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AUTHOR’S NOTE TO THE SECOND EDITION

When this book was first published in 2000 I had it in mind to write a sequel that would recount the events of the last fifty years in greater detail than was possible in a 5000-year history of the subcontinent. That project is at last under way. But working on it has made me even more aware of the cursory and selective nature of the final chapters in the first edition of India.

Ten years on, therefore, this new edition endeavours to make amends. As well as some updates and corrections to the original text, it contains an extensively rewritten chapter 19, a replacement chapter 20 and completely new chapters 21, 22 and 23. The narrative has been extended into the twenty-first century and an attempt made to compare the fortunes and explore the fraught relationships of all three of the post-Partition states – Pakistan and Bangladesh as well as India.

To anyone over sixty this will be more current affairs than history. It deals with events and personalities that may be familiar and it invites a more engaged and subjective treatment. Sadly it also lacks the authority that stems from a longer scholarly perspective. Much vital documentation remains unavailable for reasons of confidentiality or national security. Access to Pakistan’s national archive, for instance, is so restricted that most histories of that country rely heavily on such documentation as can be consulted elsewhere, notably in the UK and the USA. Yet over-dependence on the reports and correspondence of foreign diplomats and observers may give a very false impression of decision-making within Pakistan’s ruling establishment. Contemporary history is partial – in every sense. The new chapters at the end of this book are no exception.

I am grateful to Arabella Pike and Martin Redfern for making the new edition possible and to Essie Cousins, Georgia Mason, Peter James and others at HarperCollins for processing it. Many readers were kind enough to comment on the original edition. Though it has not been possible to do justice to all their suggestions, I thank everyone and look forward to more of the same.

John Keay
Argyll
January 2010

INTRODUCTION

HISTORIES OF INDIA often begin with a gripe about the poverty of the available sources. These sources were once thought so inadequate as to make what is certainly one of the world’s longest histories also one of its more patchy. ‘Prior to the thirteenth centuryAD,’ wrote Professor R.C. Majumdar in the 1950s, ‘we possess no historical text of any kind, much less such a detailed narrative as we possess in the case of Greece, Rome or China.’1 Majumdar cited the thirteenth century because that was when northern India, succumbing to Muslim rule, attracted the attention of partisan writers keen to chronicle the triumphs of Islam. But given a good four thousand years of earlier pre-Islamic civilisation, it followed that for more than 80 per cent of attestable Indian history there were no histories.

‘It is difficult to give a rational explanation for this deficiency,’ continued Majumdar, ‘but the fact admits of no doubt.’ Rational explanations apart – and there have been many, most supposing an Indian indifference to treating antiquity as an academic discipline – this dearth of ready-made chronicles and memoirs weighed heavily on the historian. It handicapped his reconstruction of past events and hobbled his presentation of them in an acceptable narrative. His gentle readers were forewarned. A rough ride was in prospect.

Happily the situation has improved considerably over the last half-century. No unsuspected ancient chronicles have come to light but much new research has been undertaken and other disciplines have made important contributions. I have therefore stressed in the pages which follow those feats of discovery and deduction, the fortuitous finds and the painstaking analysis, whereby the documentational void has been gradually filled. While spiking the narrative with some lively debate, this explorational approach also has the advantage of mitigating my presumption in venturing, gownless, onto the campus sward. History based on histories looks to be the province of professionals; but where so much of the past, even its chronology, has to be teased from less articulate objects like coins and charters, or pieced together from random inscriptions, titbits of oral tradition, literary compositions and religious texts, and where such researches are then usually consigned to specialist publications and obscure monographs, there surely must be need for an overview.

Reconstructing the past from such reluctant materials can be intensely exciting, but it is not easy. The ingenuity of those scholars who from rocks and runes, bricks and rubrics, have wrested one of the oldest and richest civilisations constitutes something of an epic in itself. It deserved to be told, and in a previous book I had endeavoured to do so in respect of mainly nineteenth-century scholarship.2 But this is an ongoing epic of research which is itself part of India’s history. As well as being directly responsible for revealing those distant personalities and events by way of which, like stepping stones, the historical narrative progresses, it also betrays much about the age to which the stepping stones supposedly led. More personally, since what we know has been derived so largely from research and so little from testimony, it seemed perverse not to credit the discoverers while appropriating their discoveries. What follows, therefore, is both a history of India and to some extent a history of Indian history

I liked the idea that the variety of disciplines involved in this work of discovery – archaeology, philology, numismatics, phonetics, art history, etc. – seemed to admit the need for a generalist, and I hoped that the heavy ideological and religious distortions to which the findings have sometimes been subject might be countered by the reticence of a confirmed sceptic. Better still, thirty years of intermittent wandering about the subcontinent, reading about it and writing about it, could now be construed as other than pure indulgence. D.D. Kosambi, the most inspirational of India’s historians, reckoned that for the restoration and interpretation of India’s past the main qualification was a willingness to cover the ground on foot. He called it ‘field work’; and so it is.

