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Period of Mahajanapadas: Rise of urban centres

Period of Mahajanapadas: Rise of urban centres

Rise of Urban Centres:

  • In 6th century BCE north India, urban settlements with a distinct urban morphology and architecture were clearly emerging in the midst of teeming villages and surrounding forests in the Gangetic plain.
    • There began the second urbanization in India in 6th century BC. The Harappan towns finally disappeared in about 1500 B.C.
    • After that for about 1,000 years we do not find any towns in India.
    • With the appearance of towns in the middle Gangatic basin in tho sixth century B.C., a second urbanization began in India.
  • Cities had different kinds of functions and identities, as centres of political control, craft production, or trade; some combined all these.
    • The foundations of this urbanization—the second phase in the north (first Harappan)—were laid in the earlier centuries, with the establishment of a firm agricultural base that ensured sustained food surpluses. Settlements grew in population, number, and size.
    • Increasing craft specialization, trade, and the beginning of the use of money led to higher degree of social complexity.
    • Political leadership lent an important element of central direction and control.
  • 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.
    • The Pali canon refers to different kinds of urban settlements:
      • Pura meant a town or city, often associated with fortifications.
      • Nagara was a fortress or town.
      • Nigama refered to a market town, midway between a gama and nagara in terms of size and social complexity, and was frequently associated with commercial activities.
      • Rajadhani was a capital city.
      • Nagaraka was a small town, mahanagara a big city. Champa, Rajagriha, Shravasti, Saketa, Kaushambi, and Varanasi were mahanagaras.
      • The texts often refer to the walls, gates, and watchtowers of cities and the hustle and bustle of urban life
  • Archaeologically the sixth century B.C. marks the beginning of the NBPW phase. This phase also saw the beginning of metallic money, wider use on Iron implements and the use of burnt bricks and ringwells.
  • In these urban centers there was a greater concentration of people than in the villages. There were more alternative sources of livelihood and more products were available for their use.
    • The exchange centers and the local markets were known as nigama and pulabhedana. They were greater than the gramas.
    • The towns were called nagaras. Larger towns were called the mahanagaras.
  • Many towns mentioned in the Pali and Sanskrit texts such as Kausambi, Sravasti, Ayodhya, Kapilavastu, Varanasi, Vaisali, 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 its middle have been found.

Factors responsible for Urbanization and State Formation

(1) Surplus Production

  • Both state formation and urbanization heavily relied on the surplus of agricultural production.
    • The landholdings of the town people are so small that they can not produce their own food themselves. So, they have to depend on the village folk for its supply.
  • It was only in the sixth century B.C. that the people of the Gangetic valley learnt to produce two or three crops in a year.
    • They started wet rice cultivation. It became possible to produce more than any other crops.
    • They gradually started producing more than their own requirement. Thus, surplus production in agriculture began.
    • The iron-ploughshare-based food producing economy provided subsistence not only to direct producers but also, to many others.
  • Before the large scale settlements in the Gangetic valley, most of the area was covered with forest or marsh. To clear them for agriculture, labour was needed. To control and direct such labour people felt the necessity of an administrative system.
  • Technique of wet paddy cultivation/Paddy transplantation:
    • 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.
    • The yield per acres in wet rice cultivation are substantially higher than those of wheat or millet in traditional agriculture.
    • It has been observed that varieties of rice and paddy fields are repeatedly mentioned in the early Buddhist texts. This indicates a decisive shift to wet rice cultivation.
    • Larger food production made it possible to sustain increased population, which is reflected in an increase in the number of settlements in the archaeological records of this period.
    • All this created the possibility of the emergence of social groups not engaged in food production.

