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Cognitive Tools for Narrating the Past: A Study of Classical India


The classical Indian variety of history may be called ‘istory’. It is not completely true that no real importance was attached to istory in classical India. But much of oral istorical literature is lost since—perhaps—narrating istory was considered a performance. Unlike historical narratives, istorical narratives are presentative, not representative. Istory can be understood as a system of narrating past events that has a purpose and poetic beauty. Finally, the paper will argue that istory is based on cognitive tools of two types: epistemic tools such as testimony, inference, tarka and aesthetic tools. Thus, it has a hybrid cognitive method.

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  1. See Tripathi (2014: 87) for specific mentions.

  2. See Shamasastry: 14.

  3. svādhyāyaṃ śrāvayet pitrye dharmaśāstrāṇi caiva hi| ākhyānānītihāsāṃśca purāṇāni khilāni ca|| Source:

  4. Tilak (2019: 59).

  5. White (1984: 13).

  6. Roland Barthes, The Discourse of History, translated by Stephen Bann (Source

  7. See Stein (1900: 1–5) for a detailed account of this.

  8. For the original text, see Siṃha (1970: 3–23).

  9. Stein (1900: 3).

  10. Ibid: 2.

  11. Ibid: 4.

  12. See Gnoli (1985: xvi) for a detailed description. I have adopted his translations of the names of aesthetic tastes.

  13. Hughes-Warrington (2008: 30–31).

  14. Shastri (1971: 53–54): evam-prakārāḥ pratyakṣa-paridṛśya-mānā āgamikārthāḥ karma-phala-sambandha-svabhāvā yatrāsate.

  15. See Introduction by Iggers in Ranke (2011): xvii.

  16. Ibid: xvi.

  17. One may observe a poetic character in most istorical narratives. But perhaps for the first time, Ānandavardhana, Abhinava and Kalhaṇa explicitly mentioned that.

  18. Jenkins (1995: 9).

  19. See Guha (2012) for a detailed discussion about tarkas of different types.

  20. Tarkabagish (1988: 375): pramāṇena khalu brāhmaṇena itihāsa-purāṇasya prāmāṇyam abhyanujñāyate. tasmād ayuktam etad-aprāmāṇyam iti... lokavṛttam itihāsa-purāṇasya viṣayaḥ.

  21. The Vedic people never question the authority of Vedas. Everything else can be challenged.

  22. Siṃha (1970: 3).

  23. See Śāstrī (1940: 529–533) for the original texts and Ingalls (1990: 690–8) for translations.

  24. Śāstrī (1940: 533).

  25. I do not wish to talk about metaphysical theories here. All these metaphysical elements are part of the background belief of the istorian.

  26. For a complete account of this, see Gnoli (1985).

  27. Thus ‘generation’ in this context means ‘revelation’.

  28. Ingalls (1990: 70).

  29. Locana of Abhinava in Śāstrī (1940: 38).

  30. This point becomes evident when one sees the medieval paintings of falling angels.

  31. The fundamental feeling should not be expressed through words (kāvya-balād api nānusandheyaḥ). See Gnoli (1985: 29–30) for a good discussion.

  32. Imagine that the vision of Hell is real. In that ‘reality’, whatever causes the principal feeling (which is fear in this case) is the Determinant. The common emotive reactions of the relevant persons are the Consequents. In this case, those are the expression of trouble etc. Some reactions that appear in this piece of ‘reality’ do not regularly accompany the principal feeling. Still they enhance the feeling. Those are Transitory Mental States.


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I am deeply indebted to Dr. Nikhil Govind (Manipal Centre for Humanities, Manipal Academy of Higher Education) and Dr. Vinita Chandra (Department of Humanistic Studies, Indian Institute of Technology (BHU), Varanasi) for their comments and suggestions on an earlier draft of this paper.


This research did not receive any grant from any funding agency.

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Guha, N. Cognitive Tools for Narrating the Past: A Study of Classical India. J. Indian Counc. Philos. Res. 39, 237–248 (2022).

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