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Sircar, Dineschandra


Sircar, Dineschandra (1907-1985) folklorist, historian, epigraphist. Born in a family of Ayurvedic physicians at Krishnanagar, near Faridpur, Dineschandra Sircar graduated with Honours in Sanskrit in 1929 and obtained a First Class in his MA Examination in 1931 in Ancient Indian History and Culture with specialisation in Epigraphy and Numismatics from the university of calcutta. He was awarded the Mouat Gold Medal for the successful completion of his research work as a Premchand Roychand Student under the supervision of DR Bhandarkar in 1937.

Dineschandra began his professional career as Lecturer in the Department of Ancient Indian History and Culture, University of Calcutta (1937-49). Then he served the Epigraphy Branch of the Archaeological Survey of India and eventually became the Government Epigraphist. In 1962 he returned to the university as Carmichael Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture and retired in 1972.

Dineschandra wrote his first monograph, The Successors of the Satavahanas in the Lower Deccan, in 1939 and till his death in 1984 he produced no less than forty monographs, about twelve hundred research articles, notes and reviews and edited about twenty-two books. His unparalleled mastery lay in the field of deciphering and editing early Indian inscriptions, especially those in the Brahmi script. This is best seen in his about 207 articles he contributed to Epigraphia Indica, the specialised journal on Indian inscriptions, which he edited, as the Government Epigraphist of India.

Dineschandra's command over Sanskrit and Prakrt languages and his near legendary grasp of palaeography resulted in the almost perfect editing of old inscriptions, which on most occasions were broken and badly preserved. As inscriptions are usually considered the most reliable among the written documents in early India, the students of early Indian history remain indebted to DC Sircar, as he was widely known, for his contributions to the study of inscriptions. Based on original sources, Sircar's studies invariably bore the stamp of reliability, authenticity and definitiveness. Among his major publications, mention must be made of Select Inscriptions Bearing on Indian History and Civilisation (in two volumes), Indian Epigraphy, Indian Epigraphical Glossary, Asokan Studies, Epigraphical Discoveries in East Pakistan etc. His thorough understanding of the Puranic sources resulted in his equally famous Studies in the Yugapurana and Other Texts, Mahamayuri: List of Yaksas, Studies in the Political and Administrative Systems of Ancient and Medieval India, Studies in the Religious Life of Ancient and Medieval India etc.

Though Sircar is particularly noted for his dispassionate use of epigraphic materials mainly for dynastic and political history, he is one of the pioneers to demonstrate that inscriptions generated extremely valuable data regarding social and economic conditions too. He also clearly pointed out that such epigraphic data may or may not confirm the ideal socio-economic structure laid down in the normative Dharmashastra literature. This is particularly evident in his Problems of Early Indian Social History and 'Aspects of Early Indian Economic Life' (published in the Indian Museum Bulletin, XIV, 1979).

A most significant aspect of his contributions was the lively debate he initiated to question and reject the formulation of the model of Indian feudalism. Countering the notions of Indian feudalism he wrote Landlordism and Tenancy in Ancient and Medieval India as Revealed by Epigraphical Records and Emperor and His Subordinate Rulers. Although Sircar wrote mostly in English he was equally at home in Bangla. His Shilalekha Tamrashasanadir Prasanga, Pala-Purva Yuger Vangsanucarita, Pala-Sena Yuger Vangsanucarita and Sangskrtik Itihaser Prasanga bear ample testimony to this.

Many academic bodies and institutions honoured DC Sircar for his stupendous scholarship. He was elected General President by the Indian History Congress (1980, Bombay session) and was the recipient of Sir William Jones Memorial Plaque (Asiatic Society, Calcutta, 1972). He was a model of scholarship to be emulated by generations of future historians. Dineschandra Sircar died on 8 January 1985. [Ranabir Chakravarti]