(2) Control of Surplus

  • Production of surplus in a society has to be collected by a group,
  • The collecting group distributes it later,
  • The collecting or controlling group is very small,
  • The collection, control and distribution of the surplus by the small group is acceptable to the larger society.
  • In the Gangetic valley in sixth century B.C. the same thing happened.
    • The small group which controlled the surplus agricultural products became powerful there.
    • They claimed authority and special status in the society.
    • On the other hand, another section of people could take some professional crafts as their livelihood.
    • Because, they knew that even if they did not produce their own requirements of rice, pulses or vegetables, they could exchange it with their own crafts products in the market.
    • But again, like the farmers, these craftsmen also had to rely on a group of people who collected and distributed the crafts products and organized the distribution of raw materials for the industry.
  • 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.

(3) Emergence of economic centres

  • Many townships grew out of economic activities, particularly market.
  • In such cases different villages, producing different agricultural surplus, selected a particular convenient place. They brought their own commodities and exchanged them with that of others. This system of marketing is called the barter system.
  • Some of such selected market places were located on trade routes. To such places goods were brought from the far distant places. The process of urbanization was faster and more intense in such places.
  • Ujjain was the most important urban center to grow out of such a process.

(4) Rise of territorial politics:

  • Some areas, which were the centres of political and administrative activities, emerged as towns. Capitals of different kingdoms thus soon became urban areas.
  • In this regard we may mention the names of Rajagriha of Magadha, Sravasti in Koshala, Kausambi in Vatsa, Champa in Anga and Ahichchhatra in Panchala.

(5) Role of religion:

  • The religion played an important role in the urbanization in the Gangetic plain.
  • In the 6th century B.C. people had worship places in only a few places. There used to be big gatherings with people coming from distant places.
  • Gradually, these religious places saw the emergence of towns. Vaishali was one of such town to grow out of religious importance.
  • Lack of Vedic sacrifices in middle Gangetic Valley:
    • The Vedic sacrifices meant that most of the surplus accumulated by the chiefs was gifted away at the time of performing sacrifices. In the areas of the middle Gangetic Valley the Vedic rituals and sacrifices did not have the kind of hold as in the upper Gangetic Valley.
    • This meant that the surpluses which were collected by the chiefs were not spent away during sacrifices. The groups that grew up controlling this surplus wealth became the ruling class of the newly emergent kingdoms.
    • And on the foundation of this wealth were born the cities of the sixth century B.C.
  • There were some places which had many of the above mentioned characteristics. These were important places for administration, economy and religion. Kausambi was such an urban centre.
(6) Rise of crafts:
  • In the Gangetic plains, some villages were formed on the basis of specialized professions.
    • These were blacksmith, pottery, carpentry, cloth weaving, basket weaving etc.
    • These villages grew in places where new materials were available.
    • They had to distribute their produced goods.
    • So, they linked villages to big routes or some markets. These villages were gradually transformed into towns.
  • When the towns had both production and distribution facilities, they became important commercial centers.
    • A few of such centers were Vaisali, Shravasti, Champa, Rajagriha, Kausambi and Kashi.
    • Some towns like Ujjain and Taxila could send their commodities to distant places because they were situated on the trade routes.
  • Whatever be the causes of their origin of towns 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 Vaisali 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 the guilds of smiths, carpenters, loather workers and painters are specified.
  • Both artisans and merchants lived in fixed localities in towns.
    • We hear of merchants’ street 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.

(7) Role of coins:

  • Another factor that helped the process was the use of coins.
  • The terms nishka and satamana in the Vedic texts are taken to be names of coins, but coins actually found are not earlier than the sixth century B.C. It seems that in Vedic times ex-change was carried on through means of barter, and sometimes cattle served the purpose of carency.
  • 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 those metals were punched with certain marks such as hill, trees, fish, hull, elephant, crescent, etc.
  • The coin of highest value was the silver satamana. This was followed by the Karsapana. The copper masas and kakani were coins of smaller denomination.
  • 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.

