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Post – Mauryan Period: Indo-Greeks, Sakas, Kushanas, Western Kshatrapas, Contact with outside world; growth of urban centres, economy, coinage: Part II

Post – Mauryan Period: Indo-Greeks, Sakas, Kushanas, Western Kshatrapas, Contact with outside world; growth of urban centres, economy, coinage: Part II

GROWTH OF URBAN CENTRES

Villages

  • More is known about cities of c. 200 BCE–300 CE than about villages and agriculture.
  • The Kushans promoted agriculture. The earliest archaeological traces of large-scale irrigation in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and western Central Asia date to the Kushan period.
  • The Jatakas speak of gamas ranging from 30–1,000 kulas (extended families).
  • There are references to gamas associated with particular occupational groups such as reed workers (nalakaras) and salt makers (lonakaras).
  • There is also mention of villages of potters, carpenters, smiths, forest folk, hunters, fowlers, and fishermen. Some of these villages seem to have been located close to cities.
  • Early Tamil–Brahmi inscriptions offer brief glimpses into aspects of village life in Tamilakam.
    • A 2nd century BCE inscription at Varichiyur records the gift of 100 kalams of rice.
    • A 1st century BCE inscription at Alagarmalai refers to a koluvanikan (trader in plough shares). The kolu is the hard iron tip fixed to a wooden ploughshare.
    • A 2nd century BCE inscription found at Mudalaikulam refers to the construction of a tank by the assembly (ur) of Vempil village.
      • This may be the earliest inscriptional reference to a village assembly in the Indian subcontinent.

Growth of Urban Centers

  • During this period, there is seen a growth of urban centres because this phase registered a distinct advance in building activities.
    • We find the use of burnt bricks for flooring and roofing, construc­tion of brick kilns, use of script files, and use of red pottery.
  • The period c. 200 BCE–300 CE was marked by urban prosperity all over the subcontinent.
    • Unfortunately, the archaeological details of most early historical sites are rather meagre and tend to be confined to a few details about fortifications.
  • The flourishing trade and crafts and growing use of money was an incentive to the growth of new towns.
  • In this period under the Satvahanas, the Kushans, the Indo- Parthians and the Saka rulers, India’s trade with Rome, Central Asia, South-East Asia was at its zenith.
  • What was the impact and legacy of Maurya rule on the so-called ‘peripheral areas’, and to what extent was interaction with the Maurya state an impetus to ‘secondary state formation’ in these areas?
    • Secondary state formation is the emergence of states which have the model of already existing states before them, and which emerge as a result of interaction with already existent states.
    • While the Maurya impact cannot be discounted, neither should it be given undue emphasis.
    • The long-term development of urban centres required and involved an expansion in agricultural production, developments in specialized crafts, and wider and more intensive and extensive trade networks.
  • North India:
    • Vaishali, Pataliputra, Varanasi, Kausambi, Sravasti, Hastinapur, Mathura, Indraprastha etc. were some of the prosperous towns of North India during the Kushan period. Kushan kings ensured the security of the trade-routes which was one of the causes for the prosperity of these towns. 
    • These towns find mention in the old Chinese texts or records of Chinese pilgrims.
    • The town-sites of Sonpur, Buxur, and Ghazipur in Bihar also flourished during the Kushan age.
    • Excavations have unearthed several Kushan towns in Meerut and Muzzaffarnagar districts.
    • Ludhiana, Ropar and Jalandhar in the Punjab were among the flourishing towns.
    • Ujjain was an important town of the Saka kingdom because it was nodal point of two trade routes – one from Mathura and the other from Kausambi.
  • Deccan:
    • In the Deccan, the transition to the early historical urban phase has to be reconstructed on the basis of archaeology alone, as textual evidence is unavailable.
    • During the reign of the Satvahana rulers, several towns flourished. Among them were Paithan, Broach, Sopara, Amravati, Nagarjunakonda, Arikamedu and Kaveripattanam which were highly pros­perous centers of trade. 
    • Historians often treat the Deccan as a passage between north and South India and explain cultural developments in this region in terms of the diffusion of civilizational traits from elsewhere.
      • The impact of Maurya rule and Indo-Roman trade on urbanization in the Deccan have been overemphasized, and insufficient attention has been paid to the internal processes of cultural change.
    • Further, within the Deccan, there has been an undue focus on certain areas, especially places where Ashoka’s inscriptions or Buddhist structures have been found, and a neglect of other areas that have been treated as marginal or peripheral.
  • South:
    • The first phase of urbanism in South India is generally associated with the period c. 300 BCE–300 CE, although recent evidence suggests the possibility of earlier beginnings.
    • Graeco-Roman sources mention many towns and cities and use the term emporium for coastal towns associated with foreign trade.
      • The Tamil word pattinam means port, as in Kaverippumpattinam (also known as Puhar).
      • Sangam poems describe the urban centres of early historical South India.
    • However, archaeological evidence does not match the literary descriptions of cities. This is partly due to inadequate excavations.
    • Kodumanal gives important evidence of the transition to the early historical phase in South India, especially with reference to the beginnings of literacy and the development of centres of craft production.
    • Champakalakshmi argues that the early historical urbanism of the far south was not induced by deep-rooted socio-economic change, but was stimulated by Indo-Roman trade, interregional trade (largely coastal trade between the Ganga valley, Andhra, and the Tamil regions), and later, by trade with Southeast Asia.
      • She argues that trade activity led to the emergence of a few urban enclaves, which declined in the 3rd century along with the trade.
      • This hypothesis is difficult to accept as trade cannot be considered an independent variable unrelated to deeper social and economic processes.
    • In fact, following things suggest certain fundamental transformations in social and economic life were going on in South India:
      • The literary and archaeological evidence of specialized crafts such as metal working, bead making, and weaving;
      • the descriptions in the poems of the markets of Puhar and Madurai;
      • the references to wealthy traders and their lavish gifts;
      • the beginnings of the use of money.