The fields which Kosambi mainly quartered, and the inhabitants whom he questioned, belonged to a very small area around Pune (Poona) in Maharashtra. Freer to travel and drawn to more spectacular sites, I wanted to construct a history which took particular account of the country’s extraordinary architectural heritage. Lord Curzon, the most incisive of British India’s Viceroys, hailed India’s antiquities as ‘the greatest galaxy of monuments in the world’. To all but scholars steeped in the glories of Sanskrit literature it is the architectural and sculptural wonders of India which provide the most eloquent testimony to its history. They stimulated its first investigation by foreign antiquarians, and they continue to whet the curiosity of millions of visitors. A history which acknowledged the prominence of India’s buildings and provided a political, economic and ideological context for them looked to be useful.

Monuments also go some way towards compensating for that deficiency of historical texts. Of the Chola kings of Tamil Nadu, for instance, we would be poorly informed but for the great Rajarajeshwara temple, sublimely moored amidst acres of cloistered paving, which they built and maintained in eleventh-century Tanjore. From its inscriptions we learn of the Cholas’ remarkable expeditions and of their lavish endowments; we even gain some insights into the organisation of their kingdom. But equally instructive is the sheer scale of their monument and the grandeur of its conception. Here, clearly, was a dynasty and a kingdom of some significance. To construct and endow India’s largest temple, the Cholas must have commanded resources beyond those of their traditional wet-rice patrimony in the delta of the Kaveri river. In fact, were the temple devoid of inscriptions and were there no other clues as to its provenance, historians would surely have coined a name for its builders and have awarded them a dominion of either trade or conquest.

Buildings and sculptures so magnificent have done more than stimulate history-writing; they have sometimes hijacked it. Political and economic certainties being scarce while artefacts and literature, mostly of a religious nature, are plentiful, Indian history has acquired something of a religio-cultural bias. Whole chapters devoted to the teachings of the Buddha, the mathematical and musical theories of ancient India, or Hindu devotional movements are standard fare in most Indian histories. They are not without interest or relevance, and they conveniently bridge centuries for which the political record is deemed deficient or unbearably repetitive. But it might be hard to justify comparable digressions into, say, Greek drama or scholastic exegesis in a history of Europe.

The implication seems to be that Indian history, indeed India itself, has always been a place apart in which culture and religion often outdid armies and administrations in influencing the course of events. I remain unconvinced. Religious and cultural identities are important; but as a source of political differentiation and conflict they are not much in evidence in pre-Islamic India, were often exaggerated thereafter, and only became paramount during the last decades of British rule. Historically it was Europe, not India, which consistently made religion grounds for war and the state an instrument of persecution.

Whilst paying homage to architecture in particular, this is not, then, a cultural history of India, let alone a history of Indian cults. If it has a bias, it is in favour of chronology, of presenting such information as is available in a moderately consistent time sequence. This might seem rather elementary; but chronology is often a casualty of the interpretative urge which underlies much Indian history-writing. Whole centuries of no obvious distinction are cheerfully concertinaed into oblivion, while their few ascertainable productions are either anticipated in an earlier context or reserved for inclusion under some later heading. If, as many authorities now concede, the Arthasastra of Kautilya, a manual of statecraft by the Indian Machiavelli, was not compiled in the fourth-third centuries BC, then our whole idea of the nature of authority during the great ‘imperial age’ of the Maurya kings (c320–180 BC) needs revision. Likewise if Kalidasa, ‘the Indian Shakespeare’, did not coincide with the next ‘imperial flowering’ – and only circumstantial evidence suggests that he did – then the ‘golden age of the Guptas’ (c320–500 AD) begins to look somewhat tarnished.