(8) Role of Iron:

  • The use of iron tools had a link with agriculture in 600 B.C.
    • Earlier people burnt forests to clear land.
    • Now the iron axes helped clearing of forests.
    • It provided more land for cultivation.
    • Iron here was effectively used for preparing land for agriculture.
    • Moreover, initially ploughshare enabled the farmers to plough deeper.
    • It was more useful in the heavy and dry soils, particularly in the Gangetic valley.
  • Iron played a crucial role in opening the rainfed forested, hard-soil area of the middle Ganga basin to clearance, cultivation and settlement.
  • 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.
  • A large number of iron tools and implements have been found from Ujain, Sravasti and Hastinapur.
  • 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 use of iron thus helped in the expansion of agricultural fields. It ultimately brought about urbanization and state formation.
  • Iron not only brought a change in agriculture. Iron was also of various use in the fields of crafts, weapons etc.
  • However, it would be wrong to think that everywhere, where iron technology was used and there was agricultural surplus, urbanization took place or state formation occurred.
    • Some places, particularly the megalithic societies had both these features. But they remained as pre-state and pre-urban societies.
    • On the other hand some places saw the growth of urban centers and formation of early states.
  • This shows that apart from the use of iron there must be some other factor which was also important for the transformation of the societies.
    • The factor was the process of collection and redistribution of surplus. It involved two steps.
      • Firstly, a portion of the surplus came to the treasury as revenue.
      • Secondly, to ensure a continuous supply of revenue control over the farmers and craftsmen was also necessary.
    • Thus, a new relationship was established in many areas between those who laboured in agriculture and crafts and those who controlled these labourers. Only these areas saw the growth of urban centers and formation of states in the 6th century B.C.
Salient features of the second urbanization
  • Geographical extant: Mostly in northern India in Mid-Gangatic plains.
    • Two Areas of Urbanization:
      • There were two main areas in the Gangetic plain where urbanization occurred. These were western or doab area and eastern plains.
      • There was a concentration of population in these two areas.
        • People used metals like copper, bronze, and iron.
        • Therefore, the society is called a chalcolithic society.
        • Along with urbanization, states were also formed in these two areas.
      • But there was a difference in these two societies.
        • The doab and western Ganges plain saw the growth of Painted Gray Ware Culture (1200B.C.- 400 B.C.).
          • This means that people produced commodities particularly pots with gray paint on this surface.
        • On the other hand, the eastern societies used potteries with black and red surface.
          • Later on, soft, bright and luxurious pots were used there. It is known as the Northern Black Polished Ware (B.C.700-200).
      • Archaeologically, the sixth century B.C. marks the beginning of the Northern Black Polished (NBP) phase, which was characterised by a glossy, shining type of pottery.
  • Population and migration:
    • Initially, the population of the doab region was small. It settled close to the rivers. Later on, it expanded. Some moved to the interior places and cleared land for cultivation.
    • In the east, people used wet rice cultivation. It gave higher return.
    • Under such condition people from the north-west migrated to these areas of the Gangetic plains.
      • Scarcity of water or a change in climate perhaps were reasons for which people from the Punjab and north-west migrated to the doab region.
      • These people, who wanted fertile land, migrated to the eastern Gangetic plains.
      • The new settlers influenced the early settlers with some technological knowledge and they mingled with the existing cultures.
      • The process of urbanization accelerated after this.
    • Increase in population:
      • 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 Gray Ware settlements.
      • In urban centers there was a greater concentration of people than in the villages. There were more alternative sources of livelihood and more products were available for their use.
  • Types of Cities and Towns:
    • The terms that are frequently used to denote cities in ancient Indian literature are Pura, Durga, Nigama. Nagar, etc.
      • Pura:  
        • The term pura is mentioned even in the early vedic literature. Where it referred to fortified settlements or temporary places of refuge or cattle pens.
        • Later on it is often used for the residence of the king and his retinue or for the families of the ruling group in the Gana Samghas.
        • Gradually the connotation of fortification became less important and it came to mean a city.
      • Durga:
        • This is the other term used for denoting the fortified capital of a king. Fortifications protected the urban centres and separated them from the surrounding rural areas.
