Read The Wonder That Was India: A survey of the history and culture of the Indian sub-continent before the coming of the Muslims: Vol 1 by Arthur LlewellynBasham Online


Brand new reprint, pa. best available. a classic, wellbound, illus. 3rd rev. ed. Golden Jubilee Pub. with introduction by Thomas Trautmann"Dr. Basham writes with admirable clarity and sturdy good sense. The early Indian attitude to life with its passionate delight in the senses, its gentle tolerance and kindly humanity, excites his enthusiasm and this is well transmittedthBrand new reprint, pa. best available. a classic, wellbound, illus. 3rd rev. ed. Golden Jubilee Pub. with introduction by Thomas Trautmann"Dr. Basham writes with admirable clarity and sturdy good sense. The early Indian attitude to life with its passionate delight in the senses, its gentle tolerance and kindly humanity, excites his enthusiasm and this is well transmittedthrough some exceptionally fine translations of poetry and prose. As a sympathetic and intelligent introductionto Indian culture, his book could hardly be bettered."— ListenerCover Design: by J.M.S. RawatFrom: the 1996 Printing...

Title : The Wonder That Was India: A survey of the history and culture of the Indian sub-continent before the coming of the Muslims: Vol 1
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ISBN : 9780283354571
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 568 Pages
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The Wonder That Was India: A survey of the history and culture of the Indian sub-continent before the coming of the Muslims: Vol 1 Reviews

  • Kushal Srivastava
    2019-05-02 21:33

    Women in ancient India roamed the streets with naked breasts. Take that, modern world!One cannot refrain from considering any work on Indian culture and history under the scanner of famed "Orientalism" as told to us by Edward Said, if the work is from an Western author. AL Basham though seems doesn't quite fill the bill of an orientalist. This is a work of very high quality and very deep research for which the author learned nearly all the ancient Indian languages and all of its ancient literature. The work is polymathic in it's outlook and covers nearly all known aspects of the Indian civilization from its geography, its literature, governance, religion, philosophy to science and even coinage.Indian culture and its civilization are amongst the oldest in the world and perhaps one of few which are still intact in pretty much the same form as when they were created. This continuity is surprising and in the book Basham has tried to find out the reasons behind it. We are given a quick tour of the Harappa culture and possible reasons for its decline (attack? Natural decline?) according to the author Harappans may have settled down in the South India and could have been the Dasas referred to in literature, the Brahmi script is also probably a derivative of the Harappan script but nothing can be claimed with certainty. The Indian society as it stands today is certainly the amalgamation of Aryans who probably came from somewhere near the modern day Iran and the natives. It is this culture of the Aryans which has been transferred almost undiluted through centuries. Slowly the Aryans dominated the entire sub continent and every inch of India soon had their footprints.There is a lot of information on the Indian religions though not necessarily structured. We come to know that the Aryan religion was in the beginning a sacrificial cult which was later transformed into a devotional cult or the modern day hinduism. All the religions in India have been influenced by each other upto the coming of Muslims. The coming of Buddhism and Jainism brought the non violence and vegetarian aspect into the Indian religions. Almost all of the Indian literature has been religious and even if some were secular like Mahabharata or Ramayana they have been transformed into religious works by later writers. Basham is clearly not much impressed by the ideas expressed in literature of the period, according to him, the literature is mostly either religious or gnomic. What has impressed him is the amazingly and almost supernatural grasp of the language ancient Indian poets have shown.Where else in the world would you find a beauty like this Dadado dudda-dud-dadiDadado duda-di-da-dohDud-dadam dadade duddeDad'-adada-dado 'da-dahTranslation: The giver of gifts, the giver of grief to his foes, the bestower of purity, whose arm destroys the giver of grief, the destroyer of demons, bestower of bounty on generous and miser alike, raised his weapon against the foe.This work is essential for anyone who is interested in knowing the Indian history. It is a brilliant reference material, even if some sections feel dated. Appendices at the end give information on Indian science and maths but is hardly of the same detail as religion or governance. But the importance of mathematics is highlighted in the fact that author calls the unknown mathematician who gave the world the zero as the second most important son of India after Buddha.Oh and according to Basham, the gypsies are of Indian origin, so next time you see Brad Pitt in Snatch remember he is just Rajnikant in disguise.