Analysis thrives on a synchronism of evidence which, in such cases, is often hypothetical or contrived. Indeed Indian history is altogether perverse when it comes to clustering. A curious feature of that ‘galaxy of monuments’ is that comparatively few are located around major power centres. Nor can many certainly be credited to pan-Indian dynasties like the Mauryas and the Guptas. The exceptions are the newer cities of Delhi and Agra on which Sultans, Mughals and British all lavished their patronage. But at earlier power centres like Pataliputra (at Patna in Bihar) or ‘imperial’ Kanauj (near Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh), tangible evidence of the great empires which their Maurya, Gupta or Vardhana rulers claimed to control is scarce. Instead, for the earliest temples one must travel more ambitiously to Sanchi or Ellora, Kanchi or Badami, places hundreds of kilometres away in central India, the Deccan and the south.

The traditional explanation for this poor correlation between dominion and architectural extravagance held that Muslim iconoclasts demolished whatever temples and palaces adorned the earlier capitals of northern India. This may have been the case, especially with richly endowed religious centres like Varanasi (Benares) and Mathura (Muttra), but the fact remains that those temple clusters which do survive, as also the great palaces and forts of a later date, are attributable not to high-profile and supposedly all-India rulers like the Guptas or Harsha-vardhana but to lesser (because more localised) dynasties and to the merchants and craftsmen who lived under their protection.

These lesser dynasties, which flourished throughout India during the first and much of the second millennium AD, we know mainly from inscriptions. Unfortunately the inscriptions are couched in such oblique language, the claims they advance contain so much repetition and poetic exaggeration, and the kings and dynasties they mention are so numerous and so confusing, that most histories pay them scant attention. With perhaps twenty to forty dynasties co-existing within the subcontinent at any one time, it would be an act of intellectual sado-masochism to insinuate this royal multitude into a tender narrative, and I have not attempted to do so. But trusting to the reader’s indulgence, I have tried to convey the flavour of their inscriptions and to isolate those dynasts whose claims on our attention are substantiated by other sources or by still gloriously extant memorials.

Without some treatment of this long dynastic fray, gaping holes appear in the record. Compression and selection are the historian’s prerogative, but it is not self-evident, as per several current histories of India, that remote centuries may be ignored because ‘recency has a decided priority’.3 My own experience as an intermittent correspondent and political analyst suggests exactly the opposite. Since most of today’s headlines will be on tomorrow’s midden, ‘recency’ is a deceptive commodity which the historian might do well to approach with caution. In this book, far from sharpening the focus as history blends into the foreground of current affairs, I have intentionally blurred it. Affairs still current are affairs still unresolved.

In contriving maximum resolution for the present, there is also a danger of losing focus on the past. A history which reserves half its narrative for the nineteenth and twentieth centuries may seem more relevant, but it can scarcely do justice to India’s extraordinary antiquity. Nor, simply because the British and post-colonial periods are better documented and more familiar, are they more instructive. There lurks in contemporary-centrism an arrogance no less objectionable than that in Euro-centrism, Occidento-centrism or Christo-centrism. To my mind such selective editing diminishes history. In pillaging the past for fashionable perspectives on the present we deny the delightful inconsequence, the freak occurrences and the human eccentricities which enliven what is otherwise a somewhat sombre record. Honest dealing with the time-scale, as with the spatial environment, is not without its rewards.

If time is the locomotion of history, place could be the gradient against which it is pitted. Dynamic, the one hurtles forward; inert, the other holds it back. Not for nothing are unspoilt landscapes invariably billed as ‘timeless’. Boarding at random an overnight train, and awaking twelve hours later to a cup of sweet brown tea and a dawn of dungrey fields, the traveller – even the Indian traveller – may have difficulty in immediately identifying his whereabouts. India’s countryside is surprisingly uniform. It is also mostly flat. A distant hill serves only to emphasise its flatness. Distinctive features are lacking; the same mauve-flowered convolvulus straggles shamelessly on trackside wasteland and the same sleek drongos – long-tailed blackbirds – festoon the telegraph wires like a musical annotation. It could be Bihar or it could be Karnataka, equally it could be Bengal or Gujarat. Major continental gradations, like west Africa’s strata of Sahara, sahel and forest or the North American progression from plains to deserts to mountain divide, do not apply. The subcontinent looks all of a muchness.

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There are, of course, exceptions; in India there are always exceptions, mostly big ones. The Himalayas, the most prominent feature on the face of the earth, grandly shield the subcontinent from the rest of Asia; likewise the Western Ghats form a long and craggy rampart against the Arabian Sea. Both are very much part of India, the Himalayas as the abode of its gods, the Ghats as the homeland of the martial Marathas, and both as the source of most of India’s rivers. But it is as if these ranges have been pushed to the side, marginalised and then regimented like the plunging V of the south Asian coastline, so as to clear, define and contain the vast internal arena on which Indian history has been staged.

