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Old NCERT History Modern India by RS Sharma: UPSC IAS Civil Services Exam Books

old necrt history ancient india

1. The Importance of Ancient Indian History

The study of ancient Indian history is important for several reasons. It tells us how, when and where people developed the earliest cultures in our country. It indicates how they started agriculture which made life secure and settled. It shows how the ancient Indians discovered and utilized natural resources and how they created the means for their livelihood. We come to know how they took to farming, spinning, weaving, metal-working and so on; how they cleared forests; and how they founded villages, cities and finally large kingdoms.

People are not considered civilized unless they know Writing. The different forms of writing prevalent in India today are all derived from the ancient scripts. This is also true of the languages that we speak today. The languages we use have roots in ancient times and have developed through the ages.

Unity in Diversity

Ancient Indian history is interesting because India proved to be a crucible of ethnic groups. The pre-Aryans, the Indo-Aryans, the Greeks, the Scythians, the Hunas and the Turks etc. made India their home. Each ethnic group contributed its mite to the evolution of Indian Social system, art and architecture and literature. All these peoples and their cultural traits mixed up so inextricably with one another that at present none of them can be clearly identified in their original form.

A remarkable feature of ancient Indian culture has been the commingling of cultural elements from the north and the south and from the east and the west. The Aryan elements are equated with the Vedic and Sanskritic culture of the north and the pre-Aryan with Dravidian and Tamil culture of the south. But many Dravidian and non-Sanskritic terms occur in the Vedic texts ascribed to 1500-500 B.C. They indicate ideas, institutions, products and settlements associated with the peninsular and non-Vedic India. Similarly many Pali and Sanskrit terms signifying ideas and institutions developed in the Gangetic plains appear in the earliest Tamil texts called the Sangam literature which is roughly used for the period 300 B.C. A.D. 600. The eastern region inhabited by the pre-Aryan tribals made its own contribution. The people of this area spoke Munda or Kolarian languages. Several terms that signify the use of cotton, navigation, digging stick, etc. in Indo Aryan languages is traced to the Munda languages by the linguists. Although there are many Munda pockets in Chhatanagpur Plateau, the remnants of the Munda culture are not as strong as those of the Dravidian culture. Many Dravidian terms are also used found, in the Indo-Aryan languages. It is held that changes in the phonetics and vocabulary of the Vedic language can be explained as much on the basis of the Dravidian influence as that of the Munda influence.

India has since ancient times been the land of several religions. Ancient India witnessed the birth of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism; but all these cultures and religions intermingled and acted and reacted upon one another in such a manner that though people speak different languages, practise different religions and observe different social customs, they follow certain common styles of life throughout the country. Our country shows a deep underlying unity in spite of great diversity.

The ancients strove for unity. They looked upon this vast subcontinent as one land. The name Bharatavarsha or the land of Bharat was given to the whole country after the name of an ancient tribe called the Bharatas and the people were called Bharatasantati or the descendants of Bharata. Our ancient poets, philosophers and writers viewed the country as an integral unit. They spoke of the land stretching from the Himalayas to the sea as the proper domain of a single universal monarch. The kings who tried to establish their authority from the Himalayas to tire Cape Comorin and from the valley of the Brahmaputra in the east to the land beyond the Indus in the west were universally praised. They were called Chakravartins. This kind of political unity was attained at least in ancient times. In the third century B.C. Ashoka extended his empire over the whole country, except for the extreme south. Again, in the fourth century A.D. Samudragupta carried his victorious arms from the Ganga to the borders of the Tamil land. In the seventh century, the Chalukya king, Pulakeshin defeated Harshavardhana who was called the lord of the whole of north India. In spite of lack of political unity political formations all over the country assumed more or less the same shape. The idea that India constituted one single geographical unit persisted in the minds of the conquerors and cultural leaders. The unity of India was also recognized by foreigners. They first came into contact with the people living on the Sindhu or the Indus and so they named the whole country; after this river. The word Hind is derived from the Sanskrit term Sindhu in course of time the country came to be known as India which is very close to the Greek term for it. It came to be called Hind in Persian and Arabic languages.

We find continuous efforts for the linguistic and cultural unity of the country. In the third century B.C. Prakrit served as the lingua franca of the country. Throughout the major portion of India, Ashoka’s inscriptions were written in the Prakrit language and Brahmi script. Later Sanskrit acquired the same position and served as the state language in the remotest parts of the country. The process became prominent in the Gupta period in the fourth century A.D. Although politically the country witnessed numerous small states in the post Gupta period, the official documents were written in Sanskrit.

Another notable fact is that the ancient epics, the Ramayana and the Mahdbharata were studied with the same zeal and devotion in the land of the Tamils as in the intellectual circles of Banaras and Taxila. Originally composed in Sanskrit, these epics came to be presented in different local languages. But whatever the form in which Indian cultural values and ideas were expressed, the substance remained the same throughout the country.

Indian history deserves our attention because of a peculiar type of social system which developed in this country. In north India arose the Varna caste system which, came to prevail almost all over the country. The caste system affected even the Christians and the Muslims. The converts belonged to some caste and even when they left Hinduism to join the new religion they continued to maintain some of their old caste practices.

Relevance of the past and the Present

The study of India’s past assumes special significance in the context of the problems we face in modern times. Some people clamour for the restoration of ancient culture and civilization and a good many are sentimentally swayed by what they consider to be the past glories of India. This is different from the concern for the preservation of ancient heritage in art and architecture. What in really want to bring back is the pattern of society and culture. Such a situation demands a far better understanding of the past. There is no doubt that ancient Indians made remarkable progress in different fields of life, but these advances cannot enable us to compete with the achievements of modern science and technology. We cannot ignore the fact that the ancient Indian society was marked by gross social injustice. The lower orders, particularly the shudras and untouchables, were encumbered with disabilities which are shocking to the modern mind. The restoration of the old ray of life will naturally revive and strengthen all these inequities. Ancient India’s march to civilisation was accompanied by the growth of social discriminations. The success of the ancients in surmounting the difficulties presented by nature and human factors can build our hope and confidence in future, but the attempt to bring back the past will mean the perpetuation of social inequity which plagued the country. All this makes it necessary to know what the past means.

We have many survivals of ancient, medieval and later times persisting in the present. The old norms, values, social customs and ritualistic practices are so deeply ingrained in the minds of the people that they cannot easily get rid of them. Unfortunately these survivals inhibit the development of the individual and the country. They were deliberately fostered in a colonialist situation. India cannot develop speedily unless such vestiges of the past are removed from its society. The caste system and sectarianism hinder the integration and development of the country on democratic lines. Caste barriers and prejudices do not allow even the educated people to appreciate, the dignity, of manual labour and prevent our unity for a common cause. Though women have been enfranchised, their age-long social subordination prevents them from playing their due role in social progress. This is also true of the lower orders of society. The study of ancient India helps us to go deeply into the roots of these prejudices. We can find out the causes that sustain the caste system, subordinate women and promote narrow religious sectarianism. The study of ancient Indian history, therefore, is relevant not only to those who want to understand the true nature of the past that some people want to relive but also to those who want to appreciate the nature of obstacles that hamper the development of the country.


1. Explain the meaning of the following terms and concepts:

2. Ethnic groups, Sanskritic culture, Varna, ‘Unity in Diversity’, Chakravartin.

3. Discuss how the study of ancient Indian history is relevant to an understanding of contemporary India.

4. Do you think that it is desirable to think in terms of restoring the past? Why, or Why not? Discuss.

5. Give examples of commingling of different cultures in the context of ancient Indian history.


2. Modern Historians of Ancient India

Colonialist Views and Contribution

Although educated Indians retained their traditional history in the form of hand-written epics, Puranas and semi-biographical works, modern research in the history of ancient India started in the second half of the eighteenth century because of the needs of the colonial administration set up by the British. When Bengal and Bihar came under the rule of the East India Company in 1765, they found it difficult to administer the Hindu law of inheritance. Hence, in 1776, Manusmriti (the law book of Manu), which, was considered most authoritative was translated into English as A Code of Gentoo Laws. The pandits were associated with British judges to administer the civil law of the Hindus and the maulavis to govern the same, law of the Muslims. The initial efforts to understand ancient laws and customs, which continued largely until the eighteenth century, culminated in the establishment of the Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1784 in Calcutta. It was set up by a civil servant of the East India Company, Sir William Jones (1746-1794), who translated the drama known as the Abhijnana shakuntalam into English in 1789 the Bhagvadgita, the most popular religious text of the Hindus, had been rendered into English by Wilkins in 1785. The Bombay Asiatic Society was set up in 1804 and the Asiatic Society of Great Britain was set up in London in 1823. William Jones emphasised the point that originally European languages were very much similar to Sanskrit and Iranian languages. This aroused the interest of Germany, France, Russia and other European countries in Indological studies. In the first half of the nineteenth century chairs in Sanskrit were established in England and. several other European countries.

The greatest push to Indological studies was given by the German-born scholar F. Max Mueller (1823-1902) who spent most of his time in England. The Revolt of 1857 was a great eye opener. It was strongly realised in Britain that it badly needed a deeper knowledge of the manners and social systems of an alien people over whom it had to rule. Similarly, the Christian missionaries wanted to find out the vulnerable points in the Hindu religion to win converts and strengthen the British Empire. To meet these needs ancient scriptures were translated on a massive scale under the editorship of Max Mueller. Altogether fifty volumes, some in several parts were published under the Sacred Books of the East series. Although a few Chinese and Iranian texts were included, really the ancient Indian texts predominated in the series in the introductions to these volumes and the books based on them, Max Mueller and other western scholars made certain generalisations about the nature of ancient Indian history and society. They stated that the ancient Indians lacked a sense of history especially of the factor of time and chronology. They added that the Indians were accustomed to despotic rule. Further, the natives were engrossed in the problems of spiritualism or of the next world and least bothered about the problems of this world. The caste system was considered to be the most vicious form of social discrimination. The western scholars stressed that the Indians had neither experienced feelings of nationhood nor any kind of self-government.

Many of these generalisations appeared in Early History of India by Vincent Arthur Smith (1843-1920), who prepared the first systematic history of ancient India in 1904. His book which was based on a deep study of the available sources gave primacy to political history. It served as a textbook for nearly fifty years and is still used by scholars. Smith’s approach to history was pro-imperialist. As a loyal member of the Indian Civil Service he emphasised the role of foreigners in ancient India. Alexander’s invasion accounted for almost one-third of his book. India was presented as a land of despotism which did not experience political unity until the establishment of British rule. As he observes: Autocracy is substantially the only form of government with which the historian of India is concerned.

In sum, British interpretations of Indian history served to denigrate Indian character and achievements and justify the colonial rule. A few of these observations appeared to be somewhat valid. Thus compared to the Chinese, the Indians did not show any strong sense of chronology although in the earlier stage important events were dated with reference to the death of Gautama Buddha. However, generalisations made by historians were either false or grossly exaggerated. They could serve as good propaganda material for the perpetuation of the despotic British rule. Their emphasis on the Indian tradition of one man rule could justify the system which vested all powers in the hands of the viceroy. Similarly, if the Indians were obsessed with the problems of the other world, the British colonial masters had no option but to look after their life in this world. Without any experience of self-rule in the past, how could the natives manage their affairs in the present? At the heart of all such generalisations lay the need of demonstrating that the Indians were incapable of governing themselves.

Nationalist Approach and Contribution

All this naturally came as a great challenge to Indian scholars, particularly to those who had received western education. They were irked by the colonialist distortions of their past history and at the same time distressed by the contrast between the decaying feudal society of India and the progressive capitalist society of England. A band of scholars took upon themselves; the mission to reform Indian society but also to reconstruct ancient Indian history in such a manner as to make case for social reforms and, more importantly, for self-government. In doing so most historians were guided by the nationalist ideas of Hindu revivalism, but there was no dearth of scholars who adopted a rationalist and objective approach. To the second category belongs Rajendra Lal Mitra (1822-1891), who published some Vedic texts and wrote a book entitled Indo-Aryans. A great lover of ancient heritage, he took a rational view of ancient society and produced a forceful tract to show that in ancient times people took beef. Others tried to prove that in spite of its peculiarities the caste system was not basically different from the class system based on division of labour found in pre-industrial and ancient societies of Europe.

In Maharashtra, Ramakrishna Gopal Bhandarkar (1837-1925) and Vishwanath Kashinath Rajwade (1869-1926) emerged as two great dedicated scholars who pieced together varied sources to reconstruct the social and political history of the country. R.G. Bhandarkar reconstructed the political history of the Deccan of the Satavahanas and the history of Vaishnavism and other sects. A great social reformer, through his-researches he advocated widow marriages, and, castigated the evils of the caste system and child marriage. With his unadulterated passion for research, V.K. Rajwade went from village to village in Maharashtra in search of Sanskrit manuscripts and sources of Maratha history; the sources came to be published in twenty-two volumes. He did not write much, but the history of the institution of marriage that he wrote in Marathi in 1926 will continue to be a classic because of its solid base in Vedic and other texts and also because of the author’s insight into the stages in the evolution of marriage in India. Pandurang Kane (1880-1972), a great Sanskritist wedded to social reform, continued the earlier tradition of scholarship. His monumental work entitled the History of the Dharmasastra published in five volumes in the twentieth century is an encyclopaedia of ancient social laws and Customs. It enables us to make a study of social processes in The Indian scholars diligently studied polity and political history to demonstrate that India did have its political history and that the Indians possessed expertise in administration. Here due credit should be given to Devdatta Ramakrishna Bhandarkar (1875-1950), an epigraphist, who published books on Ashoka and on ancient Indian political institutions. More valuable work was done by Hemchandra Ray chaudhuri (1892-1957), who reconstructed the history of ancient India from the time of the Bharata (Mahabharata) war, i.e the tenth century B.C to the end of the Gupta Empire. Being a teacher of European history, he adopted some of the methods and comparative insights in writing this book. Although he did not discuss the problem of periodisation, his history of ancient India stopped with the sixth century A.D. Though he recognised the contribution of V.A. Smith to the reconstruction of early Indian history, yet Raychaudhuri criticised the British scholar at many points. His writings are marked by impeccable scholarship but show a streak of militant brahmanism when he criticises Ashoka’s policy of peace. A stronger element of Hindu revivalism appears in the writings of R.C. Majumdar (1888-1980), who was a prolific writer and the general editor of the multi volume publication History and Culture of the Indian People.

Most writers on early Indian history did not give adequate attention to south India. Even K.A. Nilakanta Sastri (1892-1975), the great historian from south India, followed the same approach in his A History of Ancient India. This was more than rectified in A History of South India written by him. His style is terse, but his writing is lucid. In the presentation of facts he is as dependable as Raychaudhuri. However, His general observations on the nature of polity and society in south India are questioned by several scholars. Nilakapta Sastri emphasised the cultural supremacy of the brahmanas and also highlighted the harmony that prevailed in early Indian society. Under his leadership several research monographs were produced on the dynastic history of south India.

Until 1960 political history attracted the largest number of Indian scholars, who also glorified the histories of their respective regions on dynastic lines. Those who wrote history at a pan-India level were inspired by the ideas of nationalism. In contrast to the book of V.A. Smith, who gave almost one third of the total space to Alexander’s invasion, Indian scholars gave this subject much less space. On the other hand, they stressed the importance of the dialogue of Porus with Alexander and Chandragupta Maurya’s liberation of north-western India from Seleucus. Some scholars such as K.P. Jayaswal (1881-1937) and A.S. Altekar (1898-1959) overplayed the role of the indigenous ruling dynasties in liberating the country from the rule of the Shakas and Kushans, little realising that Central Asian and some other people became part and parcel of India’s life and did not exploit its resources for their original homeland.

However, the greatest merit of K.P. Jayaswal lay in exploding the myth of Indian despotism. As early as 1910-12, he wrote several articles to show that the republics existed in ancient times and enjoyed a measure of self-government. His findings finally appeared in Hindu Polity in 1924. Although Jayaswal is charged, with projecting modern nationalist ideas into ancient institutions and the nature of the republican government presented by him is attacked by many writers including U.N. Ghoshal (1886-1969), Ills basic thesis regarding the practice of the republican experiment is widely accepted and his pioneer work Hindu Polity, now in its sixth edition, is considered a classic.

Shift to Non-Political History

British historian, A.L. Basham (1914-1986), a Sanskritist by training questioned the wisdom of looking at ancient India from the modem point of view. His earlier writings show his deep interest in the materialist, philosophy of some heterodox sects. Later he believed that the past should be read out of curiosity and pleasure. His book Wonder That Was India (1951) is a sympathetic survey of the various facets of ancient Indian culture and civilization, free from the prejudices that plague, the writings of V.A. Smith or other British writers.

Basham’s bookmarks a great shift from political to non-political history; The same shift is evident in D.D. Kosambi’s (1907-1966) book An Introduction to the Study of Indian History (1957), later popularised in The Civilisation of Ancient India in Historical Outline (1965). Kosambi blazed a new trail in Indian history. His treatment follows the materialist interpretation of history, which is derived from the writings of Karl Mane. He presents the history of ancient Indian society, economy and culture as an integral part of the development of the forces and relations of production. His was the first survey book to show the stages of social and economic development in terms of tribal and class processes. He was criticised by many scholars including Basham, but his book continues to be widely used.

During the last twenty-five years there has been a sea change in the methods and orientation of those who work on ancient India. They lay greater stress on social, economic and cultural processes and try to relate them to political developments. They take account of the stratification of the texts and compare their conventional nature with archaeological and anthropological evidence. All this bodes good for the future of historical studies. Unfortunately a few Indian writers magnify the role of religion and believe that everything good and great, originated in their country. Western writers no longer insist that all such things came to India from outside. But some of them hold that religious ideas, rituals, caste, kinship and tradition are the main forces in Indian history. They also underscore various divisive features which made for stagnation. They are more concerned about the problem of stability and continuity. They seem to be fascinated by old, exotic elements and want to preserve them for ever. Such an approach implies that Indian society has not changed and cannot be changed. It means that underdevelopment is an integral part of the Indian character.

Thus, the chauvinists and sophisticated colonialists use the study of India’s past to prevent its progress. It is therefore; essential to take a balanced and objective view of ancient India.


1 Explain the meaning of the Following terms and concepts: Indological studies, Sanskritists, forces and relations of production.

2 Make an assessment of the colonial historian’s views of ancient Indian history. Give specific examples of their views while making your assessment.

3 Discuss the contribution of nationalist historians to the study of ancient Indian history.

4 Organise a debate on the following topic: “Modem Indian historians have rectified the mistakes of colonial historians on ancient Indian history.


3. Types of Sources and Historical Construction

Material Remains

The ancient Indians left innumerable material remains. The stone temples in south India and the brick monasteries in eastern India still stand to remind us of the great building activities of the past. But the major part of these remains lies buried in the mounds scattered all over the country (The mound is an elevated portion of land covering remains of old habitations). It may be of different types— single-culture, major-culture and multi-culture. Single-culture mounds represent only one culture throughout. Some mounds represent only Painted Grey Ware (PGW) culture, others Satavahana culture and still others Kushan culture. In major-culture mounds, one culture is dominant and the others are not so important. Multi-culture mounds represent several important cultures in succession which occasionally overlap with one another. Like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, an excavated mound can be used for the understanding of successive layers in material and other aspects of culture.

A mound can be excavated vertically or horizontally. Vertical excavation means lengthwise digging to uncover the period-wise sequence of cultures; it is generally confined to a part of the site. Horizontal excavation means, digging the mound as a whole or a major part of it. The method may enable the excavator to obtain a complete idea of the site culture in a particular period.

Since most sites have been dug vertically they provide a good chronological sequence of material culture. Horizontal diggings, being very expensive, are very few in number, with the result that excavations do not give us a full and even adequate picture of material life in many phases of ancient Indian history.

Even in those mounds which have been excavated, the ancient remains have been preserved in varying proportions. In the dry and climate of western Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and north-western India, antiquities are found in a better state of preservation, but in the moist and humid climate of the middle Gangetic plains and in the deltaic regions even iron implements suffer corrosion and mud structures become difficult to detect. It is only in the phase of burnt brick structures or stone structures that impressive and large-scale remains are found in moist and alluvial areas.

Excavations have brought to light the cities which the people established around 2500 B.C. in north-western India. Similarly they tell us about the material culture which was developed in the Gangetic plains. They show the layout of the settlements in which people lived, the types of pottery they used, the form of house in which they dwelt, the kind of cereals they used as food and the type of tools and implements they handled. Some people in south India buried along with the dead, their tools, weapons, pottery and other belongings in the graves, which were encircled by big pieces of stone. These structures are called megaliths, although some megaliths do not fall in this category. By digging them we have come to learn of the life which people lived in the Deccan from the Iron Age onwards. The science, which enables us to dig the old mounds in a systematic manner, in successive layers and to form an idea of the material life of the people, is called archaeology.

Material remains recovered as a result of excavation and exploration sire subjected to various kinds of scientific examination. Their dates are fixed by following the method of radiocarbon dating. Radio dating or Carbon 14 (C14) is a radioactive isotope of carbon which is present in all living objects. It decays, like all radioactive substances, at a uniform rate. When an object is living, the process of the decay of C14 is neutralized by absorption of C14 through air and food. However, when an object ceases to be alive, its C14 content continues to decay at a uniform rate but it ceases to absorb C14 from air and food. By measuring the loss of C14 content in an ancient object, its age can be determined. This is because, as stated earlier, the decay of C14 takes place at a uniform rate. It is known that the half-life of C14 is 5588 years. The half-life of a radioactive material is defined as the period during which one-halt of the radioactive content in an object disappears. Thus C14 content in an object which ceased to live 5568 years ago would be half of what it was when it was living and in an object which ceased to live. 11,136 years ago, its C14 content would be one-fourth of what it was when it was living.

The history of climate and vegetation is known through an examination of plant residues and especially through pollen analysis. Thus on this basis it is suggested that agriculture was practised in Rajasthan and Kashmir around 7000-6000 B.C. The nature and components of metal artifacts are analysed scientifically and as a result the sources from where metals were obtained are located and the stages in the development of metal technology are identified. An examination of animal bones shows whether the animals were domesticated and also indicates the uses to which they were put.


Although a good number of coins and inscriptions have been found on the surface, many of them have been unearthed by digging. The study of coins is called numismatics. Ancient Indian currency was not issued in the form of paper, as is being used these days, but as metal coins. Ancient coins were made of metal—copper, silver, gold, or lead. Coin moulds made of burnt clay have been discovered in large numbers, Most of them; belong to the Kushan period, i.e the first three Christian centuries. The use of such moulds in the post-Gupta periods almost disappeared.

Since there was nothing like the modern banking system in ancient times people kept money in earthen ware and also in brass vessels and maintained them as precious hoards on which they could fall back in time of need. Many of these hoards, containing not only Ionian coins but also those minted abroad such as in the Roman Empire, have been discovered in different parts of the country. They are preserved mostly in museums at Calcutta, Patna, Lucknow, Delhi, Jaipur, Mumbai and Chennai. Many Indian coins are found in the museums of Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Since Britain ruled over India for a long time, British officials succeeded in transferring many of the Indian coins to private and public collections in that country. Coins of the major dynasties have been catalogued and published. We have catalogues of coins in the Indian Museum at Calcutta, of Indian coins in the British Museum in London and so on. But there is a large number of coins which have yet to be catalogued and published.

Our earliest coins contain a few symbols, but the later coins mention the names of kings, gods or dates. The areas where they are found indicate the region of their circulation. This has enabled us to reconstruct the history of several ruling dynasties, especially of the Indo-Greeks who came to India from north Afghanistan and ruled here in the second and first centuries B.C.

Since coins were used for various purposes such as donations, mode of payment and medium of exchange, they throw considerable light on economic history. Some coins were issued by the guilds of merchants and goldsmiths with the permission of the rulers. This shows that crafts and commerce had become important. Coins helped transactions on a large scale and contributed to trade. We get the largest number of coins in post Maurya times. These were made of lead, potin, copper, bronze, silver and gold. The Guptas issued the largest number of gold coins. All this indicates that trade and commerce flourished, especially in Post-Maurya and a good part of Gupta times. But the fact that only a few coins belonging to post Gupta times have been found indicates the decline of trade and commerce in that period.

Coins also portray kings and gods and contain religious symbols and legends, all of which throw light on the art and religion of the time.


Far more important than coins are inscriptions. Their study is called epigraphy and the study of the old writing used in inscriptions and other old records is called palaeography, inscriptions were carved on seals, stone pillars, rocks, copper plates, temple walls and bricks or images.

In the country as a whole, the earliest inscriptions were recorded on stone. But in the early centuries of the Christian era, copper plates began to be used for this purpose. Even then the practice of engraving inscriptions on stone continued in south India on a large scale. We have also in that region a large number of inscriptions recorded on the walls of the temples to serve as permanent records.

Like coins, inscriptions are preserved in various museums of the country, but the largest number may be found in the office of the Chief Epigraphist at Mysore. The earliest inscriptions were written in the Prakrit language in the third century B.C. Sanskrit was adopted as an epigraphic medium in the second century A.D. and its use became widespread in the fourth and fifth centuries. Even then Prakrit continued to be employed. Inscriptions began to be composed in regional languages in the ninth and tenth centuries. Most inscriptions bearing on the history of Maurya, post-Maurya and Gupta times have been published in a series of collections called Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum. But not too many inscriptions of post-Gupta times have appeared in such systematic compilations. In the case of south India, topographical lists of inscriptions have been brought out. Still there are more than 50,000 inscriptions, mostly of south India, which await publication.

The Harappan inscriptions, which await decipherment, seem to have been written in a pictographic script in which ideas and objects were expressed in the form of pictures, Ashokan inscriptions were engraved in the Brahmi script, which was written from left to right. But some were also incised in the Kharoshti script which was written from right to left. However, the Brahmi script prevailed in the whole country except for the north-western part, Greek and Aramaic scripts were employed in writing Ashokan inscriptions in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Brahmi continued to be the main script till the end of Gupta times. An epigraphist can decipher most inscriptions of the country up to about the seventh century, if he has carefully learnt Brahmi and its variations. But afterwards we notice strong regional variations in this script, which is called by different names.

The earliest inscriptions are found on the seals of Harappa belonging to about 2500 B.C. They have not been deciphered so far. The oldest inscriptions deciphered so far were issued by Ashoka in the third century B.C. In the fourteenth century A.D two Ashokan pillar inscriptions were found by Firoz Shah Tughlaq, one in Meerut and another at a place called Topra in Haryana. He brought them to Delhi and asked the pandits of his empire to decipher the inscriptions, but they failed to do so. The same difficulty was faced by the British when in the last quarter of the eighteenth century they discovered Ashokan inscriptions. These epigraphs were first deciphered in 1837 by James Princep, a civil servant in the employ of the East India Company in Bengal.

We have various types of inscriptions. Some convey royal orders and decisions regarding social, religious and administrative matters to officials and people in general. Ashokan inscriptions belong to this category. Others are votive records of the followers of Buddhism, Jainism, Vaishnavaism, Shaivism etc who put up pillars, tablets, temples or images as marks of devotion. Still other types eulogize the attributes and achievements of kings and conquerors and never speak of their defeats or weaknesses. To this category belongs the Allahabad inscription of Samudragupta. Finally, we have many donative records which refer specially to gifts of money, cattle, land, etc., mainly for religious purposes, made not only by kings and princes but also by artisans and merchants.

Inscriptions recording land grants, made mainly by chiefs and princes, are very important for the study of the land system and administration in ancient India. These were mostly engraved on copper plates. They record the grants of lands, revenues and villages made to monks, priests, temples, monasteries, vassals and officials. They were written in all languages, such as Prakrit, Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu.

Literary Sources

Although the ancient Indians knew writing as early as 2500 B.C. our most ancient manuscripts are not older than the fourth century A.D. and have been found in Central Asia; In India, they were written on birch bark and palm leaves, but in Central Asia, where the Prakrit language had spread from India, manuscripts were also written on sheep leather and wooden tablets. These writings are called inscriptions, but they are as good as manuscripts. When printing was not known, manuscripts were valued immensely. Although old Sanskrit manuscripts are found all over the country, they mostly belong to south India, Kashmir and Nepal. At present inscriptions are mostly preserved in museums and manuscripts in libraries.

Most ancient books contain religious themes. The religious literature of the Hindus includes the Vedas, the Ramayana and the Mahabhamta, the Puran as, etc. They throw considerable light on the social and cultural conditions of ancient times, but it is difficult to make use of them in the context of time and place. The Rig Veda may be assigned to circa 1500-1000 B.C., but the collections of the Atharva Veda, Yajur Veda, the Brahmanas, Aranyakas and the Upanishads belong roughly to 1000-500 B.G. Almost every Vedic text contains interpolations, which generally appear at its beginning, or end but are not rare in its middle. The Rig Veda mainly contains prayers, while the later Vedic texts mainly comprise not only prayers but also rituals, magic and mythological stories. However, the Upanishads contain philosophical speculations.

In order to understand the Vedic texts, it was necessary to learn the Vedangas or the limbs of the Veda. These supplements of the Veda comprised phonetics (shiksha), ritual (kalpa), grammar (vyakarana), etymology (nirukta), metrics (chhanda) and astronomy (jyotisha). A good deal of literature grew around each one of these subjects. It was written in the form of precepts in prose. A precept was called sutra because of its brevity. The most famous example of this writing is the grammar of Panini written around 400 B.C. While illustrating the rules of grammar, Panini throws invaluable light on the society, economy and culture of his times.

The two epics and the major Puranas seem to have been finally compiled by circa A.D. 400. Of the epics the Mahabharata attributed to Vyasa is older in age and possibly reflects the state of affairs from the tenth century B.C to the fourth century A.D. Originally, it consisted of 8800 verses and was called Jaya or the collection dealing with victory. These were raised to 24,000 and came to be known as Bharata, because it contains the stories of the descendants of one of the earliest Vedic tribes called Bharata. The final compilation brought the verses to 100000 which came to be known as the Mahabharata or the Satasahasri Samhita. It contains narrative, descriptive and didactic material. The main narrative which relates to the Kaurava-Pandava conflict may belong to later Vedic times, the descriptive portion might be used for post-Vedic times and the didactic portion generally for post-Maurya and Gupta times. Similarly, the Ramayana of Valmiki originally consisted of 6000 verses which were raised to 12000 verses and finally to 24000. Although this epic appears to be more unified than the Mahabharata, it has also its didactic portions which were added later. The Ramayana composition started in the fifth century B.C. Since then it passed through as many as five stages and the fifth stage seems to be as late as the twelfth century A.D. As a whole the text seems to have been composed later than the Mahabharata.

In post Vedic times we have a large corpus of ritual literature. Big public sacrifices meant for princes and men of substance belonging to the three higher varnas are laid down in the Srautasutras, which provide for several pompous royal coronation and ceremonies. Similarly domestic rituals connected with birth, naming, sacred thread investiture, marriage, funerals, etc., are laid down in the Grihyasutras, Both the Srautasutras and the Grihyasutras belong to circa 800-300 B.C. Mention may also be made of the Sulvasutras, which prescribe various kinds of measurements for the construction of sacrificial altars. They mark the beginnings of the study of geometry and mathematics.

The religious books of the Jainas and the Buddhists refer to historical persons and incidents. The, earliest Buddhist texts were written in the Pali language, which was spoken in Magadha or south Bihar. They were finally compiled in the second century B.C. in Sri Lanka, but the canonical portions reflect the state of affairs in the age of the Buddha in India. They tell us not only about the life of the Buddha but about some 6f his royal contemporaries who ruled over Magadha, north Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh. The most important and interesting portion of the non-canonical literature is provided by the stories of the previous births of Gautama Buddha, it was believed that before he was finally born as Gautama, the Buddha passed through more than 550 births, in many cases in the form of animals. Each birth ‘story is called a Jataka which is a folk tale. These Jatakas throw invaluable light on social and economic conditions ranging from the fifth to the second century B.C. They also make incidental references to political events in the age of the Buddha.

The Jaina texts were written in Prakrit and were finally compiled, in the sixth century A.D. in Valabhi in Gujarat. They, however, contain many passages which help us to reconstruct the political history of eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in the age of Mahavira. The Jaina texts refer repeatedly to trade and traders.

We have also a large body of secular literature. To this class belong the law-books called the Dharmasutras and Smritis which, together with their commentaries, are called Dharmashastras. The Dharmasutras were compiled in 500-200 B.C. mid the principal Smritis were codified in the first six centuries of the Christian era. They lay down the duties for different varnas as well as for kings and their officials. They provide the rules for marriages together with the laws according to which property is to be held, sold and inherited. They also prescribe punishments for persons guilty of theft, assault, murder, adultery, etc.

An important law-book is the Arthashastra of Kautilya. The text is divided into fifteen books, of which Books II and III may be regarded as of an earlier date. They seem to have been the work of different hands. This text was put in its, final form in the beginning of the Christian era, but its earliest portions reflect the state of society and economy in the age of the Mauryas. It provides rich material for the study of ancient Indian polity and economy.

We also possess the works of Bhasa, Sudraka, Kalidasa and Banabhatta. Apart from their literary value, they mirror the conditions of the times to which the writers belonged. The works of Kalidasa comprise Kavyas and dramas, the most famous of which is the Ahhijnanashakuntalam. Besides being great creative compositions, they provide us with glimpses of the social and cultural life of northern and central India in the age of the Guptas.

In addition to Sanskrit sources, we have some of the earliest Tamil texts found in the corpus of the Sangam literature. This was produced over a period of three to four centuries by poets who assembled in colleges patronised by chiefs and kings. Such colleges were called Sangam and the literature produced in these assemblies is known as the Sangam literature. The compilation of the corpus is attributed to the first four Christian centuries, although final compilations may have been completed by the sixth century.

The Sangam literature comprises about 30,000 lines of poetry, which are arranged in eight anthologies called Ettuttokai. The poems are collected in groups of hundreds such as PurananunL (The Four Hundred of the Exterior) and others. There are two main groups Patinenkil Kannakku (The Eighteen Lower Collections) and Pattuppattu (The Ten Songs). The former is generally assumed to be older than the latter and hence considered to be of much historical importance. The Sangam texts have several layers, but at present they cannot be established on the basis of style and content. As shown later, these layers can be detected on the basis of stages in social evolution.

The Sangam texts are different from the Vedic texts, particularly the Rig Vedic texts. They do not constitute religions literature. The short and long poems were composed by numerous poets in praise of numerous heroes and heroines. Thus they are secular in nature. They are not primitive songs, but they show a high quality of literature. Many poems mention a warrior or a chief or a king by name and describe his military exploits in detail. The gifts made by him to bards and warriors are celebrated. These poems may have been recited in the courts. They are compared with heroic poetry of the Homeric age, for they represent a heroic age of warriors and battles. It is difficult to use these texts for historical purposes. Perhaps the proper names, titles, dynasties, territories, wars, etc., mentioned in the poems are partly real. Some of the Chera kings mentioned in the Sangam texts also appear as donors in inscriptions of the first and the second century A.D.

The Sangam texts refer to many settlements Including Kaveripattanam whose flourishing existence is now attested archaeologically. They also speak of the Yavanas coming in their own vessels purchasing pepper with gold and supplying wine and women slaves to the natives. This trade is known not only from Latin and Greek writings but also from the archaeological record. The Sangam literature is a very major source of our information for the social, economic and political life of the people living in deltaic Tamil Nadu in the early Christian centuries. What it says about trade and commerce is attested by foreign accounts and archaeological finds.

Foreign Accounts

Indigenous literature can be supplemented by foreign accounts. To India came the Greek, Roman and Chinese visitors, either as travellers or religious converts and they left behind accounts of the things that they saw, It is remarkable that Alexander’s invasion finds no mention in Indian sources and it is entirely on the basis of the Greek sources that we have to reconstruct the history of his Indian exploits.

The Greek writers mention Sandrokottas, a contemporary of Alexander the Great who invaded India in 326 B.C. Prince Sandrokottas is identified with Chandragupta Maurya, whose date of accession is fixed at 322 B.C. This identification has served as the sheet-anchor in ancient Indian chronology. The Indika of Megasthenes, who came to the court of Chandragupta Maurya, has been preserved only in fragments quoted by subsequent classical writers. These fragments, when read together, furnish valuable information not only about the system of Maurya administration but also about social classes and economic activities in the Maurya period. The Indika is not free from credulity and exaggerations, which is true of many other ancient accounts.

Greek and Roman accounts of the first and second centuries A.D. mention many Indian ports and enumerate items of trade between India and the Roman Empire. The Periplus of the Erythrean Sea and Ptolemy’s Geography, both written in Greek, provide valuable data for the study of ancient geography and commerce. The date ascribed to the first ranges between A.D. 80 and 115, while the second is attributed to about A.D. 150. The Periplus of the Erythrean Sea which was written by an anonymous writer describes the Roman trade in the Red Sea, Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean. Pliny’s Naturalis Historia, which belongs to the first century A.D., was written in Latin and tells us about trade between India and Italy.

Of the Chinese travellers mention may be made of Fa-hsien and Hsuan Tsang. Both of them were Buddhists and came to this country to visit the Buddhist shrines and to study Buddhism. The first came in the beginning of the fifth century A.D. and the second in the second quarter of the seventh century A.D. Fa-hsien describes the social, religious and economic conditions of India in the age of the Guptas and Hsuan Tsang presents a similar account of India in the age of Harsha.

Historical Sense

Ancient Indians are charged with the lack of historical sense. It is obvious that they did not write history in the manner it is done now, nor did they write it in the way the Greeks did. We have a sort of history in the Puranas, which are eighteen in number (Eighteen was a conventional term). Though encyclopaedic in contents, the Puranas provide dynastic history up to the beginning of the Gupta rule. They mention the places where the events took place and sometimes discuss their causes and effects. Statements about events are made in future tense; although they were recorded much after the events had happened. The authors of the Puranas were not unaware of the idea of change, which is the essence of history. The Puranas speak of four ages called krita, treta, dvapara and kali. Each succeeding age is depicted as worse them the preceding one and as one age slides into the other, moral values and social institutions suffer degeneration. The importance of time and place, vital elements in history, is indicated. It is said that dharma becomes adharma according to changes in time and place. Several eras, according to which events were recorded, were started in ancient India. The Vikrama Samvat began in 57 B.C., the Shaka Samvat in A.D. 78 and the Gupta era in A.D. 319. Inscriptions record events in the context of time and place. During the third century B.C. Ashokan inscriptions show considerable historical sense. Ashoka ruled for 37 years. His inscriptions record events that happened froth the eighth to the twenty-seventh regnal year. So far events relating to only nine regnal years appear in the inscriptions that have been discovered. Future discoveries may throw light on events relating to the remaining years of his reign. Similarly in the first century B.C. Kharavela of Kalinga records a good many events of his life year-wise in the Hathigumpha inscription.

Indians display considerable historical sense in biographical writings. A good example is the composition of the Harshacharita by Banabhatta in the seventh century A.D. It is a semi biographical work written in ornate style, which became the despair of ater imitators. It describes the early career of Harshavardhana. Although full of exaggerations, it gives an excellent idea of the court life under Harsha and the social and religious life in his age. Later several other charitas or biographies were written. Sandhyakara Nandi’s Ramachcirita (twelth century) narrates the story of conflict between the Kaivarta peasants and the Pala prince Ramapala, resulting in the latter’s victory. Bilhana’s Vikramanakadevacharita recounts the achievements of his patron, Vikramaditya VI (1076-1127), the Ghalukya king of Kalyan. Even the biographies (charita) of some merchants of Gujarat were written in the twelfth-thirteenth centuries A.D. Similar historical works may have been written in south India. But so far only one such account has been discovered. This is called the Mushika Vamsha, which was written by Atula in the eleventh century. It gives an account of the dynasty of the Mushikas, which ruled in northern Kerala. But the best example of the earliest historical writing is provided by the Rajatarartgini or The Stream of Kings written by Kalhana in the twelfth century. It is a string of biographies of the kings of Kashmir and can be considered to be the first work which possesses several traits of history as it is understood in our times.

Constructing History

So far numerous sites, both prehistorical and historical, have been excavated and explored, but the results do not find a place in the mainstream of ancient Indian history. Stages of social evolution in India cannot be comprehended without taking into account the results of prehistoric archaeology. Historical archaeology is equally important. Although more than 150 sites belonging to the ancient historical period have been excavated, yet their relevance to the study of social, economic and cultural trends in ancient times has not been discussed in the survey books. This needs to be done, particularly in the context of the urban history of ancient India. So far the importance of mostly Buddhist and some brahmanical sites has been highlighted, but religious history needs to be seen in relation to social and economical developments.

Ancient history has been constructed so far mainly on the basis of literary sources, foreign and indigenous. Coins and inscriptions play some part, but the texts receive more weightage. Now new methods deserve attention. We have to establish co relation between the Vedic age on the one hand and the Painted Grey Ware and other types of archaeological finds on the other. Similarly, early Pali texts have to be related to the Northern Black Polished Ware (NBPW) archaeology. Further, the information derived from the Sangam texts needs to be tied up with that inferred from inscriptions and early megalithic archaeology in peninsular India.

Archaeological evidence should be considered far more important than long family trees given in the Puranas. The Puranic tradition could be used to date Rama of Ayodhya around 2000 B.C., but diggings and extensive explorations in Ayodhya do not show any settlement around that date. Similarly, although Krishna plays an important part in the Mahabharata, the earliest inscriptions and sculptural pieces found in Mathura between 200 B.C to A.D. 300 do not attest his presence. Because of such difficulties the ideas of an epic age based on the Ramayana and the Mahabharata has to be discarded, although in the past it formed a chapter in most survey books on ancient India. Of course several stages of social evolution in both the Ramayana and the Mahabharata can be detected. This is so because the epics do not belong to a single phase of social evolution; they have undergone several editions, as has been shown earlier in the present chapter.

Many inscriptions are dismissed so far on the ground that they possess little historical value. Historical value is taken to mean information needed for reconstructing political history. Compared to Puranic traditions, inscriptions are certainly more reliable. Thus the former are used to push back the origin of the Satavahanas, which is placed in the first century B.C. on the epigraphic basis. Inscriptions may indicate the reign period of a king, his conquest and its extent, but they also show trends in the development of polity, society, economy and religion. The present book, therefore, does not use inscriptions merely for political or religious history. Epigraphic land grants are valued not for the family trees and lists of conquest but more Importantly for the rise of new states and changes in social and agrarian structure, particularly in post-Gupta times. Similarly, coins need to be used not only for the reconstruction of the history of the Indo-Greeks, Shakas, Satavahanas and Kushans, but also to illuminate the history of tribal and urban life.

In sum, careful collection of the material derived from texts, coins, inscriptions, archaeology, etc., is essential for historical construction. We have seen that this raises the problem of the relative importance of the sources. Thus, coins, inscriptions and archaeology are considered more important than mythologies found in the epics and Puranas. Mythologies may support dominant norms, validate social mores and justify the privileges and disabilities of people organised in castes and other social groups, but the events described in them cannot be taken as true. Past practices can also be explained with the help of some ancient survivals in our own times or with the insights derived from the study of primitive people. A sound historical reconstruction cannot ignore developments in other ancient societies. A comparative view may remove the obsession with the idea of the rare or unique in ancient India and may bring out those trends which ancient India shares with the past societies of the other countries.


1 Explain the meaning of the following terms and concepts:

Material culture, numismatics, epigraphy, palaeography, vertical and horizontal excavations, megaliths, archaeology, inscriptions, secular literature.

2 How are ancient objects dated? Explain-how the system of Carbon14 Dating works.

3 Describe the importance of coins and inscriptions in the study of the political, social and economic history of India.

4 Discuss the relative importance of various sources in reconstructing the past.

5 Mention the languages and scripts used in inscriptions of

6 Explain the significance of Sangam literature in the study of the history of south India in ancient times.

7 Visit a museum to see the types of sources mentioned in the text.

Try to identify the script and the language used in coins, inscriptions and ancient manuscripts which you see.

8 When did the use of paper start in India? What was the material used for manuscripts before the use of paper started?

9 If possible, visit an archaeological site and find out how an archaeologist works.

10 Take up a group project to compile a list of literary sources of ancient Indian history. The project can be an on-going one and you can go on adding to the list. The project may also include information on the sources such as the period when it was written, its original language and script and brief description of its main contents.

11 Why is it necessary to corroborate the evidence of literary sources with other sources? Discuss in the classroom.


4. The Geographical setting

The history of India cannot be understood without some knowledge of its geography. The Indian subcontinent is as large in areas as Europe without Russia. Its total area is 4,202,500 square kilometres. The subcontinent is divided into five countries — India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Pakistan. India has nearly 985,000,000 people. It comprises twenty five States and seven Union Territories, including the National Capital Territory of Delhi. Some of the States are larger than many European countries. For instance, Bihar is as large, in area as England and several European countries are smaller than Madhya Pradesh.

The Indian subcontinent is a well-defined geographical unit, mostly situated in the tropical zone. The monsoon plays an important part in the history of India. The south-west monsoon lasts between June and October and brings rain in varying degrees to the major part of the country. In ancient times, irrigation was not an important factor and rains played the crucial role in agriculture. What is known today as the kharif crop in north India depended primarily in ancient times on the south-west monsoon? In winter, the western disturbances bring rains to northern India where wheat, barley, etc constitute the main crop. A part of the peninsular India particularly the coastal areas of Tamil Nadu, gets its major rainfall from the north-east monsoon from mid-October to mid-December. Once the direction of the monsoon was discovered sometime around the first century A.D., traders sailed with the south-west monsoon from western Asia and the Mediterranean area and came to India and South-East Asia. They returned with the advent of the northeast monsoon westward. The discovery of the monsoon enabled India to carry on trade and establish cultural contacts with western Asia and the Mediterranean area, as well as with South-East Asia.

India is bounded by the Himalayas on the north and seas on the other three sides. The Himalayas protect the country against the cold arctic winds blowing from Siberia through Central Asia. This keeps the climate of northern India fairly warm throughout the year. Since the cold is not so severe in the plains, people do not need heavy clothing and can live in the open for longer periods. Secondly, the Himalayas are high enough to shield the country against invasions from the north. This was especially true in pre-industrial times when communications were very difficult. However, on the north-west the Sulaiman mountain ranges which are in southward continuation with the Himalayas, could be crossed through the Khyber, Bolan and Gomal passes. The Sulaiman ranges are joined southward in Baluchistan by the Kirthar ranges which could be crossed through the Bolan pass. Through these passes two-way traffic between India and Central Asia has been going on from pre-historic times onwards. Various peoples from Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia came to India as invaders and immigrants and vice versa. Even the Hindukush, the westward extension of the Himalayan system, did not form an insuperable barrier between the Indus system and the Oxus system. The passes facilitated trade and cultural contacts between India on the one hand and Central Asia and West Asia on the other.

Nestled in the Himalayas are the valleys of Kashmir and Nepal. Surrounded on all sides by high mountains, the valley of Kashmir developed its own way of life. But it could be reached through several passes. Its winter compelled some of its people to go to the plains and its summer attracted the shepherds of the plains. Economic and cultural interaction between the plains and the valley was continuous. The Pamir plateau did not prevent it from becoming a transmitting centre of Buddhism for the adjacent areas of Central Asia, The valley of Nepal, smaller in size, is accessible to the people of the Gangetic plains through a number of passes. Like Kashmir it also became a centre fox cultivation of Sanskrit. Both the valleys became the repositories of the largest number of Sanskrit manuscripts.

The foothills of the Himalayas lent themselves to easier clearance than the jungle’s on the alluvial soil of the plains. It was easy to cross rivers in these areas because of their smaller width and hence the earliest routes skirted along the foothills of the Himalayas from the west to the east and vice versa. Naturally the earliest agricultural settlements and states were founded in the foothills in the sixth century B.C. and trade routes followed the terai route.

The heart of historical India is formed by its important rivers which are swollen by the tropical monsoon rains. These consist of the plains of the Indus system, the Indo-Gangetic Divide, the Gangetic basin and the Brahmaputra basin. Proceeding from the west to east we find the annual rainfall gradually increasing from 25 cm to over 250 cm. The Indus vegetation based on 25 to 37 cm rainfall and possibly the western Gangetic vegetation based on 37 to 60 cm rainfall could be cleared with stone and copper implements and made fit for cultivation, but this was not possible in the case of the middle Gangetic vegetation based on 60 to 125 cm rainfall and certainly not in the case of the lower Gangetic and Brahmaputra vegetation based on 125 to 250 cm rainfall. The thickly forested areas, which also contained hard soil, could be cleared (only with the help of the iron implements which appeared at a much later stage. Therefore, the natural resources of the less rainy western area were utilized first and large-scale human settlements generally spread from west to east.

Once brought under cultivation, the Indus-Gangetic plains produced rich crops and supported successive cultures. The Indus and the western Gangetic plains mainly produced wheat and barley, while the middle and lower Gangetic plains mainly produced rice, which also became the staple diet in Gujarat and the south of the Vindhyas. The Harappan culture originated and flourished in the Indus valley; the Vedic culture originated in the North-West Frontier Province and Punjab and flourished in the western Gangetic basin; the post-Vedic culture, mainly based on the use of iron, thrived in the middle Gangetic basin. The lower Gangetic valley and north Bengal really came into limelight in the age of the Guptas; and finally, the Brahmaputra valley covering Assam gained importance in early medieval times. Important powers fought for the possession of these plain’s and valleys. Especially, the Ganga-Yamuna doab proved to be the most coveted and contested area.

The rivers served as arteries of commerce and communication. In ancient times it was difficult to make roads and so men and material were moved by boat. The river routes, therefore, helped military and commercial transport. Evidently the stone pillars made by Ashoka were carried to different parts of the country by boat. The importance of rivers for communication continued till the days of the East India Company. Further, the rivers inundated the neighboring areas and made them fertile; they also supplied water to the canals cut from them. However, they caused heavy floods which periodically destroyed towns and villages in the northern plains and so many ancient buildings have been washed away beyond recovery Nevertheless, important towns and capitals such as Hastinapur, Prayag, Varanasi, Pataliputra and others were situated on the banks of the rivers. In modern times, urban sites are selected on the railway and road junctions or in the industrial or mining zones. But in the pre-industrial times towns were mostly situated on river banks.

Above all, the rivers provided political and cultural boundaries; these were also formed by mountains. Thus in the eastern part of the Indian peninsula the area known as Kalinga, covering the coastal belt of Orissa, was situated between the Mahanadi on the north and the Godavari on the south. Similarly, Andhra Pradesh mostly lay between the Godavari on the north and the Krishna on the south. The deltaic plains formed by these two rivers at their mouths shot into historical importance by the beginning of the Christian era when they became studded with towns and ports under the Satavahanas and their successors. Finally, a major part of Tamil Nadu was situated between the Krishna on the north and the Kaveri on the south. The Kaveri valley extended in the south roughly to the Vaigai river and in the north to the South Pennar river. It formed a distinct geographical zone and became the seat of the Chola power a little before the beginning of the Christian era. This area was different from north Tamil Nadu, which consisted of uplands and. came into prominence under the Pallavas in the fourth-sixth centuries A.D. The eastern part of the peninsula is bounded by the Coromandal coast. Although the coastline is flanked by the Eastern Ghats or the steps, the Ghats are not very high and have several openings caused by the eastward flow of the rivers into the Bay of Bengal. Thus communication between the eastern coast on the one hand and the other parts of Andhra and Tamil Nadu on the other was not difficult in ancient times. The port cities of Arikamedu (modern name), Mahabalipuram and Kaveripattanam were situated on the Coromandal coast.

In the western part of the peninsula we do not have such distinct regional units. But we can locate Maharashtra between the Tapi (or Damanganga) on the north and the Bhima on the south. The area covered by Karnataka seems to have been situated between the Bhima and the upper regions of the Krishna on the north and the Tungabhadra on the south. For a long time the Tungabhadra provided a natural frontier between the warring powers lying to its north and south. Just as the Chalukyas of Badami and the Rashtrakutas found it difficult to extend their sway to the south of the Tungabhadra, so also the Pallavas and Cholas found it difficult to extend their authority to its north. The, coastal area in the extreme southwest of the peninsula was covered by the modern state of Kerala. The sea coast along the western part of the peninsula is called the Malabar Coast. Although the coast came to have several ports and small kingdoms, communication between the coast and the adjoining areas of Maharashtra, Karnataka and Kerala was rendered difficult by the Western Ghats with difficult passes to cross.

In between the Indus and the Gangetic systems in the north and the Vindhya Mountains on the south lies a vast stretch of land, which is divided into two units by the Aravalli mountains. The area west of the Aravalli is covered by the Thar desert, although a part of Rajasthan also lies in this region. The vast expanse of the desert made human settlements impossible in ancient times. However, a few fertile oases scattered in the desert were settled and from early times it has been possible to cross the desert by means of camels. The south-eastern portion of Rajasthan has been a comparatively fertile area since ancient times and because of the existence of the Khetri copper mines in these region human settlements arose in this area in the chalcolithic period.

Rajasthan shades off into the fertile plains of Gujarat, which are drained by the waters of the Narmada, the Tapi, the Mahi and the Sabarmati. Situated at the end of the north-western portion of the Deccan plateau, Gujarat includes the less rainy region of Kathiawar peninsula. The coastal area of this, state is fairly indented, allowing the existence of several harbours. Therefore, since ancient times Gujarat has been famous for its coastal and foreign trade and its people have proved to be enterprising traders.

South of the Ganga-Yamuna doab and bounded by the Chambal river on the west, the Son river on the east and the Vindhya Mountains and the Narmada river on the south, lies the State of Madhya Pradesh. Its northern part consists of fertile plains. At present Madhya Pradesh is the largest State in the country and can be broadly divided into two parts, eastern and western. The eastern, part, mostly hovered by the Vindhyas, became historically important in Gupta times in the fourth and fifth centuries A.D. But western Madhya Pradesh includes Malwa, which has been the scene of historical activities from the sixth century B.C. onwards. Malwa served as an important hinterland for tire Gujarat ports and many wars were fought between the Deccan and the northern powers for the possession of Malwa and Gujarat. The Shakas and the Satavahanas fought for the possession of this key area in the first and second centuries A.D. and the Marathas and the Rajputs in the eighteenth Century,.

Each one of the areas bounded by rivers, mid in some cases by mountains and sometimes identical with deltas and plateaus, constituted a political and administrative unit in which different ruling dynasties rose and fell. On account of difficult communications in a vast country and the defensibility of the natural frontiers, it was not easy for the ruling class of one region to establish its rule over all the other regions, in course of time every region grew into a distinct cultural unit having its own style of life and language. But in northern and western India most languages were derived from the same Indo-Aryan stock and hence held many elements in common. What is further important, almost all over the country Sanskrit came to be cultivated and understood?

The Vindhya mountains cut right across the country from west to east and form the boundary between north and south India. The speakers of the Dravidian languages lived south of the Vindhyas and of the Aryan languages north of it. In between lived tribal peoples in the Vindhya regions where they are still found. The coastal areas along the Eastern and Western Ghats attracted settlers and traders and the south earned on a flourishing foreign trade. The Vindhyas do not constitute insurmountable barriers. In ancient times, in spite of the difficulties of communication, people moved from north to south and vice versa. This led to a give-and-take in culture and language. Again and again the northern powers moved down to the south and the southern rulers moved up to the north. So also did the traders, missionaries and cultural leaders, particularly the brahmanas. The two-way traffic remained constant and helped the development of a composite culture.

Although most regions had well defined natural frontiers, not every region possessed the resources necessary to keep life going. Therefore, from pre-historic times onwards the common need for metals and other resources had produced a network of interconnections between the different regions of the country.

The exploitation of the natural resources of the country has an important bearing on its history. Until human settlements developed on a large scale, because of heavy rainfall a good part of the Indian plains abounded in thickly forested areas, which provided game and supplied forage, fuel and timber. In early times, when burnt bricks were not much in use, timber houses and palisades were constructed. They have been found in Pataliputra, the first important capital of India. For construction and tool-making all kinds of stones including sandstone are available in the country1. The earliest human settlements are naturally found in India in the hilly areas and in those river valleys which are situated between the hills. In historical times more temples and pieces of sculpture were made of stone in the Deccan and south India than in the plains of northern India.

Copper is widely distributed in the country. The richest copper mines are found in the Chotanagpur plateau, particularly in the district of Singhbhum. The copper belt is about 130 km long and shows many signs of ancient workings. The earliest people who used copper implements in Bihar exploited the copper mines of Singhbhum and Hazaribagh and many copper tools have been discovered in south Bihar and parts of Madhya Pradesh. Rich copper deposits are also found in the Khetri mines in Rajasthan. These were tapped by both pre-Vedic and Vedic people, who lived in areas now covered by Pakistan, Rajasthan, Gujarat and the Ganga Yamuna doab. Numerous copper belts have been found in the Khetri zone and they seem to belong to a period anterior to circa 1000 B.C. Since copper was the first metal to be used, it is invested with great purity by the Hindus and copper utensils are used in religious rituals.

