The reconstruction of a country’s history is a vast project. For India, the task is more difficult because of its topographic location and diversity. From Indus Valley Civilization to modern India. Every phase of India History was full of events and happenings. And, it was always a challenging job for historians to reconstruct Indian history.
Following are the reasons:
- The Proto-Historic period has no written records.
- Few old records found are not in readable conditions.
- It is quite difficult to decipher some ancient Indian scripts.
But still, where there is a will, there is a way! Historians around the world have gathered records and diaries of different travelers. Those travelers’ records tell us about the people and societies’ socio, economic, and cultural conditions.
Many travelers visited India and wrote about the conditions of the Indian Civilizations.
While some records frame the picture of the court, others depicted the social and economic life. The first Foreign traveler whose records are found was Greek scholar Deimachos. Here is a brief description of some important travelers and their work.
Travelers of the North and Central India
Following travelers visited the north and central India during different dynasties.
He was a famous Greek historian and an ambassador of Seleucus-I-Nikator. He resided in India from 302 to 288 BC during the reign of Chandragupta Maurya of the Mauryan Empire. In his famous book. Indica, he described India. The original copy of Indica was lost. But historians such as E.A. Schwanbeck and John Watson McCrindle collected his work and reconstructed a new book, Indica, in 1887.
Megasthines, in Indica, described India as a quadrilateral-shaped country, bounded by the ocean on two sides. He also mentioned the worship of Lord Krishna, seven castes of that time, endogamy, and hereditary occupation.
Fa-Hien visited India in 400 AD, during the Gupta reign. He was a Chinese pilgrim. Vikramaditya was the ruler at that time.
He had been to Kannauj, Sravasti, Taxila, Kapilvastu, Peshawar, etc. He mentioned the religion and court conditions of the people of that time in his travelogue, “Record of Buddhist Kingdoms.” He also mentioned the trade relation of India and its foreign trade with China, Europe, and Asia.
Hiuen Tsang came to India through the Silk Route in 629 AD. He was a Buddhist monk and Chinese scholar; he also wrote the book Si-Yu-Ki. In this book, he mentioned about Buddhist Record of the Western World. He exaggerated the praise of his patron, King Harshavardhana. The book depicted the political, religious, administrative, social, and economic conditions of that time. He studied under the guidance of Acharya Shilabhadra for five years at the University of Nalanda. Si-Yu-Ki describes Kannauj, Patliputra, Prayag Nalanda, and Vallabhi as important cities of then India.
He was an Arab scholar. He wrote a book named Muruj-al-zahab, a compilation of the world’s history. He was from Baghdad.
Al- Biruni was born in present-day Uzbekistan. He was a translator of many great Sanskrit works. He wrote Kitab-ul-Hind in Arabic. He worked deeply in relation to the prevalent caste system of India at that time.
He also tried to depict medieval India’s customs, social life weights, and measures, metrology, lave system, etc. He came to India as Mahmud Ghazni’s slave in 1017 AD.
Marco Polo came to India in 1289 AD. He visited during the reign of Queen Rudramadini of the Kakatiya kingdom. He wrote the book of Sir Marco Polo, in which he describes the rule of a kind and benevolent sules, Queen Rudramadevi.
Ibn Battuta was born in Tangie, Morocco. He visited India in 1332 AD. during the reign of Muhammad Bin Tuglaq. The then sultan appointed him as the Qazi of his court.
He wrote the Arabic book “Rihla ”. The book vividly describes 14th Century India. He mentioned sati, paan, coconut, and the postal system of India. He mostly gave the details of Delhi in his book.
Travelers of South India
Following travelers visited the south side of India.
Nicolo De Conti
Nicole De Conti was from Italy and came to India in 1420 AD via Gujarat. He traveled to the Vijayanagar kingdom during the reign of Devaraya-I. He laid the stone of Christianity in India.
Abdur Razzaq was a Persian scholar and chronicler. He visited the Vijayanagara kingdom.
He wrote a 45-page chapter related to his visit to India in his book, the Matla-us-Sadain Wa Majma-Ul-Bahrain. In his narrative, he gave an account of the reign of Devaraya-II.
Domino Paes, a Portuguese merchant, also visited India in 1520 AD in Vijayanagara during Krishna Deva Raya of the Tuluva Dynasty. He wrote a travelogue, Chronica dos reis de Bisnaga, and was delighted to see the kingdom’s prosperity. Domino described advanced irrigation technology, Vegetation, market, and lakes of the Vijayanagara Empire.
Travelers in the Mughal Court
William Hawkins came to India in 1608 AD in the court of Jahangir. He was a representative of the English East India Company.
Sir Thomas Roe
Sir Thomas Roe was a member of the House of Commons of England. He resided in the court of Jahangir from 1615-19 AD. The main purpose of this stay was to protect the East India company’s factory at Surat.
Jean-Baptise Tavernier was a French merchant. He came to India in 1638 AD in the court of Shah Jahan. In his book, he described Indian diamonds and mines.
François Bernier was a doctor and Historian. He resided in India for 12 years in the Mughal Empire from 1656 AD. In his records, he had criticized the Mughal emperors and their policies.
A Way Forward
Foreign records are an important source of information about Indian history. They should be preserved well so that our future generations can also enjoy the versatility of the ancient world.