CRAFTS AND GUILDS

Crafts

  • The archaeological evidence gives very specific information on craft activity in the various regions of the subcontinent.
    • Kodumanal gives important evidence of the beginnings of literacy and the development of centres of craft production.
      • Several inscribed pieces of pottery were found dated c. 300 BCE to 200 CE.
        • Most of these were in the Tamil language and Tamil–Brahmi script.
        • A few inscriptions are in the Prakrit language and Brahmi script.
      • The writing on the pots includes the names of people, some Tamil, others Sanskritic. One of the words in the inscriptions was nikama or nigama, which means guild.
  • Literary sources:
    • North India:
      • In the context of north India, Buddhist texts such as the Angavijja, Lalitavistara, Milindapanha, and Mahavastu refer to many professions, crafts, and guilds of craftspersons and traders.
      • The Milindapanha alone mentions some 60 types of crafts.
      • The localization of crafts is evident from Jataka stories.
        • Jataka stories mention villages named after the main profession of their inhabitants—e.g., potters, carpenters, metal smiths, foresters, hunters, fowlers, fishermen, and salt makers.
        • Within towns, houses of specific types of craftspersons were often concentrated in certain streets and quarters.
    • South India:
      • In the context of South India, Sangam literature indicates the existence of many specialized crafts such as weaving, gem working, shell working, and metal working.
  • Hereditary principles in occupations:
    • Kula and Putta:
      • The Jataka stories often attach the suffix kula (family) or putta (son of) to various craft terms, indicating that sons tended to follow their father’s profession.
      • Thus, there are references to:
        • satthavahakula (family of caravan traders),
        • kumbhakarakula (potters’ family),
        • setthikula (family of merchant-cum-bankers),
        • kammarakula (metal smiths’ family),
        • atavirakkhikakula (family of forest guards),
        • dhannavanijakula (grain merchants’ family),
        • pannikakula (greengrocers’ family), and
        • pasanakottakakula (stone grinders’ family).
      • Terms ending in putta include
        • satthavahaputta (son of a caravan trader),
        • nisadaputta (son of a hunter), and
        • vaddhakiputta (son of a carpenter).
    • An inscription in Mathura records the setting up of a stone slab, part of a naga shrine, by the Chhandaka brothers, all of whom were stone masons (shailalakas), following in their father’s footsteps.
    • Although the hereditary principle operated in occupations, there must also have been a certain amount of flexibility and social mobility.
  • Inscriptions:
    • The variety of craft specialization is also evident from inscriptions from different parts of the subcontinent.
    • Tamil–Brahmi inscriptions mention a mason, master mason, carpenter, and goldsmith.
    • Donative inscriptions from sites such as Sanchi, Bharhut, and Mathura record the pious gifts of various kinds of artisans—potters, weavers, masons, goldsmiths, carpenters, sculptors, and ivory workers.
    • Those from the western Deccan mention occupational groups such as:
      • jewellers (manikara),
      • goldsmiths (suvanakara),
      • blacksmiths (kamara),
      • ironmongers (loha-vanij),
      • perfumers (gadhika), and
      • stone masons (selavadhaki).
    • Such inscriptions reflect the prosperity of craftspersons, their social standing, and their connections with burgeoning religious centres.