The country today produces practically no tin; this was scarce even in ancient times. There is reason to believe that it was found in Rajasthan, south Madhya Pradesh and Bihar, but its deposits have been almost used up. Since bronze is made by mixing tin with copper, we do not find many bronze objects in prehistoric times. The Harappans possibly procured some tin from Rajasthan, but their main supply came from Afghanistan and even this was limited. Hence although the Harappa people used bronze tools, their number compared with those found in western Asia, Egypt and Crete is very small and their tools carry a smaller percentage of tin. Therefore, the major portion of India had no proper Bronze Age, that is, an age in which tools and implements were mostly made of bronze. Starting with the early centuries of the Christian era India developed intimate connections with Burma and the Malay Peninsula which possessed plenty of tin. This made possible the use of bronze on a large scale, especially for the statues of the gods in south India. Tin for the Bihar bronzes of Pala times was possibly obtained from Gaya, Hazaribagh and Ranchi, for in Hazaribagh tin ores were smelted till the middle of the last century.

India has been rich in iron ores, which are found particularly in south Bihar, eastern Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka. Once the art of smelting using bellows (making steel) was learnt, iron could be used for war and more usefully, for the clearance of jungles and for deep and regular cultivation. The formation of the first empire in Magadha in the sixth to fourth centuries B.C. owed much to the availability of iron just south of this region. The large-scale use of iron made Avanti, with its capital at Ujjain, an important kingdom in the sixth and fifth centuries B.C. The Satavahanas and the other powers which arose south of the Vindhyas may have exploited iron ores of Andhra and Karnataka.

Andhra possesses resources in lead, which explains the large numbers of lead coins in the kingdom of the Satavahanas, who ruled over Andhra and Maharashtra in the first two centuries of the Christian era, Lead may have also been obtained from towns in Rajasthan.

The earliest coins, called the punch-marked coins, were made largely of silver, although this metal is rarely found in the country. However, silver mines existed in early times in the Kharagpur hills in the district of Monghyr and they are mentioned as late as the time of Akbar. This accounts for the use of the white metal in the earliest punch-marked coins found in Bihar.

Large quantities of gold dust, which were carried by river streams from the Himalayas, were collected from the deposits of river channels in the plains. These deposits are called placers. Gold is found in the Kolar gold fields of Karnataka. A very early trace of gold has been found at a New Stone Age site of around 1800 B.C. in Karnataka. We have no indication of its exploitation till the beginning of the second century A.D. Kolar is considered to be tire earliest capital of the Gangas of south Karnataka. Much of the gold used in early times was obtained from Central Asia and the Roman Empire. Gold coins, therefore, came into regular use in the first five centuries of the Christian era. As the local resources were not sufficient to maintain the gold currency over a long spell of time; once the supply from outside stopped, gold coins became rare.

In ancient times, India also produced a variety of precious stones, including pearls, especially in central India Orissa and south India. Precious stones formed an important item of trade in articles which were eagerly sought for by the Romans in the early centuries of the Christian era.


1. Describe the principal geographical regions of India,

2. Why is an understanding of geographical features essential for an understanding of history? Discuss with examples ’from ancient Indian history.

3. Mention the important metals found in India. To what use were they put in ancient times?

4. How did the geographical setting of India promote ‘unity in diversity’ in the development of Indian history and culture? Discuss.

5. On an outline map of India, locate the following:

Khyber, Bolan, Comal, Hastinapur, Prayag, Varanasi, Pataliputra, Arikamedu, Hazaribagh, Mahabaiipuram, Kaveripattanam, Singhbhum, Kolar, Khetri, Ujjain.

6. Make a list of important rivers of India and locate them on an outline map of India.

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5. The Stone Age : The Early Man

The Palaeolithic Period: Hunters and Food Gatherers

The earth is over 4000 million years old. The evolution of its crust shows four stages. The fourth stage is called the Quaternary, which is divided info Pleistocene (most recent) and Holocene (present) the former lasted between 2,000,000 and 10,000 years before the present and the latter began about 10,000 years ago. Mari is said to have appeared on the earth in the early Pleistocene, when true ox, true elephant and true horse also originated. But now this event seems to have occurred in Africa about three million years back.

The fossils of the early men have not been found in India. A hint of the earliest human presence is indicated by stone tools obtained from the deposits ascribable to the Second Glaciation, which could be dated around 250,000 B.C. However, recently reported artefacts from Bori in Maharashtra may take the appearance of man as early as 1.4 million years ago, but the matter needs further research. At present it appears that India was settled later than Africa, although the lithic technology of the subcontinent broadly evolved in the same manner as it did in Africa. The early man in India used tools of stone roughly dressed by crude chipping, which have been discovered throughout the country except the alluvial plains of Indus, Ganga and Yamuna rivers. The chipped stone tools and chopped pebbles were used for hunting, cutting and other purposes. In this period man barely managed to gather his food and lived on hunting. He had no knowledge of cultivation and house building. This phase generally continued till 9000 B C.

Palaeolithic tools, which could be as old as 100,000 B.C., have been found in the Chotanagpur plateau. Such tools belonging to 20,000 B.C.10,000 B.C. have been found in Kurnool district in Andhra Pradesh about 55 km from Kurnool. In association with them bone implements and animal remains have also been discovered. Animal remains found in the Belan Valley in Mirzapur district in Uttar Pradesh show that goats, sheep and cattle were exploited. However, in the earliest Palaeolithic phase man lived on hunting and food gathering. The Puranas speak of people who lived on roots and fruits; some of these people have been living in the old way in the hills and caves till modern times.

Palaeolithic culture of India developed in the Pleistocene period of the lee Age. Although human remains associated with stone tools found in Africa are considered 3 million years old, in India the first human occupations, as clearly suggested by stone tools, is not earlier than the Middle Pleistocene or around 500,000 B.C. In the Pleistocene period ice sheets covered a great portion of the earth’s surface, particularly in the higher altitudes and their peripheries. But the tropical regions, excepting the mountains, were free from ice. On the other hand, they underwent a. period of great rainfall.

Phases in the Palaeolithic Age

The Palaeolithic Age in India is divided into three phases according to the nature of the stone tools used by the people and also according to the nature of change in the climate. The first phase is called Early or Lower Palaeolithic, the second Middle Palaeolithic and the third Upper Palaeolithic. Unless adequate information is available about Bori artefacts, the first phase may be placed broadly, between 500,000 B.C. and 50,000 B.C the second between 50,000 B.C. and 40,000 B.C. and the third between 40,000 B.C. and 10,000 B.C. But-between 40,000 B.C. and 1500 B.C tools belonging to both Middle and Upper Palaeolithic Ages are found in the Deccan Plateau.

The Lower Palaeolithic or the Early Old Stone Age covers the greater part of the Ice Age. Its characteristic feature is the use of hand-axes, cleavers and choppers. The axes found in India are more or less similar to those of western Asia, Europe and Africa. Stone tools were used mainly for chopping, digging and skinning. The Early Old Stone Age sites are found in the valley of river Soan or Sohan in Punjab, now in Pakistan. Several sites have been found in Kashmir and the Thar Desert. The Lower Palaeolithic tools have also been found in the Belan valley in Mirzapur District in Uttar Pradesh. Those found in the desert area of Didwana in Rajasthan in the valleys of the Belan and the Narmada and in the caves and rock shelters of Bhimbetka near Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh roughly belong to 100,000 B.C. The rockshelters may have served as seasonal camps for human beings. Hand-axes have been found in a deposit of the time of the second Himalayan inter-glaciation. In this period climate became less humid.

The Middle Palaeolithic industries are mainly based upon flakes. These flakes are found in different parts of India and show regional variations. The principal tools are varieties of blades, points, borers and scrapers made of flakes. We also find a large number of borers and blade-like tools. The geographical horizon of the Middle Palaeolithic sites coincides roughly with that of the Lower Palaeolithic sites. Here we notice a crude pebble Indus tty in strata contemporary with the third Himalayan glaciation. The artefacts of this age are also found at several places on the river Narmada and also at several places, south of the Tungabhadra river.

The Upper Palaeolithic phase was less humid. It coincided with the last phase of the Ice Age when climate became comparatively warm. In the world context it marks the appearance of new flint industries and of men of the modern type (Homo sapiens): In India, we notice the use of blades and burins, which have been found in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, central Madhya Pradesh, southern Uttar Pradesh, south Bihar plateau and the adjoining areas. Caves and rockshelters for use by human beings in the Upper Palaeolithic phase have been discovered at Bhimbetka, 45 km south of Bhopal. An Upper Palaeolithic assemblage, characterised by comparatively large flakes, blades, burins and scrapers has also been found in the upper levels of the Gujarat dunes!

It would thus appear that palaeolithic sites are found in many hilly slopes and river valleys of the country; they are absent in the alluvial plains of the Indus and the Ganga.

The Mesolithic Age: Hunters and herders

The Upper Palaeolithic Age came to an end with the end of the Ice Age around 9000 B.C. and the climate became warm and dry. Climatic changes brought about changes in fauna and flora and made it possible for human beings to move to new areas. Since then there have not been any major changes in climatic conditions. In 9000 B.C. began an intermediate stage in stone age culture, which is called the Mesolithic Age. It intervened as a transitional phase between the Palaeolithic Age and the Neolithic or New Stone Age. The mesolithic people lived on hunting, fishing and food gathering: at a later stage they also domesticated animals. The first three occupations continued the palaeolithic practice, while the last Was interrelated with the neolithic culture.

The characteristic tools of the Mesolithic Age are microliths. The mesolithic sites are found in good numbers in Rajasthan, southern Uttar Pradesh, central and eastern India and also south of the river Krishna. Of them Bagor in Rajasthan is very well excavated. It had a distinctive microlithic industry and its inhabitants subsisted on hunting and pastoralism. The site remained occupied for 5000 years from the fifth millennium B.C. onwards. Adamgarh in Madhya Pradesh and Bagor in Rajasthan provide the earliest evidence for the domestication of animals; this could be around 5000 B.C. The cultivation of plants around 7000-6000 B.C. is suggested in Rajasthan from a study of the deposits of the former Salt Lake, Sambhar.

So far only a few finds of the Mesolithic Age have been dated scientifically. The mesolithic culture continued to be important roughly from 9000 B.C to 4000 B.C. There is no doubt that it paved the Way for the rise of the Neolithic culture.

The people of palaeolithic and mesolithic ages practised painting. Prehistoric art appears at several places, but Bhimbetka in Madhya Pradesh is a striking site. Situated in the Vindhyan range, 45 km south of Bhppal it has more than 500 painted rock shelters, distributed in an area of 10 sq km. The rock paintings extend from the palaeolithic to the mesolithic period and in some series even up to recent times. But a good many rock shelters are associated with the mesolithic occupation. Many birds, animals and human beings are painted. Obviously most of the birds and animals that appear in paintings were hunted for the sake of subsistence. Perching birds, which live upon grain, are absent in the earliest group of paintings, which evidently belongs to the hunting gathering economy j.

It is interesting to note that on the northern spurs of the Vindhyas in the Belan valley all the three phases of the Palaeolithic followed by the Mesolithic and then by the Neolithic have been found in sequence and so is the case with the middle part of the Narmada valley. But in several areas the neolithic culture succeeded the mesolithic tradition, which continued right to the beginning of the Iron Age, i.e. 1000 B.C.

The Neolithic Age: Food Producers

In the world context the New Stone Age began in 9000 B.C. The only neolithic settlement in the Indian subcontinent attributed to 7000 B.C. lies in Mehrgarh, which is situated in Baluchistan, a province of Pakistan. In the initial stage, before 5000 B.C., the people of this place did not Use any pottery. Some Neolithic sites found on the northern spurs of the Vindhyas are considered as old as 5000 B.C. but generally Neolithic settlements found in south India are not older than 2500 B.C., in some parts of southern and eastern India they are as late as 1000 B C.

The people of this age used tools and implements of polished stone. They particularly used stone axes, which have been found in large numbers in a good part of the hilly tracts of the country. This cutting tool was put to various uses by the people and in ancient legends Parashurama became an important axe-wielding hero.

Based on the types of axes used by neolithic settlers, we notice three important areas of neolithic settlements — north-western, north-eastern and southern. The north western group of neolithic tools represents rectangular axes with curved cutting edge. The north-eastern group shows polished stone axes with rectangular butt and has occasional shouldered hoes. The southern group is distinguished by axes with oval sides and pointed butt.

In the north-west, the Kashmiri neolithic culture was distinguished by its dwelling pits, the range of ceramics, the variety of stone and bone tools and the complete absence of the microliths. An important site is that of Burzahom, which means the place of birch and is situated 16 km northwest of Srinagar. The neolithic people lived there on a lake-side in pits and probably had hunting and fishing economy. They seem to have been acquainted, with agriculture. The people of Gufkral (literally the cave of the potter), a neolithic site 41 km south-west of Srinagar, practised both agriculture and domestication of animals. The neolithic people in Kashmir used not only polished tool§ of stone, but what is more interesting, they used numerous tools and weapons made up of bone. The only other place which has yielded considerable bone implements in India is Chirand, which is 40 km west, of Patna on the northern side of the Gangs. Made of antlers (horns of deer), these implements have been found in a late neolithic setup in an area with about 100 cm rainfall. The settlement became possible because of the open land available on account of the joining together of the four rivers—Ganga, Sone, Gandak and Ghaghra at this place. It is marked by the paucity of stone tools.

The people of Burzahom used coarse grey pottery. It is interesting that the Burzahom domestic dogs were buried with their masters in their graves. The placing of domestic dogs in the graves of the masters do not seem to be the practice with neolithic people in any other part of India. The earliest date for Burzahom is about 2700 B.C., but the bones recovered from Chirand cannot be dated earlier than 2000 B.C. and they possibly belong to the late neolithic phase.

The second group of neolithic people lived in south India, south of the Godavari river. They usually settled on the tops of granite hills or on plateaus near the river banks. They used stone, axes and also some kind Of stone blades. Fire-baked earthen figurines suggest that they kept a large number of cattle. They possessed cattle, sheep and goats. They used rubbing stone querns, which shows that they were acquainted with the art of producing cereals.

The third area from which neolithic tools have been recovered is in the hills of Assam, Neolithic tools are also found in the Garo hills in Meghalaya on the north-eastern frontier of India. In addition to this, we also find a number of neolithic settlements on the northern spurs of the Vindhyas in Mirzapur and Allahabad districts of Uttar Pradesh, Neolithic sites in Allahabad district are noted for the cultivation of rice in the sixth millennium B.C.

Some of the important neolithic sites or those with neolithic layers that have been excavated include Maski, Brahmagiri, Hallur, Kodekal, Sanganakallu T. Narsipur, Piklihal and Takkalakota in Karnataka and Palyampalli in Tamil Nadu. Utnur is an important neolithic site in Andhra Pradesh. The neolithic phase in south India seems to have covered the period from about 2000 B.C. to about 1000 B.C.

The neolithic settlers in Piklihal were cattle-herders. They domesticated cattle, sheep, goats, etc. They set up seasonal camps surrounded by cowpens made with posts and stakes. In these enclosures they accumulated dung. Then the entire camping ground was put to fire and cleared for camping in the next session. Both ash mounds and habitation sites have been found in Piklihal.

The neolithic settlers were the earliest farming communities. They broke the ground with stone hoes and digging sticks at the end of which ring stones weighing one to half a kilogram were fixed. Besides polished tools of stone, they used microlithic blades. They lived in circular or rectangular houses made of mud and reed. It is held that the primitive people living in circular houses owned property in common In any case these neolithic people led a settled life. They produced ragi and horsegram (kulathi). The neolithic people of Mehrgarh were more advanced. They produced wheat, cotton and lived in mud-brick houses.

Since in the neolithic phase several settlements came to be acquainted with the cultivation of cereals and the domestication of animals, they needed pots in which they could store their foodgrains. They further needed pots for cooking, eating and drinking. Hence pottery first appears in this phase. Hand-made pottery is found in the early stage. Later the neolithic people used footwheels to turn up pots. Their pottery included black-burnished ware, grey ware and mat-impressed ware.

Neolithic celts, axes, adzes, chisels, etc., have also been found in the Orissa and Chotanagpur hill areas. But traces of neolithic settlements are generally few in parts of Madhya Pradesh and the tracts of the upper Deccan, because of the lack of the types of stone which lend themselves easily to grinding and polishing.

The period between 9000 B.C. and 3000 B.C. saw a remarkable progress of technology in western Asia, because the people developed the arts of cultivation, weaving, pot-making, house building, domestication of animals, writing, etc. But the whole process started a little late in India. However, the Neolithic Age in the Indian subcontinent began around the sixth millennium B.C. Some of the important crops, including rice, wheat and barley, came to be cultivated in the subcontinent in this period and a few villages appeared in this part of the world. It appears that the people were now on the threshold of civilization.

The people of the stone Age suffered from one great limitation. Since they had to depend almost entirely on tools and weapons made of stone, they could not found settlements far away from the hilly areas. They could settle down only on the slopes of the hills, in rock-shelters and the hilly river valleys. Further, even with great effort they could not; produce more than what they needed for their bare subsistence.


1 Explain the meaning of the following terms and concepts: Palaeolithic, Upper Palaeolithic. Neolithic, Mesolithic, Holocene, Pleistocene, Microliths, Food gathering, Homo sapiens, Pastoralism, Lithic technology.

2 What are the phases into which the Palaeolithic Age in India is divided? What is the basis of this division?

3 How are the Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic Ages in India distinguished from one another? Describe the main characteristic features of each.

4 Discuss the significance of invention of potter’s wheel, spinner’s wheel and cart wheel in the development of culture.

5 Why is the Neolithic Age considered as marking a revolution in man’s life?

6 Visit a museum which has a collection of prehistoric tools. Try to identify the tools about which you have read in the text.

7 On an outline map of India locate the following sites: Bhimbetka, Bagor, Adamgarh, Burzahom, Ghirand, Mehrgarh, Maski, Brahmagiri, Utnur, Narsipur. Identify the cultures with which these sites are associated.

8 Draw a chart indication the regions where Stone Age cultures have been discovered along with their respective periods and important sites..

9 Prepare a chart showing the tools of the Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic Ages and mention their uses.


6. Chalcolithic Farming cultures

Chalcolithic Settlements

The end of the neolithic period saw theme of metals. The metal to be used first was copper and several cultures were based on the use of stone and copper implements. Such a culture is called chalcolithic which means the stone-copper phase. Technologically, chalcolithic stage applied to the pre Harappans. But in Various parts of the country the chalcolithic cultures appear after the end of the bronze Harappa culture. Here we consider mainly such cultures which appear in the later part of the mature Harappa culture or after its end; The chalcolithic people mostly used stone and copper objects, but they also occasionally used low-grade bronze. They were primarily rural communities spread over a wide area in those parts of the country where hilly; land and rivers were available. On, the other hand, the Harappans used bronze and had attained urbanisation on the basis of the produce from the flood plains in the Indus valley. In India, settlements belonging to the chalcolithic phase are found in south-eastern Rajasthan, western part of Madhya Pradesh, western Maharashtra and in southern and eastern India. In southeastern Rajasthan, two sites, one at Ahar and the other at Gilund, have been excavated. They lie in the dry zones of the Banas valley. In western Madhya Pradesh, Malwa, Kayatha and Bran have been exposed. The Malwa Ware typical of the Malwa chalcolithic culture of central and western India is considered the richest among the chalcolithic ceramics. Some of its pottery and other cultural elements are also, found in Maharashtra.

But the most extensive excavations have taken place in western Maharashtra. Several chalcolithic sites, such as Jorwe, Nevasa, Dalmabad in Ahmadanagar District, Chandoli, Songaon and Inamgaon in Pune district, Prakash and Nasik have been excavated. They all belong to the Jorwe culture named after Jorwe, type-site situated on the left bank of the Pravara river, a tributary of the Godavari, in Ahmadnagar district. The Jorwe culture owed much to the Malwa culture but it also contained elements of the south neolithic culture.

The Jorwe culture B.C. 1400 to 700 B.C. covered modern Maharashtra except parts of Vidarbha and the coastal region of Konkam Although the Jorwe culture was rural, some of its settlements such as Daimabad and Inamgaon had almost reached the urban stage. All these Maharashtra sites were located in semi-arid areas mostly on brown-black soil which had ber and babul vegetation but fell in the riverine tracts. In addition to these, we have Navdatoli situated on the Narmada. Most chalcolithic ingredients intruded into the neolithic sites in south India.

Several chalcolithic sites have been found in the Vindhyan region of Allahabad district. In eastern India, besides Chirand on the Ganga, men tion may be made of Pandu Rajar Dhibi in Burdwan district and Mahishdal in Birbhum district in West Bengal. Some more sites have been excavated. Notable among these are Senuar, Sonpur and Taradih in Bihar and Khairadih and Narhan in eastern Uttar Pradesh.

The people belonging to this culture used tiny tools and weapons made of stone in which, the stone blades and bladelets occupied an important position. In many places, particularly in south India, the stone-blade industry flourished and stone axes continued to be used. It is obvious that such areas were not situated far from the hills. In certain settlements copper objects are found in good numbers. This seems to be the case with Ahar and Gilund, which lay more or less in the dry zones of the Banas river valley in Rajasthan. Unlike the other contemporary chalcolithic farming cultures, Ahar practically did not use microlithic tools; stone axes or blades are almost absent here. Its objects include several flat axes, bangles, several sheets, all made-of copper, although a bronze sheet also occurs. Copper was locally available. The people of Ahar practised smelting and metallurgy from the very beginning. The old namesof Ahar is Tambavati or a place possessing copper. The Ahar culture is placed between B.C. 2100 and 1500 B.C. and Gilund is considered a regional centre of the Ahar culture. In Gilund only fragments of copper appear. Here, we find a stone-blade industry. Flat, rectangular copper axes are found in Jorwe and Chandoli in Maharashtra and copper chisels appear at Chandoli.

The people of the chalcolithic1 phase used different types of pottery, one of which is called black-and-red and seems to have been widely prevalent from nearly 2000 B.C. onwards. It was thrown on wheel and occasionally painted with white linear designs. This is true not only of settlements in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra but also of habitations found in Bihar and West Bengal. People living in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar produced channel spotted pots, dishes-on-stand and bowls-on-stand. It would be wrong to think that all the people who used black-and-red pottery possessed the same culture. Black-and-Red-ware pottery from Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan was painted, but such painted pots were very few in eastern India.

The people living in the chalcolithic age in south-eastern Rajasthan, western Madhya Pradesh, western Maharashtra and elsewhere domesticated animals and practised agriculture. They kept cows, sheep, goats, pigs and buffaloes and hunted deer. Remains of the camel have also been found. But generally they were not acquainted with the horse. Some animal remains are identified as belonging either to the horse or donkey or wild ass. People certainly ate beef, but they did not take pork on any considerable scale. What is remarkable is that these people produced wheat and rice. In addition to these staple crops, they also cultivated bajra. They produced several pulses such as the lentil (mosur), black gram, green gram and grass pea. Almost all these foodgrains have been found at Navdatoli situated on the bank of the Narmada in Maharashtra. Perhaps at no other place in India so many cereals have been discovered as a result of digging. The people of Navdatoli also produced her and linseed. Cotton was produced in the black cotton soil of the Deccan and ragi, bajra and several millets were cultivated in the lower Deccan. In eastern India, fish hooks have been found in Bihar and West Bengal, where we also find rice. This suggests that the chalcolithic people in the eastern regions lived on fish and rice, which is still a popular diet in that part of the county. Most settlements in the Banas valley in Rajasthan are small but Ahar and Gilund spread over an area of nearly four hectares.

The chalcolithic people were generally rtot acquainted with burnt bricks, which were seldom used, as in Gilund arounid 1500 B.C their houses were made of mud bricks, but mostly these were constructed with wattle and daub and seem to have been thatched houses. However, the people in Ahar lived in stone-built houses. Of the 200 Jorwe sites discovered so far, the largest is Daimabad in the Godavari valley. It is about 20 hectares in extent which could contain around 4000 people. It also seems to have been fortified with a mud wall having stone, rubble bastions. Daimabad is famous for the recovery of a large number of bronze goods some of which were influenced by the Harappan culture.

At Inamgaon, in the earlier chalcolithic phase in western Maharashtra, large mud houses with ovens and circular pit houses have been discovered. In the later phase (1300-1000 B.C. Jorwe have a house with five rooms, four rectangular and one circular. This was located in the centre of the settlements and may have been the house of a chief. The granary lying close to it may have been used for storing tributes in kind. Inamgaon was a large chalcolithic settlement. It shows more than one hundred houses and numerous burials. This settlement was also fortified and surrounded by a moat.

We know a good deal about the chalcolithic arts and crafts. They were clearly expert coppersmiths and also good workers in stone. We get tools, weapons and bangles of copper. They manufactured beads of semi-precious stones such as carnelian, steatite and quartz crystal. People knew the art of spinning and weaving because spindle Whorls have been discovered in Malwa. Gotten, flax and silk threads made of cotton silk of semal/silk (cotton tree) have been found in Maharashtra. This shows that these people were well acquainted with the manufacture of cloth. In addition to the artisans who practised these crafts at various sites we find potters, smiths, ivory carvers, lime makers and terracotta artisans at Inamgaon.

Regional differences in regard to cereals, structure, pottery, etc., appear in the stone-copper phase. Eastern India produced rice; western India cultivated barley and wheat. Chronologically certain settlements in Malwa and central India such as those in Kayatha and Eran, appeared early; those of western Maharashtra and eastern India were of a much later date. We can form some idea about the burial practices and religious cults of these people. In Maharashtra people buried their dead in urns under the floor of their house in the north-south position. They did not use separate cemeteries for this purpose, as was the case with the Harappans. Pots and some copper objects were deposited in the graves obviously for the use of the dead in the next world.

Terracotta figures of women suggest that the chalcolithic people venerated the mother goddess. Some unbaked nude clay figurines were also used for worship. A figure of the mother goddess similar to that found in western Asia has been found in Inamgaon. In Malwa and Rajasthan stylized bull terracottas show that the bull was the symbol of a religious cult.

Both the settlement pattern and burial practices suggest beginnings of social inequalities in the chalcolithic society. A kind of settlement hierarchy appears in several Jorwe settlements found in Maharashtra. Some of them as large as twenty hectares, but others are only five hectares and even lesser size. This would imply two tier habitations. The difference in the size of settlements suggests that larger settlements dominated the smaller ones. However, in both large and small settlements the chief and his kinsmen who lived in rectangular houses dominated others who lived in round huts. In Inamgaon the craftsmen lived on the western fringes and the chief probably in the centre; this suggests social distance between the inhabitants. In the graves at Chandoli and Nevasa in western Maharashtra, some children were buried with copper based necklaces around their necks; other children had grave goods consisting only of pots. At Inamgaon an adult was buried with pottery and some copper. In one house in Kayatha 29 copper bangles and two unique axes were found. At the same place necklaces of semi-precious stones such as steatite and carnelian beads were found in pots. It is evident that those who possessed these objects were affluent..

Chronologically a special note may be taken of a site at Ganeshwar which is located close to the rich copper mines of the Sikar Jhunjhunu area of the Khetri copper belt in Rajasthan. The copper objects excavated from this area include arrowheads, spearheads, fish hooks, colts, bangles, chisels, etc. Some of their shapes are similar to those discovered at Indus sites; a terracotta cake resembling the Indus type has been also found. It also shows many microliths which are typical of the chalcolithic culture. We also find the OCP (Ochre Coloured Pottery) ware which is a red-slipped Ware often painted in black and mainly represented in vase forms. Since the Ganeshwar deposits are ascribed to 2800-2200 B.C they largely predate the mature Harappan culture. Ganeshwar mainly supplied copper objects to Harappa and did not receive much from it: The Ganeshwar people partly lived on agriculture and largely on hunting. Although their principal craft was the manufacture of copper objects they could not develop urban elements of the Harappan economy, which was based on the produce from the wide flood plains. The Ganeshwar assemblage, therefore, cannot be regarded as a proper OCP Copper Hoard culture. With its microliths and other stone tools much of the Ganeshwar culture can he regarded as a pre-Harappan chalcolithic culture, which contributed to the making of the mature Harappan culture.

Chronologically there are several series of chalcolithic settlements in India. Some are pre-Harappan, others are contemporaries of the Harappan culture and still others are post Harappan. Pre-Harappan strata on some sites in the Harappan zone are also called early Harappan in order to distinguish them from the mature urban. Indus civilization. Thus the pre Harappan phase at Kalibangan in Rajasthan and Banawali in Haryana is distinctly chalcolithic. So is the case with Kot Diji in Sindh in Pakistan. Pre Harappan and post-Harappan chalcolithic cultures and those coexisting with the Harappan are found in northern, western and central India. An example is the Kayatha culture C 2000-1880 B.C., which is a junior contemporary of the Harappa culture. It has some pre-Harappan elements in pottery, but it also shows Harappan influence. Several post Harappan chalcolithic cultures in these areas are influenced by the post urban phase of the Harappan culture.

Several other chalcolithic cultures, though younger in age than the mature Harappan culture, are not connected with the Indus civilization. The Malwa culture (1700-1200 B.G.) found in Navdiatoli, Eran and Nagda is considered to be non-Harappan. So is the case with the Jorwe culture (1400-700 B.C.) which covers the whole of Maharashtra except parts of Vidarbha and Konkan. In the southern and eastern parts of the country, chalcolithic settlements existed independently of the Harappan culture. In south India they are found invariably in continuation of the neolithic settlements. The chalcolithic settlement of the Vindhya region, Bihar and West Bengal are also not related to the Harappan culture.

Evidently various types of pre Harappan chalcolithic cultures promoted the spread of farming communities in Sindh, Baluchistan, Rajasthan, etc. and Created conditions for the rise of the urban civilization of Harappa. Mention may be made of Amri and Kot Diji in Sindh, Kalibangan and even Ganeshwar in Rajasthan. It appears that some chalcolithic farming communities moved to the flood plains of the Indus, learnt bronze technology and succeeded in setting up cities.

Chalcolithic cultures in central and western India disappeared by 1200 B.C. or so; only the Jorwe culture continued until 700 B.C. However, in several parts of the country the chalcolithic black-and-red ware continued into historical times till the second century B.C. But by and large a gap of about four to six centuries appears between the chalcolithic cultures and the early historic cultures in central and western India: In western India and western Madhya Pradesh, the eclipse of the chalcolithic habitations is attributed to a decline in rainfall from about 1200 B.C. onwards. But in West Bengal and in the mid-Ganga zone they continued for long. Probably in western India the chalcolithic people could not continue for long with the digging stick in the black clayey soil area which is difficult to break in the dry season. In the red soil areas, especially in eastern India, however, the chalcolithic phase was immediately followed, without any gap, by the iron phase which gradually transformed the people into full fledged agriculturalists. The same thing happened to the chalcolithic cultures of the mid-Ganga plains. Similarly, at several sites in southern India chalcolithic culture was transformed into megalithic culture using iron.

Importance of the Chalcolithic Phase

Except for the alluvial plains and the thickly forested areas; traces of chalcolithic cultures have been discovered almost all over the country. In the alluvial plains of the mid-Ganga region, several chalcolithic Sites occur, particularly near a lake or a river confluence. In this phase people mostly founded rural settlements on river banks not far removed from hills. As stated earlier, they used microliths and other stone tools supplemented by some use of copper tools. It seems that most of them knew the art of copper smelting. Almost all chalcolithic communities used Wheel turned black-and-red pots. Considering their pre-Bronze phase of development, we find that they were the first to use painted pottery. Their pots were meant for cooking, eating, drinking and storing. They used both lota and thali In south India, the neolithic phase imperceptibly faded into the chalcolithic phase and so these cultures are called neolithic-chalcolithic. In other parts, especially in western Maharashtra and Rajasthan, the chalcolithic people seem toUave been colonisers. Their earliest settlements appear in Malwa and central India, such as those in Kayatha and Eran; those in western Maharashtra appeared later; and those in Bihar and West Bengal emerged much later.

The chalcolithic communities founded the first large villages in peninsular India and cultivated far more cereals than is known in the case of the neolithic communities. In particular they cultivated barley, wheat and lentil in western India and rice in southern and eastern India. Their cereal food was supplemented by non-vegetarian food. In western India we have more of animal food, but fish and rice formed important elements in the diet of eastern India. More remains of structures have been found in western Maharashtra, western Madhya Pradesh and south-eastern Rajasthan. The settlements at Kayatha and Eran in Madhya Pradesh and at Inamgaon in western Maharashtra were fortified. On the other hand, the remains of structures in Chirand and Pandi Rajar Dhibi in eastern India were poor, indicating post-holes and round houses. The burial practices were different. In Maharashtra the dead body was placed in the north-south position, but in south India in the east-west position. Almost complete extended burial obtained in western India, but fractional burial prevailed in eastern India.

Limitations of Chalcolithic Cultures

The chalcolithic people domesticated cattle — sheep goats — which were tethered in the courtyard. Probably the domesticated animals were slaughtered for food and not milked for drink and daisy products. The tribal people such as the Gonds of Bastar think that milk is meant only to feed the young animals and, therefore, they do not milk their cattle. Because of this the chalcolithic people could not make full use of the animals. Further, the chalcolithic people living in the black cotton soil area of central and western India did not practise cultivation on any intensive Or extensive scale. Neither plough nor hoe has been found at chalcolithic sites. Only perforated stone discs were tied as weights to the digging sticks which could be used in the slash-burn or jhum cultivation. It was possible to sow in the ashes with the help of such a digging stick. Intensive and extensive cultivation on the black soil required the use of iron implements which had no place in the chalcolithic culture. The chalcolithic people living in the red soil areas of eastern India also faced the same difficulty.

The general weakness of chalcolithic cultures is evident from the burial of a large number of children in western Maharashtra. In spite of a food-producing economy, the rate of infant mortality was very high. It might be attributed to lack of nutrition, absence of medical knowledge or outbreak of epidemics. At any rate the chalcolithic social and economic pattern did not promote longevity.

The stone-copper culture had an essentially rural background. During its phase the supply of copper was limited and, as a metal, copper had its limitations. By itself a tool made of copper was pliant. People did not know the art of mixing tin with copper-and thus forging the much stronger and useful medal called bronze. Bronze tools facilitated the rise of earliest civilizations in Crete, Egypt and Mesopotamia and also in the Indus valley.

The people of the Stone-Copper Age did not know the art of writing; nor did they live in cities as the people of the Bronze Age did. We notice all these elements of civilization for the first time in the Indus region of the Indian subcontinent. Although most chalcolithic cultures existing in the major part of the country were younger than the Indus valley civilization, they did not derive any substantial benefit from the advanced technological knowledge of the Indus people.

The Copper Hoards and the Ochre-coloured Pottery Phase

More than forty copper hoards consisting of rings, celts, hatchets, swords, harpoons, spearheads and human-like figures have: been found in a wide area ranging from West Bengal and Orissa in the east to Gujarat and Haryana in the west and from Andhra Pradesh in the south to Uttar Pradesh in the north. The largest hoard comes from Gungeria in Madhya Pradesh; it contains 424 copper tools and weapons and 102 thin sheets of silver objects. But nearly half of the copper hoards are concentrated in the Ganga-Yamuna doab; in other areas we encounter stray finds of copper harpoons, antennae swords and anthropomorphic figures. These artefacts served several purposes. They were meant not only for fishing, hunting and fighting but also for artisanal and agricultural use. They presuppose good technological skill and knowledge on the part of the coppersmith and cannot be the handiwork of nomadic people or primitive artisans. In excavations at two places in the western Uttar Pradesh some of these objects have been discovered in association with ochre coloured pots and some mud structures. At one place stray baked-brick fragments are also found. Stone tools have also been found in excavations. All this suggests that the people who used the implements of the copper hoards supplemented by some tools led a settled life and were one of the earliest chalcolithic agriculturalists and artisans to settle in a good portion of the doab. Most ochre-coloured pottery sites are found in the upper.

The term OCP is misleading, because it is essentially a red-slipped ware, which shows many handled vases. The OCP culture shows some Harrapan influence portion of the doab, but stray copper hoards are found in the plateau areas of Bihar and the other regions. Many copper celts have been found in the Khetri zone of Rajasthan.

The period covered by the ochre coloured pottery culture may roughly be placed between 2000 B.C. and 1500 B.C., on the basis of a series of eight scientific datings. When the ochre coloured pottery settlements disappeared, in doab does not show much habitations until about 1000 B.C. We learn of some habitation by people using black-and-red ware, but their habitation deposits are so thin and antiquities so poor that we cannot form a clear and distinct idea of their cultural equipment. In any case, in the upper portion of the doab, settlement begins with the advent of the ochre coloured pottery people. Jodhpura on the border of Haryana and Rajasthan shows the thickest OCP deposits accounting for 1-1 metre. It seems, however, that at no place did these settlements last for more than a century or so; nor were they considerable in size and spread over a very wide territory. Why and how these settlements came to an end is not clear. A suggestion has been made that inundation followed by water-logging in an extensive area may have rendered the area unfit for human settlements. The present soft texture of the ochre coloured pottery is, according to some scholars, the result of its association with water for a considerable period of time.

The OCP people were junior Contemporaries of the Harappans and the ochre coloured pottery area in which they lived was not far removed from that of the Harappans. We may, therefore, expect some give and take between the OCP people and the bronze using Harappans.


1. Explain the meaning of the following terms and concepts: Chalcolithic, Microlith, Jhum cultivation.

2. In what respects do the chalcolithic cultures mark an advance on the Stone Age cultures? Discuss.

3. Identify the main features of chalcolithic phase in India. Mention the main sites of the chalcolithic cultures in India. Show these sites on an outline map of India.

4. Describe the burial practices and religious beliefs of the chalcolithic people.

5. State the period of the chalcolithic cultures in India.

6. Discuss the main limitations of the chalcolithic cultures.


7. The Harappan Culture Bronze age Civilisation

Geographical Extent

The indus or the Harappan culture is older than the chalcolithic cultures which have been treated earlier, but it is far more developed than these cultures. It arose in the north-western part of the Indian subcontinent. It is called Harappan because this civilization was discovered first in 1921 at the modern site of Harappa situated in the province of West Punjab in Pakistan. Many sites in Sind formed the central zone of the pre-Harappan culture. This culture developed and matured into an urban civilization which emerged in Sindh and Punjab. The central zone of this mature Harappan culture lay in Sind and Punjab, mainly in the Indus valley. It is from here that it spread southwards and eastwards. In this way, the Harappan culture covered parts of Punjab, Haryana, Sindh, Baluchistan, Gujarat, Rajasthan and the fringes of western Uttar Pradesh. It extended from Jammu in the north to the Narmada estuary in the south and from the Makran coast of Baluchistan in the west to Meerut in the north-east. The area formed a triangle and accounted for about 1-299-600 square kilometres, which is larger than Pakistan and certainly bigger than ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. No other culture zone in the third and second millennium B.C. in the world was as large as the Harappan.

Nearly 1500 Harappan sites are known so far in the subcontinent. Most of them are late Harappan, post-urban sites. These, including Bhagwanpura, generally on the banks of the Hakra Ghaggar channel. They belong to early, mature and late phases of the Harappan culture. But the number of the sites belonging to the mature phase is limited and of them only a few can be regarded as cities. Of these, the two most important cities were Harappa in Punjab and Mohenjodaro (literally the mound of the dead) in Sindh, both forming parts of Pakistan. Situated at a distance of 483 kilometres they were linked together by the Indus. A third city lay at Chanhudaro about 130 km south of Mohenjodaro In Sindh and a fourth at Lothal in Gujarat at the head of the Gulf of Cambay. A fifth city lay at Kalibangan, which means black bangles, in northern Rajasthan. A sixth called Banawali is situated in Hissar district in Haryana. It saw two cultural phases, pre-Harappan and Harappan, similar to that of Kalibangan. To the Harappan period belong the remains of mud-brick platforms and of streets and drains. The Harappan culture is noticeable in its mature and flourishing stage at all these six places. It is also found in its mature phase in the coastal cities of Sutkagendor and Surkotada, each one, of which is marked by a citadel. The later Harappan phase is found in Rangpur and Rojdi in the Kathiawar peninsula in Gujarat. In addition to these, Dholavira lying in the Kutch area of Gujarat shows Harappan fortification and all the three phases of the Harappan culture. These phases also appear in Rakhigarhi which is situated on the Ghaggar in Haryana and is much bigger than Dholavira.

Town Planning and Structures

The Harappan culture was distinguished by its system of town planning. Harappa and Mohenjo-daro each had its own citadel or acropolis, which was possibly occupied by members of the ruling class. Below the citadel in each city lay a lower town containing brick houses, which were inhabited by the common people. The remarkable thing about the arrangement of the houses in the cities is that they followed the grid system. According to it, roads cut across one another almost at right angles and the city was divided into so many blocks. This is true of almost all Indus settlements regardless of size.

Big buildings distinguished both Harappa and Mohenjodaro; the latter was extremely rich in structures. Their monuments symbolised the ability of the ruling class to mobilise labour and collect taxes; the huge brick constructions also impressed the common people with the prestige and influence of their rulers.

The most important public place of Mohenjodaro seems to be the Great Bath, comprising the tank which is situated in the citadel mound. It is an example of beautiful brickwork. It measures 11.88 x 7.01 metres and 2.43 metres deep. Flights of steps at either end lead to the surface. There are side rooms for changing clothes. The floor of the Bath was made of burnt bricks. Water was drawn from a large well in an adjacent room and an outlet from the corner of the Bath led to a drain. It is suggested that the Great Bath served ritual bathing, which has been so vital to any religious ceremony in India.

In Mohenjodaro the largest building is a granary, which is 45.71 metres long and 15-23 metres wide. But in the citadel of Harappa we find as many as six granaries. We come across a series of brick platforms which formed the basis for two rows of six granaries. Each granary measured 15.23 x 6.09 metres and lay within a few metres of the river bank. The combined floor space of the twelve units would be about 838 square metres. Approximately it had the same area as the Great Granary at Mohenjodaro. To the south of the granaries at Harappa lay working floors consisting of the rows of circular brick platforms. These were evidently meant for threshing grain because wheat and barley have been found in the crevices of the floors. Harappa also shows two-roomed barracks, which possibly accommodated labourers.

At Kalibangan also we notice in the southern part brick platforms, which may have been used for granaries. Thus, it would appear that granaries constituted an important part of the Harappan cities.

The use of burnt bricks in the Harappan cities is remarkable, because in the contemporary buildings of Egypt mainly dried bricks were used. We find the use of baked bricks in contemporary Mesopotamia, but they were used to a much larger extent in the Harappan cities.

The drainage system of Mohenjodaro was very impressive. In almost all cities every big or small house had its own courtyard and bathroom. In Kalibangan many houses had their wells. Water flowed from the house to the streets which had drains. Sometimes these drains were covered with bricks and sometimes with stone slabs. The street drains were equipped, with manholes. The remains of streets and drains have also been found at Banawali. Altogether the quality of the domestic bathrooms and drains is remarkable and the drainage system of Harappa is almost unique. Perhaps no other Bronze Age civilization gave so much attention to health and cleanliness as the Harappan did.


Comparatively rainless, the Indus region is not so fertile these days. Its prosperous villages and towns show that it was fertile in ancient times. At present it has only a rainfall of about 15 cm. In the fourth century B.C. one of the historians of Alexander informs us that Sindh was a fertile part of the country. In earlier times the Indus region possessed more natural vegetation which attracted more rainfall. It supplied timber fuel for baking bricks on a large scale and also for construction. In course of time, natural vegetation was destroyed by the extension of agriculture, large-scale grazing and supply of fuel. A far more important reason for the fertility of the area seems to have been the annual inundation in the Indus river. Walls made of burnt bricks raised for protection show that floods took place annually. The Indus earned far more alluvial silt than the Nile in Egypt and deposited it on the flood plains. Just as the Nile created Egypt and supported its people, so also the Indus created Sindh and fed its people. The Indus people sowed seeds in the flood plains in November, when the flood water receded and reaped their harvests of wheat and barley in April, before the advent of the next flood. No hoe or ploughshare has been discovered, but the furrows discovered in the pre-Harappan phase at Kalibangan show that the fields were ploughed in Rajasthan in the Harappan period. The Harappans probably used the wooden ploughshare. We do not know whether the plough was drawn by men or oxen. Stone sickles may have been used for harvesting the crops Gabarbands or nalas enclosed by dams for storing water were a feature in parts of Baluchistan and Afghanistan, but channel or canal irrigation seems to have been absent. The Harappan villages, mostly situated near the flood plains, produced sufficient foodgrains not only to feed themselves but also the town people They must have worked very hard to meet their own requirements as well as those of the artisans, merchants and others, who lived in the city and who were not directly concerned with food-producing activities.

The Indus people produced wheat, barley, rai, peas, etc. They produced two types of wheat and barley. A good quantity of barley has been discovered at Banawali. In addition to this, they produced sesamum and mustard. But the position seems to have been different with the Harappans at Lothat. It seems that as early as 1800 B.C., the people of Lothal used rice whose remains have been found. Foodgrains were stored in huge granaries in both Mohenjodaro and Harappa and possibly in Kalibangan. Probably, cereals were received as taxes from peasants and stored in granaries for the payment of wages as well as for use during emergencies. This can be said on the analogy of Mesopotamian cities where wages were paid in barley. The Indus people were the earliest people to produce cotton. Because cotton was first produced in this area the Greeks called it sindon, which is derived from Sindh.

Domestication of Animals

Although the Harappans practised agriculture animals were kept on a large scale. Oxen buffaloes, goats, sheep and pigs were domesticated. The humped bulls were favoured by the Harappans. From the very beginning dogs were regarded as pets. Cats were also domesticated and signs of the feet of both dogs and cats have been noticed. They also kept asses and camels, which were obviously used as beasts of burden. Evidence of the horse comes from, a superficial level of Mohenjodaro and from a doubtful terracotta figurine from Lethal. The remains of the horse are reported from Surkotada, situated in west Gujarat and belong to around 2000 B.C. but the identity is doubtful. In any case the Harappan culture was not horse centred. Neither the bones of horse nor its representations appear in early and mature Harappan culture. Elephants were well known to the Harappans, who were also acquainted with the rhinoceros. The contemporary Sumerian cities in Mesopotamia practically produced the same foodgrains and domesticated the same animals as the Harappans did. But the Harappan people in Gujarat produced rice and domesticated elephants, which was not the case with the people of Mesopotamian cities.

Technology and Crafts.

The Harappan culture belongs to the Bronze Age. The people of Harappa used many tools and implements of stone, but they were very well acquainted with the manufacture and use of bronze. Ordinarily bronze was made by the smiths by mixing tin with copper. Since none of the two metals was easily available to the Harappans, bronze tools are not prolific in Harappa. The impurities of the-ores show that copper was obtained from the Khetri copper mines of Rajasthan, although it could also be brought from Baluchistan. Tin was possibly brought with difficulty from Afghanistan although its old workings are stated to have been found in Hazaribagh and Bastar. The bronze tools and weapons recovered from the Harappan sites contain a smaller percentage of tin. However, the kit of bronze goods left by the Harappans is considerable, which suggests that the bronze smiths constituted an important group of artisans in the Harappans society. They produced not only images and utensils but also various tools and weapons such as axes, saws, knives and spears. Several other important crafts flourished, in the Harappans towns. A piece of woven cotton has been recovered from Mohenjodaro and textile impressions found on several objects. Spindle whorls were used for spinning. Weavers wove cloth of wool and cotton. Huge brick structures suggest that brick-laying was an important craft. They also attest the existence of a class of masons. The Harappans also practised boat-making. As will be shown later, seal-making and terracotta manufacture was also important crafts. The goldsmiths made jewellery of silver, gold and precious stones; tire first two may have been obtained from Afghanistan and the last from south India. The Harappans were also experts in bead-making.

The potter’s wheel was in full use and the Harappans produced their own characteristic pottery, which was made glossy and shining.


The importance of trade in the life of the Indus people is attested not only by granaries found at Harappa, Mohenjo-daro and Lothal but also by the presence of numerous seals, uniform script and regulated weights and measures in a wide area. The Harappans carried on considerable trade in stone, metal, shell, etc., within the Indus culture gone. However, their cities did not possess the necessary raw material for the commodities they produced, They did not use metal money. Most probably they carried on all exchanges through barter. In return for finished goods and possibly foodgrains, they procured metals from the neighbouring areas by boats and bullock-carts. They practised navigation on the coast, of the Arabian Sea. They knew the use of wheel and carts with solid wheels were in use in Harappa.

The Harappans had commercial links with one area of Rajasthan and also with Afghanistan and Iran. They had set up a trading colony in northern Afghanistan which evidently facilitated trade with Central Asia. Their cities also carried commerce with, those in the land of the Tigris and the Euphrates. Many Harappan seals have been discovered in Mesopotamia and it seems that the Harappans imitated some cosmetics used by the urban people of Mesopotamia.

The Harappans carried on long-distance trade in lapis lazuli-lapis may have contributed to the social prestige of the ruling class. The Mesopotamian records from about 2350 B.C. onwards refer to trade relations with Meluha, which was the ancient name given to the Indus region. The Mesopotamian texts speaks of two intermediate trading stations called Dilmun and Makan, which lay between Mesopotamia and Meluha. Dilmun can probably be identified with Bahrain on the Persian Gulf. Thousands of graves await excavation in that port city.

Political Organisation

We have no clear idea about the political organization of the Harappans. But if we take into account the cultural homogeneity of the Indus civilization it can be said that this cultural homogeneity would not have been possible to achieve without a central authority.

If the Harappan cultural zone is considered identical with the political zone, the subcontinent did not witness such a large political unit until the rise of the Maurya empire; the remarkable stability of this unit is demonstrated by its continuity for nearly 600 years.

In sharp contrast to Egypt and Mesopotamia, no temples have been found at any Harappan site. We have no religious structures of any kind except the Great Bath, which may have been used for ablutions. Therefore, it would be wrong, to think that priests ruled in Harappa, as they did in the cities of Lower Mesopotamia. Perhaps there are some indications of the practice of fire cult at Lothal in Gujarat in the later phase, but no temples were used for the purpose. Perhaps the Harappan rulers were more concerned with commerce than with conquests and Harappa was possibly ruled by a class of merchants. It may be noted that the Harappans were lacking in weapons.

Religious Practices

Its Harappa numerous terracotta figurines of women have been found. In one figurine a plant is shown growing out of the embryo of a woman. Probably the image represents the goddess of earth and it was intimately connected with the origin and growth of plants. The Harappans, therefore, looked upon the earth as a fertility goddess and worshipped her in the same manner as the Egyptians worshipped the Nile goddess Isis. But we do not know whether the Harappans were a matriarchal people like the Egyptians. In Egypt the daughter inherited the throne or property, but we do not know about the nature of inheritance in the Harappan society.

Some Vedic texts show reverence to the earth goddess, although she is not given any prominence. It took a long time for the worship of the supreme goddess to develop in Hinduism. Only from the sixth century A.D. onwards various mother-goddesses such as Durga, Amba, Kali, Chandi, etc. came to be regarded as goddesses in the Puranas and in the Taintra literature, In course of time every village came to have its own separate goddess.

The Male Deity in the Indus Valley

The male deity is represented on a seal. This god has three horned heads. He is represented in the sitting posture of a yogi, placing one foot, on the other. This god is surrounded by an elephant, a tiger, a rhinoceros and has a buffalo below his throne. At his feet appear two deer. The depicted god is identified as Pushupati Mahadeva. But the identification is doubtful, because horned gods also appear in other ancient civilizations. We also come across the prevalence of the phallus worship, which became so intimately connected with Shiva in later times. Numerous symbols of the phallus and female sex organs made of stone have been found in Harappa. They were possibly meant for worship. The Rig Veda speaks of the non-Aryan people who were phallus worshippers. The phallus worship which started in the days of Harappa came to be recognized as a respectable form of worship in Hindu society.

Tree and Animal Worship

The people of the Indus region also worshipped trees. The picture of a deity is represented on a seal in the midst of the branches of the pipal. This tree continues to be worshipped to this day.

Animals were also worshipped in Harappan times and many of them are represented on seals. The most important of them is the one horned animal unicorn which may be identified with the rhinoceros. Next in importance is the humped bull. Even today, when such a bull passes in the market streets the pious Hindus give way to it. Similarly, the animals surrounding Pashupati Mahadeva indicate that these were worshipped. Obviously the inhabitants of the Indus region worshipped gods in the form of trees, animals and human beings. But the gods were not placed in temples, a practice which was common in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. Nor can we say anything about the religious beliefs of the Harappans without being able to read their script. Amulets have been found in large numbers. Probably the Harappairs believed that ghosts and evil forces were capable of harming them and, therefore, used amulets against them. The Atharva Veda, which is associated with non-Aryan tradition, contains many charms and spells and recommends

The Harappan Script

The Harappans invented the art of writing like the people of ancient Mesopotamia. Although the earliest specimen of Harappan script was noticed in 1853 and the complete script discovered by 1923, it has not been deciphered so far. Some try to connect it with the Dravidian or the proto-Dravidian language, others with the Sanskrit language and still others with the Sumerian language, but none of these readings is satisfactory. As the script has not been deciphered, we cannot judge the Harappan contribution to literature, nor can we say anything about their ideas and beliefs.

There are nearly 4,000 specimens of Harappan writing on stone seals and other Objects. Unlike the Egyptians and Mesopotamians, the Harappans did not write long inscriptions. Most inscriptions were recorded on seals and contain only a few words. These seals may have been used by propertied people to mark and identify their private property. Altogether we have about 250 to 400 pictographs and in the form of a picture each letter stands for some sound, idea or object. The Harappan script is not alphabetical but mainly pictographic. Attempts have been made to compare it with the contemporary scripts of Mesopotamia and Egypt. But it is the indigenous product of the Indus region and does not show any connection with scripts of western Asia.

Weights and Measures

The knowledge of script must have helped the recording of private property and the keeping of accounts. The urban people of the Indus region also needed and used weights and measures for trade and other transactions. Numerous articles used for weights have been found. They show that in weighing mostly 16 or its multiples were used; for instance, 16, 64, 160, 320 and 640, interestingly the tradition of 16 has continued in India till modern times and till recently 16 annas made one rupee. The Harappans also knew the art of measurement. We have come across sticks inscribed with measure marks; one of these is made of bronze.

Harappan Pottery

The Harappans were great experts in the use of the potter’s wheel. We come across numerous pots painted in various designs. Harappan pots were generally decorated with the designs of trees and circles. The images of men also appear on some pottery fragments.


The greatest artistic creations of the Harappan culture are the seals. About 2000 seals have been found and of these a great majority carry short inscriptions with pictures of the one horned bull, the buffalo, the tiger, the rhinoceros, the goat and the elephant.


The Harappan artisans made beautiful images of metal. A woman dancer made of bronze is the best specimen.

Except for a necklace she is naked. We get a few pieces of Harappan stone sculptures. One steatite statue wears an ornamented robe over the left shoulder under the right arm and its short locks at the back of the head are kept tidy by a woven fillet.

Terracotta Figurines

We get many figurines made of fire baked earthen clay, commonly called terracotta. These were either used as toys or objects of worship. They represent birds, dogs, sheep, cattle and monkeys. Men and women also find place and the second outnumber the first. The seals and images were manufactured with great skill, but the terracotta pieces represent unsophisticated artistic works. The contrast between the two sets indicates the gap between the classes which used them. The first were used by members of the upper classes and the second by the common people. The Harappan culture is poor in artistic works made of stone. We do not come across any massive work of art in stone as we find in the case of sculptures of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia.

Origin, Maturity and End

The mature Harappan culture, broadly speaking, existed between 2550 B.C. and 1900 B.C. Throughout the period of its existence it seems to have retained the same kind of tools, weapons and houses. The whole style of life appears to be uniform. We notice the same town-planning, the same seals, the same terracotta works and the same long chert blades. But the view stressing changelessness cannot be pushed too far. We do notice changes in the pottery of Mohenjodaro over a period of time. By the nineteenth century B.C., the two important cities of the Harappan culture, Harappa and Mohenjodaro, disappeared but the Harappan culture at other sites faded out gradually and continued in its degenerate phase in the outlying fringes in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh.

