India is referenced in many ancient Greek and Persian sources, but these are often fragmentary. Which sources (if any) exist which describe ancient India in detail?

Since ancient can be interpreted in various ways, let's take it as before the CE (Common Era).

  • As far as i know there are only very few historical literature of ancient India. Harshacharita by banabhatta is one among them.
    – kartshan
    Commented Apr 16, 2012 at 10:07
  • 2
    @kartshan Banabhatta lived in the 7th century CE.
    – talonx
    Commented Apr 23, 2012 at 2:43
  • 1
    now what exactly you are referring to when you call ancient india? if you want to know about aryan period mahabharata (in pure form)is the best one. Commented May 1, 2012 at 19:19
  • 1
    @worldwarcrazzy : Did you read the question? Especially the last sentence?
    – talonx
    Commented May 7, 2012 at 4:33
  • Ancient history is the study of the written past from the beginning of recorded human history to the Early Middle Ages. So when you referred to ancient India in your original question, it really was OK. :–)
    – E1Suave
    Commented May 25, 2012 at 10:28

3 Answers 3


The problem there is that there isn't a lot of written work from that area available that early. The only real literate society of the ancient era was the Bronze-Age Indus Valley Civilization, and we haven't deciphered their script yet.

After the IV civilization was eclipsed, writing was unknown there until about the third century BCE. So for the vast majority of the period you are asking about, you have to rely on either the rare written records of outsiders, or on archeology.


The Rigveda, a collection of sacred texts that has formed the base of the Hindu religion and much Indian culture, was verbally composed (originally in archaic Sanskrit) as early as 1700 BC.

The Rigveda represents the earliest known writings by the Indo-Aryan peoples, though no document survives containing the original Sanskrit text -- in fact, nothing from anything near that period. The Indus Script had died out by the this time, and writing did not return until around the 3rd century BC, until which (at the very earliest) the Vedas must have been transmitted from generation to generation orally.

Now, the Indus Valley civilisation, which is commonly thought to have died out either before or during the invasion/migration of the Indo-Aryan people into north-west India, possessed its own entirely different language (non Indo-European, possibly Dravidian) and possibly writing system (Harappan script), although linguists are yet to determine if Harappan symbols actually represented a language. If the Harappan script ever gets deciphered and translated, then literary evidence of pre-Aryan civilisation, going back perhaps as far as 2600 BC, may be revealed.

As it stands, the Rigveda is the oldest known literary reference to life in India. The problem is that all nearby civilisations were illiterate in the technical sense at this time (excepting the undecipherable Harappan script). Chinese writing was only developed at earliest from 1600 BC. While Elamite and Sumerian scripts in the Middle East would have been long established by 1700 BC, the contact between these civilisations and the Ancient Indo-Aryan civilisation has not been recorded in history, unfortunately.


You can get some pictures of India before CE from:

The Vedas and the major Upanishads

Arthasastra by Kautilya (Chanakya)

Early Buddhist and Jain literature

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.