Romila Thapar (born 30 November 1931) is an Indian historian whose
principal area of study is ancient India. She is the author of several
books including the popular volume, A History of India, and is
Professor Emerita at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in
New Delhi. She has twice been offered the
Padma Bhushan award, but has
declined both times.
2 Recognition and honours
3 Views on revisionist historiography
7 External links
Being the daughter of an army doctor, she attended schools in various
cities in India and attended intermediate of arts at Wadia College,
Pune. After graduating from
Panjab University in English literature,
Thapar obtained a second bachelor's honors degree and a doctorate in
Indian history under
A. L. Basham
A. L. Basham from the School of Oriental and
African Studies, the
University of London
University of London in 1958. She was a reader
in Ancient Indian History at
Kurukshetra University between 1961 and
1962 and held the same position at
Delhi University between 1963 and
1970. Later, she worked as Professor of Ancient Indian History at the
Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, where she is now Professor
Thapar's major works are Aśoka and the Decline of the Mauryas,
Ancient Indian Social History: Some Interpretations, Recent
Perspectives of Early Indian History (editor), A History of India
Volume One, and Early India: From the Origins to AD 1300.
Her historical work portrays the origins of
Hinduism as an evolving
interplay between social forces. Her recent work on Somnath
examines the evolution of the historiographies about the legendary
In her first work, Aśoka and the Decline of the Maurya published in
1961, Thapar situates Ashoka's policy of dhamma in its social and
political context, as a non-sectarian civic ethic intended to hold
together an empire of diverse ethnicities and cultures. She attributes
the decline of the Mauryan empire to its highly centralised
administration which called for rulers of exceptional abilities to
Thapar's first volume of A
History of India
History of India is written for a popular
audience and encompasses the period from its early history to the
arrival of Europeans in the sixteenth century.
Ancient Indian Social History deals with the period from early times
to the end of the first millennium, includes a comparative study of
Hindu and Buddhist socio-religious systems, and examines the role of
Buddhism in social protest and social mobility in the caste system.
From Lineage to State analyses the formation of states in the middle
Ganga valley in the first millennium BC, tracing the process to a
change, driven by the use of iron and plough agriculture, from a
pastoral and mobile lineage-based society to one of settled peasant
holdings, accumulation and increased urbanisation.
Recognition and honours
Thapar has been a visiting professor at Cornell University, the
University of Pennsylvania, and the College de France in Paris. She
was elected General President of the Indian History Congress in 1983
and a Corresponding Fellow of the
British Academy in 1999.
She was awarded the prestigious
Jawaharlal Nehru Fellowship in
1976. Thapar is an Honorary Fellow at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford,
and at the
School of Oriental and African Studies
School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University
of London. She holds honorary doctorates from the University of
Chicago, the Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales
in Paris, the University of Oxford, the University of Edinburgh
University of Calcutta
University of Calcutta (2002) and recently (in 2009)
from the University of Hyderabad. She was elected a Foreign
Honorary Member of the
American Academy of Arts and Sciences
American Academy of Arts and Sciences in
In 2004, the US
Library of Congress
Library of Congress appointed her as the first holder
of the Kluge Chair in Countries and Cultures of the South.
In January 2005, she declined the
Padma Bhushan awarded by the Indian
Government. In a letter to President A P J Abdul Kalam, she said she
was "astonished to see her name in the list of awardees because three
months ago when I was contacted by the HRD ministry and asked if I
would accept an award, I made my position very clear and explained my
reason for declining it". Thapar had declined the
Padma Bhushan on an
earlier occasion, in 1992. To the President, she explained the reason
for turning down the award thus: "I only accept awards from academic
institutions or those associated with my professional work, and not
She is co-winner with Peter Brown of the prestigious
Kluge Prize for
the Study of Humanity for 2008 which comes with a US$1 million
on 23 June 2016
Views on revisionist historiography
Thapar is critical of what she calls a "communal interpretation" of
Indian history, in which events in the last thousand years are
interpreted solely in terms of a notional continual conflict between
Muslim communities. Thapar says this communal
history is "extremely selective" in choosing facts, "deliberately
partisan" in interpretation and does not follow current methods of
analysis using multiple, prioritised causes.