  • Arun Divakar
    2019-05-13 21:34

    While getting down from a train recently, a small post-it on the wall of the coach caught my attention. It was a quote from Stephen Covey – There are three constants in life…change, choice and principles. I do not know about principles but change and choice are always prevalent when you pause to think about life and also about history. If you were to take only a sample of Indian history (prior to the arrival of the Mughals) and examine it, the sheer number of dynasties and empires that passed through the Indian stage are mindboggling. No single person or enterprise escaped the stamp of change and as cliché would have it, time continued its inexorable march. A. L Basham’s work is a consolidation of the data and writings available at the time of its first publication on how rich a history India had prior to the arrival of the Muslim invaders. The timeline we are talking about is from the rise of the Indus valley civilization to the first arrival of the Mughals.Reading the book was like a trip down memory lane. This feeling was not because I am fully well versed with Indian history but more because this is written in a style that reminded me of high school history classes. I harboured no special liking for this subject in school and to this day I have no idea how I managed to clear that paper. The dry and factual descriptions in the book brought me back to those soporific afternoon classes…sigh ! But I digress and so getting back – change is the most common factor in this book. The first big chapter in the book is a brief history on the dynasties that rose and fell across the length and breadth of the subcontinent in the eras gone by. In hindsight it all seems so fickle and tiny. The power plays, the decades of warfare, blood and glory, the opulence of the royal households are all now recorded for posterity only on files hosted on some database with the Government of India. There are still standing testimonies scattered across the vastness of this landscape with a personal favourite of mine being Hampi in Karnataka. The grandeur of the constructions and the sheer scale of it all made me marvel at the effort that would have gone in to create such a place. Then again a stroll to the magnificent Vijaya Vittala temple or gazing at the Narasimhamoorthy statue tells you how that glorious kingdom was ravaged by the invaders following the Battle of Talikota in 1565. This gets a mention of two lines in the book but having walked those streets, the past glory was still fresh on my mind. The most famous early empire of India of Ashoka has been all but forgotten now even though his is a very popular name in India. Thereby you get a rough picture of the scale of changes that the landscape has been witness to.Don’t let this review make you believe that this is a depressing work about the seemingly momentary nature of history. On the contrary the writing style is purely dispassionate and dry. Basham is a competent chronicler who relies heavily on the available literature of his time as the base for his work. The chapters are broadly divided into art, politics, religion and theology, culture and social structure. Summed together they give an in depth understanding of the Indian subcontinent when the Mughals arrived on the scene. A lot of criticism is levelled against Basham for the glaring omissions and errors in the book but having being first published in 1954, this would have been pretty much obvious. Recommended for its breadth and scope (and also for the unintentional nostalgia !).

  • Tom
    2019-05-09 18:30

    A fine survey of Indian culture up to 15th century or so. It's rare that a semi-academic book 50 years old holds up at all, but this one seems quite useful. It gives the broad outlines of Indian history, politics, society, daily life, religions, arts, and literature in a mere 500 pages. The author knew perhaps a half dozen early Indian languages, and translates from them all, comfortably discuss numismatics and prosody, astronomy and sculpture. Very impressive. I'm sure scholars of classical India could note hundreds of advances in the field since this book's publication. One could also criticize some of the author's assumptions (i.e., that Indian culture "went into decline" with the growing political dominance of Islamic groups in the 16th century, or that history is generalizable at all), but these would be cheap shots. For a 20th century British historian, Basham is remarkably anti-imperialist, avoiding the dominant "they need overlords" narrative of many of his English colleagues, and taking pains to point out the great achievements coming from all aspects of Indian society.In short, this book is recommended to anyone who is generally curious about early and medieval Indian history, a relatively brief introduction for the intelligent non-expert.

  • Maitrey
    2019-04-23 14:26

    Focuses mainly on Indian pre-islamic cultural and religious history (Basham's specialty I think is Buddhism). No good for a correct balanced view now as the book is outdated, but has nice snippets. Recommended if you like Buddhism, the Vedas and Sanskrit. I personally liked it as you can be reasonably certain Basham is not bigoted. One drawback I see is Basham's over reliance on only written records which handicaps him in this period, quite a bit of the book reads like an English translation of the Arthashastra (he's not ready to speculate even when he himself repeatedly states that the Arthashastra maybe unreliable for actual "history on the ground").