It is as difficult to explain the origin of the Harappan culture as its end. Several pre-Harappan settlements have been found in lower Sindh, Baluchistan and in Rajasthan, but the connection between them and the mature Harappan culture is not clear, though the Harappan culture may have evolved out of these indigenous settlements : Nor do we have clear proof of outside influence which helped the rise of the Harappan cities in the subcontinent. Contact with Mesopotamian cities may have provided some stimulus to the development of the Harappan culture. But there can be no doubt about the Indianness of the Harappan culture. Certain elements distinguish it from the contemporary cultures in western Asia. It planned its towns with their chess-board system, streets, drainage pipes and cess pits. On the other hand, the Mesopotamian cities show a hap hazard growth. Rectangular houses with brick-lined bathrooms and wells together with their stairways are found in all Harappan cities. Such town planning is not to be found in the cities of western Asia. No other people in antiquity had built such an excellent drainage system except perhaps those of Crete in Knossos, nor did the people of western Asia show such skill in the use of burnt bricks as the Harappans show. The Harappans produced their own characteristic pottery and seals; the latter represented the local animal world. Above all, they invented their own typical script, which bears no resemblance to the Egyptian and Mesopotamian scripts. Although the Harappan culture was a Bronze Age culture, they used bronze on a limited scale and largely continued to use stone Implements. Finally, no contemporary culture spread over such a wide area as the Harappan culture did. The structures of Harappa cover 5 km in circuit; and in that way is one of the largest of its type in the Bronze Age. No urban complex of the Harappan magnitude has been discovered so far.

While the ancient cultures of Mesopotamia continued to exist even after 1900 B.C., the urban Harappan culture disappeared at about that time. Various causes have been suggested. It is held that the amount of rainfall in the Indus region slightly increased around 3000 B.C. and then decreased in the earlier part of the second millennium B.C. This may have adversely affected agriculture and stockbreeding. Some ascribe the decline to the decreasing fertility on account of the increasing salinity of the soil caused by the expansion of the neighbouring desert. Others attribute it to a sudden subsidence or uplift of the land which caused floods. Earthquakes caused changes in the course of the Indus which led to the inundation of the hinterland, of Mohenjodaro. And, still others point out that the Harappan culture was destroyed by the Aryans, but there is very little evidence for this.

The consequences of the disintegration of the largest Bronze Age cultural entity are still to be clarified. We do not know whether the urban eclipse led to the migration of merchants and craftsmen and the dissemination of the elements of Harappan technology and way of life in the countryside. Something is known about the post urban situation in Sindh, Punjab and Haryana, We find agricultural settlements inside the Indus region, but their connection with the precedingculture is not clear. We need clear and adequate information.

Post-Urban Phase of the Harappan Culture

The Harappan culture seems to have flourished until 1900 B.C. Afterwards its urban phase marked by systematic town planning, extensive brick : work, art Of writing, standard weights and measures, distinction between the citadel and the lower town, use of bronze tools, and, red ware pottery painted with black designs practically disappeared. Its stylistic homogeneity disappeared and the post-urban Harappan stage was marked by sharp stylistic diversity. Some traits of the post-urban Harappan culture are found in Pakistan and in central and western India, in Punjab, Rajasthan, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir, Delhi and western Uttar Pradesh. They broadly cover the period from 1900 B.C to 1200 B.C. The post-urban phase of the Harappan culture is also known as the sub-Indus culture. This culture was earlier considered post-Harappan but now it is more popularly known as the late Harappan culture.

The late Harappan cultures are primarily chalcolithic in which tools of stone and copper are used. They do not show metal objects requiring complicated casting, although these consisted of axes, chisels, knives, bangles, curved razors, fish-hooks and spearheads. The chalcolithic people in the later Harappan phase lived in villages subsisting on agriculture, stock raising, hunting and fishing. Probably the dissemination of metal technology in the rural areas promoted agriculture and settlements. Some places such as Prabhas Patan (Somnath) and Rangpur, both in Gujarat, are the direct descendants of the Harappan culture. But in Ahar near Udaipur only a few Harappan elements are found. Gilund which seems to be a regional centre of Ahar culture has even brick structures which may be placid roughly between 2000 B.C. and 1500 B.C. Otherwise burnt bricks are not to be found anywhere else except in the late Harappan phase at Bhagwanpura in Haryana, but the dating of the layer to which the bricks belong is uncertain. Stray pieces occur at the OCP site of Lal Quila in Bulandshahr district in western Uttar Pradesh. It should be, however, emphasised that Harappan elements appear very little in the chalcolithic culture of Malwa (C. 1700.

C 1200 B.C.), which had its largest settlement at Navdatoli. The same is the case with the numerous Jorwe sites found in the valleys of the Tapi, Godavari and Bhima. The largest of the Jorwe settlements was Daimabad which had about 22 hectares of habitation with a possible population of 4000 it may be considered proto urban. But a vast majority of the Jorwe settlements were villages.

The post-urban Harappan settlements have been discovered in the Swat valley. Here the people practised a developed agriculture and cattle breeding together with pastoralism. They used black-grey burnished ware produced on a slow wheel. This ware resembles the pottery from the northern Iranian plateau during the third millennium B.C. and later. The Swat valley people also produced black-on red painted and wheel-turned pottery which shows close links with the Indus pottery during the early post-urban period. They show the connection with a post-urban culture associated with Harappa. The Swat: valley, therefore, may be regarded as the northernmost outpost of the late Harappan culture. Several late Harappan sites have been excavated in the Indian territories of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and also in Jammu. Mention may be made of Manda in Jammu, Chandigarh, Sanghol in Punjab, Daulatpur and Mitathal in Haryana and Alamgirpur and Hulas in western Uttar Pradesh. It seems that the Harappans took to rice when they came to Daulatpur in Haryana and Hulas in Saharanpur district of Uttar Pradesh. Ragi or the finger millet is not known so far to any Harappan site in north India. In Alamgirpur the late Harappans probably produced cotton, as can be inferred from the cloth impression on the Harappan pottery.

The painted Harappan pottery found in late Harappan sites in northern and eastern areas is replaced with less intricate designs although some new pot forms appear. Some late Harappan ppt forms are found inter locked with Painted Grey Ware remains at Bhagwanpuia, but by this time the Harappan culture seems to have reached a point of complete dilution.

In the late Harappan phase no object for measuring the length is noticed. In Gujarat, cubical stone weights and terracotta cakes were absent in the later period. Generally all late Harappan sites lack human figurines and characteristic painted designs. Although faience went out of fashion in Gujarat, it was freely used in north India. The post-urban phase v of Harappa saw the end of the Indus trade with the West Asian centres. Lapis lazuli, chert, carnelian beads and copper and bronze vessels are either absent or scarce as trade items. All this was natural because most late Harappan sites excavated in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh are rural settlements.

During the later phases of the Harappan culture some exotic tools and pottery indicate the slow percolation of new peoples in the Indus basin. A few signs of insecurity and violence appear in the last phase of Mohenjodaro. Hoards of jewellery were buried at places and skulls were huddled together at one place. New types of axes, daggers, knives with midribs and flat tangs appear in the upper levels of Mohenjodaro. They seem to betray some foreign intrusion. Traces of new peoples appear in a cemetery belonging to the late phase of Harappa, where new kinds of pottery occur in the latest levels. New types of pottery also occur in some Harappan sites in Baluchistan. At several sites in Punjab and Haryana, Grey Ware and Painted Grey Ware, generally associated with Vedic people, have been found in conjunction with some late Harappan pottery dated around 1200 B.C. All this can be attributed to the barbarian horse-riding people who may have come from Iran through the hills. But the new peoples did not come in such numbers as to completely overwhelm the Harappan cities in Punjab and Sindh. Although the Rig Vedic Aryans settled down mostly in the land of the Seven Rivers, in which, the Harappan culture once flourished, we have no archaeological evidence of any mass-scale confrontation between the mature Harappans and the Aryans. Successive groups of the Vedic people may have encountered the people belonging to the late Harappan phase between 1500 B.C. and 1200 B.C.


1 Why is Harappan civilization called a Bronze Age civilization?

2 How were the Harappan cities planned? Describe their distinctive features.

3 Describe the main occupations of the Harappan people.

4 Mention the achievements of the Harappan people in the field of technology and crafts.

5 Terracotta figurines and seals throw a light on the religious practices followed by the Harappan people Discuss.

6 How did the Harappan civilization come to an end? Discuss.

7 Which Bronze Age civilizations of other parts of the world-were contemporaries of the Harappans? With which of these the Harappans had trade relations?

8 In what respects did the Harappan civilization mark an advance on the chalcolitbic cultures (even though it was more ancient than most of the chalcolithic cultures)? Explain with examples.

9 On an outline map of India show the extent of the Harappan civilization and the following sites: Mohenjo-daro, Harappa, Chanhu-daro, Kalibangan, Banawali, Lothal, Rupar.

10 Work out a group project on various aspects of the Harappan civilization. Prepare a chart of the signs of the Harappan script as a part of the project. Find out when, how and by whom were the scripts of other civilizations deciphered.


8. Advent of the Aryans and the Age of the Rig Veda

Original Home and Identity

It is difficult to say that all the earliest Aryans belonged to 6ne race, but their culture was more or less of the same type. They were distinguished by their common language. They spoke the Indo-European languages which are current in changed forms all over Europe, Iran and the greater part of the Indian subcontinent. Originally the Aryans seem to have lived somewhere in the steppes stretching from southern Russia to Central Asia. Certain names of animals such as goats, dogs, horses, etc and names of certain plants such as pine, maple, etc., are similar to one another in all the Indo European languages. These common words indicate the fauna and flora of Eurhsia. They show that the Aryans were acquainted with rivers and forest. Curiously enough, common words for mountains exist only in a few Aryan languages although the Aryans crossed many hills. Their earliest life seems to have been mainly pastoral, agriculture being a secondary occupation. Their society was male-dominated. Although the Aryans used several animals, the horse played the most significant role in their life. The domesticated horse appears in the sixth millennium B.C. in the Black Sea and the Ural mountain area, Nearly 60,000 horse bones appear in the Ural area around 3000 B.C. Its swiftness enabled them and some allied people to make successful inroads on West Asia from about 2000 B.C. onwards.

On their way to India the Aryans first appeared in Central Asia and Iran, where the Indo-Iranians lived for a long time. We know about the Aryans; in India from the Rig Veda. The term Arya occurs 36 times in this text and generally indicates a cultural community. The Rig Veda is the earliest text of the Indo-European languages. It is a collection of prayers offered to Agni, Indra, Mitra, Varuna and other gods by various families of poets or sages. It consists of ten mandalas or books of which Books II to VII form its earliest portions. Books I and X seem, to have been the latest additions. The Rig Veda has many things in common with the Avesta, which is the oldest text in the Iranian language. The two texts use the same names for several gods and even for social classes.

But the earliest specimen of the Indo-European language is found in an inscription of about 2200 B.C. from Iraq. Later such specimens occur in Hittite inscriptions in Anatolia (Turkey) from the nineteenth to the seventeenth centuries B.C. Aryan names appear in Kassite inscriptions of about 1600 B.C. from Iraq and in Mitanni inscriptions of the fourteenth century B C, from Syria. But so far no such inscriptions have been found in India.

A little earlier than 1500 B.C the Aryans appeared in India. We do not find clear and definite archaeological traces of their advent. Possibly they used socketed axes, bronze dirks and swords, which have been discovered in north-western India. Archaeological evidences of the horse and horse sacrifice have been found in southern Tajikistan in Central Asia and in the neighbouring Swat valley in Pakistan. The earliest Aryans lived in the geographical area covered by eastern Afghanistan, North-West Frontier Province, Punjab and fringes of western Uttar Pradesh. Some rivers of Afghanistan such as the river Kubha and the river Indus and its five branches, are mentioned in the Rig Veda. The Sindhu, identical with the Indus, is the river par excellence of the Aryans and it is repeatedly mentioned. Another river, Saraswati, is called naditama or the best of the rivers in the Rig Veda. It is identified with the Ghaggar-Hakra channel in Haryana and Rajasthan. But its Rig Vedic description shows it to be the Avestan river Harakhwati or the present Helmand river in south Afghanistan from where the name Saraswati was transferred to India. The whole region in which the Aryans first settled in Indian subcontinent is called the Land of the Seven Rivers.

The Aryans migrated to India in several waves. The earliest wave is represented by the Rig Vedic people, who appeared in the subcontinent in about 1500 B.C. They came into conflict with the indigenous inhabit ants called the dasas, dasyus, etc Since the dasas are also mentioned in the ancient Iranian literature, they, seem to have been a branch of the early Aryans. The Rig Veda mentions the defeat of Sambara by a chief called Divodasa, who belonged to the Bharata clan. In this case the term dasa appears in the name Divodasa. Possibly the dasyus in the Rig Veda represent the original inhabitants of the country and an Aryan chief who overpowered them was called Trasadasyu. The Aryan chief was soft towards the dasas, but strongly hostile to the dasyus. The term dasyuhdtya, slaughter of the dasyus, is repeatedly mentioned in the Rig Veda, The dasyus possibly worshipped the phallus and did not keep cattle for dairy products.

Tribal Conflicts

We know little about the weapons of the adversaries of the Aryan people, although we hear of many defeats inflicted by Indra on the enemies of the Aiyjans. In the Rig Veda Indra is called Purandara which means that he was the breaker of forts. But we cannot identify the forts held by the pre Aryans some of them may have been situated in Afghanistan. The Aryans succeeded everywhere because they possessed chariots driven by horses and introduced them for the first time into West Asia and India. The Aryan soldiers were probably equipped also with coats of mail (uarman) and better arms..

The Aryans were engaged in two types of conflicts—first, they fought with tide pre-Aryans, and. secondly they fought amongst themselves. Intra-tribal conflicts rocked the Aryan communities for a long time. According to tradition, the Aryans were divided into five tribes called panchjana there might have been other tribes also. The Aryans fought amongst themselves and sometimes enlisted the support of the non-Aryan peoples for the purpose. The Bharatas and the Tritsu were the ruling Aryan clans and they were supported by priest Vasishtha. The country Bharatavargha was eventually named after the tribe Bharata which appears first in the Rig Veda. The Bharata ruling clan was opposed by a host of ten chiefs, five of whom were heads of Aryan tribes and tire remaining five of non-Aryan people. The battle that was fought between the Bharatas on the one hand and the host of ten chiefs on the other is known as the Battle of Ten Kings. This battle was fought on the river Parushni identical with the river Ravi and it gave victory to Sudas and established the supremacy of the Bharatas. Of the defeated tribes, the most important was that of the Purus. Subsequently the Bharatas joined hands with the Purus and formed a new ruling tribe called the Kurus. The Kurus combined with the Panchalas and they together established their rule in the upper Gangetic basin where they played an important part in later Vedic times.

Material life

We can form some idea of the material life of the Rig Vedic Aryans. They owed their success in India to their use of horses, chariots and also possibly some better arms made of bronze of which we have very little archaeological evidence. Probably they also introduced the spoked wheel which first appeared in the Cacaseas area, in 2300 B.C. When they settled in the western part of the subcontinent, they possibly used copper supplied by the Khetri mines in Rajasthan. The Rig Vedic people possessed better knowledge of agriculture. Ploughshare is mentioned in the earliest part of the Rig Veda though some consider it an interpolation. Possibly this ploughshare was made of wood. They were acquainted with sowing, harvesting and threshing and knew about the different seasons. Agriculture was also well known to the pre-Aryans who lived in the area associated with the Vedic people. But agriculture was perhaps used mainly to produce fodder.

In spite of all this there are so many references to the cow and the bull in the Rig Veda that the Rig Vedic Aryans can be called predominantly a pastoral people. Most of their wars were fought for the sake of cows. The terms for war in the Rig Veda is gavishthi or search for cows. The cow seems to have been the most important form of wealth. Whenever we hear of gifts made to priests they usually consist of cows and women slaves and never of land. The Rig Vedic people may have occasionally occupied pieces of land for grazing; cultivation and settlement, but land did not form a well-established type of private property.

The Rig Veda mentions such artisans as the carpenter, the chariot maker, the weaver, the leather worker the potter, etc. This indicates that they practised all these crafts. The term ayas used for copper or bronze shows that metal-working was known. But we have no clear evidence of the existence of regular trade. The Aryans or the Vedic people were acquainted more with land routes because the word samudra mentioned in the Rig Veda mainly denotes a collection of water. At any rate the Aryans did not live in cities; possibly they lived in some kind of fortified mild settlements which still await to be identified satisfactorily by the archaeologists. They were also familiar with caves in the mountains.

Recently a site called Bhagwanpura has been excavated in Haryana and three sites in Punjab and in all these cases Painted Grey Ware has been found along with late Harappan pottery. The date assigned to the Bhagwanpura finds ranges from 1600 B.C to 1000 B.C. which is also roughly the period of the Rig Veda. The geographical area of these four sites also coincides with that of a good portion of the area represented by the Rig Veda. Although Painted Grey Ware has been found at all these sites, iron objects and cereals are absent. We may, therefore, think of. a pre-iron phase of the PGW which coincided with the Rig Vedic phase. It is interesting to note that at Bhagwanpura a thirteen roomed mud house has been discovered. Its dating is not confirmed. This might indicate either a house for a large extended family or for a tribal chief. Cattle bones have been found in good quantify in all these sites and in Bhagwanpura horse bones have also been found.

Tribal Polity

The administrative machinery of the Aryans in the Rig Vedic period worked with the tribal chief in the centre, because of his successful leadership in war. He was called rajan. It seems that in the Rig Vedic period the king’s post had become hereditary. However, the rajan was a kind of chief and he did not exercise unlimited power, for he had to reckon with the tribal organizations. We have traces of election of the king by the tribal assembly called the samiti. The king was called the protector of his tribe. He protected its cattle, fought its wars and offered prayers to gods on its behalf.

Several tribal or the clan-based assemblies such as the sabha, samiti, vidatha, gaha are mentioned in the Rig Veda. They exercised deliberative, military and religious functions. Even, women attended the sabha and vidatha in Rig Vedic times. But the two most important; assemblies were the sabha and the samiti. These two were so important that the chiefs or the kings showed eagerness to win their support.

In the day-to-day administration, the king was assisted by a few functionaries. The most, important functionary seems to have been the purohit. The two priests who played a major part in the time of Rig Veda are Vasishtha and Vishvarnitra. Vasishtha was conservative and Vishvarnitra was liberal. Vishvarnitra composed the gayatri mantra to widen the Aryan world. The priests inspired the tribal chiefs to action and lauded their (exploits in return for handsome rewards in cows and women slaves. The next important functionary seems to be the senani, who used spears, axes, swords, etc. We do not come across any officer concerned with the collection of taxes. Probably the chiefs received from the people voluntary offerings called ball Presents and spoils of war were perhaps distributed in some Vedic assemblies. The Rig Veda does not mention any officer for administering justice. But it was not an ideal society. There were cases of theft and burglary and especially we hear of the theft of cows. Spies were employed to keep an eye on such unsocial activities.

The titles of the officials do not indicate their administration of territory. However, some officers seem to have been attached to territories. They enjoyed positions of authority in the pasture grounds and settled villages. The officer who enjoyed authority over a large land or pasture ground is called vrajapati. He led heads of the families called kulapas, or the heads of the fighting hordes called gramanis, to battle. In the beginning, the gramani was Just the head of a small tribal fighting unit. But when the Unit settled, the gramani became the head of the village and in course of time he became identical with the vrajapati.

The king did not maintain any regular or standing army, but in times of war he mustered a militia whose military functions were performed by different tribal groups called vrata, gana, grama, sardha. By and large it was a tribal system of government in which the military element was strong. There was no civil system or territorial administration because people were in a stage of perpetual expansion, migrating from one area to another.

Tribe and Family

Kinship was the basis of social structure and a man was identified by the clan to which he belonged, as can be seen in the names of several Rig Vedic kings. People gave their primary loyalty to the tribe, which was called Jana. In one of the early verses the combined strength of the warriors of two tribes is given as 21. This indicates that the total number of members in a tribe may not have exceeded 100. The term Jana occurs at about 275 places in the Rig Veda and the term janapada or territory is not used even once. The people were attached to the tribe, since the territory or the kingdom was not yet established.

Another important term which stands for the tribe in the Rig Veda is vis; it is mentioned 170 times in that text. Probably the vis was divided into grama or smaller tribal units meant for fighting. When the gramas clashed with one another it caused samgrama or war. The most numerous varna of vhishya arose out of the vis or the mass of the tribal people.

The term for family (kula) is mentioned rarely in the Rig Veda. It comprised not only mother, father, sons, slaves, etc., but many more people also. It seems that family in early Vedic phase was indicated by the term griha, which frequently occurs in this text. In the earliest Indo-European languages one word is used for nephew, grandson, cousin, etc. This would mean that differentiation in family relationships leading to the setting up of separate households had not proceeded far and the family was a very large joint unit. It was obviously a patriarchal family headed by the father as was the case in the Roman society. It seems that several generations of the family lived under the same roof. Because it was a patriarchal society, the birth of a son was desired again and again and especially people prayed to the gods for brave sons to fight the wars. In the Rig Veda no desire is expressed for daughters, though the desire for children and cattle is a recurrent theme in the hymns.

Women could attend assemblies. They could offer sacrifices, along with their husbands. We have an instance of five women who composed hymns although the later texts mention 20 such women. Obviously the hymns were composed orally and nothing written belongs to that period.

The institution of marriage was established, although symbols of primitive practices survived. We hear of a proposal made by Yami, the twin-sister of Yama, for establishing love relations, but the offer is resisted by Yama. We have some indications of polyandry. For instance, the Maruts are stated to have enjoyed Rodasi and the two Asvin brothers are represented as living With Suiya, the daughter of the sun god. But such instances are not too marly. Possibly they indicate matri-lineal traces and we have a few examples of sons being named after their mother, as in the case of Mamateya. We also notice the practice of levirate and widow remarriage in the Rig Veda. There are no examples of child-marriage and the marriageable age in the Rig Veda seems to have been 16 to 17.

Social Divisions

The Rig Veda shows some consciousness of the physical appearance of people in north-western India in about 1500-1000 B.C. Varna was the term used for colour and it seems that the Aryan language speakers were, fair and the indigenous inhabitants dark in complexion. Colour may have provided the identity mark for social orders but its importance has been exaggerated by those western-writers who believe in racial distinctions. The factor which contributed most to the creation of social divisions was the conquest of the indigenous inhabitants by the Aryans. The dasas and the dasyus, who were, conquered by the Aryans, were treated as slaves and shudras, The Rig Veda mentions arya varna and dasa varna. The tribal chiefs and the priests acquired a larger share of the booty and they naturally grew at the cost of their kinsmen, which created social inequalities in the tribe. Gradually the tribal society was divided into three groups — warriors, priests and the people — on the same pattern as in Iran. The fourth division called the shudras appeared towards the end of the Rig Vedic period, because it is mentioned for the first time in the tenth Book of the Rig Veda, which is the latest addition.

We repeatedly hear of slaves who were given as gifts to the priests. They were mainly women slaves employed for domestic purposes. It is clear that in Rig Vedic times slaves were not used directly in agriculture or other producing activities.

In the age of the Rig Veda differentiation based on occupations had started. But this division was, not very sharp. We hear of a family in which a member says: I am a poet, my father is a physician and my mother is; a grinder. Earning livelihood through different means we live together. We hear of gifts of cattle, chariots, horses, slaves, etc. Unequal distribution of the spoils of war created social inequalities and this helped the rise of princes and priests at the cost of the common, tribal people. But since economy was mainly pastoral and not food-producing, the scope for collecting regular tributes from the people was Very limited. We do not find gifts of land and even those of cereals are rare. We find domestic slaves, but not the wage earners. Tribal elements in society were stronger and social divisions based on collection of taxes or accumulation of landed property was absent. The society was still tribal and largely egalitarian.

Rig Vedic Gods

Every people discover its religion in its surroundings. The Aryans found it difficult to explain the advent of rains, the appearance of the sun and the moon and the existence of the rivers, mountains, etc. So they personified these natural forces and looked upon them as living beings to which they gave human or animal attributes. We have a large number of such divinities in die Rig Veda, which is full of hymns composed in their honour by the poets of various families. The most important divinity In the Rig Veda is Indra, who is called Purandara or breaker of forts. Indra played the role of a warlord, leading the Aryan soldiers to victory against 4he demons. Two hundred and fifty hymns are devoted to him. He is considered to be the rain god and thought to be responsible for causing rainfall. The second position is held-by Agni (fire god) to whom 200 hymns are devoted. Fire played a significant part in the life of primitive people because of its use in burning forests, cooking, etc. The cult of fire occupied a central place not only in India but also in Iran. In Vedic times Agni acted as a kind of intermediary between the gods on the one hand and the people on the other. The oblations offered to Agni were supposed to be carried in the forms of smoke to the sky and thus transmitted to the gods. The third important position is occupied by Varuna who personified water. Varuna was supposed to uphold the natural order and whatever happened in the world was thought to be the reflection of his desires. Soma was considered to be the god of plants and an intoxicating drink is named after him. The Rig Veda has a large number of hymns, which explain the methods for preparation of this drink from plants that have not been satisfactorily identified so far. The Maruts personify the storm. This we have a large number of gods, who represent the different forces of nature in one farm or another, but are also assigned human activities.

We also find some female divinities such as Aditi and Ushas who represented the appearance of the dawn. But they were not prominent in the time of the Rig Veda; in the patriarchal set-up of the period the male gods were far more important than the female.

The dominant mode of worshipping the gods was through the recitation of prayers and offering of sacrifices. Prayers played an important part in Rig Vedic times. Both collective and individual prayers were made.

Originally every tribe or clan was the votary of a special god. It seems that prayers were offered to gods in chorus by the members of a whole tribe. This also happened in the case of sacrifices. Agni and Indra were invited to partake of sacrifices made by the whole tribe (jana). Offerings of vegetables, barely, etc. were made to gods. But in Rig Vedic times the process was not accompanied by any ritual or sacrificial formulae. At this stage the magical power of the word was not considered so important as it came to be in later Vedic Times. Why did people worship gods in the time of the Rig Veda? They did not worship gods for their spiritual uplift or for ending the miseries of existence. They asked mainly for praja(children), pashu (cattle), food, wealth, health, etc,.


1. Explain the meaning of the following terms and concepts: mandala, dasa, dasyu, parichajana, Jana, gavisthi, rajan, sabha, samiti, gramini, vis, patriarchal.

2. Try to find out the various usages of the term ‘Aryan’. What is Its meaning when It is used to denote the groups of people who migrated to India around 1500 B.C.?

3. Give an account of the material life of the Rig Vedic people. Is it correct to call them an agricultural people? Discuss.

4. Describe the political system in the age of the Rig Veda. Describe its tribal character.

5. What gods did the Rig Vedic people worship and why? Describe their mode of worship.

6. Describe the social organization and family system of the Rig Vedic people.

7. Why are the people discussed in this chapter called the Rig Vedic people?


9. The Later Vedic Phase: Transition to the State and Social Orders

Expansion in the Later Vedic Period (c 1000-500 B C )

The history of the later Vedic period is based mainly on the Vedic texts which were compiled after the age of the Rig Veda. The collections of the Vedic hymns or mantras were known as the Samhitas. The Rig Veda Sdmhita is the oldest Vedic text, on the basis of which we have described the early Vedic age. For purposes of recitation, the prayers of the Rig Veda were bet to tune and this modified collection was known as the Sama, Veda Samhita. In addition to the Sama Veda in post-Rig Vedic times two other Collections were composed. These were — the Yajur Veda Samhita and the Atharvd Veda Samhita. The YajurVeda contains not only hymns but also rituals which have to accompany their recitation. The rituals reflect the social and political milieu in which they arose. The Atharvd Veda Contains: Charms and spells to ward off evils and diseases. Its contents throw light on the beliefs and practices of the nom Aryans. The Vedic Samhitas were followed by the composition of a series of texts known as the branmahas. Those are full of ntualistic formulae and explain the social and religious Meaning Of rituals.

All these later Vedic texts were compiled in the upper Gangetic basin in circa 1000-500 B.C. In the same period and in the same area, digging and exploration have brought to light nearly 700 sites inhabited for the first time. These are called Painted Grey Ware (PGW) sites because they were inhabited by people Who used earthern bowls and dishes made of painted grey pottery. They also used iron weapons. With the combined evidence from the later Vedic texts and PGW iron-phase archaeology we can form an idea of the life of the people in the first half of the first millennium B.C. in western Uttar Pradesh and adjoining areas of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan,.

The texts show that the Aryans expanded from Punjab over the whole of western Uttar Pradesh covered by the Ganga-Yamuna doab. The Bharatas and Purus, the two major tribes, combined and thus formed the Kura people. In the beginning they lived between the Sarasvati and the Drishadvati just on the fringe of the doab. Soon the Kurus occupied Delhi and the upper portion of the doab, the area called Kurukshetra or the land of the Kurus. Gradually they coalesced with a people called the Panchalas, who occupied the middle portion of the doab. The authority of the Kuru Panchala people spread over Delhi and the upper and middle parts of the doab. They set up their capital at Hastinapur situated in the district of Meerut. The history of the Kuru tribe is important for the battle of Bharata, which is the main theme of the great epic called the Mahabharata. This war is supposed to have been fought around 950 B.C. between, the Kauravas and the Pandavas, although both of them belonged to the Kuru clan. As a result practically the whole of the Kuru clan was wiped out.

Excavations at Hastinapur, datable to the period 900 B.C to 5Q0 B.C., have revealed settlements and faint beginnings of town life. But they do not at all answer the description of Hastinapur in the Mahabharata because the epic was finally compiled much later in about the fourth century A.D. when material life had advanced much: In later Vedic times people hardly knew the use of burnt bricks. The mud structures that have been discovered at Hastinapur could not be imposing and lasting. From traditions we learn that Hastinapur was flooded and the remnants of the Kuru clan moved to Kaushambi near Allahabad.

The Panchala kingdom, which covered the modern districts of Bareilley, Badaun and Farukhabad, is famous for its philosopher kings and brahmana theologians mentioned in later Vedic texts.

Towards the end of the later Vedic period, around 600 B.C the Vedic people spread from the doab further east to Koshala in. eastern Uttar Pradesh and Videha in north Bihar. Although Koshala is associated with the story of Rama, it is not mentioned in Vedic literature. In eastern Uttar Pradesh and north Bihar the Vedic people had to contend against a people who used copper implements and the black-and-red earthem pots. In western Uttar Pradesh they possibly came up against the people who used pots of ochre or red colour and copper implements. They possibly also encountered thin habitations of some people using black-and-red ware. It is suggested that at a few places they came against the users of the late Harappan culture, but these people seem to represent a conglomerate culture which cannot be characterised as purely Harappan. Whoever be the opponents of the later Vedic people, evidently they did not occupy any large and compact area and their number in the upper Gangetic basin does not seem to have been large. The Vedic people succeeded in the second phase of their expansion because they used iron weapons and horse drawn chariots.

The PGW-Iron Phase Culture and Later Vedic Economy

Around 1000 B.C. iron appears in Dharwar district in Karnataka but how it spread from here is not clear. However, from the same time onwards iron was used in the Gandhara area in Pakistan. Iron implements buried with dead bodies have been discovered in good numbers. They have also been found in Baluchistan. At about the same time the use of iron appeared in eastern Punjab, western Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Excavations show that iron weapons such as arrow-heads and spear-heads came to be commonly used in western Uttar Pradesh from about 800 B.C. onwards. With iron weapons the Vedic people may have defeated the few adversaries that may have faced them in the upper portion of the doab. The iron axe may have been used to clear the forests in the upper Gangetic basin, although because of rainfall ranging between 35 cm to 65 cm these forests may not have been so thick. Towards the end of the Vedic period knowledge of iron spread in eastern Uttar Pradesh and Videha. The earliest iron implements discovered in this area belong to the seventh Century B.C. and the metal itself is called shyama or krishna ayas in the later Vedic texts.

Although very few agricultural tools made of iron have been, found, undoubtedly agriculture was the chief means of livelihood of the later Vedic people. Later Vedic texts speak of six, eight, twelve and even twenty-four oxen yoked to the plough. This may be an exaggeration. Ploughing was done with the help of the wooden ploughshare, which would possibly work in the light soil of the upper Gangetic plains. Enough bullocks could not be available because of cattle slaughter in sacrifices. Therefore, agriculture was primitive, but there is no doubt about its wide prevalence. The Shatapatha Brahmana speaks at length about the ploughing rituals. According to ancient legends, Janaka, the king of Videha and father of Sita, lent his hand to the plough. In those days, even kings pnd princes did not hesitate to take to manual labour. Balarama, the brother of Krishna, is called Haladhar or wielder of the plough. In later times ploughing came to be prohibited for the members of the upper varnas. The Vedic people continued to produce barley, but during this period rice and wheat became their chief crops. In subsequent times wheat became the staple food of the people in Punjab and western Uttar Pradesh. For the first time the Vedic people came to be acquainted with rice in the doab. It is called vrihi in, the Vedic texts and its remains recovered from Hastinapur belong to the eighth century B.C. Rice also appears at Atranjikhera in Etah district around the same time. The use of rice is recommended in Vedic rituals, but that of wheat only rarely. Various kinds of lentils were also produced by the later Vedic people.

The later Vedic period saw the rise of diverse arts and crafts. We hear of smiths and smelters, who had certainly to do something with iron working from about 1000 B.C. The Vedic people were familiar with copper from the very beginning. Numerous copper tools of the pre 1000 B.C. period found in western Uttar Pradesh and Bihar might suggest the existence of coppersmiths in non-Vedic societies. The Vedic people may have used the copper mines of Khetri in Rajasthan. In any case copper was one of the first metals to be used by the Vedic people. Copper objects have been found in Painted Grey Ware sites. They were used mainly for war and hunting and also for ornaments.

Weaving was confined to women but was practised on a wide scale. Leather work, pottery and carpenter’s work made great progress. The later Vedic people were acquainted with four types of pottery—black-and-red ware black-slipped, ware painted grey ware and red ware. The last type of pottery was most popular with them and has been found almost all over western Uttar Pradesh. However, the most distinctive pottery of the period is known as Painted Grey Ware. It consisted of bowls and dishes, which were used either for rituals or for eating or for both, probably by the emerging upper orders. Glass hoards and bangles found in the PGW layers may have been used as prestige objects by a few persons. On the whole both Vedic texts and excavations indicate the cultivation of specialized crafts. Jewel workers are also mentioned in later Vedic texts and they possibly catered to the needs of the richer sections of society.

Agriculture and various crafts enabled the later Vedic people to lead a settled life. Excavations and explorations give us some idea about settlements in later Vedic times. Widespread Painted Grey Ware sites are found not only in western Uttar Pradesh and Delhi, which was the Kuru-Panchala area, but also in the adjoining parts of Punjab and Haiyana, which was the Madra area and in those of Rajasthan, which was the Matsya area. Altogether we can count nearly 700 sites, mostly belonging to the upper Gangetic basin. Only a few sites such as Hastinapur, Atranjikhera and Noh have been excavated. Since the thickness of the material remains of habitation ranges from one metre to three metres, it seems that these settlements lasted from one to three centuries. Mostly these were entirely new settlements without having any immediate predecessors. People lived in mudbrick houses or in wattle-and daub houses erected on wooden poles. Although the structures are poor, ovens and cereals (rice) recovered from the sites show that the Painted Grey Ware people, who seem to be the same as the later Vedic people, were agri cultural and led a settled-life. But since they cultivated generally with the wooden ploughshare, the peasants could not produce enough for feeding those who were engaged in other occupations. Hence peasants could not contribute much to the rise of towns..

Although the term nagara is used in later Vedic texts we can trace only the faint beginnings of towns towards the end of the later Vedic period. Hastinapur and Kaushambi (near Allahabad) can be regarded as primitive towns belonging to the end of the Vedic period. They may be called proto urban sites. The Vedic texts also refer to the seas and sea voyages. This suggests some kind of commerce which may have been stimulated by the rise of new arts and-crafts.

On the whole the later Vedic phase registered a great advance ill the material life of the people. The pastoral and semi-nomadic forms of living were relegated to the background. Agriculture became the primary source of livelihood and life became settled and sedentary. Equipped with diverse arts and crafts, the Vedic people now settled down permanently in the upper Gangetic plains. The peasants living in the plains produced enough to maintain themselves and they could also spare a marginal part of their produce for the support of chiefs, princes and priests.

Political Organization

In later Vedic times Rig Vedic popular assemblies lost importance and royal power increased at their cost. The vidatha completely disappeared. The sahha and samiti continued to hold the ground, but their character changed, They came to be dominated by chiefs and rich nobles. Women were no, longer permitted to sit on the sabha and it was now dominated by nobles and brahmanas.

The formation of bigger kingdoms made the chief or the king more powerful. Tribal authority tended to become territorial. Princes or chiefs ruled: oyer tribes, but the dominant tribes gave their names to territories, which might be inhabited by tribes other than their own. In the beginning each area was named after the tribe which settled there first. At first Panehala was the name of a people and then it became the name of a region. The term rashtra, which indicates territory, first appeal’s in this period.

Traces of the election of the chief or tire king appear in later Vedic texts. The one who was considered the best in physical and other qualities was elected raja. He received voluntary presents called half from his ordinary kinsmen or the common people called the vis. But the chief tried to perpetuate the right to receive presents and enjoy other privileges pertaining to his office by making it hereditary in his family; the post generally went to the eldest son. However, this succession was not always smooth. The Mahanhamta tells us that Duryodhana, the younger cousin of Yudhishthira, usurped power. For the sake of territory the families of the Pandavas and Kauravas practically destroyed themselves. The Bharata battle shows that kingship knows no kinship.

The king’s influence was strengthened by rituals. He performed lire rajasuya sacrifice, which was supposed to confer supreme power on him. He performed the ashvamedha, which meant unquestioned control over an area in which the royal horse ran un-interrupted. He also performed Use vajapeya or the chariot race, in which the royal chariot was made to win tire race against his kinsmen. All these rituals impressed the people with the increasing power and prestige of tire king

During this period collection of taxes and tributes seems to have, become common. They were probably deposited with an officer called sangrihitri The epics tell us that at the time of big sacrifices large-scale distributions were made by the princes and all sections of people were fed sumptuously. In the discharge of his duties the king was assisted by the priest, the commander, the chief queen and a few other high functionaries. At the lower level, the administration was possibly carried on by village assemblies, which may have been controlled by the chiefs of the dominant clans. These assemblies also tiled local cases. But even in later Vedic times the king did not possess a standing army. Tribal units were mustered in times of war and according to one ritual for success in war; the king had to eat along with his people from the same plate.

Social Organisation

The later Vedic society came to be divided into four varnas called the brahmanas, raj any as or kshatriyas, vaishync and shudras. The growing cult of orifices enormously added to the power of the brahmanas. In the beginning the brahmanas were only one of die sixteen classes of priests but they gradually overshadowed the other priestly groups and. emerged as the most important class. The rise in importance of the brahamans is a peculiar development which is not found in Aryan societies outside India. It appears that non-Aryan elements had some role to play in the formation of the brahmana varna. They conducted rituals and sacrifices for their clients and for themselves and also officiated at the festivals associated with agricultural operations. They prayed fertile success of their patron in war and in return the king pledged not to do any harm to them. Sometimes the brahmanas came into conflict with the raj any as, who represented the order of the warrior-nobles, for positions of supremacy But when the two upper orders had to deal with the lower orders they made, up their, differences. From the end of the later Vedic period on it began to be emphasised that the two should cooperate to rule over the rest of society.

The vaishyas constituted the common people and they were assigned to do the producing functions such as agriculture, tattle-breeding, etc. Some of them also worked as artisans. Towards the end of the Vedic period they began to engage in trade. The vaishyas appear to be the only tribute-payers, in later Vedic times and the brahmanas and kshatriyas are represented as living on the tributes collected from the vaishyas. The process of subjugating the mass of the tribesmen to the position of tribute-payers was long and protracted. We have several rituals prescribed for malting the refractory people (vis or vaishya) submissive to the prince (raja) and to his close kinsmen called the rajanyas. This was done with the help of the priests who also fattened at tire cost of people or the vaishyas. All the three higher varnas shared one common feature: they were entitled to upanayana or investiture with the sacred thread according to the Vedic mantras. The fourth varna was deprived of the sacred thread ceremony and the recitation of the gayatri mantra and with this began the imposition of disabilities on the shudras.

The prince, who represented the rajanya order, tried to assert his power over all the three other varnas. In the Aitareya Brahmana, a text of the later Vedic period, in relation to the prince the brahmana is described as a seeker of livelihood and an acceptor of gifts but removable at will. A vaishya is called tribute-paying, meant for being beaten and to foe oppressed at will. The worst position is reserved for the shudras. He is called the servant of another, to be made to work at will by another and to be beaten at will.

Generally the later Vedic texts draw a line of demarcation between the three higher orders on the one hand and the shudras on the ether. There were, nevertheless, several public rituals connected with the coronation of the king in which the shudras participated, presumably as survivors of the original Aryan people. Certain sections of artisans such as rathakara or chariot-maker enjoyed a high standard and were entitled to the sacred thread ceremony. Therefore, even in later Vedic times varna distinctions had hot advanced very far in the family we notice the increasing power of the father, who could even disinherit his son In princely families the right of primogeniture was getting stronger, Male ancestors came to be worshipped. Women were generally given a lower position. Although some women theologians took part in philosophic discussions and some queens, participated in coronation rituals, ordinarily women were thought to be inferior and subordinate to men.

The institution of gotra appeared in later Vedic times. Literally it means the cow-pen or the place where cattle belonging to the whole clan are kept, but in course of time it signified de scent from a common ancestor. People began to practise gotra exogamy. No marriage could take place between persons belonging to the same gotra or having the same lineage.

Asharmas or four stages of life were not well established in Vedic times. In the post-Vedic texts we near of four ashramasa—that of Brahmachari or student, grihasth or householder vanaprastha or hermit and sannyasin or ascetic who completely renounced the worldly life. Only the first of three are. mentioned in the later Vedic texts; the last or the fourth stage bad not been well established in later Vedic times though ascetic life was not unknown. Even in post-Vedic times only the stage of the householder was commonly practised by, all the varnas Gods, Rituals and Philosophy.

In the later Vedic period the upper doab developed to be the cradle of Aryan culture under brahmanical influence. The whole of the Vedic literature seemk to have been compiled in this area in the land-of the Kuru Panchalas. The cult of sacrifice central to this culture was accompanied by rituals and formulae.

The two outstanding Rig vedic gods, Indra and Agni, lost their former importance. On the other hand, Prajapati the creator came to occupy the supreme position in the later Vedic pantheon. Some of the other minor gods of the Rig Vedic period also came to the forefront. Rudra, the god of animals, became important in later Vedic times and Vishnu came to be conceived as the preserver and protector of the people who how led a settled life instead of a semi-nomadic life as they did in Rig Vedic times. In addition, some objects began to be worshipped as symbols of divinity; signs of idolatry appear in later Vedic times. As society became divided into social classes, such as brahmanas, rajanyas, vaishyas and shudras, some of the social orders came to have their own deities. Pushan, who was supposed to look after cattle, came to be regarded as the god of the shudras, although in the age of the Rig Veda cattle rearing was the primary occupation of the Aryans.

People worshipped gods for the same material reasons in this period as they did in earlier times. However, the mode of worship changed considerably. Prayers continued to be recited, but they ceased to be the dominant mode of placating the gods. Sacrifices became far more important, and they assumed both public and domestic character. Public sacrifices involved the king and the whole of the community, which was still in many cases identical with the tribe. Private sacrifices were performed by individuals in their houses because in this period the Vedic people led a settled life and maintained regular households. Individuals offered oblations to Agni and each one of these took the form of a ritual or sacrifice.

Sacrifices involved the killing of animals on a large scale and, especially the destruction of cattle wealth. The guest was known as goghna or one who was fed on cattle.

Sacrifices-were accompanied by formulae which had to be carefully pronounced by the sacrificer. The sacrificer was known as the yajamana, the performer of yajna and much of his success depended on the magical power of words uttered correctly in the sacrifices. Some rituals performed by the Vedic Aryans are common to the Indo-European peoples, but many rituals seem to have been developed on the Indian soil.

These formulae and sacrifices were invented adopted and elaborated by the priests called the brahamans. The brahmanas claimed a-monopoly of priestly knowledge and expertise. They invented a large number of rituals, some of which were adopted from the non-Aryans. The reason for the invention and elaboration of the rituals is not clear, though mercenary motives cannot be ruled out. We hear that as many as 240,000 cows were given as dakshina or gift to the officiating priest in the rajasuya sacrifice.


In addition to cows which were usually given as sacrificial gifts, gold, cloth and horses were also-given. Sometimes the priests claimed portions of territory as dakshina, but the grant of land as sacrificial fee is not well established in the later Vedic period. The Shatapatha Brahmana states that in the ashvamedha, north, south, east and west all should be given to the priest. If this really happened, then what would remain to the king? This, therefore, merely indicates the desire of the priests to grab as much land as possible. But really considerable transfer of land to priests could not have taken place. There is a reference where land, which was being given to the priests, refused to be transferred to them.

Towards the end of the Vedic period began a strong reaction against priestly domination, against cults and rituals, especially in the land of the Panchalas and Videha where, around 600 B.C., the Upanishads were compiled. These philosophical texts criticized the rituals and laid stress on the value of right belief and knowledge. They emphasised that the knowledge of the self or atman should be acquired and the relation of atman with Brahma should be properly understood Brahma emerged as the, supreme entity, comparable to the powerful kings of the period. Some of the kshatriya princes in Panchala and Videha also cultivated this type of thinking and created the atmosphere for the reform of the priest-dominated religion. Their teaching promoted the cause of stability and integration. Emphasis on the changelessness, indestructibility and immortality of atman or soul served the cause of stability which was needed for the rising state power headed by the kshatriya raja. Stress on the relation of atman with Brahma fostered allegiance to superior authority.

The later Vedic period saw certain important changes. We find the beginnings of territorial kingdoms. Wars were fought not only for the possession of cattle, but also for that of territory. The famous Mahabharata battle, fought between the Kauravas and the Pandavas, is attributed to tills period. The predominantly pastoral society of early Vedic times had become agricultural. The tribal pastoralists came to be transformed into peasants who could maintain their chief with frequent tributes. Chiefs grew at the expense of the tribal peasantry and handsomely rewarded the priests who supported their patrons against the common people called the vaishyas. The shudras were still a small serving, order. The tribal society broke up into a varna divided society. But varna distinctions could not be carried too far. In spite of the support of the brahmanas, the rajanyas or the kshatriyas could not establish a. state system. A state cannot be set up without a regular system of taxes and a professional army, which again depends on taxes But the existing mode of agriculture did not leave scope for taxes and tributes in sufficient, measure


1. Explain the following terms and concepts:.

Ashvamedha, Sangrihitri, Vis, Upanayana, Gotra, Yajna, Painted Grey Ware.

2. What is meant by the Later Vedic Phase? What are the main sources for the study of this period?

3 How was the material life of the later Vedic people different from that of the Rig Vedic people? Give examples.

4 Describe the political system in the later Vedic period. How was it different front that of the Rig Vedic people?

5. Describe the social organization during the later Vedic age.

6 Trace the expansion of the Vedic people in the later Vedic period.

7 Point out the change in the religious beliefs and practices in the later Vedic age. Discuss the reasons for the increase in the importance of the brahmanas in society. Describe the main ideas emphasized, in the Upanishads.

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10. Jainism and Budhism

Numerous, religious sects, arose in the middle Gangetic plains in the-second half of the sixth century B.C. We hear of as many as 62 religious sects. Many of these sects were based on regional customs and rituals practised by different people living in north-east India. Of these sects Jainism and Buddhism were the-most important and they emerged as the most potent religious reform movements.

Causes of Origin

In post-Vedic times society was clearly divided into four varnas: brahmanas, Kshatriyas, vaishyas and shudras. Each varna was assigned well-defined functions, although it was emphasised that varna was based on birth and the two higher varnas were given some privileges. The brahmanas, who were given the functions of priests and teachers, claimed the highest status in society. They demanded several privileges, including those of receiving gifts and exemption from taxation and punishment. In post-Vedic texts we have many instances of such privileges enjoyed by them. The kshatriyas ranked second in the varna hierarchy. They fought and-governed and lived on the taxes collected from the peasants. The vaishyas were engaged in agriculture, cattle-rearing and trade.

They appear as principal taxpayers. However along with the two higher varnas they were placed in the category of dvija or the twice-born. A dvija was entitled to wearing the sacred thread and studying the Vedas from which the shudras were kept out. The shudras were meant for serving the three higher varnas and along with women were barred from taking to Vedic studies. They appear as domestic slaves, agricultural slaves, craftsmen and hired labourers in post-Vedic times. They were called cruel, greedy and thieving in habits and some of them were treated as untouchables. The higher the varna the more privileged and purer a person was. The lower the varna of an offender, the more severe was the punishment prescribed for him.

Naturally the varna divided society seems to have generated tensions. We have no means to find out the reactions of the vaishyas and the shudras. But the kshatriyas, who functioned as rulers, reacted strongly against the ritualistic domination of the brahman as and seem to have led a kind of protest movement against the importance attached to birth in the varna system. The kshatriya reaction against the domination of the priestly class called brahmanas, who claimed various privileges, was one of the causes of the origin of new religions. Vardhamana Mahavira who founded Jainism and Gautama Buddha, who founded Buddhism belonged to the kshatriya clan and both disputed the authority of the brahmanas.

But the real cause of the rise of these new religions lay in the spread of a new agricultural economy in north-eastern India. North-east India, including the regions of eastern Uttar Pradesh and northern and southern Bihar, has about 100 cm of rainfall. Before these areas came to be colonized on a large scale, they were thickly forested. The thick jungles could not easily be cleared without the aid of iron axes. Although some people, lived in this area before 600 B.C., the) used implements of bone, stone and copper and they led a precarious life on lakes and river banks and river confluences, where land was opened to settlement through the process of erosion and flooding. In the middle Gangetic plains, large-scale habitations began in about 600 B.C., when iron came to be used in this area. On account of the moist nature of the soil in this area, too many iron tools of earliest times have not survived, but quite a few axes have been recovered from the layers belonging to circa 600-500 B.C. The use of iron tools made possible clearance, agriculture and large settlements. The agricultural economy based on the iron ploughshare required the use of bullocks and it could not flourish without animal husbandry. But the Vedic practice of killing cattle indiscriminately in sacrifices stood in the way of the progress of new agriculture. The cattle wealth slowly decimated because the cows and bullocks were killed in numerous Vedic sacrifices. The tribal people living on the southern and eastern fringes of Magadha also killed cattle for food. But if the new agrarian economy had to be stable, this killing had to be stopped.

The period saw the rise of a large number of cities in north-eastern India. We may refer, for example, to Kaushambi near Allahabad, Kusinagar (in Deoria district of Uttar Pradesh).


Banaras, Vaishali (in the newly created district of the-same name in north Bihar), Chirand (in Saran district) and Rajgir (situated at a distance of about 100 km south-east of Patna). Besides others these cities had many artisans and tracers, who began to use coins for the first time. The earliest coins belong to the fifth century B.C. and they are called punch-marked coins. They circulated for the first time in eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The use of coins naturally facilitated trade and commerce, which added to the importance of the vaishyas. In the brahmanical society the vaishyas ranked third, the first two being brahmanas and kshatriyas. Naturally they looked for some religion which would improve their position. Besides the kshatriyas, the vaishyas extended generous support to both Mahavira and Gautama Buddha. The merchants, called the setthis, made handsome gifts to Gautama Buddha and his disciples. There were several reasons for it. First, Jainism and Buddhism in the initial stage did not attach any Importance to the existing varna system. Second, they preached the gospel of non-violence, which would put an end to wars between different kingdoms and consequently promote trade and commerce. Third, the brahmanical law books, called the Dharmasutras, decried lending money on interest. A person who lived on interest was condemned by them. Therefore, the vaishyas, who lent money on account of growing trade and commerce, were, not held in esteem and were eager to improve their social status.

On the other hand, we also notice a strong reaction against various forms of private property. Old-fashioned people did not like the use and accumulation of coins made certainly of silver and copper and possibly of gold. They detested new dwellings and dresses, new systems of transport, which amounted to luxury and they hated war and violence. The new forms of property created social inequalities and caused misery and suffering to tire masses of the people. So the common people yearned to return to primitive life, They wanted to get back to the ascetic ideal which dispensed with the new forms of property and the new style of life. Both Jainism and Buddhism preferred simple, puritan ascetic living. The Buddhist and Jaina monks were asked to forego the good things of life. They were not allowed to touch gold and silver. They were to accept only as much from their patrons as was sufficient to keep body and soul together. They, therefore, rebelled against the material advantages stemming from the new life in the Gangetic basin. In other words, we find the same kind of reaction against the changes in material life in the mid Ganga plain in the sixth and fifth centuries B.C. as we notice against the changes introduced by the Industrial Revolution in modern times. The advent of the Industrial Revolution made many people thinks of return to the pre-machine age life; similarly people in the past wanted to return to the pre-iron age life.

Vardhamana Mahavira and Jainism

According to the Jainas, the origin of Jainism goes back to very ancient times. They believe in twenty-four tirthankaras or great teachers or leaders of their religion. The first tirthankara is believed to be Rishabhadev who was born in Ayodhya. He is said to have laid the foundations for orderly human society. The last, twenty-fourth, tirthankara, was Vardhamana Mahavira who was a contemporary of Gautama Buddha. According to the Jaina tradition, most of the early tirthankaras were born in the middle Ganga basin and attained nirvana in Bihar. The twenty-third tirthankara was Parshvanath who was born in Varanasi. He gave up royal life and became an ascetic. Many teachings of Jainism are attributed to him. According to Jaina tradition, he lived two hundred years before Mahavira. Mahavir is said to be the twenty-fourth.

It is difficult to fix the exact dates of birth and death of Vardhamana Mahavira and Gautama Buddha. According to one tradition, Vardhamana Mahavira was born in 540 B.C. in a village called Kundagrama near. Vaishali, which is identical with Basarh in the district of Vaishalf in north Bihar. His father Siddhartha was the head of a famous kshatriyg clan called Jnatrika and the ruler of his own area. Mahavira’s mother was named Trishala, sister of the Lichchhavi chief Chetaka, whose daughter was wedded to Bimbisara. Thus Mahariva’s family was connected with the royal family of Magadha.

In, the beginning, Mahavira led the life of a householder, but in the search for truth he abandoned the world at the age of 30 and became an ascetic. He would not stay for more than a day in a village and for more than five days in a town. During next twelve years he meditated, practised austerities of various kinds and endured many hardships. In the thirteenth year, when he had reached the age Of 42, he attained kaivalya (Juan). Through kaivalya he conquered misery and happiness. Because of this conquest he is known as Mahavira or the great hero or jina, i.e the conqueror and his followers are known as Jainas. He propagated his religion for 30 years and his mission took him to Koshala, Magadha, Mithila, Champa, etc. He passed away at the age of 72 in 468 B.C. at a place called Pavapuri near modern Rajgir. According to another tradition, he was born in 599 B.C. and passed away in 527 B.C.

Doctrines of Jainism

Jainism taught five doctrines: (i) do not commit violence, (ii) do not speak a lie, (iii) do not steal, (iv) do not acquire property and (v) observe continence (brahmacharya). It is said that only the fifth doctrine was added by Mahavira: the other four were taken over by him from previous teachers. Jainism attached the utmost importance to ahimsa or non-injury to living beings. Sometimes it led to absurd results, for some Jain kings ordered execution of persons guilty of killing animals. Although Parshva, the predecessor of Mahavira, had asked his followers to cover the upper and lower portions of their body, Mahavira asked them to discard clothes altogether. This implies that Mahavira asked his followers to lead a more austere life. On account of this in later times, Jainism was divided into two sects; shvetambaras or those who put on white dress and digambaras, or those who keep themselves naked Jainism recognized the existence of the gods, but placed them lower than the jina. It did not condemn the varna system as Buddhism did. According to Mahavira a person is bom in a high or in a lower varna in consequence of the sins or the virtues acquired by him in the previous birth. Mahavira looks for human values even in a chandala. In his opinion, through pure and meritorious life members of the lower castes can attain liberation. Jainism mainly aims at the attainment of freedom from worldly bonds. No ritual is required for acquiring such liberation.

It can be obtained through right knowledge, light faith and right action. These three are considered to be the Three Jewels or triratna of Jainism. Jainisrn prohibited the practice of war and even agriculture for its followers because both involve the killing, of living beings. Eventually, the Jainas mainly confined themselves to trade and mercantile activities.

