chapter  2
11 Pages

Modernity and antiquity

Interpretations of ancient India
WithSugata Bose, Ayesha Jalal

Rabindranath Tagore, modern India's most celebrated poet, wrote to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in 1939 that he could identify only two 'modernists' among India's national leaders. Drawing subsistence from the rich agricultural tracts of the Indus river, the people of Harappa and Mohenjodaro had achieved a highly sophisticated level of urban culture. The immaculateness of their urban planning of streets and drainage might put some of the modern cities of South Asia to shame. Artefacts found at the excavation sites indicate the existence of long-distance trade with that other great ancient civilization – Mesopotamia in modern-day Iraq. Ashoka's messages had a long afterlife and many of the symbols of his ancient monarchy were adopted by the modern Indian republic. Not long after Ashoka's death the great Maurya Empire underwent a process of decentralization.