In 2002, the Indian coalition government led by the Bharatiya Janata
Party (BJP) changed the school textbooks for social sciences and
history, on the ground that certain passages offended the
sensibilities of some religious and caste groups. Romila
Thapar, who was the author of the textbook on Ancient India for class
VI, objected to the changes made without her permission that, for
example, deleted passages on eating of beef in ancient times, and the
formulation of the caste system. She questioned whether the changes
were an, "attempt to replace mainstream history with a Hindutva
version of history", with the view to use the resultant controversy as
"election propaganda." Other historians and commentators,
including Bipan Chandra, Sumit Sarkar, Irfan Habib, R.S. Sharma, Vir
Sanghvi, Dileep Padgaonkar and
Amartya Sen also protested the changes
and published their objections in a compilation titled,
Communalisation of Education.
Writing about the 2006 Californian
Hindu textbook controversy, Thapar
opposed some of the changes that were proposed by
Hindu groups to the
Hinduism and Indian history in school textbooks. She
contended that while Hindus have a legitimate right to a fair and
culturally sensitive representation, some of the proposed changes
included material that pushed political agenda.
Thapar's appointment to the Library of Congress's Kluge Chair in 2003
was opposed in an online petition bearing more than 2,000 signatures,
on the grounds that she was a "Marxist and anti-Hindu" and it was
"waste of US money" to support a leftist. Journalist Praful Bidwai
criticised the petition as a "vicious attack" by communalists who are
"not even minimally acquainted" with her work. A number of
academics sent a protest letter to the Library of Congress
denouncing the petition as an attack on intellectual and artistic
Communist Party of India (Marxist)
Communist Party of India (Marxist) supported her
appointment by calling her "a liberal with a scientific outlook".
Martha Nussbaum has stated that Thapar is neither a communist nor a
Marxist historian and the
Library of Congress
Library of Congress treated the petition
with "the indifference that it deserved".
Aśoka and the Decline of the Mauryas, 1961 (revision 1998); Oxford
University Press, ISBN 0-19-564445-X
A History of India: Volume 1, 1966; Penguin, ISBN 0-14-013835-8
Ancient India, Medieval India, 1966, 1968 sq.;
The Past and Prejudice (
Sardar Patel Memorial Lectures), National Book
Trust, 1975, ISBN 81-237-0639-1
Ancient Indian Social History: Some Interpretations, 1978, Orient
Blackswan, ISBN 978-81-250-0808-8
Exile and the Kingdom: Some Thoughts on the Rāmāyana, Rao Bahadur R.
Narasimhachar Endowment lecture, 1978;
Dissent in the Early Indian Tradition, Volume 7 of
M.N. Roy memorial
lecture, 1979; Indian Renaissance Institute
From Lineage to State: Social Formations of the Mid-First Millennium
B.C. in the Ganges Valley, 1985; Oxford University Press (OUP),
The Mauryas Revisited, Sakharam Ganesh Deuskar lectures on Indian
history, 1987; K.P. Bagchi & Co., ISBN 978-81-7074-021-6
Interpreting Early India, 1992 (2nd edition 1999); Oxford University
Press 1999, ISBN 0-19-563342-3
Cultural Transaction and Early India: Tradition and Patronage, Two
Lectures, 1994; OUP, ISBN 978-0-19-563364-1
Śakuntala: Texts, Readings, Histories, 2002; Anthem,
History and Beyond, 2000; OUP, ISBN 978-0-19-566832-2
Cultural Pasts: Essays in Early Indian History, 2003; OUP,
Early India: From Origins to AD 1300, 2002; Penguin,
Somanatha: The Many Voices of History, 2005; Verso,
India: Historical Beginnings and the Concept of the Aryan, Essays by
Thapar, et al., 2006; National Book Trust, ISBN 978-81-237-4779-8
The Aryan: Recasting Constructs, Three Essays, 2008; Delhi,
The Past before Us: Historical Traditions of Early North India, 2013;
Permanent Black, Harvard University Press, ISBN 978-0-674-72523-2
The Past As Present: Forging Contemporary Identities Through History,
2014; Aleph, ISBN 93-83064-01-3
Communalism and the Writing of Indian History, Romila Thapar, Harbans
Mukhia, Bipan Chandra, 1969 People's Publishing House
Situating Indian History: For Sarvepalli Gopal, 1987; OUP,
Indian Tales, 1991; Puffin, ISBN 0-14-034811-5
India: Another Millennium? 2000; Viking, ISBN 978-0-14-029883-3
Select papers, articles and chapters
"India before and after the Mauryan Empire", in The Cambridge
Encyclopedia of Archaeology, 1980; ISBN 978-0-517-53497-7
"Imagined Religious Communities? Ancient History and the Modern Search
Hindu Identity", Paper in Modern Asian Studies, 1989;
"Somanatha and Mahmud", Frontline, Volume 16 – Issue 8, 10–23
Perceiving the Forest: Early India, Paper in the journal, Studies in
History, 2001; doi:10.1177/025764300101700101
Role of the Army in the Exercise of Power, Essay in Army and Power in
the Ancient World, 2002; Franz Steiner Verlag,
The Puranas: Heresy and the Vamsanucarita", Essay in Ancient to
Modern: Religion, Power and Community in India, 2009; OUP,
Rāyā Asoko from Kanaganahalli: Some Thoughts, Essay in Airavati,
Was there Historical Writing in Early India?, Essay in Knowing India,
2011; Yoda Press, ISBN 978-93-80403-03-8
^ "Romila Thapar". Penguin India. Retrieved 12 December 2014.
