The Argument

Romila Thapar

in Time as a Metaphor of History: Early India

Published in print September 1996 | ISBN: 9780195637984
Published online October 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199081912 | DOI:
The Argument

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This chapter assesses Western ideas about early Indian notions of time and history. At the turn of the eighteenth century, the theory emerged that the Indian sense of time was entirely cyclic, was tied into infinite recurring cycles, and did not therefore recognize historical change; and in the absence of a sense of history there was no differentiation between myth and history. Cyclic time was seen as diametrically opposite to linear time and linear time was associated with dialectical change. Two hundred years later, the received wisdom on the subject remains largely unchanged. The chapter discusses that constructions of time in early India are also linked to the study of astronomy and mathematics. It argues that the cyclic time too has a genesis and a termination and its dichotomy with linear time is not as distinct as it seems. Narratives in this period, therefore, have an underlying sense of time: it is sequential, moving from the earliest to the most recent

Keywords: early India; history; cyclic time; linear time; astronomy; mathematics; myth and history; dialectical change

Chapter.  2302 words. 

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