
  • Moorti, Megalithic Culture of South India: Socio-economic Perspectives.
  • Kumkum Roy, ed. Women in Early Indian Societies.
  • R.S. Sharma, Perspectives in the Social and Economic History of Early India.
  • T.R. Trautmann, ed. The Aryan Debate (Introduction)
  • Bhairabi Prasad Sahu (ed.), Iron and Social Change in Early India (Introduction)
  • D. N. Jha, The Feudal Order: State, Society and Ideology in Early Medieval India