^ a b "Romila Thapar, Professor Emerita" (PDF). JNU. Archived from the
original (PDF) on 16 June 2015. Retrieved 7 December 2014.
^ "Cultural Pasts: Essays in Early Indian History By
Romila Thapar -
History - Archaeology-Ancient-India". Oup.co.in. 2003-02-03. Retrieved
^ Perspectives of a history – a review of Somanatha: The Many Voices
of a History
^ E. Sreedharan (2004). A Textbook of Historiography, 500 B.C. to A.D.
2000. Orient Longman. pp. 479–480.
^ "Romila Thapar". penguin.co.uk.
^ "Official list of Jawaharlal Nehru Fellows (1969-present)".
Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund.
^ Honoris Causa Archived 8 August 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
^ a b "
Romila Thapar Named as First Holder of the Kluge Chair in
Countries and Cultures of the South at Library of Congress". Library
of Congress. 17 April 2003. Retrieved 4 April 2007.
^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter T" (PDF). American Academy of
Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 21 June 2011.
^ "Romila rejects Padma award" –
Times of India
Times of India article dated 27
^ "Historians Peter Robert Lamont Brown and
Romila Thapar to Share
2008 Kluge Prize". washingtonpost.com.
Rediff Interview/ Romila Thapar". Rediff. 4 February
^ Chaudhry, D.R. (28 April 2002). "Critiques galore!". The Tribune.
Retrieved 7 April 2009.
^ "Hating Romila Thapar". 2003. Retrieved 3 September 2014.
^ a b Mukherji, Mridula; Mukherji, Aditya, eds. (2002).
Communalisation of Education: The history textbook controversy (PDF).
New Delhi: Delhi Historians' Group.
^ Thapar, Romila (9 December 2001). "Propaganda as history won't
sell". Hindustan Times. access-date= requires url= (help)
^ "Communalisation of Education: Fighting history's textbook war".
Indian Express. 28 January 2002. Retrieved 7 April 2009.
^ Thapar, Romila (28 February 2006). "Creationism By Any Other
Name ..." Outlook. Archived from the original on 28 March 2008.
Retrieved 4 April 2007.
^ "Romila Thapar's appointment to
Library of Congress
Library of Congress opposed"- Rediff
article dated 25 April 2003
^ Bidwai, Praful (13 May 2003). "McCarthyism's Indian rebirth".
Rediff. Retrieved 4 April 2007.
^ Gatade, Subhash (June 2003). "Hating Romila Thapar". Himal South
Asian. Archived from the original on 9 December 2006. Retrieved 4
^ (Text) "Letter of Protest by Scholars and Intellectuals Against the
Attack on Romila Thapar". South Asia Citizens Web. 7 May 2003.
Retrieved 4 April 2007.
^ "And Now in USA ... Attack on Romila Thapar". People's
Democracy. 11 May 2003. Retrieved 11 July 2013.
^ Nussbaum, Martha Craven (2008). The Clash Within: Democracy,
Religious Violence, and India's Future. Harvard University Press.
p. 230. ISBN 978-0-674-03059-6.
^ "Exile and the Kingdom: Some Thoughts on the Rāmāyana". Worldcat.
Retrieved 11 December 2014.
^ "Dissent in the Early Indian Tradition". Google Books. Retrieved 11
^ "Communalism and the Writing of Indian History". Google Books.
Retrieved 11 December 2014.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Romila Thapar.
Audio of Romila Thapar's 2005 lecture, "Interpretations of Early
Indian History" at the Walter Chapin Simpson Center for the Humanities
"Delhi Historians Group's Publication "Communalization of Education:
The History Textbooks Controversy", A report in 2002, New Delhi:
Jawaharlal Nehru University, India
ISNI: 0000 0001 1697 6129
BNF: cb12045505k (data)