        • Also. fortifications made it easier for the ruling classes to control the activities of the population residing in the city.
      • Nigama:
        • It is frequently used in the Pali literature to denote a town.
        • It probably meant a merchant town where the sale and purchase of goods used to take place.
        • In fact some scholars believe that some of the Nigamas evolved out of villages specializing in pottery. catpentry or salt making.
          • That the Nigamas were market towns is also proved by the fact that certain ,coins of a later period carrying the legend ‘Nigama’ have been found.
          • These coins indicate that they were minted by the Nigama.
        • Sometimes literary texts would refer to a particular section of a city as Nigama where craft specialists would live and work.
      • Nagara:
        • It is the most commonly used word for a town or city in literature. This word is used for the first time in the Taittiriya Aranyaka (7th 6th century B.C).
      • Another word Mahanagara also referred to cities. These centres combined the political functions of the Pura and the commercial functions of the Nigama. Kings, merchants and preachers resided in these cities.
  • Urban planning:
    • Towns are characterized by use of urban planning.
      • use of burnt bricks.
      • use of Ringwell
      • Rampants (fortifications)
      • Drainage system.
      • Wooden palisades have been found in Patna, and these possibly belong to Maurya or pre-Maurya times. Some of these towns were also fortified.
    • There were some common characteristics in a town of the Gangetic plains in the 6th century B.C. There were particular and specific places which were allotted to different occupational groups.
    • The palace or the court of the kings or the assembly hall was built there.
      • Towards the later part of urbanization beautiful monumental buildings were built as palaces.
    • Some towns gave religion more importance and built religious institutions in the middle of the towns. Kausambi built a Buddhist monastery at the center.
    • On the other hand, some towns did not give religions much importance. Monastery or temple was absent at Bhirmound.
  • Houses were mostly made of mud-brick and wood, which naturally have perished in the moist climate of the middle Gangetic basin.
    • Although seven-storied palaces are mentioned in the Pali texts, they have not been discovered anywhere.
  • Use of writing: (script Brahmi)
    • After the end of Harappa culture,  it was the period which saw the beginnngs of the written tradition in ancient Indian History. Brahmanical. Buddhist and Jain texts refer to the conditions of this period. Writing probably started a couple of centuries before Asoka and contributed to trade.
    • The earliest records were probably not written on stone and metal and have therefore perished.
    • 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.
  • Strong linkage between rural and urban area:
    • We cannot think of the beginning of crafts, commerce and urbanization in the middle Gangetic basin without a strong rural base.
    • 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 Kausambi iron tools consisting of axes, adzes, knives, razors, nails, sickles, etc., have been discovered. These were probably meant for the use of the peasants who bought them by paying in cash or kind.
    • Nobel class living in towns collected taxes, tributes and tithes were collected from the rural area.
  • Emergence of coins:
    • An important aspect of urbanism was the emergence of coinage.
    • Pali texts contain the first definite references to coins, e.g., kahapana, nikkha, kamsa, pada, masaka, and kakanika.
    • The literary evidence is corroborated by archaeological evidence of punch-marked coins from many sites, most of them made of silver.
    • The beginning of money did not mean the end of barter, but it did mark a qualitative change in economic transactions, with long-term implications for trade.
  • Usury:
    • The beginning of money also ushered in usury (money-lending):
      • Pali texts contain many references to this profession, instruments of credit, people pawning their possessions, the occasional pledging of wife or children by debtors, and bankruptcy.
      • Debtors were in fact debarred from joining the Buddhist sangha until they had paid their debts. It is interesting to note that the increasing range of material goods available for consumption—at least for those who had the requisite resources—was paralleled by the emergence of doctrines that advocated the renunciation of material possessions.
  • Emergence of guild:
    • The Gautama Dharmasutra:
      • It mentions agriculture, trade, cattle rearing, and lending money on interest as occupations of the Vaishyas.
      • It states that farmers, traders, herdsmen, money-lenders, and artisans had the authority to lay down rules for their respective professions, and that the king should make legal decisions after listening to those who had authority within these professions. This suggests an element of corporate organization.
