Eminent historian Damodar Dharmananda Kosambi made path-breaking contributions to historical analysis through his methodology, noted well-known feminist historian and civil liberties activist Uma Chakravarti.
During her talk on Kosambi’s Approach to History here on Monday, Prof. Chakravarti said Kosambi was a pioneer in social history at a time when the basic writing of history was either colonial or nationalistic.
This was stated in an introduction to a Telugu translation of D.D. Kosambi’s An Introduction to the Study of Indian History by N. Venugopal.
Though emerging as an antidote to the colonial narrative, the problem with nationalist history was that it constantly evoked a “glorious past”, and its reluctance to look at caste and gender meant disengagement with the present, Prof. Chakravarti noted.
Indologists who narrowed down their tools to texts have typically left the history before 1200 AD to the realm of mythology, which offered nothing in terms of caste and gender.
In contrast, Kosambi, a mathematician by profession, was incredibly eclectic and used all tools at his disposal, including numismatics, statistical derivatives and archaeology to study ethnography, and brought out a set of questions that had not been seriously considered before 1956.
The observation that India did not need slavery thanks to its caste system and debt bondage, and that the Indus Valley could have been a static civilisation as its script remained unchanged for 800 years, were remarkable examples of his historical understanding. His study of Buddhism and State formation were brilliant, Prof. Chakravarti remarked.
“I don’t think Kosambi should be treated as God. The method he followed made him open to analysis…Nobody has adopted his methodology, but just want to follow the line he gave,” she pointed out.
She also noted that Kosambi made a gendered analysis of history in Myth and Reality , even though gender was a dimension much ignored.
I don’t think Kosambi should be treated as God. The method he followed made him open to analysis…Nobody has adopted his methodology, but just want to follow the line he gave
Prof. Uma Chakravarti
Historian Uma Chakravarti said Kosambi was a pioneer in social history at a time when the basic writing of history was either colonial or nationalistic