GUILDS

Guilds of Artisans and Craftsmen:

  • People in ancient India following the same occupations and crafts, residing at one place, cooperated with each other and formed guilds.
    • The artisans orgnaised themselves into guilds to encourage their particular crafts.
  • Guilds during the Mauryan empire (c. 320 to c. 200 BC):
    • The state participated in agricultural and industrial production.
    • The government kept a record of trades and crafts and related transactions and conventions of the guilds, indicating state intervention in guild affairs.
    • The state allotted guilds separate areas in a town for running their trade and crafts.
    • Kautilya, considers the possibility of guilds as agencies capable of becoming centres of power.
    • The next phase of guilds may be bracketed between c. 200 BC and c. AD 300.
  • During the period c. 200 BCE–300 CE, there was a significant increase in the number of guilds, as well as in their scale of activities.
    • The decline of the Mauryan empire (c. 200 BC) led to political disintegration and laxity in state control over guilds, allowing them better chances to grow.
    • The period witnessed the elucidation of the seasonality and seasonal changes in wind direction of the south-west monsoon (c. AD 46), leading to closer commercial intercourse with the Roman empire in which Indian merchants earned huge profits.
      • The find of a large number of coins of the period indicates progress in money-economy, so vital for the development of trade and industry.
    • There is evidence to show that large merchant guilds had some control over small craft guilds.
  • Sources:
    • Literary sources:
      • The Jatakas refer to 18 guilds, but mention only four by name:-
        • wood workers (vaddhakis),
        • smiths (kammaras),
        • leather workers (chammakaras), and
        • painters (chittakaras).
      • The Mahavastu mentions many guilds of Kapilavastu, including those of:
        • gold workers,
        • workers in chank shell,
        • ivory carvers, lapidaries,
        • stone carvers,
        • perfumers,
        • silk and wool weavers,
        • oil pressers,
        • curd sellers,
        • sugar manufacturers,
        • sweetmeat makers,
        • flour makers,
        • fruit sellers, and
        • wine makers.
      • The evidence of the Manusmriti and the Yajnavalkya Smriti shows an increase in the authority of guilds in comparison to earlier periods.
    • Inscriptions:
      • Guilds are also mentioned in inscriptions.
      • Epigraphs from Sanchi, Bharhut, Bodhgaya, Mathura and sites of western Deccan refer to donations made by different craftsmen and traders.
      • Epigraphic evidence of the period refers to acts of charity and piety of the guilds as also their bank-like functions.
      • Inscriptions of the western Deccan mention guilds of
        • weavers,
        • potters,
        • flour makers,
        • oil millers,
        • bamboo workers, and
        • merchants.
      • An inscription at Junnar records the gift of a cave consisting of seven cells and a cistern by a guild of corn dealers (dhanika seni).
      • A 3rd century Nashik inscription of the time of the Abhira king Ishvarasena mentions several guilds of crafts and trades in this city.
      • An early 2nd century CE inscription from Nashik refers to two guilds of weavers.
      • Two Tamil–Brahmi inscriptions from Mangulam near Madurai mention the merchant guild (nikama) of Vellarai (modern Vellarippatti).
        • One of these indicates that members of this guild collectively contributed towards the carving of stone beds for Jaina ascetics in one of the caves.
      • The high status enjoyed by members of merchant guilds is indicated by the title kaviti given to Antai Assutan, a member of the same guild, who appears as a donor in another Mangulam inscription.
        • Kaviti was an honorific title bestowed by kings on ministers, nobles, and merchants.
        • This guild member seems to have been the superintendent of pearls in the Pandya administration.
      • The occurence of the word nikama on a potsherd from Kodumanal is another important evidence.
  • Head of guild:
    • The Jatakas refer to the head of a craftspersons’ guild as jetthaka or pamukkha.
    • There are references to heads of guilds of
      • garland makers (malakara-jetthaka),
      • metal workers (kammarajetthaka),