An instructive comparison might be with one of Eurasia’s other subcontinents – like Europe. Europe minus the erstwhile Soviet Union comprises about the same area as the Indian subcontinent (over four million square kilometres). But uniform and homogeneous it is not. Mountain chains like the Alps and the Pyrenees, plus a heavily indented coastline and a half-submerged continental shelf, partition the landmass into a tangle of semi-detached peninsulas (Iberia, Scandinavia), offshore islands (Britain, Ireland) and mountain enclaves (Switzerland, Scotland). The geographical configuration favours separation, isolation and regional identity. Corralled into such natural compartments, tribes could become nations and nations become states, confident of their territorial distinction.

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But if for Europe geography decreed fragmentation, for India it intended integrity. Here were no readily defensible peninsulas, no snowy barriers to internal communication and few waterways which were not readily crossable for much of the year. The forests, once much more widespread than today, were mostly of dry woodland which afforded, besides shelter and sanctuary to reclusive tribes and assorted renunciates, a larder of exotic products (game, honey, timbers, resins) for the plains dwellers. Only in some peripheral regions like Kerala and Assam did this sylvan canopy become compacted into impenetrable rainforest. Wetlands also were once much more extensive. In what are now Bangladesh and Indian West Bengal, the Ganga (Ganges) and the Brahmaputra rivers enmesh to filter seawards in a maze of channels which forms the world’s most extensive delta. Semi-submerged as well as densely wooded, most of Bengal made a late entry onto the stage of history. But wetlands, too, supplied a variety of desirable products, and during the dry summer months they contracted dramatically. Different ecological zones complemented one another, encouraging symbiosis and exchange. Nomads and graziers, seers and pilgrims, traders and troops might pass freely across the face of such a congenial land. It seemed ready-made for integration and empire.

Climate decided otherwise. ‘India is an amalgam of areas, and also of disparate experiences, which never quite succeeded in forming a single whole;’4 only the British, according to Fernand Braudel, ever ruled the entire subcontinent; integration proved elusive because the landmass was too large and the population too numerous and diverse. But surprisingly, considering Braudel’s emphasis on environments, he ignores a more obvious explanation. Settlement was not uniform and integration not easily achieved because what geography had so obligingly joined together, hydrography put asunder.

India enjoys tropical temperatures, yet during most of the year over most of the country there is no rain. Growth therefore depends on short seasonal precipitations, as epitomised by the south-west monsoon which sweeps unevenly across nearly the whole country between June and September. The pattern of rainfall, and the extent to which particular landscapes can benefit from it by slowing and conserving its run-off, were the decisive factors in determining patterns of settlement. Where water was readily available for longest, there agriculture could prosper, populations grow, and societies develop. Where not, stubby fingers of scrub, broad belts of desert and bulging plateaux of rock obtruded, cutting off the favoured areas of settlement one from the other.

Like lakes, long rivers with little fall, especially if their flood is prolonged by snow-melt as with the Ganga and the Indus, serve the purpose of conserving water well. Much of northern India relies on its rivers, although the lands they best serve, as also their braided courses and even their number, have changed over the centuries. Depending on one’s chosen date, Indian history begins somewhere on the banks of north India’s litany of great rivers – either along the lower Indus or amongst the ‘five rivers’ (panjab, hence Panjab, or Punjab) which are its tributaries, or in the ‘two rivers’ (do-ab, hence Doab) region between the Jamuna (Jumna) and the Ganga, or along the middle Ganga in eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

North India’s mighty river systems ordained much the most extensive of these well-watered zones of agricultural settlement; and though these zones were several, in the course of the first millennium BC they tended to become contiguous, thus creating a corridor of patchy cultivation and settlement from the north-west in what is now Pakistan to Bihar in the east. Here commercial exchange, cultural uniformity and political rivalry got off to an early start. The corridor became a broad swathe of competing states, cherishing similar ideals, revering common traditions and inviting claims of paramountcy. For empire-builders like the Mauryas, Guptas and Vardhanas, this was where the idea of Indian dominion began.