  • Ashok Krishna
    2019-05-04 19:31

    Breathtakingly brilliant! ❤️

  • Aditya
    2019-05-20 15:26

    As a young kid, AL Basham was always fascinated by the stories of a mysterious land far away - stories told by his father who lived near Shimla as a british journalist. His deep interest in the history and religions of Indian subcontinent made him work for a PhD under another prominent historian of that time, L.D. Barnett. He went further to hold professorships at various institutes, finally coming to "Oriental Studies at the Asiatic Society of Calcutta".I believe no one ever summarized Indian history in a depth surpassing the level Basham has gone in "The Wonder that was India". From the early civilizations in the west to invasion of Aryans and early ages of "Hindu" society, you will experience what we are told in the school days was just a half baked story, hiding the details that may change your view created by the present political activities.In the book, AL Basham has explained the passage of kings, formation and re-formation of religions, making of the norms of society and gives a perfect picture of what India was like when the Mughals first saw it. “If you don't know history, then you don't know anything. You are a leaf that doesn't know it is part of a tree.", quoted Michael Crichton.

  • Kevan
    2019-04-21 18:24

    I've wanted to buy this book for the better part of 3 years and I finally got my hands on it. Haven't finished it yet, but from what I've read it thoroughly deserves its reputation as a classic, holding up well after 53 years.In my experience with histories of India, you generally have two extremes: Ones written by Indian authors that so aggressively seek to discount earlier volumes' Western slant it comes across as "one-upsmanship", and the volumes written by Western authors that seek to apologize for earlier transgressions. A.L. Basham achieves a happy medium. Some of his language can be excused as indicative of the time in which he wrote the book, 7 years after the Partition, but otherwise he does a great job of covering Indian history up to the High Middle Ages with thoroughness and equanimity. His writing is also very engaging.As the foreward in this new edition points out, the book stops "before the coming of the Muslims" because Basham didn't have any background in Persian, not as any sort of "statement" about that part of Indian history.

  • Stephen
    2019-04-25 21:32

    Imagine that Will Durant had penned a loving history of just the Indian subcontinent, and you'll have something very close to The Wonder That Was India. Like Durant, the author covers politics, society, economics, religion, arts, and literature. He writes as a straightforward admirer of Indian culture, with a graceful pen.

  • Jithin Mukundan
    2019-04-29 19:26

    A great work on the history of ancient India. The author begins the book praising the Indian civilization in the introduction chapter and I was afraid that the rest of the book would be an uncritical glorification of India's past. But what followed was an honest description of actual facts to understand Indian civilization. Some of the theories described in the book have been falsified or are updated now, but that would not be a negative mark, as the author at the time of publication of this book had made exhaustive use of existing sources to describe ancient India. And I believe he has done it wonderfully. Being a foreign author, his knowledge in Indian languages is remarkable. The in depth knowledge of various Indian books (Arthashastra, Vedas, Upanishads, Smritis, Sutras, Jatakas etc) is visible throughout the book. The excerpts from various literary works like Meghdoot, Abijnanashakuntalam, Silappadikaram etc given in the book, even though brief, are beautiful and helpful in understanding these literary works.

  • S Patil
    2019-05-12 15:24

    There are claims that need citationse.g. girls were less important than sons, the citation about "Rajputs killing infant girls" is after vedic times. Women had rights to choose husbands but they were supposed to be submissive, this claim also needs citation, otherwise the claim is self-contradicting. Varnas and caste are different things, caste by birth and introduction of "untouchable" caste and overall degeneration of Hindusm started around 13th Century around the same time of invasion of Moghuls. Before that Varna of someone was decided after finishing education and not by birth.All in all many claims specially about women's secondary status are without citations, so can't buy the claims from this survey. This is contradicting other historians' study (with citations) that in Vedic times women were treated equally.

  • Ishaan
    2019-04-19 22:36

    If you want to have a detailed overview of the cultural history of ancient India, this is a great book. I only found two drawbacks though: 1. The book talks less about the social life of that period. It might be because of lack of resources. Need to check that. 2. Since it was written long back, it covers some theories which are no longer consistent with modern findings. (like Aryan Invasion Theory).If you are a history enthusiast, do read this book.