Spread of Jainism

In order to spread the teachings of Jainism, Mahavira organized an order of his followers which admitted both men and women. It is said that his followers counted 14,000 which is not a large number. Since Jainism did not very clearly mark itself out from the brahmanical religion, it failed, to attract the masses. Despite this Jainism gradually spread into south and west India where the brahmanical religion was weak According to a late tradition, the spread of Jainism in Karnataka is attributed to Chandragupta Maurya (322-298 B.C.). The emperor became a Jaina, gave up his throne and spent the last years of his life in Karnataka as a Jaina ascetic. But this tradition is hot corroborated by any other source. The sec bird cause of the spread of Jainism in ‘south India is-said to be the great famine that took place in Magadha 200 years after the death of Mahavira. The famine lasted for twelve years and in order to protect themselves many a Jaina went to the south under the leadership of Bhadrahahu, but the rest of them stayed back in Magadha under the leadership of Sthalabahu. The emigrant Jamas spread Jainism in south India. At the end of the famine they came back to Magadha where they developed differences with the local Jainas. Those who came back from the south claimed that even during the famine they had strictly observed the religious rules; on the other hand, they alleged, the Jaina ascetics living in Magadha had violated those rules and had become lax. In order to sort out these differences and to compile the main teachings of Jainism a council was convened in Pataliputra, modern Patna, but the southern Jainas boycotted the council and refused to accept its decisions. From now onwards, the southerns began to be called digambaras and the Magadhans shvetambaras. The tradition which refers to drought as the cause belongs to a later period and is considered doubtful. But it is beyond doubt that the Jainas were divided into two sects. However, epigraphic evidence for the spread of Jainism in Karnataka is not earlier than the third century A.D. In subsequent centuries, especially after the fifth century, numerous Jaina monastic establishments called basadis sprang up in Karnataka and were granted land by the king for their support.

Jainism spread to Kalinga in Orissa in the fourth century B.C. and in the first century B.C. it enjoyed the patronage of the Kalinga king Kharavela who had defeated the princes of Andhra and Magadha. In the second and first centuries B.C. it also seems to have reached the southern districts of Tamil Nadu. In later centuries Jainism penetrated Malwa, Gujarat and Rajasthan and even now these areas have a good number of Jainas who are mainly engaged in trade and commerce. Although Jainism did not win as much state patronage as Buddhism did and did not spread very fast in early times, it still retains its hold in the areas where it spread. On the other hand, Buddhism practically disappeared from the Indian subcontinent.

Contribution of Jainism

Jainism made the first serious attempt to mitigate the evils of the varna order and the ritualistic Vedic religion. The early Jainas discarded Sanskrit language mainly patronized by the brahmanas. They adopted Prakrit language of the common people to preach their doctrines. Their religious literature; was written in Ardhamagadhir and the texts were finally compiled in the sixth century A.D. in Gujarat at a place called Vaiabhi, a great centre, of education The adoption of Prakrit by the Jainas helped the growth of this language and its literature. Many regional languages developed out of Prakrit languages, particularly Shauraseni, out of which grew the Marathi language. The Jainas composed the earliest important works in Apabhramsha and prepared its first grammar. The Jaina literature contains epics, Puranas, novels and drama. A large portion of the Jaina writing is still in the form of manuscripts, which have not been published and which are found in the Jaina shrines of Gujarat and Rajasthan. In early medieval times the Jainas also made good use of Sanskrit and wrote many texts in it. Last but not the least, they contributed to the growth of Kannada, in which they wrote extensively.

Initially, like the Buddhists, the Jainas were not image worshippers. Later they began to worship Mahavira and also the twentyrthree tirthankards. Beautiful and sometimes massive images in stpne were sculpted for this purpose, especially in Karnataka, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Jaina art in ancient times is not as rich as Buddhist art, but Jainism contributed substantially to art and architecture in medieval times.

Gautama Buddha and Buddhism

Gautama Buddha or Siddhartha was a contemporary of Mahavira. According to tradition he was bom in 563 B C. in a Shakya kshatriya family in Lumbini in Nepal near Kapilavastu, which is identified with Piprahwa in Bast! district and-close to the foothills of Nepal. Gautama’s father seems to have been the elected ruler of Kapilavastu and headed the republican clan of the Shakyas. His mother was a prince from the Koshalan dynasty. Thus, like Mahavira, Gautama also belonged to a noble family. Born in a republic, he also inherited some egalitarian sentiments.

Since his early childhood Gautama showed a meditative bent of mind. He was married early, but married life did not interest him. He was moved by the misery which people suffered in the world and looked for its solution. At the age of 29, like Mahavira again, he left home. He kept on wandering for about seven years and then attained knowledge at the age of 35 at Bodh Gaya under a pipal tree. From this time onwards he began to be called the Buddha or the enlightened.

Gautama Buddha delivered his first sermons at Sarnath in Banaras. He undertook long journeys and took his message far and wide. He had a very strong physique, which enabled him to walk 20 to 30 km a day. He kept on wandering, preaching and meditating continuously for 40 years, resting only in the rainy season every year. During this long period he encountered many staunch supporters of rival sects including the brahmanas, but defeated them in debates. His missionary activities did not discriminate between the rich and the poor, the high and the low and the man and woman. Gautama Buddhav passed away at the age of 80 in 483 B C. at a place called Kusinagar, identical with the village called Kasia in the district of Deoria in eastern Uttar Pradesh.

Doctrines of Buddhism

The Buddha proved to be a practical reformer who took note of the realities of the day. He did not involve himself in fruitless controversies regarding the spill (atman) and the Brahma which raged strongly in his time; he addressed himself to the worldly problems. He said that the world is full of sorrows and people suffer on account of desires. If desires are conquered, nirvana will be attained, that is, man will be free from the cycle of birth and death.

Gautama Buddha recommended an eight-fold path (ashtangica marga) for the elimination of human misery. This path is attributed to him in a text of about the third century B.C. It comprised right observation, right determination, right speech, right action, right livelihood right exercise, right memory and right meditation. If a person follows this eight-fold path he would not depend on the machinations of the priests and will be able to reach his destination. Gautama taught that d person should avoid the excess of both luxury and austerity; He prescribed the middle path.

The Buddha also laid down a code of conduct for his followers on the same lines as was done by the Jaina teachers. The main items in this social conduct are: (i) :do mot covet the property of others, (ii) do not commit violence, (iii) do not use intoxicants, (iv) do not speak a lie and (v) do not indulge in corrupt practices. These teaching’s are common to the social conduct ordained by almost all religions.

Special Features of Budhism and the causes of its spread

Buddhism does not recognize the existence of god and soul (atman), This can be taken as a kind of revolution in the history of Indian religions. Since early Buddhism was not enmeshed in the clap-trap of philosophical discussion it appealed to the common people. It particularly won the support of the lower orders as it attacked the varna system People were taken into the Buddhist order-without any consideration of caste. Women also were admitted to the sangha and thus brought on par with men. In cornparison with Brahmanism, Buddhism was liberal and democratic.

Buddhism made a special appeal to the people of the non-Vedic areas where it found a virgin soil for conversion. The people of Magadha responded readily to Buddhism because they were-looked down upon by the orthodox brahinanas. Magadha was placed outside the pale of the holy Aryavarta, the land of the Aryas, covering modern Uttar Pradesh. The old tradition persists; sad the people of north Bihar would not Like to be ere mated south of the Ganga in Magadha.

The personality of the Buddha and the method adopted by him to preach his religion helped the spread of Buddhism. He tried to fight evil by goodness and hatred by love. He refused to be provoked by slander and abuse. He maintained poise and calm under difficult conditions and tackled his opponents with wit and presence of mind. It is said that on one occasion an ignorant person abused him the Buddha, listened on silently and when the person had stopped abusing, the Buddha asked; “My son, if a person does not accept a present what will happen to it”? His adversary replied: It remains with the person who had offered it The Buddha then said: “My son! do not accept your abuse”.

The use of Pali, the language of the people, also contributed to lire spread of Buddhism. It facilitated the spread of Buddhist doctrines among the common people. Gautama Buddha also organized the sangha or the religious order, whose doors were kept open to everybody, irrespective of caste and sex. The only condition required of the monks was that they would faithfully observe the rules and regulations of the sangha. Once they were enrolled as members of the Buddhist Church they had to take the vow of continence, poverty and Faith. So there are three main elements in Buddhism: Buddha, sangha and dhamma. As a result of organized preaching under the auspices of the sangha, Buddhism made rapid strides even in the lifetime of the Buddha. The monarchies of Magadha, Koshala and Kausbambi and several republican states and their people adopted this religion.

Two hundred years after the death of the Buddha, the famous Maurya king Ashoka embraced Buddhism. This was an epoch-making event. Through his agents Ashoka spread Buddhism into Cental Asia, West Asia and Sri Lanka and thqs transformed it into a world religion. Even today Sri Lanka Burma (Myanmar), Tibet and parts of China and Japan profess Buddhism. Although Buddhism disappeared from the land of its birth, it continues to hold ground in the countries of South Asia, South-East Asia and East-Asia.

Causes of the Decline of Budhism

By the early twelfth century A.D. Buddhism became practically extinct in India. It had continued to exist in a changed form in Bengal and Bihar till the eleventh century but after that this religion almost completely vanished from the country. What were its causes? We find that in the beginning every religion is inspired by the spirit of reform, but eventually it succumbs to rituals and ceremonies it originally denounced. Buddhism underwent a similar metamorphosis. It became a victim to the evils of Brahmanism against which it had fought in the beginning. To meet the Buddhist challenge the brahmanas reformed their religion. They stressed the need for preserving the cattle wealth and-assured women and shudras of admission to heaven. Buddhism, on the other hand, changed for the worse. Gradually the Buddhist monks were cut off from the mainstream of people’s life they gave up Pali, the language of the people and took to Sanskrit, the language of intellectuals. From the first century A.D. onwards, they practised idol worship on a large scale and received numerous offerings from devotees. The rich offerings supplemented by generous royal grants to the Buddhist monasteries made the life of monks easy. Some of the monasteries such as Nalanda collected revenue from as many as 200 villages. By the seventh century A.D., the Buddhist monasteries had come to be dominated by ease-loving people and became centres of corrupt practices which Gautama Buddha had strictly prohibited. His new form of Buddhism was known as Vajrayana. The enormous Wealth of the monasteries with women living in them led to further degeneration. Buddhists came to look upon Women as objects of lust. The Buddha is reported to have said to his favourite disciple Ananda: if Women were not admitted into the monasteries Buddhism would have continued for one thousand years, hut because this admission has been granted it would last only five hundred years.

The brahmana ruler Pashyamitra Shunga is said to have persecuted the Buddhists. Several instances of persecution occur in the sixth-seventh centuries A.D the Huna king Mihirakula, who was a worshipper of Shiva, killed hundreds of Buddhists. The Shaivite Shashanka of Gauda cut off the Bodhi tree at Bod ha Gaya, where the Buddha had attained enlightenment. Hsuan Tsang states that 1600 stupas and monasteries were destroyed and thousands of monks and lay followers killed; this may not be without some truth. The Buddhist reaction can be seen in some pantheons in which Buddhist deities trample Hindu deities. In south India both the Shaivites and Vaishnavites bitterly opposed the Jainas and Buddhists in early medieval times. Such conflicts may have weakened Buddhism.

For their riches the monasteries came to be coveted by the Turkish invaders. They became special targets of the invaders; greed. The Turks killed a large number of Buddhist monks in Bihar, although some of the monks managed to escape to Nepal and Tibet In any case by the twelfth century A.D. Buddhism had practically, disappeared from the land of its birth.

Importance and Influence of Budhism

Despite its ultimate disappearance as an, organized religion, Buddhism left its abiding mark on the history of India. The, Buddhists showed a keen awareness of the problems that faced the people of north-east India in the sixth century B.C. The new iron ploughshare agriculture, trade and the use of coins enabled tire traders and nobles to accumulate wealth and we hear of people possessing eighty kotis of wealth. All this naturally created sharp social and economic inequalities. So Buddhism asked people not to accumulate wealth. According to it poverty breeds hatred; cruelty and violence. To eradicate these evils the Buddha advised that farmers should be provided with grain and other facilities the traders with wealth and the labourers with wages. These measures were, recommended to remove poverty in this world. Buddhism further, taught that if the poor gave aims to the monks, they would be born wealthy in the next world.

The code of conduct prescribed for the monks represents a reaction against the material conditions of north-east India in the sixth and fifth centuries B.C. It imposes restrictions on the food, dress and sexual behaviour of the monks. They cannot accept gold and silver and they cannot take to sale and purchase. These rules were relaxed after the death of the Buddha, but the early rules suggest a return to a kind of primitive communism, a characteristic of the tribal society in which people did not practise trade and advanced agriculture. The code of conduct prescribed for monks partially reflects a revolt against the use of money, private property and luxurious living, which appeared in the sixth century BC. in north-east India. In those days property and money were regarded as luxuries.

Although Buddhism tried to mitigate the evils resulting from the new material life in the sixth century B.C. it also tried to consolidate the changes in the social and economic life, of the people. The rule that debtors were not permitted to be members of the sangha naturally helped the moneylenders and richer sections of society from whose clutches the debtors could not be saved. Similarly the rule that slaves could not join the sangha helped the slave owners. Thus the rules and teachings of Gautama Buddha took full account of the new changes in the material life and strengthened them ideologically,.

Although the Buddhist monks had renounced the world and repeatedly criticized the greedy brahman as, in several ways they resembled the brahamnas. Both of them did not participate directly in production and lived on the alms or gifts given by society. Both of them emphasised the virtues of carrying out family obligations, protecting private property and respecting political authority. Both of them supported the social order based on classes; for the monks, however the varna was based on action and attributes but for the brahmanas it was based on birth.

Undoubtedly the objective of the Buddhist teaching was to secure the salvation of the individual or nirvana. Those who found it difficult to adjust themselves to the break-up of the old tribal society and the rise of gross social inequalities on account of private property were provided with some way of escape, but it was confined to the monks. No escape was provided for the lay followers, who were taught to come to terms with the existing situation.

Buddhism made an important impact on society by keeping its doors open to women and shudras. Since both women and shudras were placed in the same category by Brahmanism, they were neither given sacred thread nor allowed to read the Vedas. Their conversion to Buddhism freed them from such marks of inferiority.

With its emphasis on non-violence and the sanctity of animal life, Buddhism boosted the cattle wealth of the country. The earliest Buddhist text Sattanipata declares the cattle to be givers of food, beauty and happiness (armada, vannada, sukhada) and thus pleads for their protection. This teaching came significantly at a time when the non-Aryans slaughtered animals for food and the Aryans in the name of religion. The brahmanieal insistence on the sacredness of the cow and nonviolence was apparently derived from Buddhist teachings.

Buddhism created and developed a new awareness in the field of intellect and culture. It taught the people not to take things for granted but to argue and judge them on merits. To a 1 certain extent the place of superstition was taken by logic. This promoted rationalism among people. In order to preach the doctrines of the new religion, the Buddhists compiled a new type of literature. They enormously enriched Pali by their writings. The early Pali literature can be divided into three categories. The first contains the sayings and teachings of the Buddha, the second deals with the rules to be observed by members of the sangha and the third presents the philosophical exposition of the dhamma.

In the first three centuries of the Christian era, by mixing Pali with Sanskrit the Buddhists created a new language which is called Hybrid Sanskrit. The literary activities of the Buddhist monks continued even in the middle Ages and some famous Apabhramsa writings in east India were composed by them. The Buddhist monasteries developed as great centres of learning and can be called residential universities. Mention may be made of Nalanda and Vikramashila in Bihar and Valabhi in Gujarat. Buddhism left its mark on the art of ancient India. The first human statues worshipped in India were probably those of the Buddha. The faithful devotees portrayed the various events in the life of the Buddha in stone. The panels found at Gaya in Bihar and at Sanchi and Bharut in Madhya Pradesh are Illuminating examples of artistic activity. From the first century K.D. onwards the panel images of Gautama Buddha began to be made. The Greek and the Indian sculptors worked together to create a new kind art on the north-west frontier of India, which is known as the Gandhara art. The images made in tills region betray Indian as well as foreign influence. For the residence of the monks rooms were hewn out of the rocks, and thus began the cave architecture in the Barabar hills in Gaya and in. western India around Nasik. Buddhist art flourished in the Krishna delta in the south and in Mathura in the north.


1 Explain the meaning of the following terms and concepts:

Aryavarta, Varna-divided society, Dvija, Tirthankara, Nirvana, Jina, Ahimsa, Sangha, Dhamma.

2 Discuss the causes of the origin of new religious sects in the sixth century B.C.

3 Describe the main teachings of Jainism. Discuss its impact on Indian society.

4 Describe the main teachings of Buddhism. Discuss its impact on Indian society.

5 Discuss the social and economic background of the rise of Jainism and Buddhism and the social aspects of the two religions.

6 Discuss the reasons for the spread of Buddhism. Describe the organization and the role of the Buddhist Sangha.

7 Why did Buddhism decline while Jainism continued to be influential in some parts of India?

8 Why had Magadha become the centre of the new religious movements?

9 Discuss how and in which aspects the impact of Buddhism in.

India continued even after its decline.

10 Why are Buddhism and Jainism considered as religious reform movements?

11 Describe the contribution of Jainism and Buddhism to Indian literature and art Compile a list of Jaina and Buddhist literature and pictures of Jaina and Buddhist art as part of a project.


11. Territorial States and the Magadhan Empire

From the sixth century B.C. onwards, the widespread use of iron in eastern Uttar Pradesh and western Bihar created conditions for the formation of large territorial states. Because of iron weapons the warrior class now played an important part. The new agricultural tools and implements enabled the peasants to produce far more foodgrains than they required for consumption. The extra product could be collected by the princes to meet their military and administrative needs. The surplus could also be made available to the towns which had sprung up in the sixth-fifth century B.C. These material advantages naturally enabled the people to stick to their land and also to expand at the cost of the neighbouring areas. The rise of large states with towns as their base of operations strengthened the territorial idea. People owed strong allegiance to the Janapadas the territory to which they belonged and not to the Jana or the tribe to which they belonged.

The Mahaj anapadas

In the age of the Buddha we find 16 large states called Mahajanapadas. They were mostly situated north of the Vindhyas and extended from the north-west frontier to Bihar. Of these, Magadha, Koshala, Vatsa and Avanti seem to have been considerably powerful. Beginning from the east we hear of the kingdom of Anga which covered the modem districts of Monghyr and Bhagalpur. It had its capital at Champa, which shows signs of habitation in the sixth century B.C. We find a mud fort of about the fifth century B.C. Eventually the kingdom of Anga was swallowed by its powerful neighbour Magadha.

Magadha embraced the former districts of Patna, Gaya and parts of Shahbad and grew to be the leading state of the time. North of the Ganga in the division of Tirhut was the state of the Vajjis which included eight clans. But the most powerful were the Lichchhavis with their capital at Vaishali which is identical with the village of Basarh in the district of Vaishali. The Puranas push the antiquity of Vaishali to a much earlier period, but archaeologically Basarh was not settled until the sixth century B.C.

Further west we find the kingdom of Kashi with its capital at Varanasi. Excavations at Rajghat show that the earliest habitations started around 500 B C and the city was enclosed by mud embankments about the same time. In the beginning Kashi appears to be the most powerful of the states, but eventually it had to submit to the power of Koshala.

Koshala embraced the area occupied by eastern Uttar Pradesh and had its capital at Shravasti, which is identical with Sahet-Mahet on the borders of Gonda and Bahraich districts in Uttar Pradesh. Diggings indicate that Sahet-Mahet did not possess any large settlement in the sixth century B.C. But we see the beginnings of a mud fort. Koshala contained an important city called Ayodhya, which is associated with the story in the Ramayana. But excavations show that it was not settled on any scale before the fifth century B.C. Koshala also included the tribal republican territory of the Shakyas of Kapilavastu. The capital of Kapilavastu has been identified with Piprahwa in Basti district. Habitation at Piprahwa is not earlier than C. 500 B.C. Lumbini, which lies at a distance of 15 km from Piprahwa in Nepal, served as another capital of the Shakyais. In an Ashokan inscription it is called the birthplace of Gautama Buddha and it was here that he was brought up.

In the neighbourhood of Koshala lay the, republican clan of the Mallas, whose territory touched the northern border of the Vajji state. One of the capitals of the Mallas lay at Kushinara where Gautama Buddha passed away. Kushinara is identical with Kasia in Deoria district.

Further west lay the kingdom of the Vatsas, along the bank of the Yamuna, with itte capital at Kaushambi near Allahabad. The Vatsas were a Kufu clan who had shifted from Hastipapur and settled down at Kaushanibi. Kaushambi was chosen because of its location near the confluence of the Ganga and theYamuna. In the fifth century B.C. it had a mud fortification as can be gathered from excavations.

We also hear of the older states of the Kurus and the Panchalas which were situated in western Uttar Pradesh, but they no longer enjoyed the political importance which they had attained in the later Vedic period.

In central Malwa and the adjoining parts of Madhya Pradesh lay the state of the Avantis. It was divided into two parts. The northern part had its capital at Ujjain and the southern part at Mahishamati. Excavations show that both these towns became fairly important from the sixth century B.C. onwards, though eventually Ujjain surpassed Mahishamati. It developed large-scale working in iron and erected strong fortification.

The political history of India from the sixth century B.C. onwards is the history of struggles between these states for supremacy. Ultimately the kingdom of Magadha emeijged to be the most powerful and succeeded in founding an empire.

Rise and Growth of the Magadhan Empire

Magadha came into prominence under the leadership of Bimbisara who belonged to the Haryanka dynast. He was a contemporary of the, Buddlha. He started the policy of conquest and aggression which ended with the Kalinga war of Ashoka. Bimbisara acquired Anga and placed it-under the viceroyalty of his son Ajatashatru at Champa. He also strengthened his position by marriage alliances. He took three wives. His first wife was the daughter of the king of Koshala and the sister of Parsenajit. The Koshalan bride brought him as dowry a Kashi village, yielding revenue of 100,000 which suggests that revenues were collected in terms of coins. The marriage bought off the hostility of Koshala and gave him a free hand in dealing with the other states. His second wife Chellana was a Lichchhavi princess from Vaishali who gave birth to Ajatashatru and his third wife was the daughter of the chief of the Madra clan of Punjab. Marriage relations with the different princely families gave enormous diplomatic prestige and paved the way for the expansion of Magadha westward and northward.

Magadha’s most serious rival was Avanti with its capital at Ujjain. Its king Chanda Pradyota Mahasena fought Bimbisara, but ultimately the two thought it wise to become friends. Later when Pradyota was at tacked by jaundice, at the Avanti king’s request Bimbisara sent the royal physician Jivaka to Ujjain. Bimbisara is also said to have received an embassy and a letter from the ruler of Gandhara with which Pradyota had fought unsuccessfully. So through his conquests and diplomacy Bimbisara made Magadha the paramount power in the sixth century B.C. His kingdom is said to have consisted of 80,000 villages, which is a conventional number.

The earliest capital of Magadha was at Rajgir, which was called Girivraja at that time. It was surrounded by five hills, the openings in which were closed by stone-walls on all sides. This made Rajgir impregnable.

According to the Buddhist chronicles, Bimbisara ruled for 52 years, roughly from 544 B.C to 492.

B.C. He was succeeded by his son Ajatashatru (492-460 B.C.). Ajatashatru killed his father and seized the throne for himself. His reign saw the high watermark of the Bimbisara dynasty. He fought two wars and made preparations for the third. Throughout his reign he pursued an aggressive policy of expansion. This provoked against him a combination of Kashi and Koshala. There began a prolonged conflict between Magadha and Koshala. Ultimately Ajatashatru got the best of the war and the Koshalan king was compelled to purchase peace by giving his daughter in marriage to Ajatashatru and leaving him in sole possession of Kashi.

Ajatashatru was no respecter of relations. Although his mother was a Lichchhavi princess, this did not prevent him from making war against Vaishali. The excuse was that the Lichchhavis were the allies of Koshala. He created dissensions in the ranks of the Lichchhavis and finally destroyed their independence by invading their territory and by defeating them in battle. It took him full 16 years to destroy Vaishali. Eventually he succeeded in doing so because of a war engine which was used to throw stones like catapults. He also possessed a chariot to which a mace was attached and it facilitated mass killings, The Magadhan empire was thus enlarged with the addition of Kashi and Vaishali.

Ajatashatru faced a stronger rival in the ruler of Avanti. Avanti had defeated the Vatsas of Kaushambi and now threatened an invasion of Magadha. To meet this danger Ajatashatru began the fortification of Rajgir. The remains of the walls can be still seen. However, the invasion did not materialize in his lifetime.

Ajatashatru was succeeded by Udayin (460-444 B.C.) His reign is important because he built the fort upon the confluence of the Ganga and Son at Patna. This was done because Patna lay in the centre of the Magadhan kingdom, which now extended from the Himalayas in the north to the hills of Chotanagpur in the south. Patna’s position, as will be seen later, was crucially strategic.

Udayin was succeeded by the dynasty of Shishunagas, who temporarily shifted the capital to Vaishali. Their greatest achievement was the destruction of the power of Avanti with its capital at Ujjain. This brought to an end the 100 year old rivalry between Magadha and Avanti. From now onwards Avanri became a part of the Magadhan empire and continued to be so till the end of the Maurya rule.

The Shishunagas were succeeded by the Nandas, who proved to be the most powerful rulers of Magadha. So great was their power that Alexander, who invaded Punjab at that time, did not dare to move towards the east, The Nandas added to the Magadhan power by conquering Kalinga from where they brought an image of the Jina as a victory trophy. All this took place in the reign of Mahapadma Nanda. He claimed to be ekarat, the sole sovereign who destroyed all the other ruling princes. It seems that he acquired not only Kalinga but also Koshala which had probably rebelled against him.

The Nandas were fabulously rich and enormously powerful. It is said that they maintained 200,000 infantry, 60,000 cavalry and 3000 to 6000 war elephants. Such a huge army could be maintained only through an effective taxation system. It was because of these considerations that Alexander (did not advance against Nandas.

The later Nandas turned out to be weak and unpopular; their rule in Magadha was supplanted by that of the Maurya dynasty under which the Magadhan empire reached the apex of glory

Causes of Magadh’s Success

The march of the Magadhan empire during the two centuries preceding the rise of the Mauryas is like the march of the Iranian empire during the same period. The formation of the largest state in India during this period was the work of several enterprising and ambitious rulers such as Bimbisara, Ajatashatxu and Mahapadma Nanda. They employed all means, fair and foul, at their disposal to enlarge their kingdoms and to strengthen their states. But this was not the only reason for the expansion of Magadha.

There were some other important factors. Magadha enjoyed an advantageous geographical position in the age of iron, because the richest iron deposits were situated not far away from Rajgir, the earliest capital of Magadha. The ready availability of the rich iron ores in the neighbourhood enabled the Magadhan princes to equip themselves with effective weapons, which were not easily available to their rivals. Iron mines are also found in eastern Madhya Pradesh and were not far from the kingdom of the Avantis with their capital at Ujjain. Around 500 B.C. iron was certainly forged and smelted in Ujjain and probably the smiths manufactured weapons of good quality. On account of this Avanti proved to be the, most serious competitor of Magadha for the supremacy of north India and Magadha took about a hundred years to subjugate Ujjain.

Magadha enjoyed, certain other advantages. The two capitals of Magadha, the first at Rajgir and the second at Pataliputra, were situated at very strategic points. Rajgir was surrounded by a group of five hills and so it was rendered impregnable in those days when there was no easy means of storming citadels such as cannons which came to be invented much later. It was not easy to destroy forts like Rajgir in those days. In the fifth century B.C the Magadhan princes shifted their capital from Rajgir to Pataliputra, which occupied a pivotal position commanding communications on all sides. Pataliputra was situated at the, confluence of the Ganga; the Gandak and the Son and a fourth river called the Ghaghra joined the Ganga not far from Pataliputra. In pre-industrial days, when communications were difficult, the army could move North West south and east by following the courses of the, rivers. Further, the position of Patna itself was rendered invulnerable because of its being surrounded by rivers on almost all sides. While the Son and the Ganga surrounded it on the north and west, the Poonpun surrounded it on the south and east. Pataliputra therefore was a true water-fort (jaladurga) and it was not easy to capture this town in those days.

Magadha lay at the centre of the middle Gangetic plain. The alluvium, once cleared of the jungles, proved immensely fertile. Because of heavy rainfall the area could be made productive even without irrigation. The country produced varieties of paddy, which are mentioned in the early Buddhist texts. This area was far more productive than the areas to the west of Allahabad. This naturally enabled the peasants to produce considerable surplus, which could be mopped up by the rulers in the form of taxes.

The princes of Magadha also benefited from the rise of towns and use of metal money. On account of trade and commerce in north-east India, the princes could levy tolls on the sale of commodities and accumulate wealth to pay and maintain their army.

Magadha enjoyed a Special advantage in military organization. Although the Indian states were well acquainted with the use of horses and chariots, it was Magadha which first used elephants on a large scale in its wars against its neighbours. The eastern part of the country could supply elephants to the princes of Magadha and we learn from Greek sources that the Nandas maintained 6000 elephants Elephants could be used in storming fortresses and in marching over marshy and other areas lacking roads and other means of communication.

Finally, we may refer to the unorthodox character of the Magadhan society. It was inhabited by the Kiratas and Magadhas, who were held in low esteem by the orthodox brahmanas.

But it underwent a happy racial admixture on account of the advent of the Vedic people. Since it was recently Vedicised it showed more enthusiasm for expansion than the kingdoms which had been brought under the Vedic influence earlier. On account of all these reasons Magadha succeeded in defeating the other kingdoms and in founding the first empire in India.


1 Describe the political condition of India in the sixth century B.C. Discuss the significance of the rise, of the Mahajanapadas in the history of 2 Discuss the reasons for the rise of Magadha as an empire.

3 Trace the expansion of the Magadha Empire. Describe the methods adopted by the rulers of Magadha for this.

4 On an outline map of India, show the Mahajanapadas that arose in the sixth century B.C. Indicate the modern names of the places and regions in which they were located.

5 Find out the names of the Sites connected with the Mahajanapadas that have been excavated. Try to collect pictures of the excavated sites.


12. Iranian and Macedonian Invasions

Iranian Invasion

In north-east India smaller principalities and republics gradually merged With the Magadhan empire. But the north-west India presented a different picture in the first half of the sixth century B.C. Several small principalities such as those of the Kambojas, Gandharas and Madras fought one Smother, This area did not have any powerful kingdom like that of Magadha to weld the warring communities into one organized kingdom. The area was also wealthy and could be easily entered through the passes in the Hindukush.

The Achaemenian rulers of Iran, who expanded their empire at the same time as the Magadhan princes, took advantage of the political disunity on the north-west frontier. The Iranian ruler Darius penetrated into northwest India in 516 B.C. and annexed Punjab, west of the Indus and Sindh. This area constituted the twentieth province or satrapy of Iran, the total number of satrapies in the Iranian empire being 28. The Indian satrapy included Sindh, the north-west frontier and the part of Punjab that lay to the west of the Indus. It was the most fertile and populous part of the empire. It paid a tribute of 360 talents of gold, which accounted for one-third of the total revenue of Iran from Its Asian provinces. The Indian subjects were also enrolled in the Iranian army. Xerxes, the successor of Darius, employed Indians in the long war against the Greeks. It appears that India continued to be a part of the Iranian empire till Alexander’s invasion of India.

Results of the Contact

The Indo-Iranian contact lasted for about 200 years. It gave an impetus to Indo-Iranian trade and commerce. The cultural results were more important. The Iranian scribes brought into India a form of writing which came to be known as the Kharoshthi script. It was written from right to left like the Arabic. Some Ashokan inscriptions in north-west India were, written in the third century B.C. in this script, which continued to be used in the country till the third century A.D. Iranian coins are also found in the north-west frontier region which points to the existence of trade with Iran. But it is wrong to think that the punch-marked coins came into use in India as a result of contact with Iran. However, Iranian influence on the Maurya sculpture is clearly perceptible. The monuments of Ashoka’s time, especially the bell-shaped capitals, owed something to the Iranian models. Iranian influence may also be traced in the preamble of Ashoka’s edicts as well as in certain terms used in them. For instance, for the Iranian term dipi, the Ashokan scribe used the term lipi. Further it seems that through the Iranians tire Greeks came to know about the great wealth of India, which whetted their greed and eventually led to Alexander’s invasion of India.

Alexander’s Invasion

In the fourth century B.c the Greeks and the Iranians fought for the supremacy of the world. Under the leadership of Alexander of Macedonia; the Greeks finally destroyed the Iranian empire. Alexander conquered not only Asia Minor and Iraq but also Iran. From Iran he marched to India, obviously attracted by its great wealth. Herodotus, who is called father of history and other Greek writers, had painted India as a fabulous land, which tempted Alexander to invade it. Alexander also possessed a strong passion for geographical inquiry and natural history. He had heard that the Caspian Sea continued on the eastern side of India. He was also inspired by the mythical exploits of past conquerors whom he wanted to emulate and surpass.

The political condition of northwest India suited his plans. The area was parcelled out into many independent monarchies and tribal republics which were strongly wedded to the soil and had a fierce love of the principality over which they ruled. Alexander found it easy to conquer these principalities one by one. Among the rulers of these territories, two were well known — Ambhi, the prince of Taxila and Porus whose kingdom lay between the Jhelum and the Chenab. Together they might have effectively resisted the advance of Alexander. But they could not put up a joint front; the Khyber pass remained unguarded.

After the conquest of Iran, Alexander moved on to Kabul, from where he marched to India through the Khyber pass in 326 B.C. It took him five months to reach the Indus. Ambhi, the ruler of Taxila, readily submitted to the invader, augmented his army and replenished his treasure. When he reached the Jhelum, Alexander met from Porus the first and the strongest resistance. Although Alexander defeated Porus, he was impressed by the bravery and courage of the Indian prince. So he restored his kingdom to him and made him his ally. Then he advanced as far as the Beas River. He wanted to move still further eastward but his army refused to accompany him. The Greek soldiers had grown war-weary and diseased. The hot climate, of India and ten years of continuous campaigning had made them terribly homesick. They had also experienced a taste of Indian fighting qualities on the banks of the Indus, which made them desist from further progress. As the Greek historian Arrian tells us: “In the art of war the Indians were far superior to the other, nations inhabiting the area at that time Especially the Greek soldiers were told of a formidable power on the Ganga. Obviously it was the kingdom of Magadha ruled by the Nandas who maintained an army far outnumbering that of Alexander. So despite the repeated appeals of Alexander to advance, the Greek soldiers did not budge an inch. Alexander lamented: “I am trying to rouse the hearts that are disloyal and crushed with craven fears“. The king who had never known defeat at the hands of his enemies had to accept defeat from his own men. He was forced to retreat and his dream of an eastern empire remained unfulfilled. On his return march Alexander vanquished many small republics until he reached the end of the Indian frontier. He remained in India for 19 months (326-325 B.C.), which were full of fighting. He had barely any time to organize his conquests. Still he made some arrangements. Most conquered states were restored to their rulers who submitted to his authority. But his own territorial possessions were divided into three parts, which were placed under three Greek governors. He also founded a number of cities to maintain his power in this area.

Effects of Alexander’s Invasion

Alexander’s invasion provided the first occasion when ancient Europe came into close contact with ancient India. It produced important results. The Indian campaign of Alexander was. a triumphant success. He added to his empire an Indian province which was much larger than that conquered by Iran, though the Greek possessions in India were soon lost to the Maurya rulers.

The most important outcome of this invasion was the establishment of direct contact between India and Greece in different fields. Alexander’s campaign opened up four distinct routes by land and sea. It paved the way for Greek merchants and craftsmen and increased the existing facilities for trade.

Although we hear of some Greeks living on the north-west even before the invasion of Alexander, the invasion led to the establishment of more Greek settlements in this area. The most important of them were the city of Alexandria in the Kabul region, Boukephala on the Jhelum and Alexandria in Sindh. Although these areas were conquered by the Mauryas, the Greeks continued to live under both Chandragupta Maurya and Ashoka.

Alexander was deeply interested in the geography of the mysterious ocean which he saw for the first time at the mouth of the Indus. Therefore he despatched his new fleet under his friend Nearchus to explore the coast and search for harbours from the mouth of the Indus to that of the Euphrates. So Alexander’s historians have left valuable geographical accounts. They also have left clearly dated records of Alexander’s campaign, which enable us to build Indian chronology for subsequent events on a definite basis. Alexander’s historians also give us important information about social and economic conditions. They tell us about the sati system, the sale of girls in market places by poor parents and the fine breed of oxen in north-west India. Alexander sent from there 200,000 oxen to Macedonia for use in Greece. The art of carpentry was the most flourishing craft in India and carpenters built chariots, boats and ships.

By destroying the power of petty states in north-west India, Alexander’s invasion paved the way for the expansion of the Maurya empire in that area According to tradition Chandragupta Maurya, who founded the Maurya empire, had seen something of the working of the military machine of Alexander and had acquired some knowledge which helped him in destroying the power of the Nandas.


1 Explain the meaning of:‘satrapy, dipi, lipi.

2 Describe the effects of Iranian invasion on India.

3 Give an account of Alexander’s invasion of India. What, were its effects?

4. On an outline map of Eurasia, show the extent of the Achaemenian empire at its greatest extent.

5 On an outline map of Eurasia, show the empire of Alexander and map the kingdoms, countries, rivers and places mentioned in the text.

6 The records of Alexander’s campaign enable us to build Indian chronology for subsequent events on a definite basis. Explain the statement and discuss why it is true.


13. State and Varna Society in the Age of the Buddha

Material Life

The picture of material life in north India, especially in eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, can be drawn on the basis of the Pali texts and the Sanskrit Sutra literature in combination with archaeological evidence. Archaeologically the sixth century B.C. marks the beginning of the NBPW phase. The abbreviation NBPW stands for Northern Black Polished Ware, which was a very glossy, shining type of pottery. This pottery was made of very fine fabric and apparently served as the tableware of richer people. In association with this pottery are found iron implements, especially those meant for crafts and agriculture. This phase also saw the beginning of metal money. The use of burnt bricks and ringwells appeared in the middle of the NBPW phase, i.e. in the third century B.C.

The NBPW phase marked the beginning of the second urbanization in India. The Harappan towns finally disappeared in about 1400 B.C. After that for about a thousand years we do not find any towns in India. With the appearance of towns in the middle Gangetic basin in the fifth century B.C., a second urbanization began in India. Many towns mentioned in the Pali and Sanskrit texts such as Kaushambi, Shravasti, Ayodhya, Kapilavastu, Varanasi, Vaishali, Rajgir, Pataliputra, Champa have been excavated and in each case signs of habitation and mud structures belonging to the advent of the NBPW phase or to its middle have been found Wooden palisades have been found in Patna and these possibly belong to pre-Maurya times. Belonging to the seventh-sixth centuries B.C., these are the earliest wooden enclosures in the mid-Ganga plains. Houses were mostly made of mudbrick and wood, which naturally have perished in the moist climate of the middle Gangetic basin. Although seven storeyed palaces are mentioned in the Pali texts, they have not been discovered anywhere. Structures excavated so far are generally unimpressive, but together with the other material remains they indicate great increase in population when compared with the Painted Grey Ware settlements.

Many towns were seats of government, but whatever be the causes of their origin they eventually turned out to be markets and came to be inhabited by artisans and merchants. At some places there was concentration of artisans; Saddalaputta at Vaishali had 500 potters shops. Both artisans and merchants were organized into guilds under their respective headmen.

We hear of 18 guilds of artisans but only die guilds of smiths, carpenters, leather workers and painters are specified. Both artisans and merchants lived in fixed localities in towns. We hear of vessels or merchants streets in Varanasi. Similarly; we hear of the street of ivory-workers. Thus specialization in crafts developed on account of the guild system as well as localization. Generally crafts were hereditary and the son learned his family trade from the father.

The products of crafts were carried over long distances by merchants. We repeatedly hear of 500 cartloads of goods. These contained fine textile goods, ivory objects, pots, etc. All the important cities of the period were situated on river banks and trade routes and connected with one another. Shravasti was linked with both Kaushambi and Varanasi. The latter was considered to be a great centre of trade in the age of the Buddha. The route from Shravasti passed eastward and southward through Kapilavastu and Kushinara (Kasia) and came to Vaishali. Traders crossed the Ganga near Patna and went to Rajgir. They also went by this river to Champa near modern Bhagalpur. If we believe the Jataka stories, the traders of Koshala and Magadha went via Mathura as far northward as Taxila. Similarly, from Mathura they went southward and westward to Ujjain and the Gujarat coast.

Trade was facilitated by the use of money. The terms nishka and satamana in the Vedic texts are taken to be names of coins, but they seem to have been prestige objects made of metal Coins actually found are not earlier than the sixth-fifth century B.C. It seems that in Vedic times exchange was carried on through means of barter and sometimes cattle served the purpose of currency. Coins made of metal appear first in the age of Gautama Buddha. The earliest are made largely of silver though a few coppers also appear. They are called punch-marked because pieces of these metals were punched with certain marks such as hill, tree, fish, bull, elephant, crescent, etc. The earliest hoards of these coins have been found in eastern Uttar Pradesh and Magadha, although some early coins are also found in Taxila. The Pali texts indicate plentiful use of money and show that wages and prices were paid in it. The use of money had become so universal that even the price of a dead mouse was estimated in it.

After the end of the Harappa culture, writing probably started a couple of centuries before Ashoka. The earliest records have perished probably because they were not written on stone and metal. Writing led to the compilation of not only laws and rituals but also facilitated book-keeping, which was so essential to trade, tax-collection and the keeping of a large professional army. The period produced texts dealing with sophisticated measurement (Sulvasutras), which presuppose writing and which may have helped the demarcation of fields and houses.

Although rural settlements belonging to the NBPW phase have not been excavated, sherds of this ware have been found at more than 400 places in the plains of Bihar and; those of eastern and central Uttar Pradesh. We cannot think of the beginning of crafts, commerce and urbanization in the middle Gangetic basin without a strong rural base. Princes, priests, artisans, traders, administrators, military personnel and numerous other functionaries could not live in towns unless taxes, tributes and tithes were available in sufficient measure to support them. Non-agriculturists living in towns had to be fed by agriculturists living in villages. In return artisans and traders living in towns made tools, cloth, etc., available to the rural folk. We hear of a village trader depositing 500 ploughs with a town merchant. Obviously these were iron ploughshares. From the NBPW phase in Kaushambi, iron tools consisting of axes, adzes, knives, razors, nails, sickles, etc., have been discovered. A good number of them belong to the layers of about the sixth-fourth centuries B.C. and were probably meant for the use of the peasants who bought them by paying cash or kind.

Numerous villages are mentioned in the Pali texts and towns seem to have been situated amidst the clusters of villages. It seems that the nucleated rural settlement in which all people settled at one place with their agricultural lands mostly outside the settlement first appeared in the middle Gangetic plain in the age of Gautama Buddha. The Pali texts speak of three types of villages. The first category included the typical village inhabited by various castes and communities. Its number seems to have been the largest and it was headed by a village, headman called bhojaka. The second included suburban villages which were in the nature of craft villages; for instance a carpenters village or chariotmaker’s village lay in the vicinity of Varanasi. Obviously these villages served as markets for the other villages and linked the towns with the countryside. The third category consisted of border villages situated on the limits of the countryside which merged into forests. People living in these villages were mainly fowlers and hunters, who mostly lived on food gathering.

The village lands were divided into cultivable plots and allotted family wise. Every family cultivated its plots with the help of its members supplemented by that of agricultural labourers. Fields were fenced and irrigation channels dug collectively by the peasant families under the supervision of the village headman.

The peasants had to pay one-sixth of their produce as tax. Taxes were collected directly by royal agents and generally there were no intermediate landlords between the peasants on the one hand and the state on the other. But some villages were granted to brahmanas and big merchants for their enjoyment. We also hear of large plots of land worked with the help of slaves and agricultural labourers. Rich peasants were called gahapatis (Pali term), who were almost the same as a section of the vaishyas.

Rice was the staple cereal produced in eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in this period. Various types of paddy and paddy fields are described in the Pali texts. The use of the term for transplantation is found in the Pali and Sanskrit texts of the period and it seems that large-scale paddy transplantation began in the age of the Buddha. Paddy transplantation or wet paddy production enormously added to the yield. In addition the peasants also produced barley, pulses, millets, cotton and sugarcane. Agriculture made great advance because of the use of the iron ploughshare and immense fertility of the alluvium soil in the area between Allahabad and Rajmahal.

Technology became central to the process of rural and urban economy, iron played a crucial role in opening the rainfed forested, hard-soil area of the middle Ganga basin to clearance, cultivation and settlement. The smiths knew how to harden iron tools. Some tools from Rajghat (Varanasi) show that they were made Out of the iron ores obtained from Singhbhum and Mayurbhanj. It thus appears that people came to be acquainted with the richest iron mines in the country which was bound to increase the supply of tools for crafts and agriculture.

The picture of economy that emerges from a study of material remains and the Pali texts is much different from the rural economy of later Vedic times in western Uttar Pradesh or the nature of the economy of a few chalcolithic communities found in some parts of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. We notice for the first time an advanced food-producing economy spread over the alluvium soil of the middle Gangetic plains and the beginning of urban economy in this area. It was an economy which provided subsisterice not only to direct producers but also to many others who were not farmers or artisans. This made possible collection of taxes and maintenance of armies on a long term basis and created conditions in which large territorial states could be formed and sustained.

Administrative System

Although we hear of many states in this period, only Koshala and Magadha emerged as powerful. Both of them were full-fledged states ruled by the hereditary monarchs belonging to the kshatriya varna. The Jatakas or the stories relating to the previous births of the Buddha tell us that oppressive kings and their chief priests were expelled by the people and new kings were installed. But occasions of expulsion were as rare as those of election; The king enjoyed the highest official status and special protection of his person and property. He yielded ground only to great religious leaders of the stature of the Buddha. The king was primarily a warlord who led his kingdom from victory to victory. This is well illustrated by the careers of Bimbisara and Ajatashatru.

The kings ruled with the help of officials, both high and low. Higher officials were called mahamatras and they performed various functions such as those of the minister (mantrin), commander (servmayaka), judge, chief accountant and head of the royal harem. It is likely that a class of officers called ayuktas also performed similar functions in some of the states.

Ministers played an important part in administration. Varsakara of Magadha and Dirghacharayana of Koshala were effective and influential ministers. The first succeeded in sowing seeds of dissension in the ranks of Lichchhavis of Vaishali and enabled Ajatashatru to conquer the republic. The second rendered help to the king of Koshala. It seems that high officers and ministers were largely recruited from the priestly class of the brahmanas. Generally they do not seem to have belonged to the clan of the king. The kin-based polity of Vedic times was now substantially undermined.

In both Koshala and Magadha, despite the use of the punch-marked coins made of silver, some influential brahmanas and setthis were paid by the grant of the revenue of villages. In doing so, the king did not have to obtain the consent of the clan, as was the case in later Vedic times, but the beneficiaries were granted only revenue; they were not given any administrative authority.

The rural administration was in the hands of the village headmen. In the beginning the headmen functioned as leaders of the tribal regiments and so they were called gramini which means the leader of the grama or a tribal military unit. As life, became sedentary and plough cultivation well established, tribal contingents settled down to agriculture. The gramini therefore was transformed into a village headman in pre-Maurya times. The village headmen were known by different titles such as gramabhhojaka, gramini or gramika. The title gramini prevails in Sir Lanka to this day. Eighty-six thousand gramikas are said to have been summoned by Bimbisara. The number may be conventional, but it shows that the village headmen enjoyed considerable importance and had direct links with the kings. The village headmen assessed and collected the taxes from the Villagers and they also maintained law and order in their locality. Sometimes oppressive headmen were taken to task by the villagers.

Army and Taxation

The real increase in state power is indicated by the formation a large professional army. At the time of Alexander’s invasion, the Nanda ruler of Magadha kept 20,000 cavalry, 200,000 infantry, 2000 four-horse chariots and about 6000 elephants. The horse-chariots were losing their importance not only in north-east but also in north-west India, where they had been introduced by the Vedic people. Very few elephants were maintained by the rulers of the states in north-west India, though some of them maintained as many horses as the Magadhan king did. The possession of numerous elephants gave an edge to the Magadhan princes.

The large long-service army had to be fed by the state exchequer. We are told that the Nandas possessed enormous wealth which must have enabled them to support the army, but we have no idea of the special measures by which they raised taxes. The fiscal system was established on a firm basis. Warriors and priests, i.e., the kshatriyas and the brahmanas, were exempted from payment of taxes and the burden fell on the peasants who were mainly v&ishyas or grihapatis. Bali, a voluntary payment made by the tribesmen to their chiefs in Vedic times, became a compulsory payment to be made by the peasants in the age of the Buddha and officers called balisadhakas were appointed to collect it. It seems that one-sixth of the produce was collected as tax by the king from the peasants. Taxes were assessed and collected by the royal agents with the help of village headmen. The advent of writing may have helped the assessment and collection of taxes. The discovery Of many hoards of pinch-marked coins suggests that payment was made in both cash and kind. In north-eastern India payment was made in paddy. In addition to these taxes the peasants were subjected to forced labour for royal work. The birth stories of the Buddha speak of cases in which peasants left the country of the king in order to escape the oppressive burden of taxes.

Artisans and traders also had to pay taxes. Artisans were made to work for a day in a month for the king and the traders had to pay customs on the sale of their commodities. The tolls were collected by officers known as shaulkika or shulkadkyaksha.

The territorial kings discard the sabha and samiti. Popular assemblies had practically disappeared in post Vedic times. Since they were essentially tribal institutions they decayed and disappeared as tribes disintegrated into varnas and lost their identity. Their place was taken by varna and caste groups and so caste laws and customs were given due weight by the writers of the law-books. However these regulations were mainly confined to social matters. Popular assemblies could succeed only in small kingdoms where members of the tribe could easily be summoned, as may have been the case in the Vedic period. With the emergence of the large states of Koshala and Magadha, it was not possible to hold big assemblies attended by people belonging to different social classes and different parts of the empire. The sheer difficulty of communication made regular meetings impossible. Further, being tribal, the old assembly could not find place for many non-Vedic tribes who lived in the new kingdoms. The changed circumstances, therefore, were not congenial for the continuance of the old assemblies. Their place was taken by a small body called parishad consisting exclusively of the brahmanas. Even in this period assemblies were there, but not in the monarchies. They flourished in the smaller republican states of the Shaky as, Lichchhavis, etc.

The Republican Experiment

The republican system of government existed either in the Indus basin or in the foothills of the Himalayas in eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The republics in the Indus basin may have been the remnants Of the Vedic tribes although some monarchies may have been followed by republics. In some cases, id Uttar Pradesh and Bihar people were possibly inspired by the old ideals of tribal equality which did not give much prominence to the single raja.

In the republics real power lay in the hands of tribal oligarchies. In the republics of Shakyas and Lichchhavis the ruling class belonged to the same clan and the same varna. Although in the case of the Lichchhavis of Vaishali 7707 rajas sat on the assembly held in the motehall, the brahmanas were not Ihcluded in this group. In post Maurya times in the republics of the Malavas and the Kshudrakas, the kshatriyas and the brahmanas were given citizenship, but slaves and hired labourers were excluded from it. In a state situated on the Beas river in Punjab, membership was restricted to those who could supply at least one elephant to the state. This was a typical oligarchy in the Indus basin.

The administrative machinery of the Shaky as and Lichchhavis was simple. It consisted of Raja, Uparaja (Vice-King), Senapatl (Commander) and Bhandagarika (treasurer). We hear of as many as seven Courts in the hierarchical order for trying the same case one after another in the Lichchhavi republic but this seems to be too good to be true.

In any case certain states in the age of the Buddha were not ruled by hereditary kings but by persons who were responsible to the assemblies. Thus although the people living in ancient republics may not have shared political power equally, the republican tradition in the country is as old as the age of the Buddha.

The republics differed from the monarchies in several ways. In the monarchies the king claimed to be the sole recipient of revenue from the peasants, but in the republics this claim was advanced by every tribal oligarch who was known as raja. Each one of the 7707 Lichchhavi rajas maintained his storehouse and apparatus of administration. Again, every monarchy maintained its regular standing army nad did not permit any group or groups of people to keep arms within its boundaries. But in a tribal oligarchy each raja was free to maintain his own little army under his Senapatl, so that each of them could compete with the other. The brahmanas exercised great influence in monarchy, but had no place In the early republics, nor did they recognize these states in their law-books. Finally, the main difference between a monarchy and a republic lay in the fact that the latter functioned under the leadership of oligarchic assemblies and not of an individual, as was the case with the former.

The republican tradition became feeble from the Maurya period. Even in pre-Mauryan times, monarchies were far stronger and common. Naturally ancient thinkers looked upon kingship as the common and most important form of government. To them the state, government and kingship meant the same thing. Since the state was well established in the age of the Buddha, thinkers began to speculate about its possible origins. The Digha Nikaya, one of the oldest Buddhist texts in Pali, points out that in the earliest stage human beings lived happily. Gradually they came to have private property and set up house with their wives. So they began to quarrel over property and women. In order to put an end to this quarrel they elected a chief who would maintain law and order and protect people. In return for protection the people promised to give to the chief a part of the paddy. The chief came to he called king and this is how kingship or the state originated.

Social Orders, mad Legislation

The Indian legal and judicial system originated In this period. Formerly people were governed by the tribal law, which did not recognize any class distinction. But by now the tribal community had been clearly divided into four classes—brahmanas, kshatriyas, vaishyas and shudras. So the Dharmasutras laid down the duties of each of the four varnas and the civil and criminal law came to be based on the varna division. The higher the varna the purer it was and the higher was the order of moral conduct expected by civil and criminal law. All kinds of disabilities were imposed on the shudras. They were deprived of religious and legal rights and relegated to the lowest position in society. They could not be invested with upanayana. Crimes committed by them against the brahmanas and others were punished severely: on the other hand the crimes committed against the shudras were punished lightly. The lawgivers spread the fiction that the shudras were born from the feet of the creator. So members of the higher varnas, especially the brahmana, shunned the company of the shudra, avoided the food touched by him and refused to enter into marriage relations with him. A shudra could not be appointed to high posts and more importantly he was specifically asked to serve the twice born as slave, artisan and agricultural labourer. In this respect even Jainism and Buddhism did not materially change his position. Although he could be admitted to the new religious orders his general position continued to be low. It is said that Gautama. Buddha visited the assemblies of the brahmanas, the kshatriyas and the gahapatis or householders, but the assembly of the shudras is not mentioned in this connection.

Civil and criminal law was administered by royal agents, who inflicted rough and ready punishments such as scourging, beheading, tearing out of the tongue, etc. In many cases punishments for criminal offences were governed by the idea of revenge. It meant tooth for tooth and eye for eye.

Although the brahmanical lawbooks took into account the social status of the different varnas in framing their laws, they did not ignore the customs of the non-Vedic tribal groups which gradually absorbed into the brahmanical social order, which went on expanding as a result of conquests. Some of these indigenous tribals were given fictitious social origins and allowed to be governed by their own customs.

The age of the Buddha is important because ancient Indian polity, economy and society really took shape in this period. Agriculture based on the use of iron tools in alluvial area gave rise to an advanced food producing economy, particularly. In eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, it was possible to collect taxes from the peasants and on the basis of regular taxes and tributes large states could be founded. In order to continue this system, the varna order was devised and the functions of each varna were clearly laid down. According to this system, rulers and fighters were called kshatriyas, priests and teachers were called brahmanas, peasants and taxpayers were called vaishyas and those who served all these classes as labourers were Called, shudras.


1. Explain the meaning of the following terms and concepts:

NBPW phase, bhojaka, punch-marked coins, grajrdka, gohapati, mahamatras, balisadhaka.

2 Describe the developments that took place in the technology and economy in this period. Point out the important changes that these developments marked in Indian society.

3 Describe the varna system in the post-Vedic period. What was the position of the shudras in that system?

4 Discuss the factors that led to urbanization in the period from the sixth to fourth century B.C. Why is urbanization in this period called the second urbanization in India?

5 Describe the system of administration in the monarchical states during the age of the Buddha.

6 Describe the system of government in the republican states during the age of the Buddha.

7 Discuss the main features of the political system that emerged during the age of the Buddha. How were these systems markedly different from the political system of the Vedic age?

8 On an outline map of India, mark the towns and cities that emerged during this period. Also show the trade routes during this period.