Elsewhere surface reservoirs supplemented rivers as a useful means of water conservation if the terrain permitted. In the deep south, weeks after Tamil Nadu’s November rains have ceased, what looks from the air like chronic flooding proves to be a cunningly designed patchwork of fields with their sides so embanked as to form reservoirs, or ‘tanks’. When, after carefully managed use and the inevitable evaporation, the water is nearly exhausted, the tank can itself be planted with a late rice crop. Since the peninsula lacks the vast alluvial plains of the north and has to accommodate hills like the Western Ghats, zones favourable to agricultural settlement were here smaller although numerous and, in cases like the Kerala coast, exceptionally well watered.

In other regions geology did its best for moisture conservation by trapping water underground. From wells it could then be laboriously hauled to the surface for limited irrigation. For the intervening zones of greatest aridity, this sub-surface water was the only source available during most of the year. And since about half the subcontinent receives less than eighty centimetres of rain per year, these arid zones were large. By supposing a continuity between the western deserts of Sind/Rajasthan and the drier parts of central India plus the great Deccan plateau of the peninsula, a broad north–south divide has sometimes been inferred. In fact the terminology here is too vague (even the Deccan is more a designation of convenience than a natural feature). Moreover, considerable rivers traverse this divide: the Chambal and Betwa, tributaries of the Jamuna, afford north–south corridors between the Gangetic plain and the peninsula. And slicing across the waist of India, the west-flowing Narmada forms a much more obvious north–south divide; indeed it figures historically as something of an Indian Rubicon between the north and the peninsula. Micro-zones with excellent water conservation also dot both Rajasthan and the Deccan; in historical times they would sustain a succession of the most formidable dynasties.

As with the forests and wetlands, the dry-lands were not without their own sparser populations, typically herdsmen and warriors. As barriers, dry regions are hardly as formidable as the seas and mountains of Europe. But as boundaries and frontier zones they did have something of the same effect, encouraging separation, fostering distinction and, in time, confronting ambitious rulers with the great Indian paradox of a land that invited dominion full of lesser rulers who felt bound to resist it.

The socio-cultural dimension to this climate-induced paradox would be even more enduring. Indeed it largely accounts for the strength of ‘regional’ sentiment in the subcontinent today. In those favoured, because well-watered, zones where settlement became concentrated, surplus agricultural production encouraged the development of non-agricultural activities. Archaeologists are alerted to this process by the distribution of more standardised implements, weapons and styles of pottery. These things also help in the identification of the favoured areas – most notably, and at different times, that great trail across the north from the Indus to the Gangetic basin, plus Gujarat, Malwa and the Orissan littoral in mid-India. In the south a similar diversification is inferred, although here the archaeological display-case remains somewhat empty. Save for a few Stone Age productions, south India’s history has to wait until jump-started by a remarkable literary outpouring at the very end of the first millennium BC.

As crafts and trades prospered, specialisation encouraged congregation, and congregation urbanisation. Within the same favoured enclaves, ideological conformity, social stratification and political formation followed. The models for each – for an effective religion, a harmonious society and a legitimate state – married local elements and imperatives with a set of norms derived from the propagandised traditions of an Indo-Aryan people who had emerged in north India by 1000 BC. These Indo-Aryans were probably outsiders and, as well as a strong sense of community centred on elaborate rites of sacrifice, they possessed in the Sanskrit language an exceptionally versatile and persuasive medium of communication. Had India been as open and uniform a land as geography suggests, no doubt Sanskrit and its speakers would speedily have prevailed. They did do so over much of north India, but not speedily and not without compromise. Further afield, in west, east and central India and the Deccan, the process somewhat misleadingly known as ‘Aryanisation’ took even longer and involved so much compromise with local elements that hybridisation seems a fairer description. From it emerged most of the different languages and different social conformations which, heightened by different historical experiences, have given India its regional diversity, and which still distinguish the Bengali from the Gujarati or the Panjabi from the Maratha.

The pantheon of spirits and deities worshipped in each zone, or region, typified this process of hybridisation, with Indo-Aryan gods forsaking their original personae to accommodate a host of local cults. Thus did Lord Vishnu acquire his long list of avatars or ‘incarnations’. In parts of India this process of divine hybridisation is still continuing. Every year each village in the vicinity of Pudukottai in Tamil Nadu commissions from the local potter a large terracotta horse for the use of Lord Ayanar. Astride his splendid new mount, Ayanar will ride the village bounds at night, protecting the crops and warding off smallpox. But who is this Ayanar? None other than Lord Shiva, they tell you. The pan-Indian Shiva, himself an amalgam of various cults, looks to be only now in the process of usurping the Tamil Lord Ayanar. But it could be the other way round. To the people of Pudukottai it is Ayanar who is assuming the attributes of Shiva.