      • carpenters (vaddhaki-jetthaka), and
      • caravan traders (vaha-jetthaka).
    • There are many references to sarthavahas—heads of caravan merchants.
    • The head of a merchant guild was also referred to as a setthi.
  • The Manu and Yajnavalkya Smritis reflect a more elaborate and complex organization of guilds than the Jatakas:
    • The Yajnavalkya Smriti refers to the qualifications and powers of guild officers and discusses rules regarding apprenticeship. It also suggests the judicial role of guilds.
  • General economic functions of guilds:
    • The guilds trained workers and provided a congenial atmosphere for work.
    • They:
      • procured raw materials for manufacturing,
      • controlled quality of manufactured goods and their price,
      • located markets for their sale.
    • They provided a modicum of safety to the members and merchandise and accorded social status to the former.
    • The importance of guilds is evident from coins and seals issued by them.
      • (explained later on in this chapter)
    • Dharmashastra texts refer to partnerships in craft production and trade. They mention the apprenticeship of novices with master craftsmen.
  • Guilds as bankers:
    • The reference in the Arthasastra to the king’s spies borrowing from guilds, gold, bar-gold, and coin-gold on the pretext of procuring various types of merchandize, shows that guilds loaned money to artisans and merchants.
      • It does not contain any reference to guilds loaning money to the general public.
    • Guilds established their efficiency and integrity, and epigraphic evidence shows that not only the general public but even royalty deposited money with them as trust funds on the terms that the principal sum would remain intact on a permanent basis and the interest alone would be used for performing some pious act of donor’s choice.
    • In the Mahayana Bud­dhism, the devotees deposited money with the guilds of potters, oil millers etc. for providing robes and other necessities to the monks.
    • Brihaspati Smriti refers to philanthropic activities of guilds, for instance, providing shelter for travelers.
    • No deposit was made solely for safety purpose or for earning simple or compound interest in cash. Thus the guilds had limited scope in banking in comparison to modern banks.
    • A few inscriptions may be referred here:
      • Several inscriptions of this period refer to people investing money with guilds as a pious endowment, the interest from which was to be given over to Brahmanas, Buddhist monks, or earmarked for some other pious activity.
      • Gadhwa inscription:
        • It mentions the investment of 20 dinaras in a guild for the benefit of Brahmanas.
      • Junnar inscription:
        • An inscription from Junnar refers to an investment of the income of two agricultural fields by Aduthuma with a guild for the purpose of planting karanja and banyan trees.
        • Another Junnar inscription records the investment of some money with guilds of bamboo workers and braziers.
      • Mathura Inscription (2nd century AD):
        • It refers to the two permanent endowments of 550 silver coins each with two guilds by the donor, Kanasarukamana, a subordinate of the Kushanas during the Kushana king Huvishka.
        • The interest from these investments was to provide food for Brahmanas and for the distribution of food to the destitute, hungry, and thirsty on a daily basis.
      • Two Nasik Inscriptions (2nd century AD):
        • A Nashik inscription belonging to the reign of the Kshatrapa ruler Nahapana:
          • It records a permanent investment of 3,000 karshapanas made by the king’s son-in-law, Ushavadata.
            • 2000 karshapanas were invested by him with a weaver’s guild of Govardhana (Nashik) at 1 per cent rate of interest, and
            • 1000 karshapanas were invested with another weaver’s guild of the place at the interest rate of ¾ per cent per month.
          • The interest of the first investment was to be used to provide cloth to monks while that from the second was to provide them with meals.
          • These investments were proclaimed in the guild assembly (nigama-sabha) and inscribed on stone as a permanent record.
          • This is the only ancient Indian inscription that clearly specifies the rates of interest on monetary investments.
          • These rates of interest are lower than the standard 1¼ per cent per month mentioned in the Arthashastra and the Smritis.