14. The Age of Mauryas

Chandragupta Maurya

The Maurya dynasty was founded by Chandragupta Maurya, who seems to have belonged to some ordinary family. According to the brahmanical tradition he was born of Mura, a shudra woman in the court of the Nandas. But an earlier Buddhist tradition speaks of the existence of a kshatriya clan called Mauryas living in the region of Gorakhpur adjoining the Nepalese terai. In all likelihood, Chandragupta was a member of this clan. He took advantage of the growing weakness and unpopularity of the Nandas in the last days of their rule. With the help of Chanakya, who is known as Kautilya, he overthrew the Nandas and established the ruie of the Maurya dynasty. The machinations of Chanakya against Chandragupta’s enemies are described in Retail in the Mudrarakshasa, a drama written by Vishakhadatta in the ninth century. Several plays have been based on it in modern times.

Justin, a Greek writer, says that Chandragupta overran the whole of India with an army of 600,000. This may or may not be true. But Chandragupta liberated north-western India from the thraldom of Seleucus, who ruled over the area west of the Indus. In the war with the Greek viceroy, Chandragupta seems to have come out victorious. Eventually peace was concluded between the two and in return for 500 elephants Seleucus gave him eastern Afghanistan, Baluchistan and the area west of the Indus. Chandragupta thus built up a vast empire which included not only Bihar and good portions of Orissa and Bengal but also western and northwestern India and the Deccan. Leaving Kerala Tamil Nadu and parts of north-eastern India the Mauryas ruled over the whole of the subcontinent. In the north-west they held sway over certain areas which were not included even in the British empire.

Imperial Organisation

The Mauryas organized a very elaborate system of administration. We know about it from the account of Megasthenes and the Arthashastra of Kautilya. Megasthenes was a Greek ambassador sent by Seleucus to the court of Chandragupta Maurya. He lived in the Mauryan capital of Pataliputra and wrote an account not only of the administration of the city of Pataliputra but also of the Maurya empire as a whole. The account of Megasthenes does not survive in full, but quotations occur in the works of several subsequent Greek writers.

These fragments have been collected and published in the form of a book called Indika, which throws valuable light on the administration, society and economy of Mauryan times.

The account of Megasthenes can be supplemented by the Arthashastra of Kautilya. Although the Arthashastra was finally compiled a few centuries after the Maurya rule, some of its books contain material that is genuine and gives authentic information about the Maurya administration and economy. On the basis of these two sources we can draw a picture of the administrative system of Chandragupta Maurya.

Chandragupta Maurya was evidently an autocrat who concentrated all power in his hands. If we believe in a statement of the Arthashastra, the king had set a high ideal. He stated that in the happiness of his subjects lay his happiness and in their troubles lay his troubles. But we do not know how far the king acted up to these norms. According to Megasthenes the king was assisted by a council whose members were noted for wisdom. There is nothing to show that their advice was binding on him, but the high officers were chosen from the councillors.

The empire was divided into a number of provinces and each province was placed under a prince who was a scion of the royal dynasty. The provinces were divided into still smaller units and arrangements were made for both rural and urban administration. Excavations show that a large number of towns belonged to Maurya times. Pataliputra, Kaushambi, Ujjain and Taxila were the most important cities. The administration of Pataliputra, which was the capital of the Mauryas, was carried chi by six committees, each committee consisting of five members: These committees were entrusted with sanitation, care of foreigners, registration of birth and death, regulation of weights and measures and similar other functions. Various types of weights belonging to Maurya times have been found at several places in Bihar.

In addition to all this the central government maintained about two dozen departments of the state, which controlled social and economic activities at least in the areas which were near the capital. The most striking feature of Chandragupta’s administration is the maintenance of a huge army. According to the account of a Roman writer called Pliny, Chandragupta maintained 600,000 foot-soldiers, 30,000 cavalry and 9000 elephants. Another source tells us that the Mauryas maintained 8000 chariots. In addition to this it seems that the Mauryas also maintained a navy. The administration of the armed forces, according to Megasthenes, was carried on by a board of 30 officers divided into six committees, each committee consisting of five members. It seems that the six wings of the armed forces — the army, the cavalry, the elephants, the chariots, the navy and the transport — were each assigned to the care of a separate committee. The Mauryas military strength was almost three times that of the Nandas. This happened apparently on account of much larger empire and far more resources. How did Chandragupta Maurya manage to meet the expenses of such a huge army? If we rely on the Arthashastra of Kautilya it would appear that the state controlled almost all the economic activities in the realm. The state brought new land under cultivation with the help of cultivators and shudra labourers. The virgin land which was opened to cultivation yielded handsome income to the state in the form of revenue collected from the newly settled peasants. It seems that taxes collected from the peasants varied form one-fourth to one-sixth of the produce. Those who were provided with irrigation facilities by the state had to pay for it. In addition to this in times of emergency-peasants were compelled to raise more crops. Tolls were also levied on commodities brought to town for sale and they were collected at the gate. Moreover, the state enjoyed a monopoly in mining, sale of liquor, manufacture of arms, etc. This naturally brought money to the royal exchequer. Chandragupta thus established a well-organised administrative system and gave it a sound financial base.

Ashoka (273-232 BC)

Chandragupta Maurya was succeeded by Bindusara, whose reign is important for continued links with the Greek princes. His son, Ashoka, is the greatest of the Maurya rulers. According to Buddhist tradition he was so cruel in his early life that he killed his 99 brothers to get the throne. But since the statement is based on a legend, it may well be wrong. His biography, prepared by Buddhist writers, is so full of fiction that it cannot be taken seriously.

Asimhmi teriptions

The history of Ashoka is reconstructed on the basis of his inscriptions. These inscriptions, numbering 39, are classified into Major Rock Edicts. Minor Rock Edicts, Separate Rock Edicts. Major Pillar Edicts and Minor Pillar Edicts. The name of Ashoka occurs only in copies of Minor Rock Edict I found at three places in Karnataka and at one in Madhya Pradesh. All the other inscriptions mention only devawmpiya piyadasi, dear to gods and leave out the word Ashoka. The Ashokan inscriptions are found in India, Nepal, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Altogether they appear at 47 places and their total versions number 182. They were generally placed on ancient highways. Composed in Prakrit, they were, written in Brahmi script in the greater pail of the subcontinent. But in its north-western part they appeared in Aramaic language and Kharoshthi script and in Afghanistan they were, written in both Aramaic and Greek scripts and languages. He is the first Indian king to speak directly to the people through his inscriptions which carry royal orders. The inscriptions throw light on the career of Ashoka, his external and domestic polices and the extent of his empire.

Impact of the Kalinga War

The ideology of Buddhism guided Ashoka’s state policy at home and abroad. After his accession to the throne, Ashoka fought only one major war called the Kalinga War. According to him, 100,000 people were killed in this war, several lakhs perished and 150,000 were taken prisoners. These numbers are exaggerated, because the number a hundred thousand is used as a cliche in Ashokan inscriptions. At any rate it seems that the king was moved by the massacre in this war. The war brought to the brahmana priests and the Buddhist monks great suffering, which caused Ashoka much grief and remorse. So He abandoned the policy of physical occupation in favour of a policy of cultural conquest. In other words, bherighosha was replaced with dharnrnaghosha. We quote below the words of Ashoka from his Thirteenth Major Rock Edict:

When he had been consecrated eight years the beloved of the Gods, the King Piyadassi, conquered Kalinga. A hundred and fifty thousand people were deported, a hundred thousand were killed and many times that number perished. Afterwards, now that Kalinga was annexed, the beloved of the Gods very earnestly practised dhamma, desired dhamma and taught dhamma. On conquering Kalinga the beloved of the Gods felt remorse, for when an independent country is conquered the slaughter, death and deportation of the people is extremely grievous to the beloved of the Gods and weighs heavily on his mind. What is even more deplorable to tire beloved of the Gods, is that those who dwell there, whether brahmanas, shramanas.

or those of other sects, or householders who show obedience to their teachers and-behave well and devotedly towards their friends, acquaintances, colleagues, relatives, slaves and servants all suffer violence, murder and separation from their loved ones Today if a hundredth or a thousandth part of those people who were killed or died or were deported when Kalinga was annexed were to suffer similarly, it would weigh heavily on the mind of the Beloved of the Gods The Beloved of the Gods considers victory by dhamma to be the foremost victory.

Ashoka now made an ideological appeal towards the tribal people and the frontier kingdoms. The subjects of the independent states in Kalinga were asked to obey the king as their father and to repose confidence in him. The officials appointed by Ashoka were instructed to propagate this idea among all sections of his subjects. The tribal peoples were similarly asked to follow the principles of dhamma (dharma).

Ashoka no longer treated foreign dominions as legitimate areas for military conquest. He tried to conquer them ideologically. He took steps for the welfare of men and animals, in foreign lands, which was a new thing considering the condition of those days. He sent ambassadors of peace to the Greek kingdoms in West Asia and Greece, All this can be said on the basis of Ashoka’s inscriptions. If we rely on the Buddhist tradition it would appear that he sent missionaries for, the propagation of Buddhism to Sri Lanka and Central Asia. As an enlightened ruler Ashoka tried to enlarge his area of political influence through propaganda.

It would be wrong to think that the Kalinga war made Ashoka an extreme pacifist. He did not pursue the policy of peace for the sake of peace under all conditions. On the other hand he adopted a practical policy of consolidating his empire. He retained Kalinga after its conquest and incorporated it into his empire. There is also nothing to show that he disbanded the huge army maintained from the time of Chandragupta Maurya. Although he repeatedly asked the tribal people to follow the policy of dharma, he threatened them if they violated the established rules of social order and righteousness (dharma). Within the empire he appointed a class of officers known as the rajukas, who were vested with the authority of not only rewarding people but also punishing them, wherever necessary. The policy of Ashoka to consolidate the empire through dharma bore fruit. The Kandhar inscription speaks of the success of his policy with the Hunters and fishermen, who gave up killing animals and possibly took to a settled agricultural life.

Internal Policy and Buddhism

Ashoka was converted to Buddhism as a result Of the Kalinga war. According to tradition he became a monk, made huge gifts to the Buddhists and undertook pilgrimages to the Buddhist shrines. The fact of his visiting the Buddhist shrines is also suggested by the dhamma yatras mentioned in his inscriptions.

According to tradition the third Buddhist council (Sangiti) was held by Ashoka and missionaries were sent not only to south India but also to Sri Lank, Burma and other countries to convert the people there. Brahmi inscriptions of the second and first centuries B.C. have been found in Sri Lanka.

Ashoka set a very high ideal for himself and this was the ideal of paternal kingship. He repeatedly asked his officials to tell the subjects that the king looked upon them as his children. As agents of the king, the officials were also asked to take care of the people. Ashoka appointed dhammamahamatras for propagating dhamma among various social groups including women. He also appointed rajukas for the administration of justice in his empire.

He disapproved of rituals, especially those observed by women. He forbade killing certain birds and animals and completely prohibits the slaughter of animals in the capital. He interdicted gay social functions in which people indulged in revelries.

But Ashoka’s dhamma was not a narrow dharma. It cannot be regarded as a sectarian faith. Its broad objective was to preserve the social order. It ordained that people should obey their parents, pay respect to the brahmanas and Buddhist monks and show mercy to slaves and servants. These instructions can be found in both the Buddhist and brahmanical faiths.

Ashoka taught people to live and let live. He emphasised compassion towards animals and proper behaviour towards relatives. His teachings were meant to strengthen the institution of family and the existing social classes. He held that if the people behaved well they would attain heaven. He never said that, they would attain nirvana, which was the goal of Buddhist teachings. Ashoka’s teachings were thus intended to maintain the existing social order on the basis of tolerance. He does not ‘seem to have preached any sectarian faith.

Ashoka’s Place in History

It is said that the pacific policy of Ashoka mined the Maurya empire, but this is not true. On the contrary Ashoka has a number of achievements to his credit. He was certainly a great missionary paler in the history of the ancient world. He worked with great zeal and devotion to his mission and achieved a lot, both at home and abroad.

Ashoka brought about the political unification of the country. He bound it further by one dharma, one language and practically one script called Brahmi which was used in most of his inscriptions. In unifying the country he respected such scripts as Brahmi, Kharoshthi, Aramaic and Greek. Evidently he also accommodated such languages as Greek, Prakrit and Sanskrit and various religious sects. Ashoka followed a tolerant religious policy. He did not try to foist his Buddhist faith on his subjects. On the other hand he made gifts to non-Buddhist and even anti-Buddhist sects.

Ashoka was fired with zeal for missionary activities. He deputed officials in the far-flung parts of the empire. This helped the cause, of administration and also promoted cultural contacts between the developed Gangetic basin and the backward distant provinces. The material culture, typical of the heart of the empire, spread to Kalinga and the lower Deccan and northern Bengal.

Above all Ashoka is important, in history for his policy of peace, non aggression and cultural, conquest. He had no model in early Indian history nor did such an example exist in any country except Egypt where Ashoka had pursued a pacific policy in the fourteenth century B.C. But it is obvious, that Ashoka was not aware of his Egyptian predecessor. Although Kautilya advised the king to loe always intent on physical conquest, Ashoka followed just the reverse policy. He asked his successors to give up the policy of conquest and aggression, which had been followed by the Magadhan princes till the Kalinga war. He counselled them to adopt a policy of peace, which was badly needed after a period of aggressive wars lasting for two centuries. Ashoka consistently stuck to his policy. Although he possessed: sufficient resources and certainly maintained a huge army, he did not wage any war after the conquest of Kalinga. In this sense Ashoka was certainty far ahead of his day and generation.

However, Ashoka’s policy did not make any lasting impression on his viceroys and vassals, who declared themselves independent in their respective areas after the retirement, of the king in 232 B.C. Similarly, the policy could not convert his neighbours, who swooped on the north-western frontier of his empire within 30 years of Ashoka’s exit, from power in 232 B.C.


1. Explain the meaning of the following terms and concepts: Dharnrna, Rajuka, Bherighosha, Dhammaghosha, Dhammamahamatra.

2. How did Chandragupta establish the rule of the Maurya dynasty? What was the impact of the Kaiinga war?

3. Describe the administrative system of the Mauryan empire.

4. How did Ashoka promote Buddhism? Discuss his concept of dhamma?

5. Describe the technological progress made in the Mauiyan period. Make an assessment of emperor Ashoka.

6. What are the main sources of the history of the Mauiyas? Write a note on each of the sources.

7. On a outline map of India, indicate the extent of Ashoka’s empire and mark the places mentioned in the text.

8. Discuss the significance of the political changes that the establishment of the Maurya empire marked in India.

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15. Significance of the Mauryan Rule

State Control

THE Brahmanical law-books again and again stressed that the king should be guided by the laws laid down in the Dharmashastras and by the customs prevalent in the country. Kautilya advises the king to promulgate dharma when the social order based on the varnas and ashramas (stages in life) perishes. The king is called by him dharmapravartaka or promulgator of the social order. That the royal orders were superior to other orders was asserted by Ashoka in his inscriptions. Ashoka promulgated dharma and appointed officials to inculcate and enforce its essentials throughout the country.

Assertion of royal absolutism was a natural culmination of the policy of military conquest adopted by the princes of Magadha. Anga, Vaishali, Kashi, Koshala, Avanti, Kalinga, etc. were annexed to the Magadhan Empire one by one. The military control over these areas eventually turned into coercive control of all aspects of life of the people. Magadha possessed the requisite power of sword to enforce its overall control.

In order to control all spheres of life the state had to maintain a vast bureaucracy. In no other period of ancient history we hear of so many officers as in Maurya times.

The administrative mechanism was backed by an elaborate system of espionage. Various types of spies collected intelligence abut foreign enemies and kept an eye on numerous officers. They also helped the collection of money from credulous people through deliberate resort to superstitious practices.

Important functionaries were called tirthas. It seems that most functionaries were paid in cash. The highest functionaries were minister (mantrin), high priest (purohita), commander in-chief (senapati) and crown prince (yuvaraja), who were paid generously. They received as much as 48 thousand panas (pana being a silver coin equal to three-fourths of a tola). In sharp contrast to them the lowest officers were given 60 panas in consolidated pay although some employees were given as little as 10 or 20 panas. Therefore, it would seem that there were enormous gaps between the highest and the lowest category of government servants.

Economic Regulations

If we rely on the Arthashastra of Kautilya it would appear that the state appointed 27 superintendents (adhyakshas) mostly to regulate the economy of the state. They controlled the agriculture, trade and commerce; weights and measures, crafts such as weaving and: spinning, mining and so on. The state also provided irrigation and regulated water supply, for the benefit of agriculturists. Megasthenes informs us that in the Maurya Empire the officials measured the land as in Egypt and inspected the channels through which water was distributed into smaller channels.

According to the Arthashastra of Kautilya, a striking social development of the Maurya period was the employment of slaves in agricultural operations. Megasthenes states that he did not notice any slaves in India. But there is no doubt that domestic slaves were found in India from Vedic times onwards. It seems that in the Maurya period slaves were engaged in agricultural work on a large scale. The state maintained farms, on which numerous slaves and. hired labourers, were employed. 150,000 wax-captives brought, by Ashoka from Kalinga to Patallputra may have been engaged in agriculture, but the number one and a half lakhs seems to be exaggerated. However, ancient Indian society was not a slave society. What the slaves did in Greece and Rome was done by the shudras in India. The shudras were regarded as the collective property of the three higher varnas. They were compelled to serve them as slaves, artisans, agricultural labourers and domestic servants.

Several reasons suggest that royal control worked oyer a very large area, at least in the core of the empire. This was because of the strategic position of Pataliputra, from where royal agents could sail up and down the four directions. Besides tills, the royal road ran From Pataliputra to Nepal through Valshali and Champarari. We also hear of a road at the foothills of the Himalayas. It passed from Valshall through Champaran to Kapilavastu, Kalsi (in Dehradun district), Hazra and eventually to Peshawar. Megasthenes speaks of a road connecting northwestern India with Patna. Roads also, linked Patna with Sasaram and from there they went to Mirzapur and central India, The capital was also connected with Kalinga by a route through eastern Madhya Pradesh and Kalinga in its turn was linked with Andhra and Karnataka, All this facilitated transport in which horses may have played an. important part In the northern plains the Ganga and other rivers were routes of communication.

The Ashokan inscriptions appear on important highways. The stone pillars were made in Churiar near. Varanasi from where they were transported to north and south India. The Maurya control over the settled parts of the country may have matched that of the Mughals and perhaps of the East India Company. Medieval transport improved due to more settlements on the highways and the use of striped horses. The company used the gun which was reinforced by steam navigation from early 1830s onwards.

The Maurya rulers did not have to deal with a large population. All told, their army did not exceed 650,000 men. If ten per cent of the population was recruited, the total population in the Gangetic plains may not have been more than six and a half million. Ashokan inscriptions show that royal writ ran all over the country except the extreme east and south. Nine Ashokan inscriptions have been found in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka but rigid state control may not have proved effective much beyond the middle Gangdtic zone owing to difficulty in the means of communication.

The Maurya period constitutes a landmark in the system of taxation in ancient India. Kautilya, names many taxes to be collected from peasants, artisans and traders. This required strong and efficient machinery for assessment, collection and storage. The Mauryas attached greater importance to assessment than to storage and depositing. The samaharta was the highest officer in charge of assessment and the sannidhata was the chief custodian of the state treasury and store-house. (The harm done to the state by the first is thought to be more serious than the harm caused by the second) In fact, elaborate machinery for assessment first appears in the Maurya period. The list of taxes mentioned in the Arthashastra is impressive and if these were really collected very little would be left to the people to live on.

We have epigraphic evidence for the existence of rural store-houses, which shows that taxes were also collected in kind and these granaries were meant for helping local people in times of famine, drought, etc.

It seems that the punch-marked silver coins, which carry the symbols of the peacock and the hill and crescent, formed the imperial currency of the Mauryas. They have been discovered in large numbers. Without doubt they helped the collection of taxes and payment of officers in cash. Further, because of its uniformity, the currency must have facilitated marked exchange in a wider area.

Art and Architecture

The Maury as made a remarkable contribution to art and architecture. They introduced stone masoniy on a wide scale, Megasthenes states that the Maurya palace at Pataliputra was as splendid as that in the capital of Iran. Fragments of stone pillars and stumps, indicating the existence of a 80 pillared hall, have been discovered at. Kumrahar on the outskirts of modern Patna. Although these remains do not recall the magnificence mentioned by Megasthenes, they certainly attest the high technical skill attained by the Maurya artisans in publishing the stone pillars, which are as shining as Northern Black Polished Ware. It must have been a difficult task to carry the huge blocks of stone from the quarries and to polish and embellish them when they were placed erect. All this seems to be a great feat of engineering. Each pillar is made of a single piece of buff coloured sandstone. Only their capitals, which are beautiful pieces of sculpture in the form of lions or bulls, are joined with the pillars on the top. These polished pillars were set up throughout the country, which shows that technical knowledge involved in their polishing and transport had spread far and wide. The Maurya artisans also started the practice of hewing out caves from rocks for monks to live in. The earliest examples are the Barabar caves at a distance of 30 km from Gaya. Later this kind of cave architecture spread to western and southern India.

Spread of Material Culture and State System

On the one hand the Mauryas created for the first time well-organized state machinery, which operated in the heart of the empire. On the other hand their conquest opened the doors for trading and missionary activities. It seems that the contacts established by administrators, traders and Jaina and Buddhist monks led to the spread of the material culture of the Gangetic basin to the areas situated on the periphery of the empire. The new material culture in the Gangetic basin was based on an intensive use of iron prevalence of writing, plenty of punch-marked coins, abundance of beautiful pottery called Northern Black Polished Ware, introduction of burnt bricks and ring wells and above all on the rise of towns in north-eastern India. A Greek writer called Arrian states that it is not possible to Record with accuracy the number of cities on account of their multiplicity. Thus the Maurya period witnessed rapid development of material culture in the Gangetic plains. On account of easy access to the rich iron ores of south Bihar, people used more and more of iron implements. This period shows socketed axes, sickles and ploughshare. The spoked wheel also carpe to be used. Although arms and weapons were the monopoly of the Mauryan state, the use of the other iron tools was not restricted to any class. Their use and manufacture must have spread from the Gangetic basin to the distant parts of the empire. In the Maurya period burnt bricks were used for the first time in north-eastern India. The Maurya constructions made of burnt bricks have been found in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Houses were made of both bricks and timber which was available in plenty because of thick vegetation in ancient times. Megasthenes speaks of the wooden structure at the Maurya capital Pataliputra, Excavations show that logs of wood were also used as an important line of defence against flood and foreign invasion. The use of burnt bricks spread in the outlying provinces of the empire. Because of moist climate and heavy rainfall it was not possible to have lasting and large structures made of mud or mud-bricks as we find in the dry zones. Therefore, the, diffusion of the use of burnt bricks proved to be a great boon. Eventually, it led to the flowering of towns in the different parts of the empire. Similarly, the ring wells which appeared first under the Mauryas in the Gangetic plains spread beyond the heart of the empire. Since ring wells would supply water, to people for domestic use it was no longer imperative to found settlements on the banks of rivers. They also served as soak pits in congested settlements.

The elements of the middle Gangetic material culture seem to have been transferred with modification to northern Bengal, Kalinga, Andhra and Karnataka. Of course the local cultures of these regions were also developing independently. In Bangladesh, where we find the Mahasthana inscription in Bogra district in Maurya Brahmi, we find NBPW at Bangarh in Dinapur distrit NBPW sherds have also been found at some places, such as Chandraketugarh in the 24 Parganas, in West Bengal. Gangetic associations can be attributed to settlements at Sisupalgarh in Orissa. The settlement of Sisupalgarh s ascribed to Maurya times in the ihird century B.C. and it contains NBPW and iron implements and punch-marked coins. Since Sisupalgarh is situated near Dhauli and Jaugada, where Ashokan inscriptions have been found on the ancient highway passing along the eastern coast of India, material culture may have reached this area as. a result of contact with Magadha. This contact may have started in the fourth century B.C., when the Nandas are said to have conquered Kalinga. But it deepened after the conquest of Kalinga in the third century B.C. Possibly as a measure of pacification after the Kalinga war, Ashoka promoted some settlements in Orissa, which had been in corporated into his empire.

Although we find iron weapons and implements at several places in Andhra and Karnataka in the Maurya period, the advance of iron technology was the contribution of the megalith builders, who are noted for various kinds of large stone burials including those of a round form. But some of these: places have Ashokan inscriptions as well as sherds of NBPW belonging to the third century B.C. For example, Ashokan inscriptions have been found at Amaravati and other sites in Andhra and at several places in Karnataka. It, therefore, appears that from the eastern coast ingredients of the material culture percolated through Maurya contacts into the lower Deccan plateau.

The art of making steel may have spread through Maurya contacts in some parts of the country. Steel objects belonging to about 200 B.C. or to an earlier date have been found in the middle Gangetic plains. The spread of steel may have led to jungle clearance and the use of better methods of cultivation in Kalinga; this could create conditions for the rise of the Cheti kingdom in that region. Although the Satavahanas rose to power in the Deccan in the first century B.C., yet in some ways their empire was a projection of the Maurya empire. They adopted some of the administrative units of the Mauryas. Their state followed the Maurya pattern in several respects.

It seems that stimulus to state formation in peninsular India came from the Mauryas not only in the case of the Chetis and the Satavahanas but also in the case of the Cheras (Keralaputras), Cholas and the Pandyas. According to Ashokan inscriptions, all the three last peoples together with the Satyaputras and the people of Tamraparni or Sri Lanka lived on the borders of the Maurya Empire. They were, therefore, familiar with the Maurya state. The Pandyas were known to Megasthenes who visited the Maurya capital. Ashoka called himself dear to the gods a title which was translated into Tamil and adopted by the chiefs mentioned in the Sangam texts.

The existence of inscriptions, occasional NBPW potsherds and punch marked coins in parts of Bangladesh, Orissa, Andhra and Karnataka from near about 300 B.C. shows that in the Maurya period, attempts were made to spread elements of the middle Gangetic basin culture in distant areas. The process seems to be in accord with the instructions of Kautilya. Kautilya advised that new settlements should be founded with the help of cultivators, who were apparently vaishyas and with that of shudra labourers who should be drafted from overpopulated areas. In order to bring the virgin soil under cultivation, the new peasants were allowed remission in tax and supplied with cattle, seeds and money. The state followed this policy in the hope that it would get back what it had given. Such settlements were necessary in those areas where people were not acquainted with the use of the iron ploughshare. This policy led to the opening of large areas to cultivation and settlement.

How far the Maurya towns facilitated the diffusion of the material culture of the Gangetic plains into the tribal belt of Central India, extending from Chotanagpur in the east to the Vindhyas in the west, cannot be said. But it is quite clear that Ashoka maintained intimate contacts with the tribal people, who were exhorted to observe dhamma. Their contact with the dhammamahamatras appointed by Ashoka must have enabled them to imbibe rudiments of higher culture prevalent in the Gangetic basin. In this sense Ashoka launched a deliberate and systematic policy of acculturation. He states that as el result of the diffusion of dhamma men would mingle with gods. This implies that tribal and other people would take to the habits of a settled, taxpaying, peasant society and develop respect for paternal power, royal authority and for monks priests and officers who helped enforce his authority. His policy succeeded. Ashoka claims that hunters and fishermen had given up killing and practised dhamma. This means that they had taken to a sedentary agricultural life.

Causes of the Pall of the Mauryan Empire

The Magadhan empire, which had been reared by successive wars culminating in the conquest of Kalinga, began to disintegrate after the exit of Ashoka in 232 B.C. Several causes seem to have brought about the decline and fall of the Maurya empire.

Brahmanical Reaction

The brahamanical reaction began as a result of the policy of Ashoka. There is no doubt that Ashoka adopted a tolerant policy and asked the people to respect even the brahmanas. But he prohibited killing of animals and birds and derided superfluous rituals performed by women. This naturally affected the income of the brahmanas. The anti-sacrifice attitude of Buddhism and of Ashoka naturally brought loss to the brahmanas, who lived on the gifts made to them in various kinds of sacrifices. Hence in spite of the tolerant policy of Ashoka, the brahmanas developed some land of antipathy to him. Obviously they were not satisfied with his tolerant policy. They really wanted a policy that would favour them and uphold the existing interests and privileges. Some of the new kingdoms that arose on the ruins of the Maurya empire, were ruled by the brahmanas. The Shungas and the Kanvas, who ruled in Madhya Pradesh and further east on the remnants of the Maurya empire were brahmanas. Similarly the Satavahanas, who founded a lasting kingdom in the-western Deccan and Andhra, claimed to be brahmanas. These brahmana dynasties performed Vedic sacrifices, which were neglected by Ashoka.

Financial Crisis

The enormous expenditure on the army and payment to bureaucracy, created a financial crisis for tire Maurya empire. As far as we know, in ancient times the Mauryas maintained the largest army and the largest regiment of officers. Despite the kinds of taxes imposed on the people, it was difficult to maintain this huge, superstructure. It seems that Ashoka made large grants to the Buddhist monks, which left the royal treasury empty. In order to meet expenses in the last stage they had to melt the images made of gold.

Oppressive Rule

Oppressive rule in the provinces-was an important cause of the break-up of the empire. In the reign of Bindusara the citizens of Taxila bitterly complained against the misrule of wicked bureaucrats (dushtamatyas). Their grievance was redressed by the appointment of Ashoka. But when Ashoka became emperor, a similar complaint was lodged by the same city. The Kalinga edicts show that Ashoka felt very much concerned about oppression in the provinces and, therefore, asked the mahamatras not to torture townsmen without due cause. For Oils purpose he introduced rotation of officers in Tosali (in Kalinga), Ujjain and Taxila. He himself spent 256 nights on a pilgrimage tour which may have helped administrative supervision. But all this failed to stop oppression in the outlying province and after his retirement Taxila took the earliest opportunity to throw off the imperial yoke.

New Knowledge-in the Outlying Areas

We have seen how Magadha owed its expansion to certain basic material advantages. Once the knowledge of the use of these elements of culture spread to central India, the Deccan and Kalinga as a result of toe expansion of the Magadhan empire, the Gangetic basin which formed the heart of the empire lost its special, advantage. The regular use of iron tools and-weapons in the peripheral provinces coincided with the decline and fall of the Maurya empire. On the basis of material culture acquired from Magadha, new kingdoms could be founded and developed. This explains the rise of the Shungas and Kanvas in central India, of the Chetis in Kalinga and that of the Satavahanas in the Deccan.

Since Ashok was mostly preoccupied with missionary activities at home and abroad, he could not pay attention to the safeguarding of the passage on the north-western frontier. This had become necessary in view of the movement of tribes in Central Asia in the third century B.C. The Scythians were in a state of constant flux. A nomadic people mainly relying on the use of horse they posed serious dangers to the settled empires in China and India. The Chinese ruler Shill Huang Ti (247-210 B.C.) constructed the Great Wall of China in about 220 B.C to shield his empire against the attacks of the Scythians. Such measures were not taken by Ashoka. Naturally when the Scythians made a push towards India, they forced the Parthians, the Shakas and, the Greeks to move towards India. The Greeks had set up a kingdom in north Afghanistan which was known as Bactria. They were the first to invade India in 206 B of This was followed by a series of invasions which continued till the beginning of the Christian era.

The Maurya Empire was finally destroyed by Pushyamitra Shunga in 185 B.C. Although a brahmana, he was a general of the last Maury a king called Brihadratha. He is said to have killed Brihadratha in public and forcibly usurped the throne of Pataliputra. The Shungas ruled in Pataliputra and central India and they performed several Vedic sacrifices in order to mark the revival of the brahmanieal way of life. It is said that they persecuted the Buddhists. They were succeeded by tire Kanvas who were also brahmanas.


1. Explain the meaning of the following terms and concepts: dharamparavarttaka, Orthos, pana, samoharta, sannidhata. Describe the economic measures adopted by the Maury a rulers. Describe the developments in material culture during the Maurya period. How did the Maurya empire help the spread of material culture, to different parts of the country?

2. Why did Maurya rulers maintain a vast bureaucracy?

3. Describe the Maurya contribution to Indian art arid architecture.

4. In what ways did the Maurya emperors encourage trade and commerce?

5. Discuss the causes of the decline of the Maurya empire.

6. Assess the significance of the Maurya empire in the history of India. On an outline map of India, mark the places where Ashokan inscriptions have been found.


16. Central Asian Contacts and their Results

The period which began in about 200 B.C. did not witness a large empire like that of the Mauryas, but it is notable for intimate and widespread contacts between Central Asia and India, In eastern India, central India and the Deccan, the Mauryas were succeeded by a number of native rulers such as the Shungas, the Kanvas and the Satavahanas. In north-western India they were succeeded by a number of ruling dynasties from Central Asia. Of them the Kushans became the most famous.

The Indo-Greeks

A series of invasions began in about 200 B.C. The first to cross the Hindukush were the Greeks, who ruled Bactria, lying south of the Oxus river in the area covered by north Afghanistan. The invaders came one after another, but some of them ruled at one and the same time. One important cause of invasions was the weakness of the Seleucid empire, which had been established in Bactria and the adjoining areas of Iran called Parthia. On account of growing pressure from the Scythian tribes, the later Greek rulers were unable to hold their power in this area. With the construction of the Chinese wall the Scythians were now pushed back from the Chinese border. So they turned their attention towards the neighbouring Greeks and Parthians. Pushed by the Scythian tribes, the Bactrian Greeks were forced to invade India. The successors of Ashoka were too weak to stem the tide.

The first to made India were the Greeks, who were called the Indo Greeks or Bactrian Greeks. In the beginning of the second century B.C., the Indo-Greeks occupied a large part of north-western India, much larger than that conquered by Alexander, it is said that they pushed forward as far as Ayodhya and Pataliputra. But the Greeks faked to establish united rule in India. Two Greek dynasties ruled northern India, on parallel lines, at one and the same time. The most famous Indo-Greek ruler was Menander (165-145 B.C.). He is also known by the name Milinda. He had his capital at. Sakala (modern Sialkot) in Punjab; and he invaded the Ganga yamuna doab. He was converted to Buddhism by Nagasena, who is also known as Nugarjuna. Menander asked Nagasena many questions relating to Buddhism. These questions and Nagasena’s answers were recorded in the form of a book known as Milinda Panho or the Question of Milinda.

The Indo-Greek rule is important in the fusion of India because of the large number of coins which the Greeks issued. The Indo-Greeks were the first rulers in India, to issue coins which can be definitely attributed to the kings. This is not possible in the case of the early punch-marked coins, which cannot be assigned with certainty to any dynasty. The Indo-Greeks were the first to issue gold coins in India which increased in number under the Kushanas. The Greek rule introduced features of Hellenistic, art in the north-west frontier of India. This art was not purely Greek. It was the outcome of the Greek contact with non-Greek conquered peoples after Alexander’s death. Gandhara art was its best example in India.

The Shakas

The Greeks were followed by the Shakas, who controlled a much larger part of India than the Greeks did. There were five branches of the Shakas with their seats of power in different parts of India and Afghanistan. One branch of the Shaka settled in Afghanistan. The second branch settled in Punjab with Taxila as its capital. The third branch settled in Mathura, where it ruled for about two centuries. The fourth branch established its hold over western India where the Shakas continued to rule until the fourth century A.D. The fifth branch of the Shakas established its power, in, the upper Deccan.

The Shakas did not meet much effective resistance from the rulers and peoples of India. In about 57-58 B.C. we hear about of king of Ujjain who effectively fought against the Shakas and succeeded in driving them out in his time. He called himself Vikramaditya and an era called the Vikrama Samvat is reckoned from, the event of his victory over the Shakas to 50 BC. Fom this time onward Vikaramaditya became a coveted title. Whoever achieved anything great adopted this title just as the Roman emporers adopted the title of Caesar in order to emphasize their great power. As a result of his practice we have as many as 14 Vikramadityas in Indian history. Chandragupta II was the most famous Vikramaditya. The title continued to be fashionable with the Indian kings till the twelfth century A.D. and it was especially prevalent in western India; and the western Deccan.

Although the Shakas established their rule in different parts of the country, only those, who ruled in western India held power for any considerable, length of time, Tor about, four centuries or so. They benefited from the seaborne trade hi Gujarat and issued large number of silver coins. The most famous Shaka ruler in India was Rudradaraan 1 (a d, 130-150). He ruled not only over Sindh, but also over a good part of Gujarat, Konkan, the Narmada valley, Malwa and Kathiawar. He is: famous; in history because of ills repairs he undertook to improve the Sudarshana Lake in the semi-arid zone of Kathiawar. This lake had been in use for irrigation for a long time and was as old as the time of the Mauryas.

Rudradama was a great lover of Sanskrit; although a foreigner settled in India, he issued the first-ever long inscription in chaste Sanskrit. All the eaMier longer Inscriptions that we have in this country were composed in sanskrit.

The Parthians

The Shakas domination in north-western India was followed by that of the Parthians in many ancient Indian Sanskrit texts the two peoples are together mentioned as Shakas and Pahlavas. In fact both of them ruled over this country on parallel lines for some time. Originally the Parthians lived in Iran from where they moved to India. In comparison with, the Greeks and the Shakas they occupied only a small portion of north-western India in the first century. The most famous Parthian king was Gondophernes, in whose reign St. Thomas is said to have come to India for the propagation of Christianity. In course of time, the Parthians, like the Shakas before them, became an integral part of Indian polity and society.

The Kushans

The Parthians were followed by the Kushans, who are also called Yuechis or Tocharians. The Kushans were one of the five clans into which the Yuechis tribe was divided. The nomadic people from the steppes of north Central Asia living in the neighbourhood of China, the Kushans, first occupied Bactria or north Afghanistan where they displaced the Shakas. Gradually they moved to the Kabul valley and seized Gandhara by crossing the Hindukush, replacing the rule of the Greeks and Parthians in these areas. Finally they set up their authority over the lower Indus basin and the greater part of the Gangetic basin. Their empire extended from the Oxus to the Ganga, from Khorasan in Central Asia to Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh. A good part of Central Asia now included in the Commonwealth of Independent States (in former USSR), a portion of Iran, a portion of Afghanistan, almost the whole of Pakistan and almost the whole of northern India were brought under one rule by the Kushans. This created a unique opportunity for the commingling of peoples and cultures and the process gave rise to a new type of culture which embraced nine modern countries.

We come across two successive dynasties of the Kushans. The first dynasty was founded by a house of chiefs who were called Kadphises and who ruled for 28 years from about A.D. 50. It had two kings. The first was Kadphises I, who issued coins south of the Hindukush. He minted coppers in imitation of Roman coins. The second king was Kadphises II, who issued a large number of gold money and spread his kingdom east of the Indus.

The house of Kadphises was succeeded by that of Kanishka. Its kings extended the Kushan power over upper India and the lower Indus basin. The early Kushan kings issued numerous gold coins with higher degree of metallic purity than is found in the Gupta gold coins. Although the gold coins of the Kushans are found mainly west of the Indus, their inscriptions are distributed hot only in north-western India and Sindh but also in Mathura, Shravasti, Kaushambi and Varanasi. Hence, besides the Ganga Yamuna doab they had set up their authority in the greater part of the middle Gangetic basin. Kushan coins, inscriptions, constructions and pieces of sculpture found in Mathura show that it was their second capital in India, the first being Purushapura or Peshawar, where Kanishka erected a monastery and a huge stupa or relic tower which excited the wonder of foreign travellers.

Kanishka was the most famous Kushan ruler. Although outside the borders of India he seems to have suffered defeat at the hands of the Chinese, he is known to history because of two reasons. First, he started an era in A.D. 78, which is now known as the Shaka era and is used by the Government of India. Secondly, Kanishka extended his wholehearted patronage to Buddhism. He held a Buddhist council in Kashmir, where the doctrines of the Mahayana form of Buddhism were finalized. Kanishka was also a great patron of art and Sanskrit literature.

The successors of Kanishka continued to rule in north-western India till about A.D. 230 and some of them bore typical Indian names such as Vasudeva.

The Kushan Empire in Afghanistan and in the area west of the Indus was supplanted in the mid-third century A.D. by the Sassanian power, which arose in Iran. But Kushan principalities continued to exist in India for about a century. The Kushan authority seems to have lingered in the Kabul valley, Kapisa, Bactria, Khorezm and Sogdiana (identical with Bokhara and Samarkand in Central Asia) in the third-fourth centuries. Many Kushan coins, inscriptions and terracottas have been found in these areas. Especially at a place called Toprak-Kala in Khorezm, which lies slouth of the Aral Sea, on the Oxus, a huge Kushan palace of the third-fourth centuries has been unearthed. It housed an administrative archives containing inscriptions and documents written in Khorezmain language.

Impact of Central Asian Contacts

Structures and Pottery

The Shaka-Kushan phase registered a distinct advance in building activities; Excavations have revealed several layers of construction, sometimes more than half a dozen at various sites in north India. In them we find the use of burnt bricks for flooring and that of tiles for both flooring and roofing. But the use of surkhi and tiles may not have been adopted from outside. The period is also marked by the construction of brick-walls. Its typical pottery is red ware, both plain and polished, with medium to fine fabric. The distinctive pots are sprinklers and spouted channels. They remind us of red pottery with thin fabric found in the same period in Kushan layers in Central Asia. Red pottery techniques were widely known in Central Asia and they are found even in regions like Farghana which were on the; peripheries of the Kushan cultural zone.

Better Cavalry

The Shakas and Kushans added new ingredients to Indian culture and enriched it immensely. They settled in India for good and completely identified themselves with its culture. Since they did not have their script, written language, or any organized religion, they adopted these components of culture from India. They became an integral part of Indian society to which they contributed considerably. They introduced better cavalry and the use of the riding horse on a large scale. They made common the use of reins and saddles, which appear in the Buddhist sculptures of the second and third centuries A.D. The Shakas and the Kushans excellent horsemen, Their passionate love for horsemanship is attested by numerous equestrian terracotta figures of Kushan times discovered from Begrani in Afghanistan. Some of these foreign horsemen were heavily, armoured and fought with spears and lances. Possibly they also used some kind of a toe stirrup made of-rope which facilitated their movements. The Shakas and Kushans introduced turban, tunic, trousers and heavy long coat. Even now the Afghans and Punjabis wear turbans and the sherwani is a successor of the long coat, The Central Asians also brought in cap, helmet and boots which were used by warriors, Because of these advantages they made a clean sweep of their opponents in Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, Later, when this military, technology spread in the country, the dependent princes turned them to good use against their former conquerors.

Trade and Agriculture

The coming of the Central Asian people established intimate contacts between Central Asia and India. As a result India received a good deal of gold from the Altai mountains in Central Asia. Gold also may have been received by it through trade with the Roman empire. The Kushans controlled the Silk Route, which started from China and passed through their empire in Central Asia and Afghanistan to Iran and Western Asia which formed part of the Roman empire in the eastern Mediterranean zone. This route was a source of great income to the Kushans and they built a large prosperous empire, because of the tolls levied from the traders. It is significant that the Kushans were the first rulers in India to issue gold coins on a wide scale.

The Kushans also promoted agriculture. The earliest archaeological traces of large-scale irrigation in Pakistan, Afghanistan and western Central Asia belong to the Kushan period.


The Central Asian conquerors imposed their rule on numerous petty native princes. This led to the development of a feudatory organization. The Kushans adopted the pompous title of king of kings which indicates their supremacy over numerous small princes who paid tributes.

The Shakas and the Kushans strengthened the idea of the divine origin of kingship. Ashoka was called dear to the gods but the Kushan kings were called sons of god. This title was adopted by the Kushans from the Chinese, who called their king the son of heaven. It was used in India naturally to legitimize the royal authority. The Hindu law giver Manu asks the people to respect the king even if he is a child, because he is a great god ruling in the form of a human being.

Since most of them came as conquerors they were absorbed in Indian society as a warrior class, that is, as the kshatriyas. Their placement in the brahmanical society was explained in a curious way. The law-giver Manu stated that the Shakas and the Parthians were the kshatriyas who had deviated from their duties and fallen in status. In other words, they came to be considered as second-class kshatriyas. In no other period of ancient Indian history were foreigners assimilated into Indian society on such a large scale as they were in the post Maurya times.

Religious Developments

Some of the foreign rulers were converted to Vaishnavism, which means the worship of Vishnu, the god of protection and preservation. The Greek ambassador called Heliodorus set up a pillar in honour of Vasudeva near Vidisa (headquarters of Vidisa district) in Madhya Pradesh around the middle of the second century B.C.

A few other rulers adopted Buddhism. The famous Greek ruler Menander became a Buddhist. The questions and the answers that he exchanged with the Buddhist teacher Nagasena, also called Nagaijuna, constitute a good source for the intellectual history of the post-Mauryan period. The Kushan rulers worshipped both Shiva and the Buddha and the images of these two gods appeared on the Kushan coins. Several Kushan rulers were worshippers of Vishnu. This was certainly the case with the Kushan ruler Vasudeva, whose very name is a synonym for Krishna, who was worshipped as an incarnation of Vishnu.

The Origin of Mahayana Buddhism

Indian religions underwent changes in post-Maurya times partly due to a big leap in trade and artisanal activity and partly due to the large influx of people from central Asia. Buddhism was especially affected. The monks and nuns could not afford to lose the cash donations from the growing body of traders and artisans concentrated in towns. Large numbers of coins have been found in the monastic areas of Nagarjunakonda in Andhra Pradesh. Further, the Buddhists welcomed foreigners who were non-vegetarians. All this meant laxity in the day-to-day living of the nuns and monks who led a sparse life. They now accepted gold and silver, took to non-vegetarian food and wore elaborate robes. Discipline became so slack that some renunciates even deserted the religious order or the Sangha and resumed the householder’s life. This new form of Buddhism came to be called the Mahayana or the Great Wheel. In the old puritan Buddhism certain things associated wan the Buddha were worshipped as his symbols. These were replaced with his images with the opening of the Christian era. Image worship in Buddhism seems to have led to this practice in brahmanism on a large scale. With the rise of the Mahayana the old puritan school of Buddhism came to be known as the Hinayana or the lesser Wheel.

Fortunately for the Mahayana, Kanishka became its great patron. He convened a council in Kashmir. The members of the council composed 300,000 words, which thoroughly explained the three pitakas of collections of Buddhist literature. Kanishka got these commentaries engraved on sheets of red copper, enclosed them in a stone receptacle and raised a stupa over it. If this tradition is correct, the discovery of the stupa with its copper inscriptions could shed new light on Buddhist texts and teachings. Kanishka set up many other stupas to perpetuate the memory of the Buddha.

Gandhara and Mathura Schools of Art

The foreign princes became enthusiastic patrons of Indian art and literature and they showed the zeal characteristic, of new converts. The Kushan empire brought together masons and other (artisans trained in different schools and countries. This gave rise to several schools of art: Central Asian, Gandhara and Mathura. Pieces of sculpture from Central Asia show synthesis of both local and Indian elements under the influence of Buddhism.

Indian craftsmen came into contact with the Central Asians, Greeks and Romans, especially in the northwestern frontier of India in Gandhara. This gave rise to a new kind of art in which images of the Buddha were made in the Greeco-Roman style. The hair of the Buddha was fashioned in the Graeeo-Roman style.

The influence of the Gandhara art also spread to Mathura although it was primarily a centre of indigenous art. Mathura produced beautiful images of the Buddha, but it is also famous for the headless erect statue of Kanishka whose name is inscribed on its lower part. It also produced several stone images of Varahamana Mahavira. Its pre-Gupta sculpture and inscriptions ignore Krishna, although Mathura is considered his birthplace and scene of early life. The Mathura school of art flourished in the early centuries of the Christian era and its products made of red sandstone are found even outside Mathura. At present the Mathura Museum possesses the largest collection of sculptures of Kushan times in India.

During the same period we notice beautiful k works of art at several places south of the Vindhyas. Beautiful Buddhist caves were constructed out of rocks in Maharashtra. In Andhra Pradesh, Nagarjunakonda and Amaravati became great centres of Buddhist art and the stories connected with the Buddha came to be portrayed in numerous panels. The earliest panels dealing with Buddhism are found at Gaya, Sanchi and Bharhut and belong to the second century B.C. But we notice further development in sculpture in the early centuries of the Christian era.

The foreign princes patronized and cultivated Sanskrit literature. The earliest specimen of kavya style is found in the Junagadh inscription of Rudradarnan in Kathiawar in, about A.D. 150. From now onwards inscriptions began to be composed in chaste Sanskrit, although the use of Prakrit in composing inscriptions continued till the fourth century A.D. and even later.

It seems that some of the great creative writers such as Ashvaghosha enjoyed the patronage of the Kushans. Ashvaghosha wrote the Buddha charita, which is a biography of the Buddha. He also composed the Saundarananda, which is a fine example of Sanskrit kavya.

The progress of Mahayan Buddhism led to the composition of numerous avadanas. Most of these texts were composed in what is known as the Buddhist-Hybrid Sanskrit. Their one objective was to preach the teachings of Mahayana Buddhism to the people. Some of the important books of this genre were the Mahavastu and the Divyavadana.

The Greeks contributed to the development of the Indian theatre by introducing the use of the curtain. Since the curtain was borrowed from the Greeks it came to be known as yavanika. This word was derived from the term yavana, which was a sanskritized form of Ionian, a branch of the Greeks known to the ancient Indians. In the beginning, the, term yavana was used to refer to the Greeks but at a later stage it came to be used for all kinds of foreigners.

The best example of secular literature appears in tire Kamasutra of Vatsyayana. Attributed to the third century A.D., it is the earliest work on erotics dealing with sex and love-making. It gives us a picture of the life of a city-bred person or nagaraka who lived in a period of thriving urbanism.

Science and Technology

In post-Mamya times Indisi n astronomy and astrology profited from contact with the Greeks. We notice many Greek terms about the movement of planets in Sanskrit texts. Indian astrology came to be influenced by Greek ideas and from the Greek term horoscope was derived the term horashastra used for astrology in Sanskrit. The Greek coins, which were properly shaped and stamped, were a great improvement on punch-marked coins. The Greek term drachrria came to be known as dramma. In return the Greek rulers used the Brahmi script and represented some Indian motifs on their coins. Dogs, cattle, spices and ivory pieces were exported by the Greeks, but whether they learnt any craft from India is not clear.

However, the Indians did not owe anything striking to the Greeks in medicine, botany and chemistry. These three subjects were dealt with by Charaka and Sushruta. The Charakasamhita contains names of numerous plants and herbs from which drugs are to be prepared for the use of patients. The processes laid down for the poupding and mixing of the plants give us an insight into the developed knowledge of chemistry in ancient India. For the cure of ailments the ancient Indian physician relied chiefly on plants, for which the Sanskrit word is oshadhi and as a result medicine itself came to be known as aushadhi.

in the field of technology also the Indians seem to have benefited from contact with the Central Asians. Kanishka is represented as wearing trousers and long boots. Possibly the practice of making leather shoes began in India during this period. In any case the Kushan copper coins in India were imitations of the Roman coins. Similarly gold coins in India were struck by the Kushans in imitation of Roman gold coins. We hear of two embassies being exchanged between the Indian kings and the Roman kings. Embassies were sent from India to the court of the Roman emperor Augustus in A D, 27-28 and also to the Roman emperor Trajan in A.D. 110-20. Thus the contacts of Rome with ancient India may have introduced new practices in technology. Working in glass during this period was especially influenced by foreign ideals and practices. In no other period in ancient India did glass-making make such progress as it did during this period.


1. Explain the reasons for the invasions by the Indo-Greeks, Parthians, Shakas and Kushans.

2. Prepare a chart to show the chronology of the Indo-Greeks, the Parthians, the Shakas and the Kushans. Indicate the areas ruled by them.

3. Discuss the impact of the Central Asian contacts on India’s political system, society, and science and technology.

4. Describe the development of Mahayana Buddhism.

5. Describe the developments in art and literature during the period 200 B.C.-A.D. 300, with examples. Describe the characteristic features of the Gandhara and Mathura schools of art.

6. On an outline map of India, show the areas which cam e under the rule of the Indo-Greek, Parthian, Shaka and Kushan kings. Also prepare a list of the names of places mentioned in the text and show them in the map.

7. Take up a group project to show how Indian culture was enriched during this period.


17. The Age of the Satvahans

Political History

The most important of the native successors of the Mauryas in the north were the Shungas followed by the Kanvas. In the Deccan and in central India, the Satavahanas succeeded the Mauryas although after a gap of about 100 years. The Satavahanas are considered to be identical with the Andhras who are mentioned in the Puranas. The Puranas speak only of the Andhra rule and not of the Satavahana rule. On the other hand the name Andhra does not occur in Satavahana inscriptions. Pre Satavahana settlements are attested by the finds of red ware, black-and red ware and russet-coated painted ware at many sites in the Deccan. Most of these are associated with the iron using megalith builders who were stimulated to new activity by contacts with the material culture from the north. The use of iron share, paddy transplantation and the coming of urbanism, writing, etc. created conditions for state formation under the Satavahanas. According to some Puranas, altogether the Andhras ruled for 300 years and this period is assigned to the rule of the Satavahana dynasty. The earliest inscriptions of the Satavahanas belong to the first century B.C., when they defeated the Kanvas and established their power to parts of central India. The early Satavahana kings appeared not in Andhra, but in north Maharashtra where their earliest coins and inscriptions have been found. They set up their power in the upper Godavari valley, which at present produces rich and diverse crops in Maharashtra.

Gradually the Satavahanas extended their power over Karnataka and Andhra. Their greatest competitors were the Shakas, who had established their power in the upper Deccan and western India. At one stage the Satavahanas were dispossessed of their dominions by the Shakas in Maharashtra and western India. The fortunes of the family were restored by Gautamiputra Satakarni (A D. 106-130). He called himself the only brahmana. He defeated the Shakas and destroyed many kshatriya rulers. He claims to have destroyed the Kshaharata lineage to which his adversary Nahapana belonged. This claim is true, because more than 8,000 silver coins of Nahapana, found near Nasik, bear marks of being restruck by the Satavahana king. He also occupied Malwa and Kathiawar which lay under the control of the Shakas. It seems that the empire of Gautamiputra Satakarni extended from Malwa in the north to Karnataka in the south. Possibly he also enjoyed general authority over Andhra.

The successors of Gautamiputra ruled till A.D. 220. The coins and inscriptions of his immediate successor Vashishthiputra Pulumayi (A.D. 130-154) are found in Andhra and show that by the middle of the second century this area had become a part of the Satavahana kingdom. He set up his capital at Paithan or Pratishthan on the Godavari in Aurangabad district. The Shakas resumed their conflict with the Satavahanas for the possession of the Konkan coast and Malwa. Rudradaman 1 (A.D. 130-150), the Shaka ruler of Saurashtra (Kathiawar), defeated the Satavahanas twice, but did not destroy them on account of matrimonial relations. Yajna Sri Satakarni (A.D. 165-194), one of the later kings, recovered north Konkan and Malwa from the Shaka rulers. He was a lover of trade and navigation. His coins have been found not only in Andhra but also in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. His love for navigation and overseas trade is shown by the representation of a ship on his coins.

Aspects of Material Culture

The material culture of the Deccan under the Satavahanas was a fusion of local elements and northern ingredients. The megalith builders of the Deccan were fairly acquainted with the use of iron and agriculture; Although before circa 200 B.C. we find some hoes made of iron, the number of such tools increased substantially in the first two or three centuries of the Christian era. We do not notice much change in the form of the hoes from the megalithic to the Satavahana phase. Only hoes were now fully and properly socketed. Besides socketed hoes, sickles, spades, ploughshares, axes, adzes, razors, etc., belong to the Satavahana layers of the excavated sites. Tanged and socketed arrow-heads as well as daggers have also been discovered. At a site in Karimnagar district even a blacksmith’s shop has been discovered. The Satavahanas may have exploited the iron ores of Karimnagar and Warangal, for in these districts indications of iron workings as early as the megalithic phase have been found. Evidence of ancient gold workings has been found in the Kolar fields in the pre-Christian centuries and later. The Satavahanas may have used gold as bullion, for they did not issue gold coins as the Kushans did. They issued mostly coins of lead, which is found in the Deccan. They also issued potin, copper and bronze money. The Ikshvakus, who succeeded the Satavahanas in the early third century A.D. in the eastern Deccan, also issued their coins. Both the Satavahanas and Ikshvakus seem to have exploited the mineral resources of the Deccan.

The people of the Deccan knew the art of paddy transplantation and in the first two centuries the area between the Krishna and the Godavari, especially at the mouths of the two rivers, formed a great rice bowl. The people of the Deccan also produced cotton. In foreign accounts, Andhra is considered to be famous for its cotton products. Thus, a good portion of the Deccan developed a very advanced rural economy. According to Pliny, the Andhra Kingdom maintained an army of 100,000 infantry, 2000 cavalry and 1000 elephants. This presupposes a large rural population and apparently the peasants produced enough to support this military strength.