    • Buddhist texts offer more direct evidence of the emergence of guilds. Terms such as shreni, nigama, puga, vrata, and sangha are used in ancient Indian texts to refer to various kinds of corporate organizations, including guilds.
      • The Vinaya Pitaka mentions the guilds (puga) of Shravasti providing a regular supply of food for monks and nuns.
      • Jatakas list 18 guilds and suggest the close association of heads of guilds with kings.
  • Items of Exchange: Markets involved the buying and selling of commodities like:
    • utensils and tools made of metals like iron, copper, tin and silver.
    • the procurement and selling of salt.
    • The cotton cloth of Kasi attracted quite a large numbers of buyers.
    • Woollen blankets brought from the distant north-westeni province of Gandhara.
    • Horses brought from Sind and Kamboja would also be on sale.
    • Bangles of conch shell, beautiful ornaments of gold and combs and ornaments made of ivory and various kinds of precious stones were also in high demand among the aristocracy.
  • Separate street for different items: Literary sources also point out that each item was sold in a separate street.
  • Rise of long distance trade:
    • 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.
      • Sravasti was linked with both Kausambi and Varanasi. The latter was considered to be a groat centre of trade in the age of Buddha.
      • The route from Sravasti passed eastward and southward through Kapilavastu and Kushinara and came to Vaishali. Traders crossed the Gangs near Patna and went to Rajgir. They also went by the Ganga river to Chamas near modern Bhagalpur.
      • If we believe the Jataka stories the traders of Kosala and Magadha wont via Mathura as far northward as Taxila.
      • Similarly from Mathura they went southward and westward to Ujjain and the Gujarat coast.
  • Trade route:
    • Internal trade routes: The two major trans-regional routes of the time were known as the Uttarapatha and Dakshinapatha.
      • Uttarapatha:
        • The Uttarapatha was the major trans-regional trade route of northern India. It stretched from the north-west, across the Indo-Gangetic plains, up to the port of Tamralipti on the Bay of Bengal.
          • There were many feeder routes connected to the main artery of the Uttarapatha. For instance, one connected it with Rajasthan (an important source of metals and minerals), another with Sindh, and yet another to the Orissa coast.
        • The Uttarapatha was a land-cum-river route.
          • Buddhist texts refer to the riverine movement of traders and goods along the Ganga.
          • The Ashtadhyayi and Jatakas mention ferries.
          • The distribution of PGW and NBPW sites along Ganga and its tributaries—especially the Yamuna, Ghaghara, and Sarayu— suggests that rivers formed major communication routes.
      • Dakshinapatha:
        • The Dakshinapatha—the great southern trade route—is mentioned in the Arthashastra, but was operational from the early historical period.
        • It stretched from Pataliputra in Magadha to Pratishthana (in current Maharashtra), and was also connected to ports on the western coast.
    • External trade routes:
      • Land Routes:
        • Overland routes connecting Taxila with north Afghanistan and Iran were important for obtaining raw materials such as silver, gold, lapis lazuli, and jade.
        • There may have been a long distance trade in fine wood between India and Mesopotamia.
        • The route from Bengal to Myanmar was also probably important, and jade may have been an import from the latter region.
      • Sea Routes:
        • Sea travel and trade are mentioned in the Pali canon. The Anguttara Nikaya refers to sea merchants who had a bird aboard their ship to sight land. There is mention of the maritime route to West Asia.
  • Trade items:
    • Different commodities were available or produced in different areas. Most of them became items of trade. Most common trade items were iron objects such as hoes, sickles, knives, nails etc.
    • Salt was mined in the north-west. Along with it horses were brought to the Gangetic valley. In trade, the exchange system or barter system was used
  • Rise of new urban classes:
    • Princes, priests, artisans, traders, administrators, military personnel, other state functionaries lived in the town.
    • There were various kinds of traders: the shopkeepers (apanika), retailers (Kraya-Vikrayika) and the money investors (Setthi-Gahapati).
    • With the emergence of cities a class of washermen, scavengers, beggars and sweepers also came into existence. The services of sweepers, and the people involved in cremating corpses were essential for cities.
    • The group of beggars also emerged as a result of the breakdown of kin-based society and increasing demands on the produce by the rulers.
      • There is a story which says that the king’s men looted the village in day time and the robbers at night.
    • The practice of prostitution, physician and scribe was prevalent.
  • Rise of social elite:
    • Textual evidence indicates the emergence of socioeconomic classes, with significant differences in wealth, status, and control over productive resources.
    • Setthi (pali form of sreshtin):
