In his youth he came in contact with peasant leaders like Karyanand Sharma and Sahajanand Saraswati and scholars like Rahul Sankrityayan and perhaps from them he imbibed the determination to fight for social justice and an abiding concern for the downtrodden which drew him to left ideology. Sachchidanand Sinha, a social reformer and journalist, broadened his mental horizon and firmly rooted him in the reality of rural India and thus strengthened his ties with the left movement and brought him into the front rank of anti-imperialist and anti-communal intellectuals of the country. He served as professor and Dean of the History Department at Delhi University from 1973–1978. He was the founding Chairperson of Indian Council of Historical Research from 1972-1977. Sharma are figures respected even in the most diehard anti-Communist American universities.
He has been a visiting fellow at the School of Oriental and African Studies (1959–64); University Grants Commission National Fellow (1958–81); visiting Professor of History in University of Toronto (1965–66); President of Indian History Congress in 1975 and recipient of Jawaharlal Nehru Award in 1989. Jayaswal Research Institute, Patna (1992–94); he was invited to receive Hemchandra Raychaudhuri Birth Centenary Gold Medal for outstanding historian from The Asiatic Society in August 2001; and in 2002 the Indian History Congress gave him the Vishwanath Kashinath Rajwade Award for his life-long service and contribution to Indian history. Sharma, a perceptive historian of Ancient India, has too great a regard for the truth about the social evolution in India over a period of two thousand years, stretching from 1500 BC to 500 AD, to take refuge in a world of make-believe.” Professor Sumit Sarkar opines: “Indian historiography, starting with D. Kosambi in the 1950s, is acknowledged the world over – wherever South Asian history is taught or studied – as quite on a par with or even superior to all that is produced abroad. They cannot be ignored if you are studying South Asian history.” Under his guidance the department of History, Patna University, drastically changed its syllabi and made a sharp departure from the communal and imperialist historiographical legacy of the colonial period.
He is a member of many academic committees and associations. His works have been translated into many Indian languages apart from being written in Hindi and English. In his honour, a selection of essays was published by the K. The development of the department of History, Delhi University, owes a great deal to the efforts of Professor Sharma who radicalized it by converting it into a citadel of secular and scientific History and waged an all out war against communalist historiography.
In contrast to his predecessors who had focussed their attention on the study of higher orders, he published his Sudras in Ancient India as early as 1958 and examined the relationship of the lower social orders with the means of production from the Vedic age up to the Gupta period.
In the following year (1959) his Aspects of Political Ideas and Institutions in Ancient India, apart from national chauvinist and revivalist approach of earlier Historians, emphasized the material basis of the power structure in Ancient India, a point he also stressed in his later work The Origin of State in India (1990).
He became the deputy-chairperson of UNESCO‘s International Association for Study of Central Asia from 1973–1978; he has served as an important member of the National Commission of History of Sciences in India and a member of the University Grants Commission. He is also the president of the editorial group of the scholastic magazine Social Science Probings. He has the credit of activising the dapartment which was suffering from an almost incurable inertia and of initiating academic programmes which gave a distinct character to the History department of Patna University and thereby bringing it into the vanguard of secular and scientific historiography.
Sharma got the Campbell Memorial Gold Medal (for outstanding Indologist) for 1983 by the Asiatic Society of Bombay in November, 1987; received the H. Barpujari Biennial National Award by Indian History Congress for Urban Decay in India in 1992 and worked as National Fellow of the Indian Council of Historical Research (1988–91). He is a member of the Board of Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Library. In Delhi where he spent a smaller part of his teaching career, Professor Sharma’s achievements are no less significant.
Professor Sharma’s researches cover the whole range of early Indian history and are largely summarized in his popular textbook Ancient India (1977) written for the National Council of Educational Research and Training.
The publication of his monograph Indian Feudalism in 1965 caused almost a furore in the academia, generating intense debate and sharp responses both in favour of and against the applicability of the model of “feudalism” to the Indian situation at any point of time.
His Social Changes in Early Medieval India, being the first Dev Raj Chanana Memorial Lecture, brought into focus the changes in social structure that accompanied the origin and growth of feudalism in early India and in 1987 his Urban Decay in India (c.300-1000) drew attention to the overwhelming mass of archaeological evidence to demonstrate the decline of urban centres in early medieval period which reinforces his arguments reharding the genesis and growth of feudalism in India.
In another work, Material Culture and Social Formations in Ancient India (1985), on which he worked as Jawaharlal Nehru Fellow, Professor Sharma has sought to unravel the process of class formation, and social implications of the material changes in the Vedic period and in the age of the Buddha on the basis of literary and archaeological sources.
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Bhagalpur is a city of historical importance on the southern banks of the river Ganges in the Indian state of Bihar.
Sharma wrote two books, Looking for the Aryans (Orient Longman, 1995) and Advent of the Aryans in India (Manohar, 1999), to demolish the myth assiduously cultivated by the historiography that the Aryans were the original inhabitants of India and Harappa culture was their creation.