Prof. Hemchandra Raychaudhuri belonged to a unique breed of academicians. A product of the Bengal Renaissance that was greatly responsible for a revived interest in Indological studies in the country, he was a rare combination of a great scholar, an indefatigable researcher and a spellbinding teacher. However, the greatest contribution he made to Ancient Indian History was his path breaking research that is encapsulated in his magnum opus – Political History of Ancient India - from the Accession of Parikshit to the Extinction of the Gupta Dynasty.
Before Raychaudhuri, the only other definitive work on Ancient Indian History was Vincent Smith's Early History of India. Here Smith practically starts with the period beginning with Alexander's invasion of India in 327 – 324 B.C., though he wrote a few pages on the earlier period from 600 B.C. Prof. Raychaudhuri pushed back the commencement of the historical period to the 9th. Century B.C., when the great Kuru King Parikshit flourished according to the chronological scheme proposed by him.
This was a daunting task as Prof. Raychaudhuri had to reconstruct the pre-Bimbisara period of Ancient Indian History on the basis of a careful analysis of early Indian literary traditions, which he showed contained genuine historical elements. But the indefatigable researcher and scholar that he was, he went through the entire Vedic and Epico-Puranic literature and various other Sanskrit and Prakrit works, as well as Buddhist and Jain texts. Prof Raychaudhuri was probably the only Ancient Indian Historian who was capable of utilizing this stupendous mass of material thus collected to carefully reconstruct this hitherto unrecorded period of Ancient Indian History.
Centrifugal and Centripetal forces
From his research and reconstruction of Ancient Indian History from the 9th.Century B.C. to the extinction of the Gupta dynasty, Prof Raychaudhuri arrived at his distinctive and original central theme of how kingdoms in ancient India that transcended provincial limits were subjected to a struggle between what he called the "centripetal" and "centrifugal" forces. The centrifugal force, he showed, trying to hold the kingdom together and the centripetal force trying to dissolute the kingdom and leading to its extinction.
Prof Raychaudhuri was a passionate votary of truth and facts and did not allow any external influence like nationalism or a pursuit of novel theories to colour facts in any way, as is seen in the works of many historians. For example, Asoka the third Mauryan emperor has been hailed as the greatest monarch of Ancient India by most historians. But Prof. Raychaudhuri while evaluating the achievements of Asoka in great detail, never fails to criticize Asoka's Dharma Vijay, which in some measure (the centripetal force), Prof. Raychaudhuri showed, brought about the downfall of the once mighty empire.
"(Asoka) turned civil administrators into religious propagandists," he wrote, "…(when) India needed men of the caliber of Chandragupta and Puru, she got a dreamer. Magadha after the Kalinga war frittered away her conquering energy in attempting a religious revolution … the result was politically disastrous."
This unique combination of adherence to truth, rapier sharp judgment, clarity of thought and depth of knowledge is what sets Prof Hemchandra Raychaudhuri apart.
The second famous work of Prof. Raychaudhuri is Materials for the Study of the Early history of the Vaishnava Sect. This is regarded as the most definitive source book for all serious students of Vaishnavism.
Prof Raychaudhuri also contributed a number of articles to learned periodicals which were incorporated in his Studies in Indian Antiquities that show the vast range of his scholarship and the clarity of thought.
He also contributed chapters to such works as Dhaka University's History of Bengal Vol I.. Even when he was bedridden he contributed an important chapter to the Early History of the Deccan edited by G. Yazdani.
He wrote the Advanced History of India (for undergraduate students) in collaboration with Prof. R.C. Mazumdar and K.K. Dutta.