          • Further, it is interesting to note that two weavers’ guilds of the same town were offering different interest rates.
        • Another inscription from Nasik of the time of the Abhira King Isvarasena refers to an endowment made in perpetuity by a woman named Vishnudatta with four different guilds of the town, in order to provide medicines for Buddhist monks living in the monastery on the Trirashmi hill, depositing karshapanas with the guild of potters, workers fabricating hydraulic engines, oil-millers, and another guild.
          • The deposits with four different guilds, instead of a single guild, were perhaps made with a view to distributing the risk, as a guild could suffer a setback or even go bankrupt.
    • The providing of cloth by a weavers’ guild and oil by an oil-men’s guild were a simple affair, being related to the occupation of the guild.
      • But the providing of light meals by the weavers’ guild, or medicine by an oil-millers’ guild, involved extraprofessional work, and in such cases guilds might have entered into contract with parties dealing with those items, paying them a major part of the interest accruing from the deposits.
  • Functions Related to Religious Piety and Charity:
    • Guilds made compacts to alleviate distress and undertake works of piety and charity as a matter of duty.
    • They were expected to use part of their profits for:
      • preservation and maintenance of assembly halls, watersheds, shrines, tanks and gardens;
      • helping widows, the poor and destitute in performing religious rites or alleviating their economic hardships.
    • Epigraphic evidence of the period refers variously to the gifts of gateways, caves and cisterns, pillars or seats made by guilds or individual members of the guilds.
      • Mandasor inscription records the building and renovation of a Surya temple by a guild of silk weavers.
      • Gwalior inscription belonging to the reign of Mihirakula records the building of a temple dedicated to this deity.
  • Judicial functions of guilds:
    • Guilds could try their members for offence in accordance with their own customs and usages, which came to acquire almost the status of law.
    • A guild member had to abide by both guild and state laws.
    • Guilds could arbitrate even between members and their wives.
    • The Brihaspati Smriti refers to guilds meting out justice to their members.
    • Some guild representatives acted as members of the court presided over by the king and advised him, particularly in matters relating to traders and craftsmen.
    • Significantly, guilds also functioned as courts of justice for the general public,
    • Yajnavalkya enumerates four courts in descending order as:
      • courts presided over by the officers appointed by
        • the king,
        • the puga,
        • the sreni,
        • the kula.
    • Though, according to later commentators, Vijnanesvara and Visvarupa, disputes could be taken to the king’s court only through the channel of kula, sreni and puga courts, and not direct, yet, in practice, this was not always followed.
    • Vasishtha Dharmasutra includes the evidence of guilds as valid in settling boundary disputes.
    • Manu prescribes that, for artisans and merchants forming guilds, other artisans or merchants of the same or other guild could act as witnesses.
    • The jurisdiction of guild courts was confined to civil cases; those involving heinous crimes were dealt by the king alone.
    • Democratic institutions like guild courts flourish in peaceful conditions, and the view that their presence is because anarchical conditions prevented state courts to function, does not hold water.
    • King’s courts would have been difficult to approach by people, particularly by those living far away from the capital, and it was sharing judicial and administrative work at lower levels by local bodies like guilds and village assemblies that made it possible for the state to successfully administer large kingdoms, even though rapid means of communication were not available.
    • All guilds acted as courts for their members but either only important ones, or representatives of various guilds authorized by the state, would have acted as courts for the general public.