  • Swati Pande Pande
    2019-04-24 22:38

    I have not read any other historical perspective on pre-Muslim era other than Basham's work. Though I am currently reading The Moghuls by Harbans Mukhia that is considered one of the masterpiece, I am yet to find anything close to Basham's work! Strongly recommended for people loving to read Indian History.

  • Tariq Mahmood
    2019-04-23 15:45

    The book is very important in establishing a flourishing culture before the Muslim conquest in the region. But the style is very academic and fails to maintain interest throughout the huge book. The book therefore becomes a reference book which still has a place on the bookshelf.

  • Ralph Goldman
    2019-05-09 20:46

    was hooked.....

  • Ankit Modi
    2019-04-25 21:35

    Arthur Basham has given a very well researched and detailed account of pre-Islamic India. The details about the daily life in the magnificent empires of Chandragupta Maurya, Ashoka, Chandra Gupta, Samudra Gupta and Vikramaditya are fascinating. You get to know some lesser-known kingdoms in detail like the Cholas or the Vijayanagar empire. I wonder why our history books don't teach about them in as much detail as the Mughal or the British empire.The historical accounts of religions especially Buddhism and Jainism were fascinating. The details about the caste system and its flexibility were intriguing- more so when you know the kind of rigid structure it has taken in recent centuries.I especially liked the development of language in ancient India. How Sanskrit became what it is, major literary works of different eras, translations of poems which have survived for more than a thousand years. The parts about music, dance, paintings, and monuments are also well researched. This book felt like taking a stroll inside a museum.The only issue that I had (might be nitpicking in here) was that the book was factual to an extent that the narrative became monotonous after a while. If you can bear through those minor phases of boredom, then ancient India would seem no less than a wonder !

  • Vaibhav Vds
    2019-05-08 20:50

    This is an accurate depiction of Indian culture and anyone who calls him/her an Indian can start understanding why. There are tons of new citation regarding India's scientific contribution to the world but most significant and almost entirely proscribed is the mechanics of Sanskrit language that gave rise to almost all the modern languages as we know them today. However, Indian writing was fraught with pedantry and excessive adulation to the king making it of low quality overall, with few exceptions off course. Overall, this book is a masterpiece filled with some quality research and worth reading once.

  • Aayush Raj
    2019-05-20 22:26

    It is not uncommon that information overload has the capacity to impede judgment, not in its strict rational sense but of how much information should be filtered and let through the outlet to the audience. This task may be eased, though only in a limited way, by meticulous research and analysis. But beyond that remains the work of delivering the analysed and filtered data to a group as diverse, as is the globe and make them understand the serving without a personal interaction.If what is then served is in no way tiring, it leaves the recipient appalled. This book is written and delivered in a similar manner around the subject of Indian ancient history. #amustread

  • Theodore
    2019-05-01 19:38

    This was the first book that was recommended to me by a professor in Grad school. I told them I'd get right on that, so a few decades later I did. It has just the right amount of detail for a serious non-specialist. The age of the book shows here and there and it has a very end of the empire British feel to it, but the scholarship is first rate and fair. My complaint (based on no research whatsoever) is that the Greek influence on Indian culture is surely over emphasized. The appendices are a nice addition.

  • R Krishna
    2019-04-23 15:41

    An objective and comprehensive take on ancient history with more insight into the socio-economic conditions of people in those times unlike the chronological listing of empires. A must read for history aficionados.

  • Satya BratTiwari
    2019-04-24 16:32

    Very nice and detailed book. It gives insightful knowledge about Ancient India.

