Discuss the factors that played an important role in the process of urbanisation after the Later-Vedic period. [UPSC, 2020]

Q. Discuss the factors that played an important role in the process of urbanisation after the Later-Vedic period. [UPSC, 2020] ©


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 the sixth century B.C., a second urbanization began in India.

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. This phase also saw the beginning of metallic money, wider use on Iron implements and the use of burnt bricks and ringwells

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 that played and important role in the process of urbanisation:

  • 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.
  • Some other township 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.
  • 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.
  • There were some places which had all the above mentioned characteristics. These were important places for administration, economy and religion. Kausambi was such an urban centre.
  • Use of Iron technology:
    • Iron played a crucial role in opening the rainfed forested, hard-soil area of the middle Ganga basin to clearance, cultivation and settlement.
    • 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.
    • Production 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.
  • Technique of wet paddy cultivation/Paddy transplantation:
    • 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 shlft 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.
  • 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.
  • Rise of crafts:
    • 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.
  • The use of coins also helped in the process of urbanization:
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Use of writing: (script Brahmi)
    • After the end of Harappa culture,  it was the period which saw the beginings 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.
  • 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: We get two terms in the contemporary text:
    • Setthi (pali form of sreshtin) was associated with trade and money-lending.
    • Gahapatti (Pali form of Grahapati) were wealthy and powerful land owner.

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. ©

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