    • Guilds, being organizations of people of different castes following the same profession, would also have had some Brahmana members, some of whom would have been Executive Officers, and probably they, with the help of members or Executive Officers of other varnas, would have formed the courts of justice.
  • Administrative Functions of guilds:
    • The guilds had a good deal of administrative control over their members.
    • It was necessary for the wife of a member of a guild intending to join the Buddhist sangha to obtain the permission of the guild.
    • Some guild heads are known to have acted as mahamatras.
    • The guild heads were present in royal courts, perhaps in some official capacity.
    • The epigraphic evidence of the Gupta period shows that heads of different guilds acted as member of the advisory boards of the district administration.
  • Relationship of guilds with king:
    • Guilds appear to have had a close relationship with kings.
    • The Jatakas refers to:
      • the heads of the 18 guilds being part of the official entourage of a king.
      • the head of a blacksmiths’ village being described as a favourite of the king (raja-vallabha).
      • the royal officer known as the bhandagarika having some authority over guilds.
      • the head of a guild being appointed a mahamatra.
    • The Arthashastra recommends that:
      • officials keep a record of the transactions and conventions of guilds.
      • guilds be provided with specially designated areas in towns for pursuing their crafts and work.
    • The term shreni-bala in the Arthashastra seems to refer to a guild or corporate organization of warriors, and not to troops maintained by regular guilds.
    • The Dharmashastra texts of this period give the king the right to interfere in the affairs of guilds in certain situations.
      • Manu Smriti:
        • It states that if a guild member broke an agreement out of greed, the king should banish him.
      • Yajnavalkya Smriti:
        • It asserts that in the event of a quarrel among guild members, the king should make them follow accepted usage.
        • It also states that if a guild cheated the king of his share of its profit, it should be punished by being made to pay eight times the amount.
      • A guild was also to be punished if it moved to another location.
        • However, the Mandasor inscription of a later period indicates that guilds did migrate, without apparently incurring any such punishment from the king.
  • The importance of guilds is evident from coins and seals issued by them:
    • Some coins found at Taxila have the legend negama on the reverse in Brahmi letters of the 3rd/2nd century BCE. On the obverse are names of localities.
    • The legends pamchanekame and hiranasame also appear on certain coins.
      • Some scholars consider them to be coins issued by city administrations, while others think they were issued by guilds.
      • The term pamchanekame may refer to a corporation of five guilds.
      • Hiranasame may mean an issuer of coined money.
        • The coins in question may have been issued by a guild of traders responsible for issuing coins.
    • Seals and sealings with the terms nigama, or variants of these words have been found at sites such as Rajghat, Bhita and Ahichchhatra.
    • Two copper coins from Kaushambi bearing the legend gadhikanam in letters of about the 2nd century BCE were probably issued by a guild of perfumers.
    • Belonging to about the same period are a number of coins bearing the names of cities such as Varanasi, Kaushambi, Vidisha, Erakina (Eran), Ujjayini, and Mahishmati.
      • These may have been issued by city administrations or guilds that may have been influential in the city administration.
    • Seals and sealings with the terms nigama, nigamasya have been found at sites such as Rajghat, Bhita, Hargaon, Jhusi, and Ahichchhatra.
      • The script ranges from the 3rd century BCE to the early centuries CE.
    • Some of the coins have symbols and a few bear personal names.
      • A sealing found at Rajghat has a svastika symbol and the legend gavayaka (guild of milkmen) in Brahmi letters of the 1st century BCE.
      • A Bhita sealing has the legend shulaphalayikanam in 2nd century BCE letters.
        • This could be a reference to a guild of makers of arrowheads or spearheads.
      • A seal from Ahichchhatra has the legend kumhakara seniya (‘of the guild of potters’) in writing that belongs to the 1st century CE.

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