  • Lalit Sagar
    2019-05-05 16:32

    ‘A Wonder that was India’ is certainly a monumental work of scholarship and labour of love on the Indian history and culture. India is famed for being a land of continued civilization where the traditions have been passed from the times of the Indus Valley. The author’s sweeping research in different areas in order to maintain the continuity in narration and give the readers a clearer picture on Ancient India is commendable. The various topics dealt in the book are: political history, society, statecraft, religion, art and architecture and literature. In the chapter on political history, the rise and fall of the empires in the North India is briefly, but eloquently narrated, however, the treatment of the history of the peninsular India is rather disappointing, with lesser content. In the chapters on the society and statecraft, I presume that most of the concepts are already known to the Indians, but it would be helpful to the non-Indians for obtaining a general understanding of the society. However, the reading becomes a bit tedious at times when passages are directly quoted from sources such as Chanakya’s Arthashastra and Megasthenes’ Indika, without much interpretation or analysis. The chapter on religion accounts for more than one-fifth of the volume of the book, and can be very interesting for the religion enthusiasts to learn about their origins. The ups and downs of Hinduism and how the prominence attached to the different Gods have risen and fallen from the Vedic Age to the present times is wonderfully explained. The story of the assimilative nature of Hinduism and its evolution as an all encompassing religion which identifies not just with the people, but with the land itself, to such an extent that it treats Buddha as an incarnation of Vishnu is fascinating! The author has immense respect for Buddha inasmuch as he calls him as the greatest person to be born on the Indian soil. So, the elaborate discussions on Buddhism and its various forms, which have sadly vanished from India but continue to this day in Sri Lanka, China, Japan and South-East Asian countries, should not come as a surprise. The chapter on art and architecture makes an interesting read with links to the administration, and tries to explain the psyche of the people behind the magnificent works. The non-didactic and the other insignificant didactic literature not taken up in the rest of the book finds place in the ultimate chapter on language and literature. The author tries to trace the evolution of poetry, prose and drama by providing very handy summaries of popular literary works of different languages and religions. The works are often viewed based on the European taste, however, the works which shed light on the society are given due consideration, and the optimism inherent in the Indian writing in general is brought to the fore. Interestingly, the author compares the works of Shakespeare to Kalidasa, and I hope that the revival of literature will facilitate in the expansion of the readership of the Ancient Indian literature.In conclusion, the author tries to explain the resilience and optimism of India despite the adversities as follows: “The quiet and gentle happiness which has at all times pervaded Indian life where oppression, disease and poverty have not overclouded it will surely not vanish before the more hectic ways of the West.” About sixty years have passed since the publication of this book, and India has shown unprecedented growth to the dismay of several people. I’m certain that the glorious past of India will continue to inspire its own people as well as others in the pursuit of happiness, and help cope with the hectic ways of life in the times to come. In summary, I believe that this book will reveal several facets of Indian culture and heritage, and is worth to be read by Indians and non-Indians alike.

  • Mary Catelli
    2019-05-12 16:48

    As this says, it is a survey. For such it's not very dry. Uses archeology and records and travelers' accounts both from Greece and China.The first thing surveyed is of course the basic history. Starts with the Indus civilization, I think it pushes the evidence a bit far, though (alas) in a way that is very common. The invasions, the kings -- the foreign contacts, down to Alexander the Great -- and times of order and chaos. The theory of state, wherein the king is protector, not only from invaders but criminals -- he incurred the guilt of any criminal he did not punish -- and in general, as when Rama was forced to send Sita away because the population doubted her chastity and thought it would bring ill-fortune on them. The practice of spying on the populace, even raising orphans for it.The main four castes and the occupation group ones, which are a lot more flexible and can vanish and appear and go up and down in status. The increasing rigorousness of the rules. While women marrying down was generally disapproved of, men could marry down easily for their second wives, upon a time. Historical forms of marriage, including one in which the bride choose her bridegroom.Daily life. Religion. Hinduism, discussing the manifold changes throughout history, with the rise of some gods and the descent of others. Vishnu acquiring an avatar as the Buddha -- to preach falsehood to mislead the evil ones. Buddhism's own teachings and its great divisions (Greater Vehicle, where you are supposed to help others to nirvana before you get there yourself, Lesser Vehicle, which goes after nirvana) Jainism. And more obscure ones.And the arts. Personally I skimmed most of the non-literary ones, but the literary ones covered everything from epics to lyric, and I enjoyed them.

