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Ram Sharan Sharma (26 November 1919 – 20 August 2011), commonly referred to as R. S. Sharma, was an eminent historian and academic of Ancient and early Medieval India. He taught at Patna University and Delhi University (1973–85) and was visiting faculty at University of Toronto (1965-1966). He also was a senior fellow at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He was a University Grants Commission National Fellow (1958–81) and the President of Indian History Congress in 1975. It was during his tenure as the Dean of Delhi University’s History Department that major expansion of the department took place in the 1970s.The creation of most of the positions in the Department were the results of his efforts.He was the founding Chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) and a historian of international repute.

On his death, at a function organised by the Indian Council of Historical Research and hosted by the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, eminent historians Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib, D N Jha, Satish Chandra, Kesavan Veluthat and ICHR Chairperson Basudev Chatterji paid rich tributes to Sharma and emphasised his influence.Professor Bipan Chandra paid him the most handsome tribute: “After D.D. Kosambi, R.S. Sharma was the greatest historian of India.”

During his lifetime, he authored 115 books published in fifteen languages. He influenced major decisions relating to historical research in India in his roles as head of the departments of History at Patna and Delhi University, as Chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research, as an important member of the National Commission of the History of Sciences in India and UNESCO Commission on the history of Central Asian Civilizations and of the University Grants Commission and, above all, as a practising historian.At the instance of Sachchidananda Sinha, when Professor Sharma was in Patna College, he worked as a special officer on deputation to the Political Department in 1948, where prepared a report on the Bihar-Bengal Boundary Dispute.His pioneering effort resolved the border dispute forever as recorded by Sachchinand Sinha in a letter to Rajendra Prasad.

Sharma was born in Barauni, Begusarai, Bihar.With great difficulty his father sponsored his education till matriculation. After that he kept on getting scholarships and even did private tuitions to support his education.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.His later association with Dr. Sachchidananda 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.R.S. Sharma was foremost among the Indian intellectuals who wanted historians to realise that the discipline of history was not just about what happened in the past but what its lessons were for imaginatively and intelligently responding to the challenges of the present.

He passed matriculation in 1937 and joined Patna College, where he studied for six years from intermediate to postgraduate classes.He did his PhD from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London under Professor A. L. Basham.He taught at colleges in Arrah (1943) and Bhagalpur (July 1944 to November 1946) before coming to Patna College, Patna University in 1946.He became the head of the Department of History at Patna University from 1958–1973.He became a university professor in 1958. He served as professor and Dean of the History Department at Delhi University from 1973–1978. He got the Jawaharlal Fellowship in 1969. He was the founding Chairperson of Indian Council of Historical Research from 1972–1977. He has been a visiting fellow at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London (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.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.

R.S.Sharma was known for his simplicity.He was tall, fair and was always clad in dhoti-kurta.Historian Suvira Jaisawal, Sharma’s first PhD student, remembers her teacher not only giving a lesson in good writing but even mundane stuff like how to put a pin in papers so it did not hurt anyone.In the opinion of his student, historian Dwijendra Narayan Jha, “A man of courage, conviction, utter humility and a strong social commitment, Professor Sharma is as unassuming as indefatigable in his academic pursuits. Full of compassion, he has been a constant source of inspiration to his pupils and other younger scholars. While he has been all warmth to his friends, he is extremely decent and generous to his detractors. His qualities of head and heart make him a truly great man.”

Professor Sharma’s mastery of epigraphic, literary and archaeological texts enabled him to demolish many myths created by imperialist-colonialist historiography as well as by the cultural chauvinists of more recent times, and made scientific study of the ever-changing Indian society in all its dimensions possible.His humility had no limits – he was always ready to learn even from a novice working in the discipline of history and go to the extent of acknowledging him/ her in his works.Such a combination of scholarship and humility is not seen easily today, when even toddlers in history writing prefer to blow their own trumpets in the din of the market.

In his writings Professor Sharma has focussed on early Indian social structure, material and economic life, state formation and political ideas and the social context of religious ideologies and has sought to underline the historical processes which shaped Indian culture and civilisation.In his study of each of these aspects of Ancient Indian History he has laid stress on the elements of change and continuity.This has significantly conditioned his methodology which basically rests on a critical evaluation of sources and a correlation between literary texts with archaeology and ethnography.His methodology is being increasingly extended to the study of various aspects of Indian history just as the problems studied by him and the questions raised by him have generated a bulk of historical literature in recent years.