Through contacts with the north, the people of the Deccan learnt the use of coins, burnt bricks, ring-wells, art of writing, etc. These components of material life have come quite important in the Deccan a couple of centuries later. In Peddabankur (200 B.C. A.D. 200) in Karimnagar district, we find regular use of fire-baked bricks and use of flat, perforated roof tiles. Ml this must have contributed to the longevity of constructions. What is further remarkable is the fact that as many as 22 brick wells belonging to the second Century A.D. have been discovered at that site. Naturally these facilitated dense habitations and we find there covered drains underground to lead waste water into soakage pits. Towns appeared in Maharashtra by the first century B.C., when we find several crafts. They emerged in the eastern Deccan a century later. Pliny informs us that the Andhra country in the eastern Deccan included 30 walled towns, besides numerous villages. Several towns of the second and third centuries in this area are known from inscriptions and excavations. Increasing trade is indicated by numerous Roman and Satavahana coins. They appeared about a century later in the eastern Deccan, in the Godavari-Krishna area.

Social Organization

The Satavahanas originally seem to have been a tribe of the Deccan. But they were brahrnanized and their most famous king Gautamiputra Satakarni claims to have established the four-fold varna system which had fallen into disorder. He boasts that he put an end to the intermixture between the people of different social orders. Such confusion was probably caused by the Shaka infiltration and by the thin and superficial brahmanization of the tribes living in the Deccan. The absorption of the Shakas in brahmanical society as kshatriyas was facilitated by intermarriage between the Shakas and the Satavahanas. Similarly, the indigenous tribal people were more and more acculturated by the Buddhist monks, who were induced by land grants to settle in the western Deccan. It is suggested that traders also supported the Buddhist monks for the earliest caves seem to have been located on the trade routes. The Satavahanas were also the first rulers to make land grants to the brahmanas, although we have more instances of grants being made to Buddhist monks.

According to the Dharmashastras, it was the function of the kshatriyas to rule, but the Satavahana rulers called themselves brahmanas. Gautamiputra boasts that he was the true brahmana. Since the Andhras are identified with the early Satavahanas, probably they were a local tribe who were converted to brahmanism. The orthodox brahmanas of the north looked upon the Andhras as a mixed caste. This shows that Andhras were tribal people who were brought within the fold of brahmanical society as a mixed caste.

Increasing craft and commerce in this period brought many merchants and artisans to the forefront. Merchants took pride in naming themselves after the towns to which they belonged. Both artisans and merchants made generous donations to the Buddhist cause. They set up small memorial tablets. Among the artisans the gandhikas or the perfumers are repeatedly mentioned as donors. At a later stage the term gandhika became so general as to connote all kinds of shopkeepers. The modern title Gandhi is derived from this ancient term.

The most interesting detail about the Satavahanas relates to their family structure. In Aryan society in north India, father enjoyed greater importance than mother and the north Indian princes whom we have considered so far seem to have belonged to a patriarchal society. But the Satavahanas show traces of a matrilineal social structure. It was customary for their king to be named after his mother. Such names as Gautamiputra and Vashishthiputra indicate that in their society mother enjoyed a great deal of importance. At present in peninsular India the son’s name includes a part of the father’s name and there is no place for mother in it; this shows patriarchal influence. Queens made important religious gifts in their own right and some of them acted as regents. But basically the Satavahana ruling family was patriarchal because succession to the throne passed to the male member.

Pattern of Administration

The Satavahana rulers strove for the royal ideal set forth in the Dharmashastras. The king was represented as the upholder of dharma.

To him were assigned a few divine attributes. The Satavahana king is represented as possessing the qualities of mythical heroes such as Rama, Bhima, Keshava, Arjuna, etc. He is compared in prowess and lustre to these legendary figures and to supernatural forces. This was evidently meant to attribute divinity to the Satavahana king.

The Satavahanas retained some of the administrative units found in Ashokan times. Their district was called ahara, as it was known in the time of Ashoka. Their officials were known as amatyas and mahamatras, as they were known in Maurya times.

But we notice certain military and feudal traits in the administration of the Satavahanas. It is significant that the senapati was appointed provincial governor. Since the tribal people in the Deccan were not thoroughly brahmanized and reconciled to the hew rule, it was necessary, to keep them under strong military control. The administration in the rural areas was placed in the hands of gaulmika, who was the head of a military regiment consisting of nine chariots, nine elephants, 25 horses and 45 foot-soldiers. The head of the army platoon was therefore posted in the countryside to maintain peace and order.

The military, character of the Satavahana rule is also evident from the common use of such terms as kataka and skandhavaras in their inscriptions. These were military camps and settlements which served as administrative centres so long as the king was there. Thus coercion played a key role in the Satavahana administration.

The Satavahanas started the practice of granting tax-free villages to brahmanas and Buddhist monks. The cultivated fields and villages granted to them were declared free from molestation by royal policemen and: soldiers and all kinds of royal officers. These areas therefore became small independent islands within the Satavahana kingdom. Possibly the Buddhist monks also preached peace and rules of good conduct among the people they lived with and taught them to respect political authority and social order. The brahmanas, of course, helped enforce the rules of the varna system which made society stable.

The Satavahana kingdom had three grades of feudatories. The highest grade was formed by the king who was called raja and who had the right to strike coins. The second grade was formed by the maharja and the third grade by the senapati. It seems that these feudatories and landed beneficiaries enjoyed some authority in their respective localities.


The Satavahana rulers were brahmanas and they represented the march of triumphant brahmanism. From the very beginning kings and queens performed the Vedic sacrifices such as the ashvamedha vajapeya, etc. They also worshipped a large number of Vaishnava gods such as Krishna, Vasudeva and others. They paid liberal sacrificial fees to the brahmanas.

However, the Satavahana rulers promoted Buddhism by granting land to the monks. In their kingdom the Mahayana form of Buddhism commanded considerable following, especially in the artisan class. Nagarjunkonda and Amaravati in Andhra Pradesh became important seats of Buddhist culture under the Satavahlmas and more so under their successors, the lkshvakus. Similarly, Buddhism flourished in the Nasik and Junar areas in the western Deccan in Maharashtra, where it seems to have been supported by the traders.


In the Satavahana phase many chaityas (sacred shrines) and monasteries were cut out of the solid rock in the north-western Deccan or Maharashtra with great skill and patience. In fact the process had started about a century earlier in about 200 B.C. The two common religious constructions were the Buddhist temple which was called chaitya and the monastery which was called vihara. The chaitya was a large hall with a number of columns and the vihara consisted of a central hall entered by a doorway from a verandah in. front. The most famous chaitya is that of Karle in the western Deccan. It is about 40 metres long, 15 metres wide and 15 metres high. It is a most impressive specimen of massive rock architecture.

The viharas or monasteries were excavated near the chaityas for the residence of monks in the rainy season. At Nasik we have three viharas. Since they carry the inscriptions Of Nahapana and Gautamiputra, it seems that they belong to the first second centuries A.D.

Rock-cut architecture is also to be found in Andhra in the Krishna Godavari region, but the region is really famous for independent Buddhist structures, mostly in the form of stupas. The most famous of them are Amaravati and Nagarjunakonda. The stupa was a large round structure erected over some relic of the Buddha. The Amaravati stupa began in about 200 B.G. but was completely reconstructed in the second half of the second century A.D. Its dome measured 53 metres across the base and it seems to have been 33 metres in height. The Amaravati stupa is full of sculptures which depict the various scenes from the life of the Buddha.

Nagaijunakonda prospered most in the second-third centuries under the patronage of the Ikshvakus, the successors of the Satavahanas. It contains not only Buddhist monuments but also the earliest brahmanical brick temples. Nearly two dozen monasteries can be counted here. Together with its stupas and mahachaityas it appears to be the richest in structure in the early centuries of the Christian era.


The official language of the Satavahanas was Prakrit. All inscriptions were composed in this language and written in the Brahmi script, as was the case in Ashokan times. Some Satavahana kings may have composed Prakrit books. One Prakrit text called Gathasattasaior the Gathasaptasatiis attributed to a Satavahana king called Hala. It consisted of 700 verses, all written in Prakrit, hut it seems to have been finally re-touched much later, possibly after the sixth century A.D.


1. Explain the meaning of the following terms and concepts: matrilineal, gandhika, chaitya, vihara, stupa, Prakrit

2. Who were the Satavahanas? Give an account of their political history.

3. Were the Satavahanas the true successors of the Mauryas in the Deccan? Discuss.

4. Describe the system of administration under the Satavahanas.

5. Describe the development of art and architecture under the Satavahanas.

6. Describe the social organization during the age of the Satavahanas. Discuss its special features.

7. Give an account of religion in the Satavahana territories.

8. On an outline map of India, show the territories under Satavahana rule. Also show contemporary kingdoms in other parts of India.


18. The Dawn of History in Deep South

The Megalithic Background

After the pre-historic age several elements mark the beginning of the historical period. These are: settlements of large scale rural communities which plough agriculture with the help of the ironshare, formation of the state system, rise of social classes use of writing, use of metal money beginnings of written literature. All these phenomena are not found at the tip of the peninsula with the Kaveri delta as the nuclear zone until about the second century B.C. Up to this period the upland portions of the peninsula were inhabited by people who are called megalith builders. They are known not from their actual settlements which are rare, but from their graves. These graves are called megaliths because they were encircled by big pieces of stone. They contain not only skeletons of people who were buried but also pottery and iron objects. The people used various types of pottery including red ware, but black-and-red ware seems to have been popular with them. Obviously the practice of burying goods in the graves with the dead bodies was based on the belief that the dead would need all these in the next world. These goods give us an idea of their sources of livelihood. We find arrowheads, spearheads and also hoes and sickles, all made of iron Tridents which later came to be associated with Shiva, have also, been found in the megaliths. However, compared to the number of agricultural tools that were buried, those meant for fighting and hunting ate larger in number. This would show that megalithic people did not practise aft advanced type of agriculture.

The megaliths are found in all upland areas of the peninsula, but their concentration seems to be in eastern Andhra and in Tamil Nadu. The beginnings of the megalithic culture can be traced to circa 1000 B.C., but in many cases the megalithic phase lasted from about the fifth to the first century B.C., in a few places this phase persisted even as late as the early centuries of the Christian era.

The Cholas, Pandyas and Keralaputras (Cheras) mentioned in Ashokan inscriptions were probably in the late megalithic phase of material culture. The megalithic people in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu had certain peculiar characteristics. They buried the skeletons of the dead in urns made of red pottery in pits. In many cases these urns were not surrounded by stone circles and grave goods were not too many. The practice of urn burial was different from that of cist-burial or pit-burial surrounded by stone circles, which prevalent in the Krishna-Godavari valley. But at any rate, in spite of the use of iron, the megalithic people depended partly for settlement and burials on the slopes of the hills. Although the megalithic people produced paddy and rapt, apparently the area of cultivable land used, by them was very limited and generally they did not settle on the plains or the low lands due to the thick forest cover.

State Formation and Rise of Civilization

By the third century B.C., the megalithic Burial people had moved from the uplands into fertile river basins and reclaimed marshy deltaic areas. Under the stimulus of contact with the elements of material culture brought from the north to the extreme end of the peninsula by traders, conquerors and Jaina, Buddhist and some brahmana missionaries, they came to practise wet paddy cultivation, founded numerous villages and towns and came to have social classes. Cultural and economic contacts between the north and the deep south known as Tamizhakam became extremely important from the fourth century B.C. The route to the south called the Dakshinapatha was valued by the northerners because the south supplied gold, pearls and various precious stones. The Pandya country was known to Megasthenes who lived in Patalipujxai. The earlier Sangam texts are familiar with the rivers Ganga and Son and also with Pataliputra which was the capital of the Magadhan empire. The Ashokan inscriptions mention the Cholas, Pandyas, Keralaputras and Satyaputras living on the borders of the empire; of these only the Satyaputras are not clearly identified. Tamraparnis or the people of Sri Lanka are also mentioned. Ashoka’s title dear to gods was adopted by a Tamil chief. All this was the result of the missionary and ac culturating activities of the Jain as, Buddhists, Ajivikas and brahmanas as well as the traders who went along in their train. It is significant that Ashokan inscriptions were set up on important highways. In the earliest stage much of the influence of Gangetic culture over the south was felt through the activities of the heterodox sects which are mentioned in the earliest Tamil Brahmi inscriptions. The brahmanical influence also percolated in a large measure to the Tamizhakam, but this really happened after the fourth century A.D. Eventually many elements of Tamil culture spread to the north and in the brahmanical texts the Kaveri came to be regarded as one of the holy rivers in the country.

These southern kingdoms would not have developed without the spread of iron technology which promoted forest clearing and plough cultivation. The distribution of the punch-marked coins of the janapada and of the Imperial Magadhan type shows the development of north-south trade.

Flourishing trade with the Roman empire contributed to the formation of the three states respectively under the Cholas, Cheras and Pandyas. From the first century A.D. onwards the rulers of these peoples derived benefit from the exports and imports that went on between the coastal parts of south India on the one hand and the eastern dominions of the Roman empire, especially Egypt, on the other.

Three Early Kingdoms

The southern end of the Indian peninsula situated south of the Krishna river was divided into three kingdoms — Chola, Pandya and Chera or Kerala. The Pandyas are first mentioned by Megasthenes, who says that their kingdom was celebrated for pearls. He also speaks of its being ruled by a woman, which may suggest some matriarchal influence in the Pandya society.

The Pandya territory occupied the southern-most and the south-eastern portion of the Indian peninsula and it roughly included the modern districts of Tirunelveli, Ramnad and Madurai in Tamil Nadu. It had its capital at Madurai. The literature compiled in the Tamil academies in the early centuries of the Christian era and called the Sangam literature refers to the Pandya rulers, but it does not give any connected account. One or two Pandya conquerors are mentioned. However, it is evident from this literature that the country was wealthy and prosperous. The Pandya kings profited from trade with the Roman empire and sent embassies to the Roman emperor Augustus. The brahmanas enjoyed considerable influence and the Pandya king performed Vedic sacrifices in the early centuries of the Christian era.

The Chola kingdom, which came to be called Cholamandalam (Coromandel) in early medieval times, was situated to the north-east of the territory of the Pandyas, between the Pennar and the Velar rivers. We have some idea of the political history of the SOUTH Cholas from the Sangam texts. Their chief centre of political power lay at Uraiyur, a place famous for cotton trade. It seems that in the middle of the second century B.C., a Chola king named Elata conquered Sri Lantya and ruled over it for nearly 50 years. A firmer history of the Cholas begins in the second century A.D. with their famous king Kankala. He founded Puhar and construe ted 160 km of embankment along the Kaveri river. This was built with the labour of 12,000 slaves who were brought as captives from Sri Lanka. Puhar is identical with Kaveripattanam, which was the Chola capital. It was a great centre of trade and commerce and excavations show that it had a large dock. One of the main sources of the wealth of the Cholas was trade in cotton cloth. They maintained an efficient navy.

Under Karikala’s successors the Chola power rapidly declined. Their capital, Kaveripattanam, was overwhelmed and destroyed. Their two neighbouring powers, the Cheras and the Pandyas, extended at the cost of the Cholas. What remained of the Chola power was almost wiped out by the attacks of the Pallavas from the north. From the fourth to the, ninth century A D the Cholas played only a marginal part in south Indian history.

The Chera or the Kerala country was situated to the west and north of the land of the Pandyas. It included the narrow strip of land between the sea and the mountains and covered portions of both Kerala and Tamil Nadu. In the early centuries of the Christian era, the Chera country was as important as the Country of the Cholas and the Pandyas. It owed its Importance to trade with the Romans. The Romans set-up two regiments at Muziris identical with Cranganore in the Chera country to protect their interests. It is said that they also built there a temple of Augustus.

The history of the Cheras was marked by continuous fight with the Cholas and the Pandyas. Although the Cheras killed the father of the Chola king Karikala the Chera king also lost his life. Later the two kingdoms temporarily became friends and concluded a matrimonial alliance. The Chera king next allied himself with the Pandya rulers against the Cholas. But the Cholas defeated the allies and it is said that since the Chera king was wounded in the back he committed suicide out of shame.

According to the Chera poets their greatest king was Senguttuvan, the Red or Good Chera. He routed his rivals and established his cousin securely on the throne. It is said that he invaded the north and crossed the Ganga. But all this seems to be exaggerated. After the second century A.D the Chera power declined and we know nothing of its history until the eighth century A D.

The main interest of the political history of these three kingdoms lies in the continuous wars they fought with one another and also with Sri Lanka.

Although the wars weakened these states, they very much profited from their; natural resources and foreign trade. These kingdoms were fairly rich. They grew spices, especially pepper, which was in great demand in the western world. Their elephants supplied ivory which was highly valued in the West. The sea yielded pearls and their mines produced precious stones and both these were sent to the West in good quantity. In addition to this they produced muslin and silk. We hear of cotton cloth as thin as the slough of a snake. The early Tamil poems also mention the weaving: of complex patterns on silk. Uraivur was noted for its cotton trade. In ancient times the Tamils traded with the Greek or Hellenistic kingdom Of Egypt and Arabia on the one side and with the Malay; archipelago and from there with China on the other. As a result of trade the words for rice, ginger, cinnamon and several other articles in Greek language wore derived from Tamil language. When Egypt became a Roman province and when the monsoon was discovered about the beginning of the first century A.D this trade received great impetus. Thus for the first two and a half centuries A.D the southern kingdoms carried on lucrative trade with the Romans. With the decline of this trade, these kingdoms also began to decay.

The Purse and the Sword

Trade, local and long-distance, constituted a very important source of royal revenue. We know how the customs officials functioned in Puhar. Transit duties were also collected from merchants who moved with their goods from place to place. For the safety of merchants and prevention of smuggling, soldiers maintained constant vigil on the road.

Spoils of war further added to royal income. But the real foundation of war and polity lay in regular income from agriculture. The share of the agricultural produce, claimed and collected by the king, is not specified. The tip of the peninsula and the adjacent regions were extremely fertile. The land produced paddy, ragi and sugarcane. It was said of the Kaveri delta that the space in which an elephant could lie down produced enough to feed seven persons. In addition to this, the Tamil region produced grains, fruit, pepper and turmeric. It seems that the king had a share in all this produce.

Apparently out of the taxes collected from the peasantry, the state maintained a rudimentary army. It consisted of chariots drawn by oxen, of elephants, cavalry and infantry. Elephants played an important part in War. Horses were imported by sea into the Pandyan kingdom. The nobles and princes or captains of army rode on elephants and the commanders drove on chariots. The footmen and horsemen wore leather sandles for the protection of their feet.

Rise of Social Classes

Income from trade, war booty and agricultural produce enabled the king not only to maintain groups of professional warriors but also to pay the bards and priests, who were mainly brahmanas. The brahmanas first appear in the Tamil land in the Sangam age. An ideal king was one who never hurt the brahmanas. Many, brahmanas functioned as poets and in this role they were generously rewarded by the king. Karikala is said to have given one poet 1,600,000 gold pieces but this seems to be an exaggeration. Besides gold, tble poets or bards also received cash, land, chariots, horses and even elephants. The Tamil brahmanas took meat and wine. The kshatriyas and vaishyas appear as regular varnas in the Sangam texts. But the class of warriors was an important element in polity and society. Captains of the army were invested with the title of enadi at a formal ceremony. Civil and military offices; were held under both the Cholas and the Pandyas by vellallas or rich peasants. The ruling class was called arasar and its members had-marriage relations with the vellalas, whet formed-the fourth caste. They held the bulk of the land and thus constituted the peasantry, divided into the rich and the poor. The rich did not plough the land themselves but employed labourers for this purpose. Agricultural operations were generally carried on by members of the lowest class (kadaisiyar) whose status appears to have differed little from that of the slave.

Some artisans were not different from agricultural labourers. The pariyars were agricultural labourers who also worked in animal skin Wand used them as mats. Several outcastes and forest tribes suffered from extreme poverty and lived from hand to mouth. We notice sharp social inequalities in the age of the Sangam. The rich lived in houses of brick and mortar and the poor in huts and humbler structures. In the cities the rich merchants lived in the upper storey of their houses. But it is not clear whether rites and religion were used to maintain social inequalities. We notice the emergence of the brahmanas and the ruling caste, but acute caste distinctions which appeared in later times are lacking in the early Sangam age.

Beginnings of Brahmanism

The State and society that were formed in the Tamil land in the early centuries of the Christian era developed under the impact of brahmards cn, But the brahmanical influence was confined to a small part of the Tarail territory and only to the upper levels of Tamil society in that area. The kings performed Vedic sacrifices. The brahmanas, who were the followers of the Vedas, carried on disputations. But the chief local god worshipped by the people of the hilly region was Murugan, who came to be called Subramaniya in early medieval times. The worship of Vishnu is also mentioned, although it may have been a later practice. The megalithic practice of providing for the dead continued. People offered paddy to the dead. Cremation was introduced, but inhumation followed in the megalithic phase was not abandoned.

Tamil Language and Sangam Literature

All that has been stated above about the life of the Tamils in the beginning of the historical period is based on the Sangam literature. As shown earlier, the Sangam was a college or assembly of Tamil poets held probably under chiefly or royal patronage. But we do not know the number of Sangams or the period for which they were held. It is stated in a Tamil commentary of the middle of the eight century A D; that three Sangams lasted for 9-990 years. They were attended by 8-598 poets and had 197 Pandya kings as patrons. All this is wild exaggeration. All that can be said is that a Sangam was held under royal patronage in Madurai.

The available Sangam literature which was produced by these assemblies was compiled in circa A.D. 300-600. But parts of this literature look back to at least, the second century A.D. The Sangam literature can roughly be divided into two groups, narrative and didactic. The narrative texts axe called Melkannakku or Eighteen Major Works. They comprise eighteen major works consisting of eight anthologies and ten idylls. The didactic works are called Kilkanakku or Eighteen Minor Works.

Social Evolution from Sangam, Texts

Both types suggest several stages of social evolution. The narrative texts are considered works of heroic poetry, in which heroes are glorified and perpetual wars and cattle raids frequently mentioned. They show that the early Tamil people were primarily pastoral. Traces of early megalithic life appear in the Sangam texts. The earliest megalithic people seem to be possibly pastoralists, hunters and fishermen although they also produced rice. Hoes and sickles occur at many sites in peninsular India but not the ploughshares. Other iron objects include wedges, flat celts, arrowheads, long swords and lances, spikes and spearheads, horse-bits, etc. These tools were meant mainly for war and hunting. This has some parallels in the Sangam texts which speak of perpetual war and cattle raids. The texts suggest that war booty was an important source of livelihood. They also state that when a hero dies he is reduced to a piece of stone. This reminds us of the circles of stone which were raised on the graves of the megalithic people. It may have led to the later practice of raising hero stones called virarkal in honour of the heroes who died fighting for kine and other objects.It is likely that the earliest phase of social evolution reflected in the Sangarh works relates to the early megalithic stage.

The narrative Sangam texts also give some idea of the state formation in which the army consisted of groups of warriors and the taxation system and judiciary appeared in a rudimen tary state. The texts also tell us about trade, merchants, craftsmen and farmers. They speak of several towns such as Kanchi, Korkai, Madurai, Puhar and Uraiyur. Of them Puhar or Kaveripattanam was the most important. The Sangam references to towns and economic activities Eire attested by Greek and Roman accounts and by the excavation of the Sangam sites.

A good deal of Sangam texts, including the didactic texts, was the work of the brahmana Prakrit-Sanskrit scholars. The didactic texts cover the early centuries of the Christian era and prescribe a code of conduct not only for the king and his court but also for various social groups and occupations. All this could have been possible only after the fourth century A.D. when brahmanas appear in good numbers under the Pallavas. The texts also refer to grants of villages and also to the descent of kings from solar and lunar dynasties: this practice started in north India around the sixth century A.D.

Besides the Sangam texts, we have a text called Tolkkappiyam, which deals with grammar and poetics. Another important Tamil text deals with philosophy and wise maxims; this text is called Tirukural. In addition to this we have the twin Tamil epics of Silappadikaram and Manimekalai. The two were composed around the sixth century A.D. The first is considered to be the brightest gem of early Tamil literature. It deals with a love story in which a dignitary called Kovalan prefers a courtesan called Madhavi of Kaveripattanam to his noble wedded wife Kannagi. The author apparently seems to be a Jaina and tries to locate the scenes of the story in all the kingdoms of the Tamil country. The other epic Manimekalai was written by a grain merchant of Madurai. It deals with the adventures of the daughter born of the union of Kovalan and Madhavi though this epic is of more religious than literary interest. It is claimed in the prologues to the two epics that the authors were friends and contemporaries of the Chera king Senguttuvan, who ruled in the second century A.D. Though the epics cannot be dated so early, they throw light on the social and economic life of the Tamils up to about the sixth century A.D.

The art of writing was doubtless known to the Tamils before the beginning of the Christian era. More than 75 short inscriptions in the Brahmi script have been found in natural caves, mainly in the Madurai region. They provide the specimens of the earliest form of Tamil mixed with Prakrit words. They belong to the second-first centuries B.C. when the Jaina and Buddhist missionaries appeared in this area. Inscribed potsherds during recent excavations have been found at several places and they provide examples of Tamil language in the beginning of the Christian era. It is therefore no wonder that considerable Sangam literature was produced in the early centuries of the Christian era, although it was finally compiled by A D. 600.


1. Explain the meaning of the following terms and concepts: Tamizhakam, vellalas, enadl arasar, kadaisiyar, pariyars, virarkal

2. What is meant by ‘megalithlc phase’ in the history of southern India? Describe the material culture of the people during this phase.

3. What is meant by Sangam literature? Describe the social, economic and political conditions that this literature depicts.

4. Discuss the changes that took place in southern India during the early centuries of the Christian era, and the factors that brought them about.

5. Describe the political history of the Pandyas, the Cheras and the Cholas up to the third century A.D.

6. Discuss the-place of commerce in the territories under Pandya. Chera and Chola rule.

7. On an outline map of India, indicate the areas which comprised the kingdoms of the Cholas, the Pandyas and the Cheras. Mark on the map the places mentioned in the text.

8. Compile a list of the Tamil texts composed during the early centuries of the Christian era. Make a selection from some of these texts as a part of a group project.


19. Crafts Trade and Towns in the post Mauryan age

The age of the Shakas, Kusbans, Satavahanas (200 B.C. A.D. 300) and the first Tamil states was the most flourishing period in the history of Crafts and commerce in ancient India. Arts and crafts witnessed a remarkable growth. We do not come across so many kinds of artisans in the earlier texts as are mentioned in the writings of the period. The Digha Nikaya, which belongs to pre-Maurya times, mentions nearly two dozen occupations, but the Mahavastu, which belongs to this period, catalogues 36 kinds of workers living in the town of Rajgir and the list is not exhaustive. The Milind Panho or the Questions of Milinda enumerates as many as 75 occupations, 60 of which are connected with various kinds of crafts. Craftsmen are mostly associated with towns in literary texts, but some excavations show that they also inhabited villages. In a village settlement in Karimnagar in Telangana, carpenters, blacksmiths, goldsmiths, potters, etc. lived in separate quarters and agricultural and other labourers lived at one end.

Eight crafts were associated with the working of gold, silver, lead, tin, copper, brass, iron and precious stones or jewels. Various kinds of brass, zinc, antimony and red arsenic are also mentioned. All this shows great advance and specialization in mining and metallurgy. Technological knowledge about the work of iron had made great progress. Iron artifacts have been discovered in greater number in Kushan and Satavahana layers at various excavated sites. But the Telangana region of Andhra seems to have been the richest in this respect. In addition to weapons, balance rods, socketed axes and hoes, sickles, ploughshares, razors and ladles have been discovered in the Karimnagar and Nalgonda districts of this region. Indian iron and steel including cutlery were exported to the Abyssinian ports and they enjoyed great prestige in Western Asia.

Cloth-making, silk-weaving and the making of arms and luxury articles also made progress. Mathura was a great Centre for the manufacture of a special type of cloth which was called shataka. Dyeing was a thriving craft in some south Indian towns. A brick built dyeing vat has been unearthed at Uraiyur, a suburb of Tiruchirapalli town in Tamil Nadu. Similar dyeing vats were excavated at Arikamedu. These structures belong to the first third centuries A.D., during which handloom textile industry flourished in these towns. The manufacture of oil increased because of the use of the oil wheel. The inscriptions of the period mention weavers, goldsmiths, dyers, workers in metal and ivory, jewellers, sculptors, fishermen, smiths and perfumers as constructors of caves and donors of pillars, tablets, cisterns etc. to the Buddhist monks. All these suggest that their crafts were in a flourishing condition.

Of the handicrafts meant for manufacturing luxury articles, mention may be made of ivory work, glass manufacture and bead-cutting. Shell industry was in a very thriving state. Many products of crafts have been found as a result of digging in the Kushan complexes. Indian ivories have been found in Afghanistan and Rome. They are likened to ivory objects found in excavations at Satavahana sites in the Deccan, Roman glass objects appear in Taxila and in Afghanistan, but it was about the beginning of the Christian era that the knowledge of glass-blowing reached India and attained its peak. Similarly, large numbers of beads of semi-precious stones appear in post Maurya layers. Numerous beads and bangles made of shell belong to the same layers. Coin-minting was an important craft and the period is noted for numerous types of coins made of gold, silver, copper, bronze, lead and potin. The craftsmen also made fake Roman coins. Various coin-moulds belonging to the period have been found both in north India and in the Deccan. A coin mould from the Satavahana level shows that through it half a dozen coins could be turned out at a time. These urban handicrafts were nr-MAURYA AGE supplemented by the manufacture of beautiful pieces of terracotta, which are found in profuse quantities. They have been found in almost all Kushan and Satavahana sites, but special mention may be made of Yelleshwaram in Nalgonda district, where we find the largest number of terracottas and the moulds in which they were manufactured. Terracottas and their moulds have also been found at Kondapur, at a distance of about 65 km from Hyderabad. Terracottas were meant mostly for the use of upper classes in towns. It is significant that with the decline of towns in Gupta and especially in post-Gupta times, such terracottas almost went out of fashion.

Artisans were organised into guilds which were called shrenis. In the second century A.D. in Maharashtra, lay devotees of Buddhism deposited money with the guilds of potters, oil millers and weavers for providing robes and other necessities to the monks. In the same century money was deposited by a chief with the guild of flour makers at Mathura out of the monthly income of which a hundred brahmanas were to be served daily. On the basis of different texts we can say that artisans of this period were organized into at least two dozen guilds. Most artisans known from inscriptions were confined to the Mathura region and to the western Deccan, which lay on the trade routes leading to the ports on the western coast.

The most important economic development of the period was the thriving trade between India and the eastern Roman Empire. In the beginning a good deal of this trade was carried on by land, but the movement of the Shakas, Parthians and Kushans from the first century B.C. disrupted trade by land route. Although the Parthians of Iran imported iron and steel from India they presented great obstacles to India’s trade with the lands further west of Iran. But since the first century a.d trade was carried on mainly by sea. It seems that around the beginning of the Christian era the mom soon was discovered. So the sailors now could sail in much less time directly from the eastern coast of the Arabian Sea to the western coast. They could call easily at the various ports such as Broach and Sopara situated on the western coast of India and Arikamedu and Tamralipti situated on its eastern coast. Of all these ports, Broach seems to have been the most important and flourishing. To it were brought not only the commodities produced in the Satavahana kingdom but also the goods produced in the Shaka and Kushan kingdoms. The Shakas and the Kushans used two routes from the north-western frontier to the western sea coast. Both these routes converged at Taxila and were connected with the Silk Route passing through Central Asia. The first route directly ran from the north to the south connecting Taxila with the lower Indus basin from where it passed on to Broach. The second route called the uttarapatha was in more frequent use. From Taxila it passed through modern Punjab up to the western coast of the Yamuna. Following the course of the Yamuna it went southward to Mathura. From Mathura it passed on to Ujjain in Malwa and again from Ujjain to Broach on the western coast. Ujjain was the meeting-point of another route which started from Kaushambi near Allahabad.

Foreign Trade

Although the volume of trade between India and Rome seems to have been large, it was not carried on in articles of daily use for the common people. There was a brisk commerce in luxury goods, which are sometimes called articles of aristocratic necessities. The Romans first started trade with the southern-most portion of the country, because their earliest coins have been found in the Tamil kingdoms which lay outside the Satavahana dominions. The Romans mainly imported spices for which south India was famous. They also imported muslin, pearls, jewels and precious stones from central and south India, Iron goods, especially cutlery, formed an important item of export to the Roman empire. Pearls, ivory, precious stones and animals were considered luxuries, but plants and plant products served basic religious, funerary, culinary and medicinal needs of the people. Kitchen ware may have been included in the items of import. Cutlery may have been important for higher class people.

In addition to the articles directly supplied by India, certain articles were brought to India from China and Central Asia and then sent to the eastern part of the Roman empire. Silk was directly sent from China to tide Roman empire through the Silk Route passing through north Afghanistan and Iran, But the establishment of the Parthian rule in Iran and the neighbouring areas created difficulties. Therefore silk had to be diverted to the western Indian ports through tire north-western part of the subcontinent. Sometimes it also found its way from China to India the east coast of India: From there it went to the West. Thus there was considerable transit trade in silk between India and the Roman empire.

In return the Romans exported to India wine, wine-amphorae and various other types of pottery which have been discovered in excavations at Tamluk in West Bengal, Arikamedu near Pondicherry and at several other places in south India. Sometimes they travelled as far as Guwahati. Lead, which was used for making coins by the Satavahan, seems, to have been imported from Rome in the shape of coiled strips. The Roman goods have not been discovered in any good number in north India. But there is no doubt that under the Kushans the north-western, part of the subcontinent in the second century A.B. carried on trade with the eastern part of the Roman empire. This was facilitated by the conquest of Mesopotamia, which was made a Roman province in A.D. 115. The Roman emperor Trajan not only conquered Muscat but also explored the Persian Gulf. As a result of trade and conquest, the Roman objects, reached Afghanistan and north-western India, At Begram, 72 km north of Kabul, large glass jars made in Italy, Egypt and Syria have come to light. We also find there bowls, bronze stands, steel yards, weights of western origin, Greeco-Roman bronze statues of small size, jugs and other vessels made of alabaster. Taxila, which is identical with the modern Sirkap in North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan, provides fine examples of the Graeco-Roman sculpture in bronze. We also find silver ornaments, some bronze pots, one jar and coins of the Roman emperor Tiberius. But Arretine pottery, which has been found commonly in south India, is not noticed in central or western India or in Afghanistan. Evidently these places did not receive popular western articles, which have been found mostly south of the Vindhyas in the Satavahana kingdom and further south. Thus the kingdoms-of both the Sdtavahanas as: well as the Kushans profited from trade with, the Roman empire, although the maximum profit seems to have accrued to the Satavahanas.

The mosf signiflcant Roman export to India was the large number of coins, invariably made of gold and silver. About 150 finds of Roman coins have come to light in the whole of the subcontinent and most of them come from the south of the Vindhyas. The total number of Roman gold and silver chins that have been found in India does not exceed 6000, but it is difficult to say that only this many coins come from Rome. This justifies the complaint of the Roman writer Pliny, who wrote his account called Natural History in Latin in A.D. 77. He believed that Rome was being drained of gold on account of her trade with India. This may be an exaggeration. But as early as A.D. 22 we hear of complaints against excessive expenditure on the purchase of pepper from the East. Since the Westerners were very much fond of Indian pepper, it is called yavaripriya in Sanskrit. There also began a strong reaction against the use of India-made steel cutlery for which the Roman nobles paid very high prices. The concept of the balance of trade may not have been known to the people. But numerous finds of Roman coins and pottery in the peninsula leave no doubt that India was a gainer in its trade with the Roman empire. The loss of Roman money was felt so much that eventually steps had to be taken in Rome to ban its trade with India in pepper and steel goods.

It seems that the major role in Indo-Roman trade and shipping was played by the Romans. Although Roman traders resided in south India, there is little evidence for Indians residing in the Roman empire. Some pot sherds with graffiti in Tamil suggest that some Tamil merchants resided in Egypt in Roman times.

Money Economy

How did the Indians Use the silver and gold currency which came to India from Rome? The Roman gold coins were naturally valued for their intrinsic worth, but they also may have circulated in big transactions. In the north the Indo-Greek rulers issued a few gold coins. But the Kushans issued gold coins in considerable numbers. It is wrong to think that all Kushan gold coins were minted out of Roman gold. As early as the fifth century B.C., India had paid a tribute of 320 talents of gold to the Iranian empire. This gold may have been extracted from the gold mines in Sindh. The Kushans probably obtained gold from Central Asia. They may also have procured it either from Karnataka or from the gold mines of Dhalbhum in south Bihar which later came under their sway. On account of contact with Rome, the Kushans issued the dinar type of gold coins which became abundant under the Gupta rule. But gold coins may not have been used in day-to-day transactions, which were carried on in coins of lead, potin or copper. Both lead and copper deposits are found in Andhra and gold deposits in Karnataka. The Andhras issued a large number of lead or potin coins in the Deccan. Some punch marked and early Sangam age coins appear at the tip of the peninsula. The Kushans issued the largest number of copper coins in northern and northwestern India. Copper and bronze coins were also used in large quantities by the rulers, of some indigenous dynasties such as the Nagas who ruled in-central India, the Yaudheyas who ruled in eastern Rajasthan together with the adjacent areas of Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh and the Mitras who ruled in Kaushambi, Mathura, Avahti and Ahichchhatra (Bareilly dish let in Uttar Pradesh !. Perhaps in no other period had money economy penetrated so deeply into the life of the common people of the towns and their suburbs as during this period. This development fits well with the growth of arts and crafts and the country’s thriving trade with the Roman empire.

Urban Settlements

The growing crafts and commerce and the increasing use of money promoted the prosperity of numerous towns during this period. Important towns in north India such as Vaishali, Pataliputra, Varanasi, Kaushambi, Shravasti, Hastinapur, Mathura, Indraprastha (Purana Quila in New Delhi) are ail mentioned in literary texts and some of them are also described by the Chinese pilgrims. Most flourished in the Kushan period in the first and the second centuries A.D. This may be said on the basis of excavations, which have revealed better constructions belonging to the Kushan age. Excavations further show that several sites in Bihar such as Chirand, Sonpur and Buxar and others in eastern Uttar Pradesh such as Khairadih and Mason; witnessed prosperous Kushan phases. Similarly, in Uttar Pradesh, Sohgaura, Bhita, Kaushambi and Shringaverapur near Allahabad.

Atranjikhera and many more sites in the western districts were in a thriving state, to Kushan times. We notice considerable brick work, of the Kushan period at both Shringaverapur and Chirand. The excavations at Sonkh in Mathura show as many as seven levels of the Kushan phase and only one of the Gupta phase. Again in Jalandhar, Ludhiana and Ropar, all lying in Punjab, several sites show good Kushan constructions. The same is true of the sites excavated in Haryana. In many cases the Gupta period had poorly built structures made of used Kushan bricks. This also applies to towns in the Shaka kingdom of Malwa and western India. The most important town was Ujjain, because of its being the nodal point of two routes, one from Kaushambi and the other from Mathura. But it was also important because of its export of agate and carnelian stones. Excavations show that agate, jasper and carnelian were worked on a large scale for the manufacture of beads after 200 B.C. This was possible because the raw material could be obtained in plenty from the trap bedrock-in the bed of tire Sipra river.

Towns thrived in the Satavahana kingdom during the same period as they did under the Shakas and Kushans. Tagar (Ter), Paithan, Dhanyakataka, Amaravati, Nagaijuriakohda, Broach, Sopara, Arikamedu and Kaverfpattanam were prosperous towns in the Satavahana period in western and south India. Several Satavahana settlements, some of which may be identical with the thirty walled towns of the Andhras mentioned by Pliny, have been excavated in Telangana. They had originated much earlier than towns in the coastal Andhra although not much later than those in western Maharashtra. But the decline of towns in Maharashtra, Andhra and Tamil Nadu generally started in the middle of the third century A.D. or later.

Towns prospered in the Kushan and Satavahana empires because they carried on thriving trade with the Roman empire. The country traded with the eastern part of the Roman empire as well as with Central Asia. Towns in Punjab and western Uttar Pradesh thrived because the centre of Kushan power lay in north-western India. Most Kushan towns in India lay exactly on the north-western or uttarapatha route passing from Mathura to Taxila. The Kushan empire ensured security on the routes. Its end in the third century A.D. dealt a great blow to these towns. The same thing seems to have happened in the Deccan. With the ban on trade with India imposed by the Roman empire in the third century A.D towns could not support the artisans and merchants who lived there. Archaeological excavations in the Deccan also suggest decline in the urban settlements after the Satavahana phase.


1. Explain the meaning of the following terms and concepts: uttarapatha, yavanpriya, shataka, shrenis

2. Explain how the growth and development of crafts and commerce promoted the prosperity of towns in post-Maurya times.

3. Discuss the view that the period from C. 200 B.C. to A.D. 300 was the most flourishing period in the history of crafts and commerce is:

4. Describe the contribution of India to the growth of science and technology form C. 200 B.C. to A.D. 300.

5. On an outline map of India, show the major trade routes connecting important centres with India.

6. On an outline map of India show important urban settlements of the period from C. 200 B.C. to A.D. 300.

7. What is meant by the Silk Route? Show it on an outline map of Eurasia. Also show how it was connected with India.

8. Collect pictures of the coins belonging to the period C. 200 B.C. to A.D. 300. Mention the dynasties that issued these coins, what metals they contained, and the images and writings that appear on them. How were these coins different from the punch-marked coins?

9. What does the increased use of coins indicate economically? Discuss in the classroom the main aspects of the economy of the period circa 200 B.C. to A.D. 300.

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20. The Rise and Growth of the Gupta Empire


After the break-up of the Maurya empire, the Satavahanas and the Kushans emerged as two large political powers. The Satavahanas acted as a stabilizing factor in the Deccan and south to which they gave political unity and economic prosperity on the strength of their trade with the Roman empire. The Kushans performed the same role in the north. Both these empires came to an end in the middle of the third century A.D.

On the ruins of the Kushan empire arose a new empire, which-established its sway over a good part of the former dominions of both the Kushans and Satavahanas. This was the empire of the Guptas, who may have been of vaishya origin. Although the Gupta empire was not as large as the Maurya empire, it kept north India politically united for more than a century from A.D. 335 to 455. The original kingdom of the Guptas comprised Uttar Pradesh and Bihar at the end of the third century A.D. Uttar Pradesh seems to have been a more important province for the Guptas than Bihar, because early Gupta coins and inscriptions have been mainly found in that state. If we leave out some feudatories and private individuals, whose inscriptions have been mostly found in Madhya Pradesh,Uttar Pradesh will stand out as the most important area in respect of the finds of the Gupta antiquities. Hence Uttar Pradesh seems to have been the place from where the Guptas operated and fanned out in different directions. Probably with their centre of power at Prayag they spread in the neighbouring regions.

The Guptas were possibly the feudatories of the Kushans in Uttar Pradesh and seem to have succeeded them without any wide time-lag. At many places in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar the Kushan antiquities are immediately followed by the Gupta antiquities. It is likely that the Guptas learnt the use of saddle, reins, but toned-coats, trousers and boots from the Kushans. All these gave them mobility and made them excellent horsemen. In the Kushan scheme of things, horse-chariots and elephants had ceased to be important. Horsemen played the main part. This also seems to have been the case with the Guptas on whose coins horsemen are represented. Although some Gupta kings are described as excellent and unrivalled chariot warriors, their basic strength lay in the use of horses.

The Guptas enjoyed certain material advantages. The centre of their operations lay in the fertile land of Madhyadesha covering Bihar and Uttar Pradesh They could exploit the iron ores of central India and south Bihar. Further, they took advantage of their proximity to the areas in north India which carried on silk, trade with the Eastern Roman empire, also known as the Byzantine empire. On account of these favourable factors the Guptas set up their rule over Anuganga (the middle Gangetic basin), Prayag (modern Allahabad), Baketa (modern Ayodhya) and Magadha. In course of time this kingdom became an, all India empire. The Kushan power in north India came to an end around A.D. 230 and then a good part of central India fell under the rule of the Murundas, who were possibly the kinsmen of the Kushans. The Murundas continued to rule till A.D. 250. Twenty five years later, in about. A.D. 275, the dynasty of the Guptas came to power.

Chandragttpta I (A.D. 319-334)

The first important king of the Gupta dynasty was Chandragupta I. He married a Lichchhavi princess most probably from Nepal, which strengthened his position. The Guptas were possibly vaishyas and hence marriage in a kshatriya family gave them prestige. Chandragupta I seems to have been a ruler of considerable importance because he started the Gupta era in A.D. 319-20, which marked the date of his accession. Later many inscriptions came to be dated in the Gupta era.

Samudragupta (A.D. 335-380)

The Gupta kingdom was enlarged enormously by Chandragupta I’s son and successor Samudragupta (A.D. 335-380). He was the opposite of Ashoka. Ashoka believed in a policy of peace and non-aggression, but Samudragupta delighted in violence and conquest. His court poet Harishena wrote a glowing account of the-military exploits of his patron. In a long inscription the poet enumerates the peoples and countries that were conquered by Samudragupta. The inscription is engraved at Allahabad on the same pillar which carries the inscriptions of the peace-loving Ashoka.

The places and the countries conquered by Samudragupta can be divided into five groups. Group one includes princes of the Ganga-Yamuna doab who were defeated and whose kingdoms were incorporated into the Gupta empire. Group two includes the rulers of the eastern Himalayan states and some frontier states such as princes of Nepal, Assam, Bengal, etc., who were made to feel the weight of Samudragupta’s arms. It also covers some republics of Punjab, The republics, which flickered on the ruins of the Maurya empire, were finally destroyed by Samudragupta. Group three includes the forest kingdoms situated in the Vindhya region and known as Atavika rajyas; they were brought under the control of Samudragupta. Group four includes twelve rulers of the eastern Deccan and south India, who were conquered and liberated, Samudragupta’s arms reached as far as Kanchi in Tamil Nadu, where the Pallavas were compelled to recognize his suzerainty. Group five includes the names of the Shakas and Kushans, some of them ruling in Afghanistan. It is said that Samudragupta swept them out of power and received the submission of the rulers of distant lands. The prestige and influence of Samudragupta spread even outside India. According to a Chinese source, Meghavarman the ruler of Sri Lanka, sent a missionary to Samudragupta for permission to build a Buddhist temple at Gaya This was granted and the temple was EMPIRE developed into a huge monastic establishment. If we believe the eulogistic inscription from Allahabad, it would appear that Samudragupta never knew any defeat and because of his bravery and generalship he is called the Napoleon of India. There is ho doubt that Samudragupta forcibly unified the greater part of India under him and his power was felt in a much larger area.

Chandragupta II (A.D. 380-412)

The reign of Chandragupta II saw the high watermark of the Gupta Empire. He extended the limits of the empire by marriage alliance and conquests. Ghandragupta married his daughter Prabhavati with a Vakataka prince who belonged to the brahmana caste and ruled in central India. The prince died and was succeeded by his, young son. So Prabhavati became the virtual ruler. As shown by some of her land charters, which betray the influence of the eastern Gupta writing, she promoted the interests of her father Chandragupta. Thus Ghandragupta exercised indirect control over the Vakataka kingdom in central India. This afforded a great advantage to him. With his great, influence in this area, Chandragupta II conquered western Malwa and Gujarat, which had been under the rule of the Shaka Kshatrapas for about four centuries by that time. The conquest gave Ghandragupta the western sea coast, famous for trade and commerce. This contributed to the prosperity of Malwa and its chief city Ujjain. Ujjain seems to have been made the second capital by Chandragupta II.

The exploits of a king called Chandra are glorified in an iron pillar inscription fixed near Qutub Minar in Delhi. If Chandra is considered to1 be identical with Chandragupta II it will appear that he established Gupta authority in north-western India and in a good portion of Bengal. But the epigraphic eulogy seems to be exaggerated.

Chandragupta II adopted the title of Vikramadltya, which had been first used by an Ujjain ruler in 57 B.C. as a mark of victory over the Shaka Kshatrapas of western India. The court of Chandragupta II at Ujjain was adorned by numerous scholars Including Kalidasa and Amarasimha.

It was in Chandragupta’s time that the Chinese pilgrim Fa-hsien (399-414) visited India and wrote an elaborate account of the life of its people.

Fall of the Empire

The successors of Chandragupta II had to face an invasion by the Hunas from Central Asia in the second half of the fifth century A.D. Although in the beginning the Gupta king Skandagupta tried effectively to stem the march of tile Hunas into India. His successors proved to be weak odd could not cope with the Hina Invaders who excelled to horsemanship and possibly used stirrups made of metal. They could move quickly and being excellent archers they seem to have attained considerable success hot only in Iran but also in India.

By 485 the Hunas occupied eastern Malwa and a good portion of central India where their inscriptions have been found; The intermediate regions such as Punjab and Rajasthan also passed under their possession. This must have drastically reduced the extent of the Gupta empire at the beginning of the sixth century. Although the Huna power was soon overthrown by Yashodharman of Malwa who belonged to the Aulikara feudatory family, the Malwa prince successfully challenged the authority of the Guptas and set up, to 532, pillars of victory commemorating his conquest of almost the whole of northern India, Yashodharman’s rule was shortlived, but it meant a severe blow to the Gupta empire. The Gupta empire was further undermined by the rise of the feudatories. The governors appointed by the Gupta kings in north Bengal and their feudatories in Samatata or southeast Bengal tended to become independent the late Guptas of Magadha established their power in Bihar. Alongside them the Maukharis rose to power in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh and had their capital at Kanauj. It seems that by 550 Bihar and Uttar Pradesh had passed out of Gupta hands. By the beginning of the sixth century we find independent princes issuing land grants in their own rights in northern Madhya Pradesh, although they use the Gupta era in dating their charters. The rulers of Valabhi established their authority in Gujarat and western Malwa. After the reign of Skandagupta, i.e. A.D. 467, hardly any Gupta coin or inscription has been found in Western Malwa and Saurashtra. The loss of western India, which seems to have been complete by the end of the fifth century, must have deprived the Guptas of the rich revenues from trade and commerce and crippled them economically. In north India the princes of Thanesar established their power in Haryana and then gradually moved on to Kanauj.

The Gupta state may have found it difficult to maintain a large professional army on account of the growing practice of land grants for religious and other purposes, which was bound to reduce their revenues. Their income may have further been affected by the decline of foreign trade. The migration of a guild of silk-weavers from Gujarat to Malwa in A.D. 473 and then adoption of non-productive professions show that there was not much demand for cloth produced by them. The advantages from Gujarat trade gradually disappeared. After the middle of the fifth century the Gupta kings made desperate attempts to maintain their gold currency by reducing the content of pure gold in it. But this proved of no avail. Although the rule of the Imperial Guptas lingered till: the middle of the sixth century A.D., the imperial glory had vanished a century earlier.


1. When and in which part of India did the Guptas found their kingdom? Describe the factors that helped the Guptas to expand their empire.

2. Mention the regions conquered by Samudragupta and Chandragupta II

3. Discuss the causes of the decline of the Gupta empire.

4. On an outline map of India, show the extent of Samudragupta’s empire and the territories which were added to the empire by Chandragupta II.

5. Procure a copy of the texts along with their translations of the Allahabad Pillar inscription and the inscription on the iron pillar at Delhi. Try to identify the places mentioned in these inscriptions on the map. In what respects do these inscriptions differ from those of Ashoka? Discuss.


21. Life in the Gupta age

System of Administration

In contrast to the Maurya rulers, the Gupta kings adopted pompous titles such as parameshavara maharajadhiraja and paramabhaitaraka which signify that they ruled over lesser kings in their empire. Kingship was hereditary, but royal power was limited by the absence of a firm practice of primogeniture. The throne did not always go to the eldest son. This created uncertainties, of which the chiefs and high officials could take advantage. The Guptas made munificent gifts to the brahmanas who expressed their gratitude by comparing the king to different gods. He was looked upon as Vishnu, the protector and preserver. The goddess Lakshmi is represented invariably on the Gupta coins as the wife of Vishnu.

The numerical strength of the Gupta army is not known. Evidently the king maintained a standing army, which was supplemented by the forces occasionally supplied by the feudatories. Horse chariots receded into the background and cavalry came to the forefront. Horse archery became prominent in military tactics.

In the Gupta period land taxes increased in number and those on trade and commerce decreased. Probably the king collected taxes varying from one-fourth to one-sixth of the produce. In addition to this, whenever the royal army passed through the countryside the local people had to feed it. The peasants had to supply animals, foodgrains, furniture, etc. for the maintenance of royal officers on duty in rural areas. In central and western India the villagers were also subjected to forced labour called vishti for serving the royal army and officials.

The judicial system was far more developed under the Guptas than in earlier times. Several law books were compiled in this period. For the first time civil and criminal laws were clearly demarcated. Theft and adultery came under criminal law. Disputes regarding various types of property came under civil law. Elaborate laws were laid down about inheritance. Like earlier times, many laws continued to be based on differences in varnas. It was the duty of the king to uphold the law. The king tried cases with the help of brahmana priests. The guilds of artisans, merchants and others were governed by their own laws. Seals from Vaishali and from Bhita near Allahabad indicate that these guilds flourished exceedingly well in Gupta times.

The Gupta bureaucracy was not as elaborate as that of the Mauryas. The most important officers in the Gupta empire were the kumaramatyas. They were appointed by the king in the home provinces and possibly paid in cash. Since the Guptas were possibly vaishyas, recruitment was not confined to the upper varnas only. But several offices came to be combined in the hands of the same person and posts became hereditary. This naturally weakened the royal control.

The Guptas organized a system of provincial and local administration. The empire was divided into divisions (bhuktis) and each bhukti was placed under the charge of an uprika. The bhuktis were divided into districts (bishayas), which were placed under the charge of vishayapatti. In eastern India, the vishayas were divided into vithis, which again were divided into villages.

The village headman became more important in Gupta times. He managed the village affairs with the assistance of elders. With the administration of a village or a small town leading local elements were associated. No land transactions could be effected without their consent.

In the urban administration, organised professional bodies were given considerable share. The seals from Vaishali show that artisans, merchants and scribes served on the same corporate body and in this capacity they obviously conducted the affairs of the towns. The administrative board of the district of Kotivarsha in north Bengal (Bangladesh) included his chief merchant, the chief trader and the chief artisan. Their consent to land transactions was considered necessary. Artisans and bankers were organized into their own separate guilds. We hear of numerous guilds of artisans, traders, etc. at Bhita and Vaishali. At Mandasor in Malwa and at Indore silk-weavers maintained their own guilds. In the district of Bulandshahar in western Uttar Pradesh oil-pressers had their own guilds. It seems that these guilds, especially those of merchants, enjoyed certain immunities. In any case they could look after the affairs of their own members and punished those who violated the customs and law of the guild.

The system of administration described above applied only to north Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and some adjoining areas of Madhya Pradesh, which were ruled directly by the officers appointed, by the Gupta kings. The major part of the empire was held by feudatory chiefs, many of whom had been, subjugated by Samudragupta. The vassals who lived on the fringe of the empire carried out three obligations. They offered homage to the sovereign by personal attendance at his court, paid tribute to him and presented to him daughters in marriage. It seems that in return for these they obtained charters for ruling in the areas. The charters marked with the royal Garuda seal seem to have been issued to the vassals. The Guptas thus had several tributary princes in Madhya Pradesh and elsewhere. The subordinate position of the princes turned them, into feudal vassals.

The second important feudal development that surfaced under the Guptas was the grant of fiscal and administrative concessions to priests and administrators. Started in the Deccan by the Satavahanas, the practice became a regular affair in Gupta times, particularly in Madhya Pradesh. Religious functionaries were granted land, free of tax for ever and they were authorised to collect from the peasants all the taxes which could have otherwise gone to the emperor. The villages granted to the beneficiaries could not be entered by royal agents, retainers, etc. The beneficiaries were also empowered to punish the criminals.

Whether state officials were paid by grants of land in Gupta times is not clear. Abundance of gold coins would suggest that higher officials continued to be paid in cash, but some of them may have been remunerated by land-grants.

Since much of the imperial administration was managed by feudatories and beneficiaries, the Gupta rulers did not require as many officials as the Mauryas did. They did not require too many officers also because, unlike the Maurya state, the Gupta state did not regulate economic activities on any big scale. The participation of leading artisans, merchants, elders, etc. in rural and urban administration also lessened the need for maintaining a large retinue of officers. The Guptas neither needed nor possessed the elaborate administrative machinery of Maurya times and in some ways their political system appears to be feudal.

Trends in Trade and Agrarian Economy

We get some idea of the economic life of the people of Gupta times from Fa hsien, who visited different parts of the Gupta empire. Among other things informs us that Magadha was full of cities and its rich people supported Buddhism and gave charities.

