Posted on: 9 February 2015

The Wonder That Was India
By Arthur Llewellyn Basham
Published by Pan Macmillan
First published in 1954, London

A classic that anybody with an interest in the civilisational beginnings of India must read, this is a work of uncompromising scholarship and a labour of love A.L. Basham’s 'The Wonder that was India' is a brilliant early history of one of the oldest civilisations. When it was first published in the United Kingdom in 1954, it became an instant hit, as it would in the United States a few years later. Since then it has consistently found an avid readership all over the world, been translated into many languages, and has educated and entertained generations of general readers, serious students and travellers to India.

Summary :
Indian civilization is among the oldest in the world, and what is unique in that respect is that the culture of the peoples still remains largely unchanged, with a strong thread of continuity through the ages.

The Wonder That was India takes a look at the country’s history from the time of the Harappan or Indus Valley Civilization. It explores the possible causes for the decline of the Harappan civilization and settlements. The book talks about the possibility of the Harappans having moved towards the south and settled in the peninsular region.

The author also discusses the Aryan invasion theory, supporting it with various research papers and findings of that time. The evolution of Hindu religion is also talked about in this book—from the Harappan times, to the coming of the Aryans and the mutual influence that Hinduism and its off shoots Jainism and Buddhism had on each other.

This book is comprehensive in its coverage of Indian history. It looks at every aspect of Indian society and culture. The Wonder That was India covers everything from religion, governance, social evolution, literary traditions, philosophy languages, and science.

The author explores the significant role the Hindu religion played on the lives of the people. All the literary compositions of ancient times had religious associations. He also puts forward the theory that the European gypsies are of Indian origin.

The Wonder That Was India also gives an insight into modern Indian society and culture, how it became a confluence of different influences from many a quarter throughout the many stages of its history.

About the Author:
Arthur Llewellyn Basham was an Indologist and a professor at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.

Basham wrote many books on India, including A Cultural History of India and The Sharqi Sultanate Of Jaunpur. He also co-authored The Origins and Development of Classical Hinduism, Religious Beliefs and Practices of North India During the Early Medieval Period, and History and Doctrines of the Ajivikas:A Vanished Indian Religion. But his most popular work is the book The Wonder That Was India.

The author was born in 1914 in Essex. His father had served in the Indian Army and told him a lot of stories about India that sparked an interest in him about the country. Basham was interested in studying various religions, from Christianity to Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam. The author obtained a degree in Sanskrit from the School of Oriental and African Studies. He served in the Civil Defence department during the Second World War. After the war, he did a doctorate at the School of Oriental and African studies and later became a Professor at that college. In 1965, Basham left SOAS to join the Australia National University, where he became the Head of the History Department and also Professor of Oriental Civilizations

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Book suggested by Shrikanth Krishnamachary.

A 'must read' Book for those who love Indian History

Almost all bibliophiles of my acquaintance own a copy of this :)

A must on every bookshelf. Enormous work. Ajivakas another great one.

I have the 1959 edition.

I have read the book and loved it.

Must read for history lovers..AL basham's magnum opus..kudos to the wonderful researched work :)

It deserves a very wide audience, as I have mentioned before. What I liked the most, more than the history was the precision of Basham's observations. Attention to detail, that help enlighten the country to the outsider. A couple of little snippets - "the Tamil plain is continuously hot, but its temperature never rises to that of the northern plains in the summer" Or this "the north indian winter is like a rainless May in England" Precise and insightful.

Also coming back to history : While Basham has been much maligned for the Aryan-invasion theory, quite interestingly he was I think one of the first (if not the first) to posit an out-of-india theory in the context of European Gypsies! I can be corrected on this count, if I am mistaken. Today I think Basham's hypothesis is largely conventional wisdom. And everyone largely avers with the view that the European Gypsies originated in North west india and started their westward journey to Europe somewhere in the middle of the 1st millennium of the Christian era.

You're mistaken, Shrikanth. J.C. Rudinger first wrote about the Indian origin of Romanies/Gypsies (mistaken in Germany to be from E"Gyp"t) in "Neuester Zuwachs der Sprachkunde" in 1782. Followed by a work by HMG Grellmann, also in German. Then followed english scholar, Jacob Bryant & the famous work "Die Zigeuner in Europa and Asien" by AF pott in 1844, which laid the foundation for your out-of-india theory of European Gypsies. Comparitive philology ( especially with sanskrit) studies in nineteenth century europe confirmed this . Before Basham, "Indologists including Alexandros Paspati, Franz Miklosich, AC Woolner & other philologists had already agreed to assign Romany language to India. " I quote from historian D.P. Singhal's book " Gypsies: Indians in Exile". And yes, if you haven't heard of the Indian historian, DP Singhal, you should check out his 2 volume 1969 classic - India & the World Civilization. It was dedicated to & edited by A.L. Basham. This master book of Singhal too had an excellent chapter on the Gypsies. Basham had a copy in his library too. AL Basham's copy now sits in my library. Before you go further wandering about in search of the picturesque, a photo enclosed for you ....

Thanks Ratnesh!


RBSI, I hope you have a set of this great 2 book-set. If not, I have a spare 2nd edition - happy to send it to you. It starts with a comment on history writing with a quote from the Panchatantra - " Since verbal science has no final end, Since life is short, and obstacles impend, Let central facts be picked and firmly fixed, As swans extract the milk with water mixed. "

Thank you so much Ratnesh! I placed an order at AbeBooks for the Michigan State Univ Pr, 1969 edition just now. Your generous intent is a gift by itself. Thanks again.

One of my recent acquisitions from a rarebook-seller in France. This was the only copy available on AbeBooks!! Received it yesterday. Lecons de Calcul D'Aryabhata (Ed.1879) (French Edition)

Wonderful. Its such a direct link between music and maths - this aryabhatta system. I found it in a 1911 royal asiatic society booklet by jf fleet in arthur probsthain antiquarian bookstore in central london. Still one of the best rare book stores for right priced books. And on abe too ..

He was the research guide of Prof. Nemai Sadhan Bose, Ex vice chancellor of ViswaBharati and wrote a book on the Chandella dynasty.