      • The setthi of the Pali canon was a high-level businessman, associated with trade and money-lending.
      • There are many references to extremely wealthy setthis living in style in cities such as Rajagriha and Varanasi.
      • The Mahavagga tells us about the setthi-putta (son of a setthi) Sona Kolivisa.
        • This young man was brought up in such luxurious surroundings that his delicate feet bled when he took to the life of a barefoot monk.
        • The Buddha is said to have solved the problem by allowing monks to wear shoes.
      • The setthi of the Buddhist texts was a prominent and influential member of the urban community with access to and connections with kings.
    • Gahapatti (Pali form of Grahapati) were wealthy and powerful land owner.
      • The term grihapati occurs in Vedic literature in the sense of the head of a household. The Pali texts tend to use terms such as gihi, gahattha, and ajjhavasati in this sense, and gahapati (the Pali form of grihapati) in a broader sense.
      • Apart from being the head of a household, the gahapati was also a wealthy property-owner and producer of wealth, associated especially with land and agriculture.
      • Society is often described as consisting of three strata—Khattiya, Brahmana, and gahapati. According to the Anguttara Nikaya:
        • the Khattiya aspires for power and territory, and dominion is his ideal;
        • the Brahmana is associated with mantra and yanna (yajna), and brahmaloka is his ideal;
        • the gahapati is associated with kamma (work) and sippa (craft), and the completion or fruit of work is his ideal.
      • There are references to Brahmana gahapatis living in Brahmana villages.
      • The gahapati’s political importance is suggested in his inclusion among the seven treasures of the chakkavatti or ideal ruler of the world.
    • Setthi-Gahapati:
      • It refers to a person with a rural as well as urban base, one with control over land and business enterprise.
      • The wealth and affluence of setthis and setthi-gahapatis can be gauged from the fact that along with kings, they figure among the clientele of the famous physician Jivaka, and are described as paying thousands of kahapanas in medical bills.
  • Urban occupations:
    • Early Buddhist texts mention a wide range of occupations, both rural and urban. Apart from farmers, cattle rearers, and traders, those employed in the service industry included washermen, barbers, tailors, painters, and cooks.
    • The king employed many different kinds of specialists:
        • Soldiers (yodhajivas) of various kinds—foot soldiers, archers, members of the cavalry, elephant corps, and chariot wing.
        • ministers (mahamachchas),
        • governors (ratthikas),
        • estate managers (pettanikas),
        • the royal chamberlain (thapati),
        • elephant trainers (hattirohas),
        • policemen (rajabhatas),
        • jailors (bandhanagarikas),
        • slaves (dasas and dasis), and
        • wage-workers (kammakaras).
    • Urban occupations:
      • Urban occupations included those of the
        • physician (vejja, bhisakka),
        • surgeon (sallakata),
        • scribe (lekha)
        • accounting (ganana)
        • money changing
      • Types of entertainers include:
        • actor (nata),
        • dancer (nataka),
        • magician (sokajjayika),
        • acrobat (langhika),
        • drummer (kumbhathunika), and
        • woman fortune-teller (ikkhanika).
        • Some of them performed in fairs known as samajas, apart from other occasions.
        • There are also references to the accomplished courtesan (ganika) and the ordinary prostitute (vesi).
      • The Pali canon refers to many different kinds of artisans, some of whom must have lived and worked in or near cities, supplying goods for an urban clientele. These included:
        • vehicle maker (yanakara),
        • ivory worker (dantakara),
        • metal smith (kammara),
        • goldsmith (suvannakara),
        • silk weaver (kosiyakara),
        • carpenter (palaganda),
        • needle maker (suchikara),
        • reed worker (nalakara),
        • garland maker (malakara), and
        • potter (kumbhakara).
      • Some craft specialists may have lived in their own settlements on the margins of cities. The later evidence of the Jatakas more clearly indicates the localization of certain industries, the association of villages with specific artisan groups, and the hereditary nature of crafts. These processes must already have been underway in c. 600–300 BCE.
  • Different from 1st Urbanisation (Harappan urbanisation):
    • In case of the second urbanization people did not make any conscious attempt to imitate the first.
      • There were some citadels or tall fortresses built at the centres to monitor over the towns.
      • Many of the towns or urban centres emerged on the banks of the rivers in the second urbanization.
      • Floods could inundate such towns at any time during the rainy seasons. But no attempt was made to protect it by erecting brick foundations particularly walls.
    • There was also a difference in the necessities of the towns people in the Gangetic plains and Harappa. It brought some differences in characteristics between these two urbanizations.