  • Anurag
    2019-05-06 17:25

    'The Wonder That Was India' is a book of history intended for the audience of Western countries. Because of this we find numerous references to legends, myths and kings of western world, so that the intended audience can correlate with the corresponding piece of Indian history. There may be references to few unknown events or figures for an Indian reader not well-versed in Western history. This book builds on the theories of Indologists from the starting of colonization of Indian subcontinent. As India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Srilanka share common history, the contents of this book can be read for all these countries without losing context. The author of this book, A. L. Basham, has covered Indian history from the pre-historic times to coming of Muslims in Gangetic Plains which took place roughly around twelfth to thirteenth century. The author of this book solidly believes in Aryan Invasion Theory. Although a prevalent theory in 1965, when this book was first published, there have been few developments in this area, already a touchy issue for Indians. Recent research papers have shown that genetic patterns are mostly similar for all Indians. Few others have argued that language alone cannot be used to prove conclusively that there was Aryan Invasion. If there was an invasion it must have left a bloody trail of destruction, which is nowhere to be found. Presently, scholar continue to be divided in this area. Whereas another history book, 'India : History' by John Keay presents both views and lets reader decide, this book can be noted in its steadfast belief in Aryan Invasion Theory. Read full review of 'The Wonder That Was India' at -

  • Claire S
    2019-05-03 21:44

    from wikipedia:Arthur Llewellyn Basham was born on May 24, 1914, in Loughton, Essex, the son of Abraham Arthur Edward Basham and Maria Jane Basham née Thompson. Although an only child, he grew up in Essex with his adopted sister, who was in fact his cousin on his father's side. His father had been a journalist who served in the Indian Army at Kasauli, near Simla during World War I, and it was the stories that his father told him about India that first introduced him to the culture of the country he would devote his professional career to.[1:] His mother was also a journalist and short story writer further instilling a love of language and literature. As a child, he was also introduced to music and learnt to play the piano to a high standard, writing a number of his own compositions by the age of sixteen.

  • Yugaljoshi
    2019-05-05 17:43

    AL Basham stands upto his reputation. We may not agree with everything there in any historical perspective book but then can't wait for a "gospel" book which has nothing but truth. So Basham gives his account on interpretation of Indian history despite less data available. Quite a few data points facts and figures are thrown up which are useful for a discussion if you sit around with like minded and well read folks.A good book to read to get a quick overview. However as I keep saying that history can always be doubted and countered. So rather than getting into factual accuracy of each data point just read the book to enrich your knowledge about India's history.

  • Navakanth
    2019-05-10 15:39

    This is a treatise of whole of the indian history before the muslim invasion. It is a scientific work (as much as possible) and will serve as an excellent reference book to have and refer to in need. It touches every aspect of indian history including complete historical time map of indian kingdoms, their rich knowledge and ideas (political and economical), arts, architecture, language(s), music and also what was a day-to-day indian. Being scientific, it quotes and refutes/supports many opposing views backing with evidence. Interested to know the history of my motherland, this is a book going to my bookshelf forever!.

  • Bubesh Kumar
    2019-04-26 21:26

    This classic on Indian history before coming of the Muslims, written way back in 1954, is a must read for anyone wanting to understand India on every perspective - religion, literature, politics, society, art, music etc. The author makes the history, unlike most others on history, makes it interesting and gripping. The translations by the author of various ancient literary works in various Indian languages is a great work.. The comparison of Indian history with other contemporary ancient histories, for similarities and differences, all along the book underlines the author's scholarly worth..

  • Naman
    2019-05-06 21:37

    The book contains an in-depth commentary on ancient & pre historic culture of india and a superficial information on the middle ages. Pretty good for a casual reader. "Wonder that was india" is not a very apt name for this book, it doesn't glorify the indian culture and it is just a honest record of what it was like to live in vedic indian society. It has ample no. of illustrations to make reading more enjoyable.Recommended to all indians who finds themselves ignorant about their culture.

  • Mayank Pandya
    2019-05-17 20:25

    This book is more than just a historical reference or a stock of events. It is a work of religious research and understanding of the historical times which are presented quite intelligently knitted together. Reading this book is like visiting a museum where one can see and feel, such is the magic of the content of this book that you would feel that your are almost there. Detailing is good at places and unnecessary text is avoided as well. A good read for students on history/scholars and as well as for those who wants to know the wonder of India that was!

  • Gyan
    2019-04-30 22:29

    It was a long read and at times I thought I should take a break. But, I never knew that ancient history could be so gripping that I will be fascinated by each coming chapter. A small advise to readers that while reading this book please keep in mind that it was written in mid 20th century and it is probably one of the most beautiful account of an outsider's perception about India. Cutting short - A good read for history students.