In ancient India, the Guptas issued the largest number of gold coins, which were called dinaras in their inscriptions. Regular in size and weight, they appear in many types and sub-types. They vividly portray Gupta kings, indicating the latter’s love for war and art. Although in gold content these coins are not as pure as Kushan ones, they not only served to pay the officers in the army and administration but also to meet the heads of the sale and purchase of land. After the conquest of Gujarat, the Guptas issued a good number of silver coins mainly for local exchange, in which silver occupied an important position under the Western Kshatrapas. In contrast to those of the Kushans, the Gupta copper coins are very few. This would suggest that the use of money did not touch the common people so much as it did under the Kushans.

Compared to the earlier period we notice a decline in long-distance trade. Till A.D. 550 India carried on some trade with the Eastern Roman empire, to which it exported silk. Around A D, 550 the people of the Eastern Roman empire learnt from the Chinese the art of growing silk, which adversely affected the export trade of India. Even before the middle of the sixth century A.D the demand for Indian silk abroad had slackened. In the middle of the fifth century a guild of silk-weavers left their original home in western India in the country of Lata in Gujarat and migrated to Mandasor, where they gave up their original occupation and took to other professions.

The striking development of the Gupta period, especially in Madhya Pradesh, was the emergence of priestly landlords at the cost of local peasants. Land grants made to the priests certainly brought many virgin areas under cultivation. Bui these beneficiaries were imposed from above on the local tribal peasants, who were reduced to a lower status. Li central and western India the peasants were also subjected to forced labour. On the other hand a good deal of virgin land was brought under cultivation and better knowledge of agriculture seems to have been introduced by the brahmana beneficiaries in the tribal areas of central India.

Social Development

Land grants to the brahmanas on a large scale suggest that the brahmana supremacy continued in Gupta times. The Guptas who were originally vaishyas came to be looked upon as kshatriyas by the brahmahas. The brahmanas presented tire Gupta Icings as possessing the attributes of gods, AM this helped to-legitimise the position of the Gupta princes, who became great supporters of the brahmanical order. The brahmanas accumulated wealth on account of numerous land grants. So they claimed many privileges, which are listed in the Narada Samiriti the law book-of Narads, a work of about the fifth century A.D.

The castes proliferated into numerous sub-castes as a result, of two factors: A large number of foreigners had been assimilated into the Indian society and each group of foreigners was considered a kind of caste. Since the foreigners mainly came as conquerors they were given the status of the kshatriya to society. The Hunas who appeared, in India towards the close of file fifth century, ultimately came to be recognized as one of the thirty-six clans of the Rajputs. Even now some Rajputs bear the title Huns. The other reason, for the increase in the number of castes was the absorption of many tribal people, into brahmanical society through the process of land grants. The tribal chiefs were given a respectable origin. But most of their ordinary kinsmen were given, a low origin end every tribe became a kind of caste in its new Incarnation. This process continued in some ways until present times.

The position of Shudras improved in tills period. They were now permitted to listen to the Ramayana, The Mahabharata and Puranas. They could also worship a new god called Krishna. They were also allowed to perform certain domestic rites, which naturally brought fee to the priests. All this can be attributed to a change In the economic-Status of the shudras. From the seventh, century onwards they were, mainly represented, as agriculturists; in the earlier period they always appeared as servants, slaves and agricultural labourers working for the three higher varnas.

But during this period the untouchables increased to number especially the chandalas. The chandala’s appeared in society as early as the fifth century B C By the fifth century A.D their-number had become so enormous and their disabilities so glaring that it attracted the attention of the Chinese pilgrim Fa-hsien. He informs us that the chandalas lived outside the village and dealt in meat and flesh. Whenever they entered the town the upper caste people kept themselves at a distance from them because the road was supposed to have been polluted by them.

In the Gupta period, like the shudras, women were also allowed to listen to the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Puranas and advised to worship, Krishna. But women of higher orders did not have access to independent sources of livelihood in pre-Gupta and Gupta times. The fact that women of the two lower varnas were free to earn their livelihood gave them considerable freedom, which was denied to women of the upper varnas, It was argued that the vaishya and shudra women take to agricultural operations and domestic services and hence they are outside the control of their husbands In contrast by Gupta times members of the higher orders came to acquire more and more land which made them more polygamous and more property minded. In a patriarchal setup they began to treat women as items of property, so much so that a woman was expected to follow her husband to the next world. The first example of the immolation of widow after the death of her husband appears in Gupta times in A.D. 510. However, some post-Gupta Jaw-books held that, a woman can remarry if her husband is dead, destroyed, impotent, has become a renouncer or has been excommunicated.

The main reason for the subordination of women belonging to the upper varnas was their complete dependence on men for their livelihood. They lacked proprietary rights. However, the oldest Smritis state that the gifts of jewellery, ornaments, garments and similar other presents made to the bride on the occasion of her marriage were considered her property. Gupta and post-Gupta law-books substantially enlarged the scope of these gifts. According to them presents received by the bride not only from her parent’s side but also from the side of her parents-in-law at marriage time and on other occasions formed the stridhana. Katyayana, a law-giver of the sixth century, holds that she could sell and mortgage her immovable property along with her stridhana. This clearly implies that women received shares in landed property according to this law-giver, but generally a daughter was not allowed to inherit landed property in the patriarchal communities of India.

State of Buddhism

Buddhism no longer received royal patronage in the Gupta period Fa-hsien gives the impression that this religion was in a very flourishing state. Blit, really it was not so important in the Gupta period as it was in the days of Ashoka and Kanishka. However, some stupas and viharas (monasteries) were constructed and Nalanda became a centre of Buddhist education.

Origin and Growth of Bhagavatism

Bhagavatism centred arouhd the worship of Vishnu or Bhagavat and originated in post-Maurya times. Vishnu was a minor god in Vedic times. He represented the sun and also the fertility cult. By the second century B.C. he was merged with a god called Narayana and came to be known as Narayana-Vishnu. Originally Narayana was a non-Vedic tribal god. He was called bhagavat and his worshippers were called bhagavatas. This god was conceived, as a divine counterpart of the tribal chief. Just as a tribal chief received presents from his kinsmen and distributed shares among them, Narayana was supposed to bestow shares or good fortune (bhaga) on his bhakta or worshippers. (In return the worshippers or bhaktas offered their loving devotion or bhakti to him ) The worshippers of Vishnu and those of Narayana were brought under one umbrella by merging Vishnu with Narayana. The former was a Vedic god and the latter emerged subsequently with non-Vedic associations. But the two cultures, the two types of peoples and the two gods mingled with each other.

Further, Vishnu came to be identical with a legendary hero of the Vrishni tribe living in western India who was known as Krishna-Vasudeva. The great epic Mahabharata was recast to show that Krishna was identical with Vishnu. So by 200 B.C the three streams of worshippers and their gods merged into one. This resulted in the creation of Bhagavatism or Vaishnavism.

Bhagavatism was marked by bhakti and ahimsa. Bhakti meant the offer of loving devotion It was a kind of loyalty offered by a tribal to his chief or by a subject to his king, Ahimsa or the doctrine of non-killing of animals suited the agricultural society and was in keeping with the old cult of life giving fertility associated with Vishnu. People worshipped the image of Vishnu and offered it rice, sesamum, etc, Out of their aversion to killing of animals some of them took only vegetarian food.

The new religion was liberal enough to attract foreigners. It also appealed to artisans and merchants who became important under the Satavahanas and Kushans. Krishna taught in the Bhagavadgita that even women, vaishyas and shudras who were born of sin could seek refuge in him. This religious text dealt with Vaishnava teachings; so did the Vishnu Parana and also to some extent with the Vishnu Smriti.

Bhagavatism or Vaishnavism overshadowed Mahayana Buddhism by Gupta times. It preached the doctrine of incarnation, or avtara. History was presented as a cycle of ten incarnations of Vishnu. It was believed that whenever the social order faced crisis, Vishnu appeared in an appropriate form to save it. Each incarnation of Vishnu was considered necessary for the salvation of dharma which was identical with the varna-divided society and the institution of patriarchal family protected by the state.

By the sixth century Vishnu became a member of the trinity of gods along with Shiva and Brahma. However he was a dominant god in his own right. After the sixth century several texts were written to popularize the virtues of worshipping him, but the most important was the Bhagavata Purana. The story in that text was recited by priests for several days. In medieval times Bhagavatagharas or places meant for Vishnu worship and reciting, the legends connected with him came to be established in eastern India. Several religious recitations including the Vishnusahasranama were composed for the benefit of the Vishnu worshippers.

A few Gupta, kings were worshippers of Shiva the god of destruction. But he came in the front rank at a later stage and does not seem to have been as Important as Vishnu in, the early phase of the Gupta rule.

Idol worship in the temples became a common feature of Hinduism from the Gupta period onwards. Many festivals also came to be celebrated. Cultural festivals observed by different classes of people were given religious garb and colour and turned into good sources of income for the priests.

The Gupta kings followed a policy of tolerance towards the different religious sects. We find no example of the persecution of the followers of Buddhism and Jainism. This was also on account of the change in the character of Buddhism which had come to acquire many of the features of Hinduism.


The Gupta period is called the Golden Age of ancient India. This may not be true in the economic field because several towns in north India declined during this period. But the Guptas possessed a large number of gold, whatever might be its source and they issued the largest number of gold coins. Princes and richer people could divert a part of their income for the support of those who were engaged in art and literature. Both Samudragupta and Chandragupta II were patrons of art and literature. Samudragupta is represented on his coins playing the lute (vina) and Chandragupta II is credited with maintaining in his court nine luminaries or great scholars.

In ancient India art was mostly inspired by religion. Survivals of nonreligious art from ancient India are few. Buddhism gave great impetus to art in Maurya ahd post-Maurya times. It led to the creation of massive stone pillars, cutting of beautiful eaves and raising of high stupas or relic towers. The stupas appeared as dome-like structures on round bases mainly of stone. Numerous images of the Buddha were sculpted.

In the Gupta period we find an over two metre high bronze image of the Buddha, which was recovered from Sultanganj near Bhagalpur. Fa-hsien saw an over 25 metre high image of the Buddha made of copper, but it is not traceable now. In the Gupta period beautiful images of the Buddha were fashioned at Sarnath and Mathura. But the greatest specimen of Buddhist art in Gupta times is provided by the Ajanta paintings. Although these paintings covered the period from the first to the seventh century A.D., most of them belong to Gupta times. They depict various events in the life of Gautama Buddha and the previous Buddhas. These paintings are life-like and natural and the brilliance of their colours has not faded even after fourteen centuries. However, there is nothing to show that the Guptas were the patrons of the Ajanta paintings.

Since the Guptas were supporters of brahmanism, for the first time we get in the Gupta period images of Vishnu, Shiva and some other Hindu gods. At many places we get a whole pantheon in which the chief god appears in the middle and his retainers and subordinates surround him on the panel. The leading god is represented large in size, but his retainers and subordinate gods are drawn on a smaller scale. This represents a clear social discrimination and hierarchy.

The Gupta period was poor in architecture. All we get are a few temples made of brick in Uttar Pradesh and a stone temple. We may mention the brick temples of Bhitargaon in Kanpur, Bhitari in Ghazipur and Deogarh in Jhansi. The Buddhist University at Nalanda was set up in the fifth century and its earliest structure, made of brick, belongs to this period.


The Gupta period is remarkable for the production of secular literature. To this period belong thirteen plays written by Bhasa. The Mrichchhakatica or the Little Clay Cart written by Shudraka, which deals with the love affair of a poor brahmana with the beautiful daughter of a courtesan, is considered one of the best works of ancient drama. But what has made the Gupta period really famous is the work of Kalidasa. Kalidasa wrote Abhijanashakuntamlam which is considered to be one of the best; hundred literary works in the world 1 It tells us about the love story of King Dushyanta and Shakuntala, whose son Bharata appears as a famous ruler. The Shakuntalam was one of the earliest Indian works to be translated into European languages, the other work being the Bhagavadgita. Two things can be noted about the plays produced in India in the Gupta period. First these are all comedies. We do not come across any tragedies. Secondly, characters of the higher and lower classes do not speak the same language; women and shudras featuring in these plays use Prakrit while the higher classes use Sanskrit.

During this period we also notice an increase in the production of religious literature. Most works of the period had a strong religious bias. The two great epics, namely the Ramayana and the Mahabharata were almost completed by the fourth century A.D. The Ramayana tells us the story of Rama, who was banished by his father Dasharatha from, the kingdom of Ayodhya for 14 years on account of the machinations; of his step-mother Kaikeyi. He faithfully carried out the orders of his father and went to live in the forest, where his wife Sita was abducted by Ravana, the king of Lanka. Eventually Rama with the help of his brother Lakshmana brought, back Sita. The story has two important moral strands. First it idealizes the institution of family in which a son must obey his father, the younger brother obeys his elder brother and the wife must be faithful for her husband in all circumstances. Second, Ravana symbolises the force of evil and Rama symbolises the force of righteousness. In the end righteousness triumphs over the forces of evil and good order over bad order. The story of Rama made a much wider social and religious appeal than the main narrative of the Mahabharata Many versions of the Ramayana are found in important Indian languages and also in those of South-East Asia.

The Mahabharata is essentially the story of conflict between two groups of cousins, the Kauravas and the Pandavas. It shows that kingship knows no kinship. Although the Pandavas were entitled to their share in the kingdom ruled by Dhritarashtra, the Kauravas refused to give them even a single inch of territory. This led to a prolonged fratricidal war between the Pandavas assisted by Krishna and the Kauravas. Eventually the Kauravas were worsted in the fight and the Pandavas came out victorious. This story also represents the victory of righteousness over the forces of evil. The Bhagavadgita forms an important part of the Mahabharata. It teaches that a person must cany out the duties assigned to him by his caste and rank under all circumstances without any desire for reward.

The Puranas follow the lines of the epics and the earlier ones were finally compiled in Gupta times. They are full of myths, legends, sermons, etc., which were meant for the education and edification of the common people. The period also saw the compilation of various Smritis or the law books in which social and religious norms were written in verse. The phase of writing commentaries on the Smritis begins after the Gupta period.

The Gupta period also saw the development, of Sanskrit grammar based on Panini and Patanjali. This period is particularly memorable for the compilation of the Amarakosha by Amarasimha, who was a luminary in the court of Chandragupta II. This lexicon is learnt by heart by students who were taught Sanskrit in the traditional fashion. Overall the Gupta period was a bright phase in the history of classical literature. It developed an ornate style, which was different from the old simple Sanskrit. From this period onwards we find greater emphasis on verse than on prose. We also come across a few commentaries. Sanskrit was undoubtedly the court language of the Guptas. Although we get a good deal of brahmanical religious literature, the period also produced some of the earliest pieces of secular literature.

Science and Technology

In the field of mathematics we come across during this period a work called Aryabhatiya written by Aryabhata, who belonged to Pataliputra. It seems that this mathematician was well versed in various kinds of calculations, A Gupta inscription of 448 A.D. from Allahabad district suggests that the decimal system was known in India at the beginning of the fifth century A D. In the field of astronomy a book called Romaka Sidhanta was compiled. It was influenced by Greek ideas, as can be inferred from its name.

The Gupta craftsmen distinguished themselves by their work in iron and. bronze. We know of several bronze images of the Buddha, which began to be produced on a considerable scale because of the knowledge of advanced metal technology. In the case of iron objects the best example is the iron pillar found at Mehrauli in Delhi. Manufactured in the fourth century A.D., the pillar has not gathered any rust in the subsequent 150 centuries, which is a great tribute to the technological skill of the craftsmen. It was impossible to produce such a pillar in any iron foundry in the west until about a century ago. It is a pity that the later craftsmen could not develop this knowledge further.


1 Explain the meaning of the following terms and concepts; primogeniture, vishti, bhukti, vtshaya, bhakti, avatara.

2 Describe the administrative system of the Gupta empire. In what respects did it differ from the administrative system of the Mauryas?

3 What were the reasons for the supremacy of the brahmanas during the Gupta period? What consequences it might have had on the economy and society of the period?

4 In what respects did the caste system undergo changes during the Gupta period?

5 Point out the economic changes that took place during the period of the Gupta rule.

6 What is meant by secular literature? Mention the names of some literary works of the period. What were their striking features?

7 Describe the religious condition of India during the 4th 6th centuries A.D. with special reference to the emergence of new trends.

8 Describe the position of women in Gupta-society.

9 Describe the achievements of the Gupta period in the field of science, mathemati b and metallurgy and art and architecture.

10 Give an account of Fa-hsien’s description of India.

11 Work out a project on cultural developments during the Gupta period and collect and prepare materials for display.


22. Spread of Civilization in Eastern India

Signs of Civilization

A region is considered to be civilized if its people know the art of writing, have a system for collecting taxes and maintaining order and possess social classes and specialists for performing priestly, administrative and producing functions. Above all a civilized society should be able to produce enough to support not only the actual producers consisting of artisans and peasants but also consumers who are not engaged in production. All these elements make for civilization. They appear in a large part of eastern India on a recognizable scale very late. Practically no written records are found in the greater portions of eastern Madhya Pradesh and the adjoining areas of Orissa, West Bengal, Bangladesh and Assam until the middle of the fourth century A.D.

The period from the fourth to the seventh century is remarkable for the diffusion of an advanced rural economy, formation of state systems and delineation of social classes in eastern Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, eastern Bengal and south-east Bengal and Assam. This is indicated by the distribution of a good number of inscriptions in these areas in Gupta times. Many inscriptions are dated in the Gupta era and appear in the form of land grants made by feudatory princes and others for religious purposes to Buddhists and brahmanas and also to Vaishnavite temples and Buddhist monasteries. These beneficiaries played an important role in spreading and strengthening elements of advanced culture. The process can be understood by attempting a region wise survey.

Orissa and Eastern and Southern Madhya Pradesh

Kalinga or the coastal Orissa, south of the Mahanadi, leapt into importance under Ashoka, but a strong state was founded in that area only in the first century B.C. Its ruler Kharavela advanced as far as Magadha. In the first and second centuries A.D., the ports of Orissa carried on brisk trade in pearls, ivory and muslin. Excavations at Shishupalgarh, the site of Kalinganagari which was the capital of Kharavela at a distance of 60 km from Bhubaneswar, have yielded several Roman objects indicating trade contacts with the Roman empire. But the greater part of Orissa, particularly north Orissa, neither experienced state formation nor witnessed much commercial activity. In the fourth century Kosala and Mahakantara figure in the list of the regions conquered by Samudragupta. They covered parts of northern and western Orissa. From the second half of the fourth century to the sixth century several states were formed in Orissa and at least five of them can be clearly identified. The most important of them is the state of the Matharas, who are also called Pitribhaktas. At the peak of their power they dominated the area between the Mahanadi and the Krishna. Their contemporaries and neighbours were the Vasishthas, the Nalas and the Manas. The Vasishthas ruled on the borders of Andhra in south Kalinga, the Nalas in the forest area of Mahakantara and the, Manas in the coastal area in the north beyond the Mahanadi. Each state developed its system of taxation, administration and military organization. The Nalas and probably the Manas, also evolved their system of coinage. Each kingdom favoured the brahmanas with land grants and even invited them from outside and most kings performed Vedic sacrifices not only for spiritual merit but also for power, prestige and legitimacy. In this period elements of advanced culture were not confined to the coastal belt known as Kalinga, but appeared in the other parts of Orissa. The find of the Nala gold coins in the tribal Bastar area inMadhya Pradesh is significant. It presupposes an economic system in which gold money was used in large transactions and served as medium of payment to high functionaries. Similarly, the Manas seemed to have issued copper coins, which imply the use of metal money even by artisans and peasants. The various states added to their income by forming new fiscal, units in rural DIA areas. The Matharas created a district called Mahendrabhoga in the area of the Mahendra mountains. They also ruled over a district called Dantayavagubhoga, which apparently supplied ivory and rice-grucl to its administrators and had thus been created in a backward area. The Matharas made endowments called agraharas, which consisted of land and income from villages and were meant for supporting religious and educational activities of the brahmanas. Some agraharas had to pay taxes although elsewhere in the country they were tax-free. The induction of the brahmanas through land grants in tribal, forest and red soil areas brought new lands under cultivation and introduced better methods of agriculture, based on important knowledge of weather conditions. Formerly the year was divided into three units, each consisting of four months and time was reckoned on the basis of three seasons. Under the Matharas, in the middle of the fifth century, began the practice of dividing the year into twelve lunar months. This implied a detailed idea of weather conditions, which was useful for agricultural operations.

In coastal Orissa writing was certainly known since the third century B.C. and Inscriptions up to the middle of the fourth century A.D. appeared in Prakrit. But from about A.D. 350 onwards Sanskrit began to be used. What is more significant, charters in this language appear outside the coastal belt beyond the Mahanadi in the north. Thus, the art of writing and the use of Sanskrit language spread over a good portion of Orissa and some of the finest Sanskrit verses are found in the epigraphs of the period. Sanskrit served as the vehicle of not only brahmanical religion and culture but also of property laws and. social regulations in new area. Verses from the Puranas and Dharmashastras are quoted in Sanskrit charters and kings claim to be the preservers of the varna system. The affiliation of the people to the culture of the Gangetic basin is emphasised. A dip in the Ganga at Prayag at the confluence of the Ganga and the Yamuna is considered holy and victorious kings visit Prayag.


As regards Bengal portions of north Bengal, now in Bogra district, give evidence of the prevalence of writing in the time of Ashoka. An inscription indicates several settlements maintaining a storehouse filled with coins and foodgrains for the upkeep of Buddhist monks. Clearly the local peasants were in a position to spare a part of their produce for paying taxes and making gifts. Further, people of this area knew Prakrit and professed Buddhism. Similarly, an inscription found in the coastal district of Noakhali in south-east Bengal shows that people knew Prakrit and Brahmi script in that area in the second century B.C. But for the greater part of Bengal we do not hear anything until we come to the fourth century A.D. In about the middle of the fourth century a king with the title of maharaja ruled in Pokhama on the Damodara in Bankura district. He knew Sanskrit and was a devotee of Vishnu, for whose worship he possibly granted a village.

The area lying between the Ganga and the Brahmaputra now covering Bangladesh emerged as a settled and fairly Sanskrit educated area in the fifth and sixth centuries. The Gupta governors seem to have become independent after about A.D. 550 and occupied north Bengal; a portion may have been seized by the rulers of Kamarupa. Local vassal princes called samanta maharajas had created their own administrative apparatus and built their military organization consisting of horses, elephants and foot soldiers and boats to fight their rivals and collect taxes from the local peasantry. By A.D. 600 the area came to be known as Gauda with its independent state ruled by Shashanka, the adversary of Harsha.

For a Century from A.D. 432-33 we notice a series of land sale documents recorded on copper-plates in Pundravardhanabhukti, which covered almost the whole of north Bengal, now, mostly in Bangladesh. Most land grants indicate that land was purchased with gold coins called dinara. But once land was given for religious purposes the donees did not have to pay any tax. The land transactions show the involvement of leading scribes, merchants, artisans, landed classes, etc. in local administration, which was manned by the governors appointed by the Gupta emperors. The land sale documents not only indicate the existence of different social groups and local functionaries but also shed valuable light on the expansion of agriculture. Mostly land purchased for religious endowments is described as fallow, uncultivated and, therefore, untaxed. Without doubt the effect of the grants was to bring plots of land within the purview of cultivation and settlement.

The deltaic portion of Bengal formed by the Brahmaputra and called Samatata, which was made to acknowledge the authority of Samudragupta in the fourth century, covered south-east Bengal. A portion of this territory may have been populated and important enough to attract the attention of the Gupta conqueror. But possibly it was not ruled by brahmanised princes and consequently it neither used Sanskrit nor adopted the varna system as was the case in north Bengal. From about A.D. 525 onwards the area came to have a fairly organised state covering Samatata and a portion of Vanga which lay on the western boundary of Samatata. It is called the kingdom of Samatata or Vanga whose rulers including Sama Haradeva issued a good number of gold coins in the second half of the sixth century.

In addition to this state, in the seventh century, we come across the state of the Khadgas, literally swordsmen, in the Dhaka area. We also notice the kingdom of a brahmana feudatory called Lokanatha and that of the Ratas, both in the Comilla area. All these princes of south-east and central Bengal issued land grants in the sixth and seventh centuries. Like the Orissa kings; they also created agraharas. The land charters show cultivation, of Sanskrit, leading to the use of some sophisticated metres in the second half of the seventh century. At the same time they attest the expansion of cultivation and rural settlements. A fiscal and administrative unit called Dandabhukti was formed in the border areas lying between Bengal and Orissa. Danda means punishment and bhukti enjoyment. Apparently the unit was created for taming and punishing the tribal inhabitants of that region. It may have promoted Sanskrit and other elements of culture In tribal areas. This was also true of Vatdhamanabhukti (Burdwan) of which we hear in the sixth century. In south-east Bengal in the Faridpur area five plots of land granted to a Buddhist monastery were waste and water-logged, paying no tax to the state. Similarly, 200 brahmanas were given a large area in Comilla district within a forest region full of deer, boars, buffaloes, tigers, serpents, etc. All such instances are sufficient proof of the progress of colonization and civilization in new areas.

The two centuries from about the middle of the fifth appear to be very momentous in the history of Bengal. They saw the formation of about half a dozen states, some large and others small, some independent and others feudatory. But each had its victory or military camp where it maintained its infantry, cavalry, elephants and boats. Each had its fiscal and administrative districts with its machinery for tax collection and maintenance of order. Each practised expansion through War and land grants to Buddhists and brahmanas. The number of endowments had increased so much that ultimately an officer called agraharika had to be appointed to look after them. Land gifts led to rural expansion and created new rights in land. Generally land was under the possession of individual families. But its sale and purchase was subject to the overall control of the local communities dominated by leading artisans, merchants, landowners and scribes. They helped the local agents of the king. But ordinary cultivators were also consulted about the sale of land in the village. It seems that originally only the tribe or the community could grant land because they possessed it. Therefore, even when individuals came to possess their own lands and made gifts for religious purposes, the community continued to have a say in the matter. Probably at an earlier stage the community donated land to the priests for religious services and paid taxes to the princes for military and political services. Later the king received from the community a good part of the land and arrogated to himself much more, which enabled him to make land grants. The king was entitled to taxes and also possessed rights over waste and fallow land. The administrative functionaries of each state knew Sanskrit, which was the official language. They were also familiar with the teachings of the Puranas and the Dharmashastras. The period therefore is very significant because of the onward march of civilization in this area.


Kamarupa, identical with the Brahmaputra basin running from east to west, shot into prominence in the seventh century. Excavations, however, show settlements in Arnbail near Guwahati from the fourth century of the Christian era. In the same century Samudragupta received tributes from Davaka and Kamarupa Oavaka possibly accounted for a portion of Nowgong district and Kamarupa covered the Brahmaputra basin. The rulers who submitted to Samudragupta may have been chiefs living on the tributes collected from the tribal peasantry.

The Ambari excavations near Guwahati show that settlements were fairly developed in the sixth and seventh centuries. This is supported by inscriptions. By the beginning of the sixth century the use of Sanskrit and the art of writing are clearly in evidence. The Kamarupa kings adopted the title varman, which obtained not only in northern, central and western India but also in Bengal, Orissa, Andhra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. This title which means armour and symbolises a warrior, has been given to the kshatriyas by Manu. They strengthened their position through land grants to the brahmanas. In the seventh century Bhaskaravarman emerged as the head of a state which controlled good deal of the Brahmaputra basin and some areas beyond it. Buddhism also acquired a foothold and the Chinese traveller Hsuan Tsang (Hieun Tsang) visited this state.

The Formative Phase

Although different parts of eastern India acquired prominence at different times, the formative phase ranged from the fourth to the seventh century. In this period writing, Sanskrit learning, Vedic rituals, brahmanical social classes and state systems spread and developed in eastern Madhya Pradesh, north Orissa, West Bengal, a good part of Bangladesh and Assam. Cultural contacts with the Gupta empire stimulated the spread of civilization in the eastern zone. North Bengal and northwest Orissa came under the Gupta rule; in other areas of these regions the Gupta association can be inferred from the use of the Gupta era in inscriptions. In Bengal new states were formed by feudatories, who maintained a good number of elephants, horses, boats, etc. in their military camps. Obviously they collected regular taxes from the rural communities to maintain professional armies. For the first time in the fifth and sixth centuries, we clearly notice large-scale writing, use of Sanskrit, formation of varna society; and progress of Buddhism and brahmanisni in the form of Shaivism and Vaishanavism in this area. We find only the remnants of communal authority over land, but we cart see the existence of private property in land and the use of gold coins with which it could be purchased. All this presupposes an advanced food producing economy. Apparently it was based on iron ploughshare; agriculture, wet paddy cultivation and knowledge of various crafts. Kalidasa refers to the transplantation of paddy seedling in Vanga, but we do not know whether the practice was indigenous or came from Magadha. North Bengal produced good quality sugarcane. All this made for sufficient agricultural production, which was able to sustain both people and government and could foster widespread rural settlements in such areas as were either sparsely inhabited or not at all inhabited. A connected narrative of the princes and dynasties and their feudatories, all revolving round a central power, cannot be prepared. But there is no doubt about cultural evolution and conquest of civilization in the outlying provinces in the eastern zone.

The decline and fall of the Gupta empire therefore coincided with considerable progress in the outlying regions. Many obscure areas, which were possibly ruled by tribal chiefs and were thinly settled, came into historical limelight. This applied to the red soil areas of West Bengal, north Orissa and the adjoining areas of Madhya Pradesh, which formed part of the Chotanagpur plateau and were difficult to cultivate and settle. It applied more to the jungle areas with alluvial soil and heavy rainfall in Bangladesh and to the Brahmaputra basin.


1. Why is the period from about the fourth century A.D. to about the seventh century A.D. important in the history of large parts of eastern India? Discuss.

2. Discuss the process of the formation of states in eastern India. What was the position and role of the brahmanas in these states? What is meant by ‘land grants’?

3. What was their significance in the social system that developed in the states of eastern India? Compile a list of the states mentioned in this chapter and identify the areas covered by them on an outline map of India.


23. Harsha and his empire

Harsha’s Kingdom

The guptas with their seat of power in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar ruled over north and western India for about 160 years, until the middle of the sixth century A.D. Then north India again split up into several kingdoms. The white Hunas established their supremacy over Kashmir, Punjab and western India from about A.D. 500 onwards. North and western India passed under the control of about half a dozen feudatories who parcelled out Gupta empire among themselves. Gradually one of these dynasties ruling at Thanesar in Haryana extended its authority over all the other feudatories. The ruler who brought it about was Harshavardhana (A.D. 606-647). As a result of the excavation of ‘Harsha ka Tila’ in Thanesar, some brick buildings have been discovered, but they cannot be taken as parts of a palace.

Harsha made Kanauj the seat of his power from where he extended his authority in all directions. By the seventh century Pataliputra fell on bad days and Kanauj came in the frontline. How did this happen? Pataliputra owed its power and importance to trade and commerce and the widespread use of money. Tolls could be collected from the traders who came to the city from the east, west, north and south by means of four rivers.

But once trade declined, money became scarce and officers and soldiers began to be paid through land grants, the city lost its importance. Power shifted to military camps (skandhavaras) and places of strategic importance, which dominated long stretches of land, acquired prominence. To this class belonged Kanauj. Situated in Farrukhabad district of Uttar Pradesh, it shot up into political prominence from the second half of the sixth century onwards. Its emergence as a centre of political power from Harsha onwards typifies the advent of the feudal age in north India just as Pataliputra largely represents the pre feudal order. Fortification of places in the plains was far more difficult, but Kanauj was situated on an elevated area which was easily fortifiable. Located right in the middle of the doab, it was well-fortified in, the seventh century. So to exercise control over the eastern and western wings of the doab soldiers could be moved by both land and water routes.

The early history of Harsha’s reign is reconstructed from a study of Banabhatta, who was his court poet and who wrote a book called Harshacharita. This can be supplemented by the account of the Chinese pilgrim Hsuan Tsang, who visited India in the seventh century A.D. and stayed in the country for about 15 years. Harsha’s inscriptions speak of various types of taxes and officials.

Harsha is called the last great Hindu emperor of India, but he was neither a staunch Hindu nor the ruler of the whole country. His authority was limited to north India excluding Kashmir. Rajasthan, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Orissa were lander his direct control, but his sphere of influence spread over a much wider area. It seems that the peripheral states acknowledged his sovereignty. In eastern India he faced opposition from the Shaivite king Shashanka of Gauda, who cut off the Bodhi tree at Bodh Gaya. But Shashanka’s death in 619 put an end to this hostility. Harsha’s southward march was stopped on the Narmada river by the Chalukyan king Pulakeshin who ruled over a great part of modern Karnataka and MaharasMra with his capital at Badami in the modern Bijapur district of Karnataka. Except this Harsha did not face any serious opposition and succeeded in giving a measure of political unity to a large part of the county.


Harsha governed his empire on the same lines as the Guptas did, except that his administration had become more feudal and decentralised. It is stated that Harsha had 100,000 horses and 60,000 elephants. This seems to be astonishing because the Mauryas, who ruled over practically the whole of the country except the deep south, maintained only 30,000 cavaliy and 9000 elephants. Harsha could possess a larger army only if he could mobilise the support of all his feudatories at the time of war. Evidently every feudatory contributed his quota of footmen and horses and thus made the imperial army vast in numbers.

Land grants continued to be made to priests for special services rendered to the state. In addition Harsha is credited with the grant of land to the officers by charters. These grants allowed the same concessions to priests as were allowed by the earlier grants. The Chinese pilgrim Hsuan Tsang informs us that the revenues of Harsha were divided into four parts. One part was earmarked for the expenditure of the king, a second for scholars, a third for the endowment of officials and public servants and a fourth for religious purposes. He also tells us that ministers and high officers of the state were endowed with land. The feudal practice of rewarding and paying officers with grants of land seem to have begun under Harsha. This explains why we do not have too many coins issued by Harsha.

In the empire of Harsha, law and order was not well maintained. Hsuan Tsang, about whom special care may have been taken by the government, was robbed of his belongings, although he reports that according to the laws of the land severe punishments were inflicted for crime. Robbery was considered to be a second treason for which the right hand of the robber was amputated. But it seems that under the influence of Buddhism the severity of punishment was mitigated and criminals were imprisoned for life.

Hsuan Tsang’s Account

The reign of Harsha is important on account of the visit of the Chinese pilgrim Hsuan Tsang, who left China in A.D. 629 and travelled all the way to India. After a long stay in India, he returned to China in A.D. 645. He had come to study in the Buddhist University of Nalanda situated in the district of the same name in Bihar and to collect Buddhist texts from India. The pilgrim spent many years in Harsha’s court and widely travelled in India. Under his influence Harsha became a great supporter of Buddhism and made generous endowments in its favour. The pilgrim vividly describes Harsha’s court and life in those days and this account is much richer and more reliable than that of Fa-hsien. It sheds light on the economic and social life as well as the religious sects of the period.

The Chinese account, shows that Pataliputra was in a state of decline; so was Vaishali. On the other hand, Prayag and Kanauj in the doab had become important. The brahmanas and fcshatriyas are reported to have led a simple life, but the nobles and priests led a luxurious life. This indicates differentiation in the ranks of each one of the two higher varnas. The majority in each one of them may have taken to agriculture. Hsuan Tsang calls the shudras agriculturists, which is significant. The earlier texts represent them as serving the three higher varnas. The Chinese pilgrim takes notice of untouchables such as scavengers, executioners, etc. They lived outside the villages and took garlic and onion. The untouchables announced their entry into the town by shouting loudly so that people might keep away from them.

Buddhism and Nalanda

The Buddhists were divided into 18 sects in the time of the Chinese, pilgrim. The old centres of Buddhism had fallen in bad days. The most famous centre was Nalanda, which maintained a great Buddhist university meant for Buddhist monks. It is said to have had as many as 10,000 students, all monks. They were taught Buddhist philosophy of the Mahayana school. Although all the mounds of Nalanda have not been dug, excavations have exposed a very impressive complex of buildings. These buildings were raised and renovated over a period of 700 years from the fifth century A D. onwards. The buildings exposed by excavations do not have the capacity to accommodate 10,000 monks. In 670 another Chinese pilgrim I-tsing visited Nalanda; he mentions only 3,000 monks living there. This is reasonable because even if the remaining mounds are excavated the buildings could not be so spacious as to have accommodated 10,000 monks. According to Hsuan Tsang the monastery at Nalanda was supported from the revenues of 100 villages. I-tsing raises this number to 200. Nalanda thus had a huge monastic establishment in the time of Harshavardhana.

Harsha followed a tolerant religious policy. A Shaiva in his early years, he gradually became a great patron of Buddhism. As a devout Buddhist he convened a grand assembly at Kanauj to widely publicize the doctrines of Mahayana. The assembly was attended not only by Hsuan Tsang and the Kamarupa ruler Bhaskaravarman, but also by the kings of twenty countries and several thousand priests belonging to different sects. Two thatched halls were built to accommodate 1000 persons each. But the most important construction was a huge tower in the middle of which a golden statue of the Buddha was placed; this statue was as tall as the king himself. Harsha worshipped the image and gave a public dinner. The discussion in the conference was initiated by Hsuan Tsang who dilated on the virtues of Mahayana Buddhism and challenged the audience, to refute his arguments. But none came forward for five days and then his theological rivals conspired to take the pilgrim’s life. On this Harsha threatened to behead anybody causing the least hurt to Hsuan Tsang. Suddenly the great tower caught fire and there was an attempt to assassinate Harsha. Harsha then arrested 500 brahmanas and banished them and some of them were also executed. This would show that Harsha was not as tolerant as he is painted. After Kanauj, he held at Prayag a great assembly, which was attended by all the tributary princes, ministers, nobles, etc. On this occasion an image of the Buddha was worshipped and discourses were given by Hsuan Tsang. At the end Harsha made huge charities and he gave away everything except his personal clothing. Hsuan Tsang speaks of Harsha in glowing terms. The king was kind, courteous and helpful to him and the pilgrim could visit the different parts of the empire.

Banabhatta gives us a flattering account of the early years of his patron in his book Harshacharita in an ornate style which became a model for later writers. Harsha is remembered not only for his patronage and learning but also for the authorship of three dramas — the Priyadarshika, the Ratnavali and the Nagananda. Bana attributes great poetical skill to him and some later authors consider him to be a literary monarch. But the authorship of the three dramas by Harsha is doubted by several medieval scholars. It is held that they were composed by a person called Dhavaka in the name of Harsha for some consideration. Harsha may have composed some pieces, but the proverb goes that royal authors are only half authors. In fact both in ancient and medieval India we find that all kinds of achievements including high literary attainments were inscribed to a king in order to boost his image the practice which was known in the time of Samudragupta became common and well established in the time of Harsha. Obviously the object in such cases was to validate the position of the king in the eyes of his rivals and subjects.


1 Assess the achievements of Harsha.

2 Describe the religious condition Of India during the time of Harsha.

3 Describe the social and economic conditions during the reign of Harsha. In which respects can these conditions be traced back to earlier periods?

4 What light does the account of Hsuan Tsang throw on Indian life in the seventh century?

5. Collect pictures of the remains of Nalanda and give a brief account of this centre of learning.

6 On an outline map of India, show the route followed by Hsuan Tsang from China to India and back. Also show the important places that he visited.


24. Formation of New States and Rural expansion in the Peninsula

The New Phase

The period circa A.D. 300-750 marks the second historical phase in the regions south of the Vindhyas. It continued some of the processes which had started in the first historical phase (circa 200 B.C. A.D. 300). But it also shows certain new phenomena which do not appear to be important in earlier times. In the first phase we notice the ascendancy of the Satavahanas over the Deccan and that of the Tamil kingdoms in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu. In that period, northern Tamil Nadu, southern Karnataka, a portion of southern Maharashtra and the land between the Godavari and the Mahanadi broadly owed allegiance to seats of political authority established outside their areas. They themselves did not have their own states. Now in these areas and also in Vidarbha, between A.D. 300 and A.D. 600 there arose about two dozen states which are known to us from their land charters. Eventually by the beginning of the seventh century the Pallavas of Kanchi, the Chalukyas of Badami and the Pandyas of Madurai emerged to be the three major states. The first historical phase is marked by the appearance of numerous crafts, internal and external trade, widespread use of coins and a good number of towns. Trade towns and coinage seem to be in a state of decline in the second phase which is distinguished by a large number of land grants made to the brahmanas free of taxes. The grants suggest that many new areas were brought under Cultivation and settlement. This period therefore saw far more expansion of agrarian economy.

We also notice the march of triumphant brahmanism. In the first phase we encounter extensive Buddhist monuments in both Andhra and Maharashtra. Cave inscriptions probably indicate the existence of Jainism and also of Buddhism in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu. But now Jainism was confined to Karnataka and in the peninsula as a whole we find numerous instances of the performance of Vedic sacrifices by kings. This phase also marked the beginning of the construction of stone temples for Shiva and Vishnu in Tamil Nadu under the Pallavas and in Karnataka under the Chalukyas of Badami. By the beginning of the second phase, : south India had ceased to be the land of megaliths and towards its end we notice the process which eventually made it a land of temples.

The language followed by the rulers and the literate class underwent a change. Even if we leave aside the Ashokan inscriptions found in Andhra and Karnataka, epigraphs between the second century B.C. and the third century A.D. were mostly written in Prakrit. The Brahmi inscriptions which are found in Tamil Nadu also contain Prakrit words. But from about A.D. 400 on Sanskrit became the official language in the peninsula and most charters were composed in it.

States of the Deccan and South India

In northern Maharashtra and Vidarbha (Berar), the Satavahanas were succeeded by the Vakatakas, a local power. The Vakatakas, who were brahmanas themselves, are known from a large number of copper-plate land grants issued to the brahmanas. They were great champions of the brahmanical religion and performed numerous Vedic sacrifices. Their political history is of more importance to north India than to south India. We have seen how Chandragupta II married his daughter Prabhavati Gupta in the Vakataka royal family and with its support succeeded in conquering Gujarat and the adjoining parts of western India from the Shaka Kshatrapas in the last quarter of the fourth century A.D. But culturally the Vakataka kingdom became a channel for transmitting brahmanical ideas and social institutions to the south.

The Vakataka power was followed by that of the Chalukyas of Badami who played an important role in the history of the Deccan and south India for about two centuries until A.D. 757, when they were overthrown by their feudatories, the Rashtrakutas. The Chalukyas claimed their descent either from Brahma or Manu or Moon. They boast that their ancestors ruled at Ayodhya, but all this was done to acquire legitimacy and respectability. Really they seem to have been a local Kanarese people, who were improvised into the ruling varna with brahmanical blessings.

The Chalukyas set up their kingdom towards the beginning of the sixth century A.D. in the western Deccan. They established their capital at Vatapi, modern Badami, in the district of Bijapur, which forms a part of Karnataka. Later they branched off into several independent ruling houses, but the main branch continued to rule at Vatapi for two centuries. In this period no other power in the Deccan was so important as the Chalukyas of Badami until we come to Vijayanagar in later medieval times.

On the ruins of the Satavahana power in the eastern part of the peninsula there arose the Ikshvakus in the Krishna-Guntur region. They seem to have been a local tribe who adopted the exalted name of the Ikshvakus in order to demonstrate the antiquity of their lineage. They have left behind many monuments at Nagaijunakonda and Dharanikota. They started the practice of land grants in the Krishna Guntur legion, where several of their copper-plate inscriptions have been discovered.

The Ikshv&kus were supplanted by the Pallavas. The term pallava means creeper and is a Sanskrit version of the Tamil word tondai, which also carries the same meaning. The Pallavas were possibly a local tribe who established their authority in the Tondainadu or the land of creepers. But it took them some time to be completely civilized and acceptable because in Tamil the word pallava is also a synonym of robber. The authority of the Pallavas extended over both southern Andhra and northern Tamil Nadu. They set up their capital at Kanchi, identical with modern Kanchipuram, which became a town of temples and Vedic learning under them.

The early Pallavas came into conflict with the Kadambas, who had founded their rule in northern Karnataka and Konkan in the fourth century A.D. They claimed to be brahmanas and they rewarded their fellow caste men generously.

The Kadamba kingdom was founded by Mayurasharman. It is said that he came to receive education at Kanchi, but he was driven out unceremoniously. Smarting under this insult the Kadamba chief set up his camp in a forest and defeated the Pallavas possibly with the help of the forest tribes. Eventually the Pallavas arrenged the defeat but recognized the Kadamba authority by formally investing Mayurasharman with the royal insighia. Mayurasharman is said to have performed eighteen ashvcunedhas or horse sacrifices and granted numerous villages to brahmanas. The Kadambas established their capital at Vaijayanti or Banavasi in North Kanara district in Karnataka.

The Gangas were another important contemporary of the Pallavas. They set up their rule in southern Karnataka around the fourth century. Their kingdom lay between that of the Pallavas in the east and of the Kadambas in the west. They are called Western Gangas or Gangas of Mysore in order to demarcate them from the Eastern Gangas who ruled in Kalinga from the fifth century onwards. For most of the time the Western Gangas were the feudatories of the Pallavas. Their earliest capital was located at Kolar, which may have helped the rise of this dynasty because of its gold mines.

The Western Gangas made land grants mostly to the Jainas; the Kadambas also made grants to the Jainas, but they favoured the brahmanas more. But the Pallavas granted numerous villages free of taxes largely to the brahmanas. We have as many as 16 land charters of the early Pallavas. A few, which seem to be earlier, are written on stone in Prakrit. But most of them were recorded on copper-plates in Sanskrit. The villages granted to the brahmanas were exempted from payment of all taxes and forced labour to the state. This implied that these were collected from the peasantry by the brahmanas for their own enjoyment. As many as 18 kinds of immunities were granted to the brahmanas in a Pallava grant of the fourth century. They were empowered to enjoy the granted land free from payment of land tax, from supply of forced labour, from supply of provisions to royal officer’s in the town and free from, the interference of royal constabulary and agents.

The Pallavas, the Kadambas, the Chalukyas of Bad ami and their other contemporaries were great champions of Vedic sacrifices. They performed cishvamedha and vajapeya sacrifices, which not only legitimatized their position and enhanced their prestige but also added enormously to the income of the priestly class. The brahmanas therefore emerged as an important class at the expense of the peasantry, from whom they collected their dues directly and also received as gifts a good portion of the taxes collected by the king from his subjects.

Although the period between A.D. 300 and A.D. 750 was extremely Important for state formation and agrarian expansion in the peninsula, very little is known about, what happened at the tip of the peninsula after the eclipse of the Cholas, the Cheras and the Pandyas. The only important event is a revolt led by the Kalabhras in the sixth century. It affected the Pallavas as well as their neighbouring contemporaries. The Kalabhras axe called evil rulers who overthrew innumerable kings and established their hold on the Tamil land. They put an end to the brahmadeya rights granted to the brahmanas in numerous villages. It seems that the Kalabhras held Buddhist persuasions, for they patronize© Buddhist monasteries. The Kalabhras revolt was so widespread that it could be put down only through the joint efforts-of the Pandyas, the Pallavas and the Chalukyas of Badami. According to a tradition, the Kalabhras had, imprisoned the Choi a, the Pai dya and the Chera kings. All this shows that their revolt had assumed wide propor tions and produced repercussions outside the Tamil land. The confederacy of the kings against the Kalabhras, who had revoked the land grants made to the brahmanas, shows that the revolt was directed against the existing social and political order iii south India.

It, therefore, appears that some, land grants were made between A.D. 300 and A.D. 500 to the brahmanas by the kings of the deep south. The Sangam texts tell us that villages are granted to the warriors for their acts of bravery by the chief. Land grants seem to have stimulated agrarian expansion not only under the Pallavas in south Andhra and north Tamil Nadu from the end of the third century onwards but also under some rulers of the deep south whose names are not known to us at present.

Conflict between the Pallavas and the Chalukyas

The main interest in the political history of peninsular India fromThe sixth to the eighth century centres around the long struggle between the Pallavas of Ranchi and the Chalukyas of Badami for supremacy. The Pandyas, who were in control of Madurai and Tirunelveli districts of Tamil Nadu, joined this conflict as a poor Third. Although both the Pallavas and the Chalukyas championed brahmanism, performed Vedic sacrifices and made grants to the brahmanas, the two quarrelled with each other for plunder, prestige and territorial resources. Both tried to establish supremacy over the land lying between the Krishna and the Tun Abhadra. This doab formed the bonC of contention in late medieval times between the Vijayanagar and the Bahmani kingdoms. Time and again pie Pallava princes tried to cross the Tungabhadra, which formed the natural historic boundary between many a kingdom of the Deccan and the deep south. The struggle continued for long with varying fortunes.

The first important event in this long conflict took place in the reign of Pulakeshin II (609-642), the most famous Chalukya king. He is known to us from his eulogy written by the court poet Ravikirti in the Aihole inscription. This inscription is an example of poetic excellence reached in Sanskrit and in spite of its exaggeration is a valuable source for the biography of Pulakeshin. He subjugated the Kadamba capital at Banavasi and compelled the Ganges of Mysore to acknowledge his suzerainty. He also defeated Harsha’s army on the Narmada and checked his advance towards the Deccan. In his conflict with the Pallavas, he almost reached the Pallava capital, but the Pallavas purchased peace by ceding their northern provinces to Pulakeshin II. About A.D. 610 Pulakeshin II also conquered the entire area between the Krishna and the Godavari, which came to be known as the province of Vengi. Here was set up a branch of the main dynasty and it is known as the eastern Chalukyas of Vengi. However Pulakeshin’s second invasion of the Pallava territory ended in failure. The Pallava king Narasimhavarman (A.D. 630-668) occupied the Chalukya capital at Vatapi in about A.D. 642, when Pulakesin II was probably killed in fight against the Pallavas. Narasimhavarmari assumed the title of vatapikonda or the conqueror of Vatapi. He is also said to have defeated the Cholas, the Cheras, the Pandyas and the Kalabhras.

Towards the end of the seventh century there was a lull in this conflict, which was again resumed in the first half of the eighth century A.D. The Chalukya king Vikramaditya II (A D; 733-745) is said to have overrun Kanchi three times. In 740 he completely routed the Pallavas. His victory ended the Pallava supremacy in the far south although the ruling house continued for more than a century afterwards. However, the Chalukyas could not enjoy the fruits of their victory over the Pallavas for long for their own hegemony was brought to an end in 757 by the Rashtrakuta.


Besides the performance of Vedic sacrifices, the worship of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, especially of the last two, was getting popular, From the seventh century onwards the Alvar saints, who were great devotees of Vishnu, popularized the Worship of this god. The Nayanars rendered a similar service to the cult of Shiva. From the seventh century onwards, the cult of bhakti began to dominate the religious life of the south Indians and the Alvars and Nayanars played a great part in propagating it.

The Pallava kings constructed a number of stone temples in the seventh and eighth centuries for housing these gods. The most famous of them are the seven ratha temples found at Mahabalipuram, at a distance of 65 km from Chennai. These were built in the seventh century by Narasimhavarman, who founded the port city of Mahabalipuram or Mamallapuram. This city is also famous for the Shore Temple, which was a structural construction, put up independently and not hewn out of any rock. In addition to this, the Pallavas constructed several such structural temples at their capital Kanchi. A very good example was the Kailashanath temple built in the eighth century. The Chalukyas of Badami erected numerous temples at Aihole from about A.D. 610. Aihole contains as many as 70 temples. The work was continued in the adjacent towns of Badami and Pattadakal. Pattadakal has ten temples, built in the seventh and eighth centuries. The most celebrated of these are the Papanatha temple (C. 680) and the Virupaksha temple (C. 740). The first, although 30 metres long, has a low and stunted tower in the northern style. The second was constructed purely in southern style. It is about 40 metres in length and has a very high square and storeyed tower (shikhara). The temple walls are adorned with beautiful pieces of sculpture representing scenes from the Ramayana.

We have no clear idea how these early temples were maintained. After the eighth century, land grants to temples became a common phenomenon in south India and usually they were recorded on the walls of the temples. But the temples seem to have been constructed and maintained out of the taxes collected by the king from the common people. Some temples in Karnataka under the Chalukyas were erected by the Jaina traders. Although the common people worshipped their village gods by offering them paddy and toddy, they may also have made offerings to these temples to acquire status and to satisfy their religious cravings.

Demaads on the Peasantry

For carrying on wars, for cultivating art and literature, for promoting religion and for maintaining the administrative staff, enormous resources were needed. These were apparently provided by the peasantry. The nature of burdens imposed on the agrarian communities is more or less the same in the Vakataka kingdom and the Pallava kingdom although the former belonged to Vidarbha and Maharashtra and the latter to southernAndhra and northern Tamil Nadu. In addition to land tax, which was a part of the produce, the king could demand benevolence in the form of cereals and gold and could bore certain trees such as the palmyra for obtaining salt and moist substances such as sugar and liquor, all derived from plants. Of course all the deposits and hidden treasures in the villages belonged to him. Further, he demanded flowers and milk, wood and grass and could compel the villagers to carry loads free of charge. The king was also entitled to forced labour or vishti.

In connection with the visit of royal officials, who would appear in the villages either for collecting taxes or for punishing the criminals and also in course of the march of the army, the rural communities had to perform a number of obligations They had to supply bullocks for carts and provide cots, charcoal, ovens, cooking pots and attendants.

This whole list of imposts would show that the state made heavy demands on the labour and produce of the peasantry. Most of these demands are covered by the 18 types of immunities granted to the brahmanas from the fourth century A.D. Later more and more demands were made on-the peasantry.

Rural Expansion

These numerous demands made by the king on the agrarian population presuppose capacity to pay on the part of the peasantry. Collection could not have been possible unless there was increase in agricultural production. In this period we witness the formation of new states in the trans-Vindhyan regions. Every state had a number of feudatory chiefdoms, which were small states within a large state. Each of these states, big or small, paramount of feudatory, needed its own army, its own taxation system, its own administrative machinery and a good number of priestly and similar supporters. Every state, therefore, needed resources which could be obtained from its rural base. Therefore, the states could not multiply without the proliferation of rural communities or increase in agricultural production in the existing villages. It seems that in tribal areas the brahmanas were granted land and the tribal peasantry learnt the value of preserving cattle and better methods of agriculture from them. In certain areas there was dearth of labour power. In order to keep the economy of such areas going it was also found necessary to make over some sharecroppers and weavers to the brahmanas, as is known from an early Pallava grant, Therefore the large number of grants made to the brahmanas played an important role in spreading new methods of cultivation and increasing the size of the rural communities.

In this period we come across three types of villages in south India; ur, sabha and nagaram. Ur was the usual type of village inhabited by peasant castes, who perhaps held their land in common; it was the responsibility of the village headman to collect and pay taxes on their behalf. These villages were mainly found in southern Tamil Nadu. The sabha type of village consisted of brahamadeya villages or those granted to the brahmanas and of agrahara villages. The brahmana owners enjoyed individual rights in the land but carried on their activities collectively. The nagaram type of village consisted of the village settled and dominated by combinations of traders and merchants. This happened possibly because trade declined and merchants moved to villages. In the Chalukya areas rural affairs were managed by village elders called mahajana. On the whole the period circa A.D. 300 A.D. 750 provides good evidence of rural expansion, rural organization and better use of land.

Social Structure

We can present a rough outline of the sodial structure that developed in this period. Society was dominated by princes and priests. The princes claimed the status of brahmanas or kshatriyas though many of them were local clan chiefs promoted to the second varna through benefactions made to the priests. The priests invented respectable family trees for these chiefs and traced their descent from age-old solar and lunar dynasties. This process enabled the new rulers to acquire acceptability in the eyes of the people. The priests were mainly brahmanas, though the Jaina and Buddhist monks should also be, placed in this category. In this phase priests gained in influence and authority because of land grants. Below the princes and priests came the peasantry, which was divided into numerous peasant castes. Possibly most of them were called shudras in the brahmanical system. If the peasant and artisan castes failed to produce and render services and payments, it was looked upon as a departure from the established dharma or norm. Such a situation was described as the age of Kali. It was the duty of the king to put an end to such a state, of affairs and restore peace and order which worked in favour of chiefs and priests. The title dharwa-maharaja, therefore, is adopted by the Vakataka, Pallava, Kadamba and Western Ganga kings. The real founder of the Pallava power, Simhavarman, is Credited with coming to the rescue of dharma when it was beset with the evil attributes typical of the Kaliyuga. Apparently it refers to his suppression of the Kalabhras who upset the existing social order.


1. Explain the meaning of the following terms and concepts: brahrnadeya rights, shikhara, ur, sabha, nagarcun, agrahara.

2. Describe the main developments in the political history of peninsular India between A.D. 300 and A.D. 750.

3. Give a brief account of the history of the Pallavas of Kanchi and the Chalukyas of Badami. Describe the relations between these two dynasties.