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 basin and the beginning of urban economy to this area. It was an economy which provided subsistence 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.

This trend of urbanization further expanded during Mauryan and post-Mauryan period. Period between 200 BC to 300 AD is known as golden age of craft, trade, coinage, money lending and urbanization.

Northern Black Polished Ware culture (NBPW Culture) and Second Urbanization:

  • The Northern Black Polished Ware culture is an urban Iron Age culture of the Indian Subcontinent, lasting 700–200 BCE, succeeding the Black and red ware culture (of early iron age, 12th – 9th century BCE, directly influenced the Painted Grey Ware and Northern Black Polished Ware cultures) and Painted Grey Ware culture (of early iron age, roughly 1200 BC-400 BC, a successor of the Black and red ware culture).
  • It developed beginning around 700 BC, or in the late Vedic period, and peaked from 500–300 BC, coinciding with the emergence of 16 great states or mahajanapadas in Northern India, and the subsequent rise of the Mauryan Empire.
  • NBPW was a very grossy, shining type of pottery which was made of very fine fabric.
    • It was a fine gray metallic ware with a glossy black surface.
    • It is a hard, wheelmade ware, mainly bowls and dishes.
    • The surface is made with an alkali flux and fired in a reducing atmosphere (that is why it is associated with iron age and iron also needed to be fired in high temperature just like NBPW ware).
  • It was a luxury style of burnished pottery used by elites.
    • It is associated with the emergence of Second Urbanisation since the decline of the Indus Valley Civilization.
    • This re-urbanization was accompanied by massive embankments and fortifications, significant population growth, increased social stratification, and wide-ranging trade networks.
  • There are similarities between NBPW culture and the much earlier Harappan cultures, among them the ivory dice and combs and a similar system of weights.
    • Other similarities include the utilization of mud, baked bricks and stone in architecture, the construction of large units of public architecture, the systematic development of hydraulic features and a similar craft industry.
  • There are also, however, important differences between these two cultures; for example, rice, millet and sorghum became more important in the NBP culture.
  • The NBP culture may reflect the first state-level organization in the Indian Subcontinent.
  • Important NBPW sites are:
    • Charsada (ancient Pushkalavati) and Taxila, in Pakistan
    • Delhi or ancient Indraprastha
    • Hastinapura, Mathura, Kampil/Kampilya, Ahichatra, Ayodhya, Sravasti, Kausambi, Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh
    • Vaishali, Rajgir, Pataliputra, and Champa in Bihar
    • Ujjain and Vidisha in Madhya Pradesh
    • Mahasthangarh, Chandraketugarh, Wari-Bateshwar, Bangarh and Mangalkot (all in Bangladesh and West Bengal, India)