As with gods, so with the different languages spoken in India’s zonal regions. In its earliest form Marathi, the language now mainly spoken in Maharashtra, betrayed Dravidian as well as Sanskrit features. At some point a local form of early Dravidian, a language family now represented only in the south, is thought to have been overlain by the more prestigious and universal Sanskrit. But the precedence as between local indigenous elements and Sanskritic or Aryan influences is not clear. Did Sanskrit speakers domiciled in Maharashtra slowly absorb proto-Dravidian inflexions? Or was that too the other way round?

A more clear-cut example of Aryanisation/Sanskritisation is provided by the many attempts to replicate the topography featured in the Sanskrit epics. By word of mouth core elements of the Mahabharata and Ramayana had early penetrated to most of India. By the late centuries of the first millennium BC, even deep in the Tamil south they knew of the Pandava heroes who had fought the great Bharata war for hegemony in the Ganga-Jamuna Doab and of Rama and Lakshmana’s expedition from Ayodhya to rescue the Lady Sita. Clearly these stories had a universal appeal, and in a trail of still recognisable place-names their hallowed topography was faithfully adopted by far-flung rulers anxious to garner prestige. The trail of ‘Ayodhyas’, ‘Mathuras’, ‘Kosalas’, ‘Kambojas’ and so on would stretch way beyond India itself, most notably into areas of Indian influence in south-east Asia. And like that hybridisation of deities, it continues. In Karnataka a Kannada writer complained to me that, despite the best efforts of the state government in Bangalore to promote the Kannada language, villagers still persisted in Sanskritising the names of their villages in a bid for greater respectability, then lobbying the Post Office to recognise the change.

As well as renaming local sites and features, some kings actually tried to refashion them in accordance with the idealised models and layouts of Sanskrit literary tradition. The Rashtrakuta rulers of eighth-to tenth-century Maharashtra evidently conceived their sculpted temple-colossus at Ellora as a replica of the Himalayas. It was named for Shiva as Lord of Mount Kailas (a peak now in Tibet) and was provided with a complement of Himalayan rivers in the form of voluptuous river deities like the Ladies Ganga and Jamuna. In a bid to appropriate the same sacred geography the great Cholas went one better, and actually hauled quantities of water all the way from the Ganga, a good two thousand kilometres distant, to fill their temple tanks and waterways around Tanjore. Thus was authenticated their claim to have recreated the north Indian ‘holy land’ in the heart of Tamil Nadu.

Geography, like history, was seen as something which might be made to repeat itself. In tableaux like that of the Taj Mahal the Mughal emperors strove to realise the Islamic ideal of a paradise composed of scented verdure, running water and white marble. Later, in leafy hill-stations, the British aimed at recreating their own idealised environment of green gables and lych-gated churchyards connected by perilous pathways and fuchsia hedges; new names like ‘Annandale’ and ‘Wellington’ were added to the map; existing nomenclatures were bowdlerised and anglicised.

Now they are being vernacularised. This is a confusing time for both visitors to India and those who write about it. With the process of revision far from complete, the chances of finding spellings and appellations which are recognisable and acceptable to all are slim. At the risk of offending some, I have continued to call Mumbai ‘Bombay’, Kolkota ‘Calcutta’ and Chennai ‘Madras’; to non-Indians these names are still the more familiar. On the other hand I have adopted several spellings – for instance ‘Pune’ for Poona, ‘Awadh’ for Oudh, ‘Ganga’ for Ganges, ‘Panjab’ for Punjab – which may not be familiar to non-Indians; they are, however, in general use in India and have become standard in South Asian studies.

For anyone ignorant of both Sanskrit and Persian, transliteration poses another major problem. Again, I lay no claim to consistency. For the most part I have kept the terminal ‘a’ of many Sanskrit words (Rama for Ram, Ramayana for Ramayan, etc.) and used ‘ch’ for ‘c’ (as in Chola) and ‘sh’ for most of the many Sanskrit ‘s’s (Vishnu for Visnu, Shiva for Siva, Shatavahana and Shaka for Satavahana and Saka). The knowledgeable reader will doubtless find many lapses for which the author, not the typesetter, is almost certainly responsible – as indeed he is for all the errors and omissions, the generalisations and over-simplifications, to which five thousand years of tumultuous history is liable.

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