4. Discuss the position of the brahamanas in peninsular India.

5. What is the historical importance of the Aihole inscription?

6. What is the, historical importance of peninsular India during the period A.D. 300 to A.D. 750? What were the new trends in religion which emerged during this period?

7. Describe the demands by the rulers on the peasantry during this period.

8. Describe the temple architecture of the Pallavas and the Chalukyas.

9. On an outline map of peninsular India, show the areas under the states mentioned in the’ text. Also mark on the map the places mentioned in the text.

10. Collect pictures of the temples built in peninsular India during this period as part of a group project. Make a study of the features of the temple architecture.

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25. Developments in Philosophy

Goals of Life

When the state and the varna-divided social order had been firmly established, the ancient thinkers laid down that a person should strive for the attainment of four goals. These were economic resources or artha, regulation of the social order or dharma, physical pleasures or karna and salvation or moksha. Each of these objectives was expounded in writing. Matters relating to economy were treated in the Arthashastra, on which the book written by Kautilya is well known. Laws governing the state and society became the subject of the, Dharmashastra and physical pleasures were discussed in the Kamasutra. All these three branches of knowledge were primarily concerned with the material world and its problems. They occasionally touched on the question of salvation in a marginal manner. Salvation or moksha became the main subject of the texts on darshana or philosophy. It meant deliverance from the cycle of birth and death, which, was first recommended by Gautama Buddha but later emphasised by some brahmanical philosophers.

By the beginning of the Christian era, six schools of philosophy developed. These were known as Samkhy,Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika Mimamsa and Vedanta


Samkhya, literally count seems to have originated earlier. According to the early Samkhya philosophy the presence of divine agency is not essential to the creation of the world. The world owes its creation and evolution more to Nature or Prakriti than to God. This was a rational and scientific view. Around the fourth century A.D., in addition to Prakriti, Purusha or spirit was introduced as an element in the Samkhya system and the creation of the world was attributed to both. According to, the new view, Nature &nd the spiritual element together create the world. Thus, in the beginning the Samkhya school of philosophy was materialistic. Then it tended to be spiritualistic. However, according to this school a person can attain salvation through the acquisition of real knowledge and his misery can be ended for ever. This knowledge can be acquired through perception (pratyaksha), inference (anumarta) and hearing (shabda). Such a method is typical of a scientific system of inquiry.


According to the Yoga school, a person can attain salvation through meditation and physical application. Practice of control over pleasure, senses and bodily organs central to this system. In order to obtain salvation, physical exercises in various postures called asana are prescribed and the breathing exercise called pranayama is recommended. It is thought that through these methods the mind gets diverted from worldly matters and achieves concentration. These exercises are important because they not only presuppose some development of the knowledge of physiology and anatomy in ancient times, but they also indicate a tendency of running away from worldly difficulties.


Nyaya of the school of analysis was developed as a system of logic. According to it salvation can be attained through the acquisition of knowledge. What is more important, the veracity of a proposition or statement can be tested through inference, hearing and analogy. An example of how they use logic is given below:

1 There is fire in the mountain.

2 because it emits smoke.

3 whatever emits smoke contains fire as the hearth (kitchen).

The stress laid on the use of logic influenced Indian scholars who took to systematic thinking and reasoning.


The Vaisheshika school gives importance to the discussion of material elements or dravya. They draw a line between particularities and their aggregate. Earth, water, fire, air and ether (sky), when combined give rise to new objects. The Vaisheshika school propounded the atom theory. According to it, material objects are made up of atoms The Vaisheshika thus marked the beginning of physics in India. But the scientific view was diluted with belief in God and spiritualism and this school put its faith in both heaven and salvation.


Mimamsa literally means the art of reasoning and interpretation. But reasoning was used to provide justifications for various Vedic rituals and the attainment of salvation was made dependent on their performance. According to the Mimamsa, the Vedas contain the eternal truth. The principal object of this philosophy was to acquire heaven and salvation. A person will enjoy the bliss of heaven as long as his accumulated acts of virtue last. When his accumulated virtues are exhausted, he welcome back to the earth. But if he attains salvation, he will be completely free from the cycle of birth and death in the world.

In order to attain salvation the Mimamsa strongly recommended the performance of Vedic sacrifices, which needed the services of the priests and. legitimised the social distance between various varnas. Through the propagation of the JVIimamsa the brahmanas wanted to maintain their ritual authority and preserve the social hierarchy based on brahmanism.


Vedanta means the end of the Veda. Th6 Brahmasutra of Badarayana compiled in the second century B.C. formed its basic text. Later two famous commentaries were written on it, one by Shankara in the ninth century and the other by Ramanuja in the twelfth century. Shankara considers brahma to be without any attributes, but Ramanuja’s brahma possesses attributes. Shankara considers knowledge or jnana to be the chief means of salvation, but Ramanuja’s road to salvation lies in practising devotion loving faith.

The Vedanta philosophy is traced to the earlier Upanishads. According to it, brahma is the reality and everything else is unreal (mayo). The self (soul) or atma is identical with brahma. Therefore if a person acquires the knowledge of the self (atma) he realizes the knowledge of brahma and thus attains salvation, doth brahma and atma are eternal and indestructible. Such a view promotes the idea of stability and unchangingness. What is true spiritually could also be true of the social and material situation in which a person is placed.

The theory of karma came to be1 linked to the Vedanta philosophy. It means that in his present birth a person has to bear the consequences of his actions performed in his previous birth. Belief in rebirth or punatjanma becomes an important element not only in the Vedanta system but also in several other systems of Hindu philosophy. It implies that people suffer not because of social or worldly causes but because of causes which they neither know nor can bring under control.

Materialist View of Life

By and large the six systems of philosophical teaching promoted the idealistic view of life. All of them became paths of attaining salvation. The Samkhya and Vaisheshika systems put forward the materialistic view of life. Kapila, the earliest exponent of the Samkhya, teaches that a man’s life is shaped by the forces of nature and not by any divine agency. Materialistic ideas also appear in the doctrines of the AJMkas, a heterodox sect in the time of the Buddha. But Charvaka was the main expounder of the materialistic philosophy. This philosophy came to be known as the Lokaydta, which means the ideas derived from the common people. It underlined the importance of intimate contact with the world (toka) and showed lack of belief in the other world. Many teachings are attributed to Charvaka. He was opposed to the quest for spiritual salvation. He denied the existence of any divine or supernatural agency. He accepted the existence reality of only those things which could be experienced by human senses and organs. This implied a clear lack of faith in the existence of brahma and God. According to Charvaka, the brahmanas manufactured rituals for acquiring gifts (dakshina). In order to discredit him, his opponents highlight only one of his teachings. According to it a person should enjoy himself as long as he lives; he should borrow to eat well (i.e take ghee). However, Charvaka’s real contribution lies in his materialist outlook. He denies the operation of divine and supernatural agencies and makes man the centre of all activities.

The schools of philosophy with emphasis on materialism developed in the period of expanding economy and society between 500 B.C. and A.D. 300. The struggle against the difficulties presented by nature in founding settlements and leading day-to-day life in the Gangetic plains and elsewhere led to the origin and growth of iron based agricultural technology, use of metal money and the thriving of trade and handicrafts. The new environment gave rise to a scientific and materialistic outlook. This was mainly reflected in Charvaka’s philosophy and also appeared in several traditional schools.

By the fifth century A.D., materialist philosophy was overshadowed by the exponents of the Idealist philosophy who constantly criticized it and recommended performance of rituals and cultivation of spiritualism as a path to salvation; they attributed worldly phenomena to supernatural forces. This view hindered the progress of scientific inquiry and rationed thinking. Even the enlightened people found it difficult to question the privileges of the priests and warriors. Steeped in the idealist and salvation schools of philosophy the people could resign themselves to the inequities of varna based social system and the strong authority of the state represented by the king.


1. Explain the meaning of the following terms and concepts: artha, kama, dharma, moksha, asana, karma. Idealist, materialist. What were the main systems of ancient Indian philosophy? Mention the characteristic features of each.

2. What were the four goals of life laid down by ancient Indian thinkers?

3. What is meant by the ‘idealistic view of life’ and the ’materialistic view of life’? Which of the ancient Indian philosophical systems can be termed ’idealist’ and which ’materialist’ and why?


26. India’s Cultural Contacts with Asian Countries

Medieval lawgivers and commentators ordained that a person ‘should not cross the seas. This would imply that India shunned all relations with the outside world. But this is hot so, for India maintained contacts with its Asian neighbours since Harappan times. Indian traders went to the cities of Mesopotamia, where their seals belonging to the period between 2400 B.C. and 1700 B.C. have been found. From the beginning of the Christian era onwards, India maintained commercial contacts with China, South East Asia, West Asia and the Roman empire. We have seen how the Indian land routes were connected with the Chinese Silk Route. We have also dwelt on India’s commercial intercourse with the eastern part of the Roman empire. In addition to this, India sent its missionaries, conquerors and traders to the neighbouring countries where they founded settlements.

The propagation of Buddhism promoted India’s contacts with Sri Lanka, Myanmar, China and Central Asia. Most probably the Buddhist missionaries were sent to Sri Lanka in the reign of Ashoka in the third century B.C. Short inscriptions in Brahmi script belonging to the second and first centuries B.C. have been found in Sri Lanka. In course of time, Buddhism came to acquire a permanent stronghold in Sri Lanka. In the early centuries of the Christian era Buddhism spread from India to Burma (modern Myanmar). The Burmese developed the Theravada form of Buddhism and erected many temples and statues in honour of the Buddha. What is more significant, the Burmese and Sri Lanka Buddhists produced a rich corpus of Buddhist; literature, not to be found in India. All the Pali texts were compiled and commented upon in Sri Lanka. Although Buddhism disappeared from India it continued to command a large following in Burma and Sri Lanka, which is the case even now.

Beginning with the reign of Kanishka a large number of Indian missionaries went to China, Central Asia and Afghanistan for preaching their religion. From China Buddhism spread to Korea and Japan and it was in search of Buddhist texts and doctrines that several Chinese pilgrims such as Fa-hsien and Hsuan Tsang came to India. Eventually this contact proved fruitful to both the countries. A Buddhist colony cropped up at Tun Huang, which was the starting point of the companies of merchants going across the desert. The Indians learnt the art of growing silk from China and the Chinese learnt from India the art of Buddhist painting.

The two other; great centres of Buddhism, in ancient times were Afghanistan and Central Asia. In Afghanistan many statues of the Buddha and monasteries have been discovered. Begraxn and Bamiyan situated in the north of this country are famous for such relics. Begram is famous for ivory work, which is similar to Indian workmanship hr Kushan times. Bamiyan has the distinction of possessing the tallest Buddha statue sculptured out of ruck in the early centuries of the Christian era. It has thousands of natural and artificial caves in which the monks lived. Buddhism continued to hold ground in Afghanistan until the seventh century, A.D. when it was supplanted by Islam.

A similar process took place in Central Asia. Excavations have revealed Buddhist monasteries, stupas and inscriptions and manuscripts written in Indian languages at several places in Central Asia. As a result of the extension of the Kushan rule, Prakrit written in Kharoshthi script spread to Central Asia where we find many Prakrit inscr-niions and manuscripts belonging to me fourth century A.D. written language was used for official and day-to-day correspondence as well as for the preservation and propagation of Buddhism. In Central Asia Buddhism continued to be a dominant religious force.

Indian culture also spread to South-East Asia, but not through the medium of Buddhism. Except in the case of Burma it was mostly diffused through the brahmardcal cults. The name Suvarnabhumi was given to Pegu and Moulmeih. In Burma and merchants from Broach, Banaras and Bhagaipur traded with Burma. Considerable Buddhist remains of Gupta times have been found in Burma. From the first century A.D. India established close trading relations with Java in Indonesia, which was called Suyamadvlpa or the island of gold by the ancient Indians. The earliest Indian settlements in Java were established in A.D. 58. In the second century of the Christian era several small Indian principalities were set up. When the Chinese pilgrim Fa-hsien visited Java in the fifth century A.D., he found the brahmanical religion prevalent there, In the early centuries of the Christian era the Pallavas founded their colonies in Sumatra. Eventually these flowered into the kingdom of Sri Vijaya, which continued to be an important power and a centre of Indian culture from the fifth to the tenth century A.D. The Indian settlements in Java and Sumatra became channels for the radiation of Indian culture. The process of founding settlements continued afterwards.

In Indo-China, which at present divided into Vietnam, Carncodia and Laos, the Indians set up two powerful kingdoms in Kamboja and Champa. The powerful kingdom of Kamboja, identical-with modern Cambodia was founded in the sixth century A.D. Its rulers were devotees of Shiva. They developed Kamboja as a centre of Sanskrit learning and numerous inscriptions were composed in this language.

In the neighbourhood of Kamboja at Champa, embracing southern Vietnam and the fringes of northern Vietnam, it seems that the traders set up their colonies. The king of Champa was also a Shaba and the official language of Champa was Sanskrit. This country was considered to be a great centre of education in the Vedas and Dharmashastras.

Indian settlements in the Indian Ocean continued to flourish until the thirteenth century and during this period intermingled with the local peoples. Continuous commingling gave rise to a new type of art, language and literature. We find in these countries several art objects, which show a happy blending of both Indian and indigenous elements. It is astonishing that the greatest Buddhist temple is found not in India but in Borobudur in Indonesia. Considered to be the largest Buddhist temple in the whole world, it was constructed in the eighth century A.D. and 436 images of Buddha were engraved on it.

The temple of Ankorvat in Cambodia is larger than that of Borobudur. Although this temple belongs to medieval times it can be compared to the best artistic achievements of the Egyptians and Greeks. The stories of the Ramayana and Mahabharata are narrated in relief on the walls of the temple. The story of the Ramayana is so popular in Indonesia that many folk plays are performed on its basis. The Indonesian language called Bahasa Indonesia contains numerous Sanskrit words.

In respect of sculpture the head of the Buddha from Thailand, the head from Kamboja and the magnificent bronze images from Java are regarded as the best examples of the blending of Indian art with the local art traditions of South-East Asia. Similarly, beautiful examples of-painting comparable to those of Ajanta have been found not only in Sri Lanka but in the Tun Huang caves on the Chinese border.

It would be wrong to think that religion alone contributed to the spread of Indian culture. Missionaries were backed by traders and conquerors. Trade evidently played a vital part in establishing India’s relations with Central Asia and South East Asia. The very names Suvarnabhumi and Suvarnadvipa given to territories in South-East Asia, suggest Indians search for gold. Trade led not only to exchange of goods but also-to that of elements of culture. It would be inaccurate to hold that Indians alone contributed to the culture of their neighbours. It was a two-way traffic. The Indians acquired the craft of minting gold coins from the Greeks and Romans. They learnt the art of growing silk from China that of growing betel leaves from, Indonesia and several, other products from the neighbouring countries. Similarly, the method of growing cotton spread from India to China and Central Asia. However, Indian contribution seems to be more important in art, religion, script and language. But in no case the culture which developed in the neighbouring countries was a replica of the Indian culture. Just as India retained and developed its own personality in spite of foreign influences, similarly, each country in South-East Asia developed its own typical culture by synthesizing the Indian elements with its indigenous elements.


1. Describe India’s cultural contacts with the countries of South, South-East, Central and East Asia.

2. Mention the various ways through which elements of Indian culture spread to these countries.

3. Which aspects of life and culture of these countries were influenced by India? Give examples.

4. Collect pictures of the art objects and architecture of these countries. Discuss, with the help of these pictures, the statement that the ait of these countries shows a blending of both Indian and indigenous dements.

5. Write an essay on the influence of the culture of other countries on the development of Indian culture in ancient times. Refer to the earlier chapters of this book and to other works for this.

6. On an outline map of Asia, show the countries and places mentioned in the tact.


27. Transformation of the ancient phase

Social Crisis aid Agrarian Changes

The central factor that ultimately transformed the ancient Indian society into medieval society was the practice of land grants. Why did this practice originate? The charters say that the givers, mainly kings, wanted to acquire religious merit and the receivers, mainly monks and priests, needed means for performing religious rites. But the practice really came into being because of a serious crisis that affected the ancient social order. The varna society was based on the pro during activities of the peasants who were called vaishyas and of the labourers who were called shudras. The taxes collected by the royal officers from the vaishyas enabled the kings to pay Salaries to their officials iand soldiers, reward their priests and purchase luxury and other articles » from merchants and big artisans. But in the third-fourth centuries A.D. a deep social crisis; described as Kaliyuga in the Puranas, afflicted this system. Contemporary Puranic texts complain of a situation in which varnas or social classes discarded the functions assigned to them. The lower orders attempted to arrogate to themselves the status and functions of tire higher orders. In other words, they refused to pay taxes and. render labour services. This led to varna-samkara or intermixture of social classes. Varna barriers were attacked because the producing masses were oppressed with heavy taxes and impositions and were denied protection by the kings. This state of affairs is known as Kaliyuga in the Puranic passages of the third-fourth centuries A.D.

Several measures were adopted to overcome the crisis. The almost contemporary law-book of Manu advises that the vaishyas and shudras should not be allowed to deviate from their duties. This may have led to coercive measures. But a more important step to meet the situation was to grant land to priests and officials in lieu of salaries and remuneration. Such a practice had the advantage of throwing the burden of collecting taxes and maintaining law and order in the donated areas on the beneficiaries. They could deal with the recalcitrant peasants on the spot. The practice could also bring new lands under cultivation. Moreover, by implanting brahmanas in the conquered tribal areas, the tribal people could be taught the brahmanical way of life and the need of obeying the king and paying taxes to him of Landlords.

Land grants became frequent from (lie fifth century A.D. According to this the brahmanas were granted villages free from taxes. All the taxes which were collected by the king from the villages were transferred to the brahmanas. In addition to this the beneficiaries were given me right to govern the people living in the donated villages. Government officials and royal retainers were not permitted to enter the gifted villages. Up to the fifth century A.D., the ruler generally retained the right to punish the thieves, but in later times the beneficiaries were authorised to punish all criminal offenders. So the brahmanas not only collected taxes from the peasants and artisans but also maintained law and order in the Villages granted to them. Villages were granted to the brahmanas for ever, so that the power of the king was heavily undermined from the end of the Gupta period onwards. In the Maurya period taxes were assessed and collected by the agents of the king and law and order were maintained by them. But as a result of land grants there sprang up many pockets which were free from royal control.

Royal control was further eroded through the payment of government officials by land grants. In the Maurya period the officers of the state from the highest to the lowest were generally paid in cash. The practice continued under the Kushans, who issued a large number of copper and gold coins and it lingered under the Guptas where gold coins were evidently meant for the payment of army and high functionaries. But from the sixth century A.D the position seems to have changed. The law-books of that century recommended that services should be rewarded in land. Accordingly, from the time of Harshavardhana public officials were paid in land revenues. A fourth of the royal revenue was earmarked for the endowment of great public servants. The governors, ministers, magistrates and officers were given portions of land for their personal upkeep. All this created vested interest at the cost of royal authority.

New Agrarian Economy

We notice an important change in the agrarian economy. Landed beneficiaries could not cultivate lands by themselves, nor could they collect revenues by themselves. The actual cultivation was entrusted to peasants or sharecroppers who were attached to the land but did not legally own it. The Chinese pilgrim I-tsing states that most Indian monasteries got their lands cultivated by servants and others. Hsuan Tsang describes the shudras as agriculturists, which suggests that they no longer cultivated land mainly as slaves and agricultural labourers; they possibly occupied it temporarily. This evidently happened in the old settled areas in north India.

When villages were granted in the tribal areas, the agriculturists were placed under the control of religious beneficiaries, especially the for ananas, because the brahmanas began to be granted land on a large scale from the fifth-sixth centuries onwards. From the sixth century onwards sharecroppers and peasants were particularly asked to stick to the land granted to the beneficiaries in the backward and mountainous areas such as Orissa, Deccan, etc. From there the practice spread to the basin of the Ganga. In north India also artisans and peasants were asked not to leave the villages granted to the beneficiaries. So they could not move from, one village to another; on the other band they had to live in the same village to cater to all their possible needs.

Decline of Trade and Towns

From the sixth century A.D. onwards there started a sharp decline. Trade with the western part of the Roman empire ended in the third century and silk trade with Iran and the Byzantium stopped in the middle of the sixth century. India carried on some commerce with China and South-East Asia, but its benefits were reaped by the Arabs who acted as middlemen. Before the rise of lslam the Arabs had practically monopolized the export trade of India. The decline of trade for well over 300 years after the sixth century is strikingly demonstrated by the practical absence of gold coins in the country. The paucity of coins after the sixth century is true not only of north. India but also, of south India The decline of trade led to the decay of towns. Towns flourished in west and north India under the Satavahanas and Kushans. A few cities continued to thrive in Gupta times. But the post Gupta period witnessed the ruin of many old commercial cities in north India Excavations show that several towns in Haryana and East Punjab.

Parana Quila (Delhi), Mathura, Hastinapur (Meerut district), Shravastl (Uttar Pradesh), Kaushambi : (near Allahabad), Rajghat (Varanasi), Chirand (Saran district), Valshali and Pataliputra began to decline in the Gupta period and mostly disappeared SE.

in post-Gupta times. The Chinese pilgrim Hsuan Tsang visited several towns considered sacred on account of their association with the Buddha but found them almost deserted or dilapidated. On account, of restricted market for Indian exports, artisans and merchants living in these towns flocked to the countryside and took to cultivation. In the late fifth century a group of silk weavers from the west fern coast migrated to Mandasor in Malwa, gave up silk weaving and adopted other professions. On account of the-decay of trade and towns, the villagers had to meet their needs in respect of oil, salt, spices, cloth, etc., all by themselves. So this gave rise to smaller units of production, each unit meeting its own needs.

From the sixth century A.D. onwards some changes occurred in the social organisation. In the Gangetic plains in north India, the vaishyas were regarded as free peasants, but land grants created landlords between the peasants on the one hand and the king on the other, so that the vaishyas became as good as the shudras. In this way the old brahmanical order was modified. This modified social order spread from north India into Bengal and south India as a result of land grants to the brahmanas, brought from the north, from the fifth-sixth centuries onwards. In the outlying areas we find mainly two orders, the brahmanas and the shudras.

Changes in the Varna System

Frequent seizures of power and land grants gave rise to several categories of landed people. When a person acquired land and power he naturally sought a high position in society. He might belong to a lower varna, but he was favoured with generous land grants by his master. This created difficulties because though economically well off, socially and ritually he was low. According to the Dharmashastras social positions hitherto were mainly regulated by the varna system. The people were divided into four varnas, the brahmanas being the highest and the shudras being the lowest. The economic rights of a person were also determined by the varna to which he belonged. So some changes had to be made in the written texts to recognize the position of the new landed classes. An astrologer called Varahamihira, who belonged to the sixth century, prescribed houses in sizes varying according to the varna, as was the old practice. But he also fixed the size according to the grades of various classes of ruling chiefs. Thus, formerly all things in society were graded according to the varnas, but now they also came to be determined according to the landed possessions of a person.

From the seventh century onwards numerous castes were created. A purana of the eighth century states that thousands of mixed castes were produced by the connection of vaishya women with men of lower castes. This implies that the shudras and untouchables were divided into countless sub castes. So were the brahmanas and the Rajputs who appeared as an important factor in Indian polity and society around the seventh century. The number of castes increased on according to the nature of the economy. Although people, living in different areas followed the same occupation, they became divided into sub-castes according to the territory to which they belonged. In addition to this, many tribal people were admitted into brahmanical society because of the land grants given to the brahmanas in the aboriginal tracts Most of these people were enrolled as shudras and mixed castes. Every tribe or clan was now given the status of a separate caste in brahmanical society.

Cultural Development

In about the sixth-seventh centuries started the formation of cultural units which later came to be known as Karnataka, Maharashtra, Orissa, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, etc. The identity of the various cultural groups is recognized by both foreign and Indian sources. The Chinese traveller Hsuan Tsang mentions several nationalities. The Jaina books of the late eighth century notice the existence of 18 major peoples or nationalities. It describes the physical features of 16. It produces samples of their language and ‘says something &bout their character. Vishakhadatta, an author of about the ninth century A.D., speaks of different regions inhabited by peoples, different in customs, clothing and language, The sixth-seventh centuries are equally important in the history of Sanskrit literature. Sanskrit continued to be used by the ruling class from about the second century A.D. onwards. As the rulers came to live in pomp and splendour, the style of their language became verbose and ornate. The ornip style in Sanskrit prose and ne common from the seventh century and the traditional Sanskrit Pandit still love to write in it. The best example of verbiage in prose is found in the writings of Bana. Al though the prose of Bana was not easy to imitate, it continued to serve as a model for Sanskrit writers in the medieval period.

Prom the seventh century A.D., a remarkable development takes place to the linguistic history of India. Buddhist writings from eastern India show the faint beginning, of Bengali, Assamese, Maithili, Oriya and Hindi. Similarly, the Jaina Prakrit works of the same period show the beginning of Gujarati and Rajasthani. In the south, Tamil was the oldest language but Kannada came to grow at about this time. Telugu and Malayalam developed much later. It seems that each region came to develop its own language on account of its isolation from the others. On the break-up of the Gupta empire, there arose several independent principalities, which naturally hindered countrywide contacts and communications. The decline of trade meant lack of communication between the various regions and this promoted the growth of regional languages.

Regional scripts became more prominent in the seventh century A.D. and later. From Maurya to Gupta times, although the script underwent changes, more or less the same script continued to obtain throughout the greater part of the country. Thus a person who has mastered the script of the Gupta age can read inscriptions from different parts of the country in that period. But from the seventh century every region came to have its own script and hence one cannot read post-Gupta inscriptions found in different parts of the country unless he has the knowledge of regional scripts.

In sculpture and construction of temples, every region came to evolve its own style from the seventh-eighth centuries onwards. Particularly south India tended to become the land of stone temples. Stone and bronze were the two main media in which divinities were represented. Bronze statues began to be manufactured on an impressive scale. Although they are also found in good numbers in the Himalayan territories, they predominated in south India because of their use in brahmanical temples and in eastern India because of their use in Buddhist temples and monasteries. Although the same gods and goddesses were worshipped throughout the country, people of every region portrayed them in sculptures in their own way.

Bhakti and Tantricism

We also notice some religious changes in post-Gupta times. Hindu divinities came to be arranged according to their grades in the hierarchy. Just as society was divided into unequal classes based on ritual, landed property, military power, etc., so the divinities were also divided into unequal ranks. Vishnu, Shiva and Durga appeared as supreme deities, presiding over many other gods and goddesses, who were placed in lower positions as retainers and attendants. We i find the practice of worshipping Brahma, Ganapati, Vishnu, Shakti and Shiva. They were called panchadeva dr five divinities. The chief god Shiva or some other deity was installed in the main temple, around which four subsidiary shrines were erected to house the other four deities. Such temples were known as panchayatana. The Vedic gods Indra, Varuna and Yama were reduced to the position of lokapalas or security guards. Early medieval pantheons give us a good idea of divine hierarchy based on wordly hierarchy. In many of them the supreme mother goddess was represented in a dominating posture in relation to several deities. We find such pantheons not only in Shaivism, Shaktism and VaishnaVism but in Jainism:and Buddhism as well where: gods were depicted and placed accord ing to their-position in the hierarchy.

The monastic organisation of the Jainas, Shaivites, Vaishnavites, etc., also came to be divided into about five ranks. The higher rank was occupied by the acharya, whose coronation took place in the same manner as the coronation of the prince; The Upadhyaya and Upasaka occupied lower positions.

From the seventh century A.D. onwards the Bhakti cult spread throughout the country and especially in the south. Bhakti meant that people made all kinds of offerings to the god in return for which they received the prasada or the favour of the god. It meant that the devotees completely surrendered to their god. This practice can be compared to the complete dependence of the tenants on the land owners. Just as the tenants offered and rendered various services to the lord and then received land and protection as a kind of favour from him, a similar relation came to be established between the individual and his god. Since elements of feudalism persisted in the country for a very long time, Bhakti came to be deeply embedded in the Indian ethos.

The most remarkable development in the religious field in India from, about the sixth century A.D. was the spread of tantricism. In the fifth-seventh centuries many brahmanas received land in Nepal, Assam, Bengal, Orissa, Central India and the Deccan and it is about this time that tantric texts, shrines and practices also appeared; Tantricism admitted both women and shudras into its ranks and laid great stress on the use of magic rituals. Some of the rituals may have been in use in earlier times, but they were systematized and recorded in the tantric texts from about the sixth century A.D. onwards. They were intended to satisfy the material desires of the devotees for physical possessions and to cure the day-to-day dis eases and injuries. Obviously tantricism arose as a result of the large-scale admission of the aboriginal peoples in brahmanical society. The brahmanas adopted many of the tribal rituals, charms and symbols, which were now officially compiled, sponsored and fostered by them. In course of time these were distorted by the brahmanas and priests to serve the interests of their rich patrons. Tantricism permeated Jainism, Buddhism, Shaivism and Vaishnavism. From the seventh century onwardis it continued to hold ground throughout the medieval age. Many medieval manuscripts found in different parts of the country deal with tantricism and astrology and the two are completely mixed with each other.

Overall the sixth and seventh centuries show certain striking developments in polity, society, economy, language, script and religion. During this period the dominant features of ancient Indian life were making way for those of medieval life. Taken together these changes herald the transition to a different type of society and economy dominated by the landlords who now stood between the state and the peasants. They ran the administration which was hitherto manned mainly by the officers appointed by the state. This development was similar to what, happened in Europe where the landlords acquired effective authority from the sixth century A D, onwards, after the fall of the Roman empire. Both the Roman empire and the Gupta empire were attacked by the Hunas, but the consequences were dissimilar. So strong was the pressure of the Hunas and other tribes on the Roman empire that independent peasants were compelled to surrender their freedom to the lords for the sake of protection. The Huna invasions of India did not lead to such a result.

Unlike the Roman society, ancient Indian society did not employ slaves in production on any scale. In India, the main burden of production and taxation fell on the peasants, artisans, merchants and agricultural labourers who were placed In the categories of vaishyas and shudras. We find signs of revolt against this system which made it difficult for the state officials to collect taxes directly from the producers. Therefore, land began to be granted on a large-scale to remunerate various functionaries. The earliest grants were made to the brahmanas and temples just as they were made in Europe to the Church.

Both India and Europe show a clear trend of decline in, artisanal and commercial activity after the sixth century A.D. In the fifth-sixth centuries, towns decayed on the whole in both India and the Rpman empire. Both India said Europe witnessed agrarian expansion which gave rise to many rural settlements. In India this was promoted by the practice of land grants. The emergence of landlords as a powerful class became a prominent feature of the social, economic and political landscape after the end of the ancient period in both Europe and India. Whether they held land for religious or other purposes, the landlords played the key role in shaping the course of society, religion, art and architecture and literature in both India and Europe from the seventh century A.D. onwards.


1. Describe the changes in Indian polity, economy and society during the fifth-seventh centuries. Discuss the significance of these changes. Describe the developments in religion and culture during the fifth- seventh centuries.

2. What is meant by the end of the ancient period of Indian history? When can one period of history be said to have ended and another begun? Discuss.


28. Sequence of Social Changes

There are no written texts for the study of society ill pre-Vedic times. Archaeology tells us that people lived in small groups in the hilly areas in the Palaeolithic Age. The main, source of their subsistence was the game they hunted and wild fruits and vegetation roots they collected. Man learnt to produce food and live in the houses towards the end of the Stone Age and the beginning of the Metal Age. The neolithic and chalcolithic communities lived on the uplands not far from the hills and rivers. Gradually there arose peasant villages in the Indus basin area and eventually. They blossomed into the urban society of Harappa, with large and small houses. But once the Harappan civilization disappeared, urbanism did not reappear in Indian subcontinent for a thousand years or so.

Tribal and Pastoral Phase

For the history of society from the time of the Rig Veda onwards we can also use written texts. They tell us that the Rig Vedic society despite its good familiarity with agriculture was primarily pastoral. People were semi nomadic and their chief possessions consisted of cattle and horses. The terms for cow, bull and horse appear frequently in the Rig Veda. Cattle were considered to be synonymous with wealth and a wealthy person was called gomat. Wars were fought for the sake of cattle and, therefore, the raja whose main duty was to protect the cows was called gopa or gopati. Cow was so central to the subsistence of the family that the daughter was called duhitr that is one who milks. So intimate was the acquaintance of the Vedic people with kine that when they came buffalo in India they called it gouala or cow-haired. In contrast to references to cows and bulls those to agriculture are fewer and occur in the late hymns of the Rig Veda. Cattle-rearing, therefore, was the main source of livelihood.

In such a society people could hardly produce anything over and above what was needed for their subsistence. Tribesmen could afford only occasionally presents for their chiefs. The main income of a chief or a prince came from the spoils of war. He captured booty from enemy tribes and extracted tributes from hostile tribes and tribal compatriots. The offering of tribute received by him was called bait. It seems that the tribal kinsmen gave trust and voluntary presents to the tribal chief. In return the chief led them from victory to victory and stood by them in difficult times. The respect and occasional gifts received by the prince from his tribesmen may have become customary in Vedic times. But defeated hostile tribes were made: to pay tributes: Periodical sacrifices provided an important occasion for the distribution of those gifts and tributes. The lion’s Share went to the priests in lieu of the prayers they offered to gods on behalf of their patrons. At one place in the Rig Veda the invoked god is asked to bestow wealth only on priests, princes and sacrifices. This suggests an attempt-at unequal distribution. Princes and priests wanted to grab more at the cost of the common people, although people voluntarily gave larger share to their chiefs and princes out of deference and because of their military qualities and services. Ordinary members of the tribe received a share which was known as ansa or bhaga. Distribution took place in folk assemblies, which were attended by the rajas and their clansmen.

Although artisans, peasants, priests and warriors appear even in the earlier portions of the Rig Veda, society as a whole was tribal, pastoral, semi-nomadic and egalitarian. Spoils of war and cattle constituted the main forms of property. Cattle and women slaves were generally given as gifts. Gifts of cereals are hardly mentioned because these were not produced on any considerable scale. Therefore, apart from the booty captured in wars, there was no other substantial source for the maintenance of princes and priests. It was possible to have high ranks, but not high social classes. Princes and priests employed women slaves for domestic service, but their number may not have been large. The Rig Vedic society did not have a serving order in the form of the shudras.

Agriculture and the Origin of Upper Orders

When the Vedic people moved from Afghanistan and Punjab to western Uttar Pradesh they became mostly agriculturists. In later Vedic times we notice continuous settlements for two of three centuries. This gave rise to territorial chiefdoms. Out of the tributes obtained from peasants and others the princes, could perform sacrifices and reward their priests. The later Vedic peasant paid to the nobles and warriors who in their turn paid to the priests;, in addition he also paid: sacrificial fees to the priests. The peasant supplied food for smiths, chariot makers and carpenters, who mainly served the emerging class of warriors. But the later Vedic peasant could not contribute to the rise of trade and towns; this feature became prominent in the age of the Buddha. The later Vedic society did not know the use of metal money.

The Vedic communities had established neither a taxation system nor a professional army. There did not exist collectors of taxes apart from the kinsmen of the prince. Payment made to the king was not much different from the sacrificial offering made to the gods. The tribal militia of the pastoral society was replaced by the peasant militia of agricultural society. The vis or the tribal peasantry formed the sena or the armed host. The peasantry in later Vedic times was called bala (force). The army to protect the ashvamedha horse comprised both the kshatriyas and the vis. Armed with bows, quivers and shields, the former acted as military captains and leaders; armed with sticks, the latter constituted the rank and file. For the sake of victory the chief or noble was asked to eat from the same vessels with vis. The priests stressed through rituals the subjection of the peasantry or vaishyas to the warrior nobles but at this stage the process of turning the tribesmen into taxpaying peasants was very weak. On account of the use of the wooden ploughshare and indiscriminate killing of cattle in sacrifices the peasants did not produce much over and above their needs. Hence they could not pay regular taxes. On the other hand, princes were not completely alienated from the peasants. In consonance with tribal practices, the rajas were expected to extend agriculture and even to lend their hands to plough, so that the gap between the vaishya and the rajanya was not very wide. Although the nobles and warriors ruled over their peasant kinsmen, they had to depend upon peasant militia for fighting against enemies and they could not grant land without the consent of the tribal peasantry. All this placed them in a difficult position and could not sharpen the distinctions between the rulers and the ruled.

Varna System of Production and Government

The use of iron tools for crafts and cultivation created conditions for the transformation of the comparatively egalitarian Vedic society into a fully agricultural and class-divided social order in the sixth century B C; In the pre-sixth century B.C. period people were not so familiar with iron tools whose number was limited. But now the situation changed. Once the forested areas of the middle Gangetic plains were cleared with the help Of the fire and the iron axe, one of the most fertile parts of the world was opened to settlement. From 500 B.C. onwards we find numerous rural and urban settlements. Large territorial states resulted in the formation of the Magadhan empire. All this, was possible because with the help of the iron ploughshare, sickles and other tools, peasants produced a good deal more than what they needed for their subsistence Peasants needed the support of artisans, who not only provided the peasants with tools, clothing, etc., but also supplied weapons and luxury articles to the princes and priests. The technique of agricultural production in post-Vedic times attained a much higher level than that found in the Vedic age.

The new technique and the use of force enabled some people to possess large stretches of land which needed a good number of slaves and hired labourers. In Vedic times people cultivated their fields with the help of their family members; there is no word for wage-earner in Vedic literature. But slaves and wage-earners engaged in cultivation became a regular feature in the age of the Buddha. The Artbashastra of Kautilya shows that in the Maurya period they worked on large state farms. But by and large slaves in ancient India were meant for domestic work. Generally the small peasant occasionally aided by slaves and hired labourers played the dominant role in production.

With the new technique peasants artisans, hired labourers and agricultural slaves produced much more than they needed for their subsistence. A good part of this produce was collected from them by princes and priests. For regular collection, administrative and religious methods were devised. The king appointed tax-collectors to assess and collect taxes. But it was also important to convince people of the necessity of obeying the raja, paying him taxes and offering gifts to the priests. For this purpose the varna system was devised. According to it members of the three higher varnas or social orders were distinguished ritually from those of the fourth varna. The twice-born were entitled to Vedic studies and investiture with the sacred thread and the fourth varna or the shudras were excluded from it. They were meant for serving the higher orders and some law-givers reserved slavery only for the shudras. Thus the twice-born can be called citizens and the shudras non-citizens. But there grew distinctions between citizen and citizen in the ranks of the twice-born. The brahmanas were not allowed to take to the plough and their contempt for manual work reached such limits that they developed hatred for the hands that practised crafts and thus came to look upon some manual labourers as untouchables. The more a person withdrew from physical labour, the purer he came to be considered. The vaishyas, although members of the twice-born group, worked as peasants, herds men and artisans and later as traders. What is more important, they were the principal taxpayers whose payments maintained the kshatriyas and brahmanas.

The varna system authorised the kshatriya to collect taxes from the peasants and tolls from traders and artisans, which enabled him to pay his priests and employees in cash and kind.

The rate of payment and economic privileges differed according to the varna to which a person belonged. Thus a brahmana was required to pay two per cent, interest on loans, a kshatriya three per cent, a vaishya four per cent and a shudra five per cent. Shudra guests could be fed only if they had done some work at the house of the host. These rules laid down in the Dharmashastras or lawbooks may not have been observed strictly, but they indicate the norms which were set by society.

Since both priests and warriors lived on the taxes, tributes, tithes and labour supplied by peasants and artisans, their relations were marked by occasional feuds for the sharing of social savings. The kshatriyas were also hurt by the vanity of the brahmanas, who claimed the highest status in society. But both composed their differences in face of the opposition of the vaishyas and shudras. Ancient texts emphasise that the kshatriyas cannot prosper without the support of the brahmanas and the brahmanas cannot prosper without the support of the kshatriyas. Both can thrive and rule the world only if they cooperate with each other!

Social Crisis and Rise of Landed Classes:

For several centuries the system worked well in the Gangetic plains and the adjacent area, which saw a successive series of large states. In the first and second centuries A.D. it was marked by bumping trade and urbanism. In this phase art flourished as never before. The climax of the old order was reached in about the third century. Then its progressive role seems to have been exhausted. Around the third century A.D the old social formation was afflicted with a deep crisis the crisis is clearly reflected in the description of the Kali age in those portions of the Puranas which belong to the third and fourth centuries A.D. The Kali age is characterised by Varnasankara, i.e. intermixture of varnas or social orders, which implies that the vaishyas and the shudras (peasants, artisans and labourers) either refused to perform producing functions assigned to them or else the vaishya peasants declined to pay taxes and the shudras refused to make their labour available. They did not observe the varna boundaries relating to marriage and other types of social intercourse. On account of this situation the epics emphasise the importance of danda or coercive measures and Manu lays down that the vaishyas and shudras should not be allowed to deviate from their duties. The kings appear as upholders and restorers of the varna system.

But coercive measures alone were not sufficient to make the peasants pay and labourers work. Instead of extracting taxes directly through its own agents and then distributing them among its priestly, military and other employees and supporters, the state found it convenient to assign land revenues directly to priests, military chiefs, administrators, etc., for their support. This development was in sharp contrast to the Vedic practice. Formerly only the community had the right to give land to priests and possibly to its chiefs and princes. But now the raja usurped this power and obliged the leading members of the community by granting land to them. These beneficiaries were also empowered to maintain law and order. This is how fiscal and administrative problems were solved. New and expanding kingdoms wanted more and more taxes. These could be obtained from the tribal backward areas provided the tribals adopted new methods of agriculture and were taught to be loyal. The problem was tackled by granting land in the tribal areas to enterprising brahmanas who could tame the inhabitants of the wild tracts and make them amenable to discipline.

In backward areas land grants to brahmanas and others spread agricultural calendar, diffused the knowledge of ayuryeda medicine and thus contributed to increase in overall agricultural production. Art of writing and the use of Prakrit and Sanskrit were also disseminated. Through land grants civilization spread in the deep south and far east although some spadework had been done by traders and by Jainas and Buddhists earlier. The grants brought to the Hindu fold a large number of aboriginal peasants who came to be ranked as shudras the shudras, therefore, began to be called peasants and agriculturists in early medieval texts. On the other land grants, especially in developed areas, depreciated the position of independent vaishya peasants. Hence vaishyas and shudras came closer to each other sifter Gupta times socially and economically. But the most significant consequence of land grants was the emergence of a class of landlords living on the produce of the peasants. This prepared the ground in about the fifth-sixth centuries A.D. for a new type of social formation which can be called feudal.

In the feudal set-up the position of the women of the landed and fighting classes deteriorated. In early medieval times sati became a common practice in Rajasthan However, women from lower orders were free to take to economic activities and remarry.


It is, therefore, not possible to give one label to society in ancient India, but we have to think of several in its evolution. The food-gathering society of the Palaeolithic Age was succeeded by the food-producing societies of neolithic and chalcolithic communities. Eventually, the peasant communities developed into the Harappan urban Societies. Then we have a break followed by a society of horse users and cattle-herders. The Rig Veda indicates a social formation which was largely pastoral and tribal. The pastoral Society became agricultural in later Vedic times, but its primitive agriculture did not yield much and so the rulers could not get much at the cost of the peasants. The class-divided society comes into full view in post Vedic times. It came to be known as varna system. This social organisation rested on the producing activities of the vaishyas supplemented by those of the shudras. By and large, the social system worked well from the age of the Buddha to Gupta times. Then it underwent a change on account of internal upheavals. Priests and Officials began to be granted lands for maintenance and gradually there emerged a class of landlords between the peasants and the state. This undermined the position of the vaishyas and caused modification in the varna system.


1. Describe the main stages in the evolution of Indian society in ancient times.

2. Why were there no cities in India for about a thousand years after the decline of the Harappa civilization?

3. Why is society in the time of the Rig Veda called pastoral and tribal? Discuss the impact of the use of iron on Indian historical development.

4. Describe the factors that led to the rise of social inequalities in ancient India. How were these inequalities expressed in the organisation of society? In what specific respect was Indian social system different from the social organisation of ancient societies in western Europe? Discuss the significance of land grants in the development of Indian society in ancient times.


29. Legacy in Science and Civilisation


Man’s confrontation with nature gave rise to significant developments. People had to overcome the difficulties presented by the jungles, hills, hard soils, droughts, floods, animals, etc. in earning their livelihood. In this process they developed technology and a scientific outlook. But certain difficulties were found insurmountable and the natural phenomena inexplicable Hence people had to come to terms with them. Besides their efforts, they depended on the fertility of the soil, timely rain and similar other gifts of the nature. Both the bounty and the hostility of nature led them to think of religion and supernatural agencies.

Brahmanism or Hinduism developed as the dominant religion in early India. It influenced the development of art and literature and also of society. In addition to Brahmanism, India gave rise to Jainism and Buddhism. Although Christianity came to this country in about the first century A.D., it did not make much headway in ancient times. Buddhism also disappeared from India in course of time, though it had spread as far as Japan in the east and as far as Central Asia in the north-west. In the process of diffusion, Buddhism projected a good deal of Indian art, language and literature in the neighbouring areas, Jainism Continued in India and helped the development of its art and literature, Till today it has a good many followers, especially in the trading communities in Rajasthan, Gujarat and Karnataka.

The Varna System.

Religion influenced the formation of social classes in India in a peculiar way. In other ancient societies the duties and functions of social classes were fixed by law which was largely enforced by the state. But in India varna laws enjoyed the sanction of both the state and religion. The functions of priests, warriors, peasants and labourers were; defined in law and supposed to have been laid down by divine agencies. Those who departed from their functions and were found guilty of offences were subjected to secular punishments. They had also to perform rituals and penances, all differing according to the varna. Each varna was given not only a social but also a ritualistic recognition, In course of time varnas or social classes and jails or castes were made hereditary by law and religion. All this was done to ensure that vaishyas produce and pay taxes and shudras serve as labourers so that brahmanas act as priests and kshatriyas as rulers. Based on the division of labour and specialisation of occupations, the peculiar institution of the caste system certainly helped the growth of society and economy at the initial stage. The varna system contributed to the development of the state. The producing and labouring classes were disarmed and gradually each caste was pitted against the other in such a manner that the oppressed ones could not combine against the privileged classes.

The need of carrying out their respective functions was so strongly ingrained in the minds of the various classes that ordinarily they would never think of deviating from their dharma. The Bhagavadgita taught that people should lay down their lives in defence of their own dharma rather than adopt the dharma of others, which would prove dangerous. The lower orders worked hard in the firm belief that they would deserve a better life in the next world or birth. This belief lessened the intensity and frequency of tensions and conflicts between those who actually produced and those who lived off these producers as princes, priests, officials, soldiers and big merchants. Hence the necessity for exercising coercion against the lower orders was not so strong in ancient India. What was done by slaves and other producing sections in Greece and Rome under the threat of whip was done by the vaishyas and shudras out of conviction formed through brahmanical indoctrination and the varna System.

Philosophical Systems

The Indian thinkers looked upon the world as illusion and deliberated deeply on the relation between the soul and God. In fact philosophers of no other country delved so deeply into this problem as the Indians did. Ancient India is considered famous for its contribution to philosophy and spiritualism. But the Indians also developed a materialistic view of the world. In the six systems of philosophy which the Indians created we find elements of materialist philosophy in the samkhya system of Kapila, who was born around 580 B.C. He believed that the soul can attain liberation only through real knowledge, which can be acquired through observation, inference and words. The samkhya system does not recognize the existence of God. According to it, the world has not been created by God but by nature and the world and human life are regulated by natural forces.

Materialist philosophy received the greatest impetus from Charvaka, who lived in about the sixth century B.C. The philosophy that he propounded is known as lokayata. He argued that what is not experienced by man through his sensual organs does not really exist. It implies that gods do not exist. However, with the decline in trade, handicrafts and urbanism the idealist system of philosophy came to the forefront. The idealist system taught that the world is an illusion. People were asked by the Upanishadas to abandon the world and to strive for real knowledge. Western thinkers have taken to the teachings of the Upanishads because they are unable to solve the human problems created by modern technology. The famous German philosopher Schopenhauer finds in his system a place for the Vedas and the Upanishadsa. He used to say that the Upanishads consoled film in this life and would also console him after death.

Crafts and Technology

It would be wrong to think that the Indians did not make any progress in material culture. They attained proficiency in several fields of production. The Indian craftsmen were great experts in dyeing and making various. kinds of colours. The basic colours made in India were so shining and lasting that the beautiful paintings of Ajanta are still intact.

Similarly, the Indians were great experts in the art of making steel. This craft was developed first in India. The Indian steel was exported to many countries of the world since very, early times and came to be called wootz in later times. No other country to the world could manufacture such steel swords as were made by Indian craftsmen. They were in great demand in the entire region from Asia to Eastern Europe.


The Arthashastra of Kautilya leaves no doubt that, the Indians could run the administration of a large empire and tackle-the problems of a complex society. The country produced a great ruler in Ashoka, who in spite of his great victory over Kalinga, adopted a policy of peace and non-aggression. Ashoka and several other Indian kings practised religious toleration and stressed-that the washes of the followers of the other religions should be respected. Furthermore, India was the only other country with Greece to make experiments in some kind of democracy.

Science and Mathematic

India made an important contribution to science. In ancient times religion and science were closely linked together. Astronomy made great progress in the county because the planets came to be regarded as gods and their movements began to be closely observed. Their study became essential on account their connections with changes in seasons and weather connditions which is extremely important for agricultural activities. The science of grammar became important arose because the ancient brahmanas stresses that every Vedic prayer and even mantra should be recited with meticulous correctness.

By the third century B.C. mathematics, astronomy and. medicine began to develop separately. In the field of mathematics the ancient Indians made three distinct contributions the notation system, the decimal system and the use of zero. The earliest epigraphic evidence for the use of the decimal system is in the beginning of the fifth century A.D. The Indian notational system was adopted by the Arabs who spread it in the Western world. The Indian numerals are called Arabic in English, but the Arabs themselves called their numerals hindsa. Before these numerals appeared in the West they had been used in India for centuries. They are found in the inscriptions of Ashoka, which were writ ten in the third century B.C.

The Indians were the first to use the decimal system. The famous mathematician Aryabhata (A.D. 476-500) was acquainted with it. The Chinese learnt this system from the Buddhist missionaries and the Western world borrowed it from the Arabs when they came in contact with India. Zero was discovered by the Indians in about the second century B.C. Since the time of its discovery the Indian mathematicians considered zero as a separate numeral and it was used in this sense in sums of arithmetic. In Arabia, the earliest use of zero appears in A.D. 873. The Arabs learnt and adopted it from India and spread it in Europe. Although both the Indians and the Greeks contributed to the discipline of algebra, in Western Europe its knowledge was borrowed mot from Greece but from the Arabs who had acquired it from India.

The brick constructions of Harappa show that irk north-western India people possessed a good knowledge of measurement and geometry. Ultimately the Vedic people may have benefited from this knowledge, which appears in the Sulvasutras of about the fifth century B.C. In the second century B.C. Apastamba produced a practical geometry for the construction of altars at which the kings could offer sacrifices. It describes acute angle, obtuse angle and right angle. Aryabhata formulated the rule for finding the area of a triangle, which led to the origin of trigonometry. The most famous work of this time is the Suryasiddhanta, the like of which is not found in contemporary ancient East.

The most renowned scholars of astronomy were Aryabhata and Varahamihira. Aryabhata belonged to the fifth century and Varahatnihira to the sixth. Aryabhata calculated the position of the planets according to the Babylonian method. He discovered the cause of lunar and solar eclipses. The circumference of the earth which he measured on the basis of speculation is considered to be correct even now. He pointed out that the sun is stationary and the earth rotates the book of Aryabhata is called the Aryahhatiya.

Varahamihira’s well-known work is called the Brihatsamhita, which belongs to the sixth century A.D. Varahamihira stated that the moon rotates round the earth and the earth rotates round the sun. He utilized several Greek works to explain the movement of the planets and some other astronomical problems. Although the Greek knowledge Influenced Indian astronomy, the Indians doubtless pursued the subject further and made use of it in their observations of the planets.

In the applied field, Indian craftsmen contributed much to the progress of chemistry. The Indian; dyers invented lasting colours and they also discovered the blue colour, It has been already stated how the Indian smiths were the first in the world to manufacture steel.


The ancient Indian physicians studied anatomy. They devised methods to diagnose diseases and prescribed medicines for their cure. The earliest mention of medicines is in the Atharva Veda. But as in other ancient societies, the remedies recommended were replete with magical charms and spells and medicine could not develop aloifg scientific lines.

In the second century A.D. India produced two famous scholars of the Ayurveda, Sushrata and Charaka; In the Sushrutasamhita, Sushruta describes the method of operating cataract, stone disease and several other ailments. He mentions as many as 121 implements to be used for operations. In the treatment of disease he lays special emphasis on diet and cleanliness, Char aka’s Charakasamhita is like an encyclopaedia of Indian medicine. It describes various types of fever, leprosy, hysteria (mirgi) and tuberculosis. Possibly Charaka did not know that some of these are infectious. His book contains the names of a large number of plants and herbs which were to be used as medicine. The book is thus useful not only for the study of Indian medicine but also for that of ancient Indian flora and chemistry. In subsequent centuries Indian medicine developed on the lines laid down by Charaka.


Ancient Indians also made some contribution to the study of geography. They had little knowledge of the geography of the lands outside India, but the rivers, mountain ranges, places of pilgrimage and different regions of the country are described in the epics and Puranas. Although Indians were acquainted with China and Western countries, they neither had any clear idea of where they lay nor of their distances from India.

In early times the ancient Indians obtained some knowledge of navigation and they contributed to the craft of shipbuilding. But since important political powers had their seats of power far away from the coast and since there was no danger from the seaside, the ancient Indian princes did not pay any particular attention to navigation.

Art and Literature

The ancient Indian masons and craftsmen produced beautiful works of art. The monolithic pillars erected by Ashoka are famous for their shining polish, which matches the polish on Northern Black Polished Ware. It is still a mystery how the craftsmen could achieve this kind of polish on pillars and pottery. The Mauryan polished pillars were mounted by statues of animals, especially lions. The lion capital has been adopted as the national emblem of the Republic of India. We may also refer to the cave temples of Ajanta as well as the famous Ajanta paintings, which go back to the beginning of the Christian era. In a way Ajanta is the birth-place of Asian art. It contains as many as 30 cave temples, constructed between the second century B C; and the seventh century A.D. The paintings appeared in the second century A.D. and most of them belong to Gupta times. Their themes were borrowed from stories about previous incarnations of the Buddha and from other ancient literature. The achievement of Indian painters at Ajanta has been lauded by all art connoisseurs. The lines and colours used at Ajanta display a proficiency which is not found in the world until the renaissance in Europe. Indian art, moreover, was not limited to India; it spread to Central Asia and China at one end and to South-East Asia on the other. The focal point of the spread of Indian art into Afghanistan and the neighbouring parts of Central Asia was Gandhara. Elements of Indian art were fused with those of Central Asian and Hellenistic art giving rise to a new art style called the Gandhara style. The first statue of the Buddha was fashioned in this style. Although its features are Indian, the size and the presentation of the head and the drapery show Greek influence. Similarly, the temples constructed in south India served in some ways as models for the construction of temples in South East Asia. We have already referred to the temple at Ankorvat in Cambodia and the temple at Borobudur in Java.

In the field of education we may refer to the huge monastic establishment of Nalanda. It attracted students not only from different parts of India but also from Tibet and China. The standards of examination were stiff and only those who could pass the test prescribed by the dvarapandita or the ‘scholar at the gate could be admitted to this university. Nalanda is one of the earliest examples of a residential-cum-teaching institution which housed thousands of monks devoted to learning, philosophy and meditation.

In the field of literature the Indians produced the Rig Veda which is the earliest specimen of Indo-Aryan literature and on the basis of which an attempt has been made to determine the nature of the Aryan culture. In Gupta times we have the works of Kalidasa, whose play Abhyanashakuntcdam has been translated into all the important languages of the world.


1. Describe the legacy of ancient India in religion and philosophy.

2. Discuss the features of social organisation that are peculiar to the varna system.

3. Describe the contribution of ancient India to science, mathematics and medicine. Refer to works on the history of science in ancient India for.a group project on this topic.

4. Prepare a list of literary works composed in ancient India.

5. What was the contribution of ancient Indians to the study of language?

6. Give an account of the development of technology in ancient India.

7. Prepare a chart showing the development of art and architecture during different periods of ancient Indian history.

8. Discuss the contribution of religions to ancient Indian art and literature.

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