Debate over the impact of iron technology

  • Occurrence of iron:
    • Small quantities of iron occur at a few sites in early 2nd millennium BCE contexts.
    • The metal became more widely prevalent in c. 1000–800 BCE.
    • During c. 800–500 BCE, the use of iron was known in virtually all regions of the subcontinent, and by this time, most regions (including the Ganga valley) seem to have entered the iron age. However, in certain areas, this transition took place much later.
  • Debate over the impact of iron technology on the history of ancient India:
    • The debate has especially focused on the Ganga valley in the 1st millennium BCE.
      • D.D. Kosambi:
        • The eastern movement of the Indo-Aryans was in order to reach the iron ores of south Bihar, and
        • a near-monopoly over these ores was responsible for the political dominance attained by the state of Magadha in early historical times.
        • Criticism:
          • These hypotheses are untenable, given the very wide distribution of iron ores in the subcontinent.
          • Chemical analysis of early iron artefacts at Atranjikhera points to the hills between Agra and Gwalior, not Bihar, as the probable source of ores.
      • R. S. Sharma
        • He highlighted the role of iron axes in clearing the forests of the Ganga valley and iron ploughs in agricultural expansion in this area.
        • He argued that the use of these implements was responsible for generating an agricultural surplus, which paved the way for the second phase of urbanization.
        • Religions such as Buddhism were a response to the new socio-economic milieu generated by iron technology.
      • A. Ghosh and Niharranjan Ray:
        • They argued that the forests of the Ganga valley could have been cleared through burning.
        • It was pointed out that Sharma’s argument was not supported by archaeological data, that the impact of iron technology was gradual, that it manifested itself in the mid-NBPW phase when urbanization was well underway, and that socio-political factors had an important role to play in the historical transformations of the Ganga valley in the 1st millennium BCE.
      • Makkhan Lal:
        • He described the idea of large-scale forest clearance through the use of the iron axe and the generation of an agricultural surplus through the use of the iron plough as a myth.
        • He argued that there was no significant increase in the use of iron from PGW to NBPW levels.
        • He says that iron technology was not an essential prerequisite for an agricultural surplus or urbanization, that the Bihar iron ores were not tapped during this period, and that the Ganga plains remained heavily forested till as late as the 16th and 17th centuries CE.
    • Technology is certainly an extremely important factor in history, but it has to be considered along with other variables.
    • Archaeological data indicates that the beginning of iron technology in parts of the Ganga valley can be traced to the 2nd millennium BCE.
      • The earliest iron artefacts occur in BRW or PGW contexts.
      • The use of iron and its impact increased gradually over the centuries and is reflected in the increase in the number and range of iron objects in the NBPW phase.
    • While the expansion of agriculture must certainly have involved some amount of land clearance, large tracts of land continued to be forested.
      • Massive deforestation in the Ganga valley and in the subcontinent in general is actually a feature of the colonial period, when the extension of the railways, increase in population, and the commercialization of agriculture led to a dramatic, unprecedented reduction in forest cover.
    • In far south:
      • In the far south, the early advent of iron was not followed swiftly by socioeconomic transformations.
      • Rajan Gurukkal points out that iron ploughshares tended to be restricted to the wetland areas. He argues that notwithstanding the knowledge of iron technology, the larger sociopolitical context of war and plunder hindered the process of agrarian growth in Tamilakam.
  • The simplistic technological determinism that marked the early phase of the iron debate is no longer tenable.

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