Bihar and Eastern Uttar Pradesh (early history)

by Prakash Narayan | 2011 | 63,517 words

This study deals with the history of Bihar and Eastern Uttar Pradesh (Northern India) taking into account the history and philosophy of Buddhism. Since the sixth century B.C. many developments took place in these regions, in terms of society, economic life, religion and arts and crafts....

Iron, Surplus, Production Trade and Urbanization

The use of the iron share, sickle, spade, etc., in agriculture produced surplus on a scale which was not possible with stone or cooper implements. This opened the ground for the rise of urban settlements in north-eastern India around 600 B.C. The Pali texts speak of twenty towns, six of them being connected with the death of the Buddha. Various towns are shown by archaeology in the middle Ganga basin during this period. The early Pali texts as well as archaeology attest to at least ten urban sites such as Campa, Rajagrha, Pataliputra, Vaishali, Varansi, Kaushambi, Kushinagara and Sravasti. Chirand, srinagaverpur, Piprahwa and Tilaurakot can also be mentioned in addition to them. The remains of Lauriyanandangarh make it appear that it was a town. A town consequently became a market without taking into account it origin. It became clear that artisans and traders called setthis engaged themselves in trade and industry and occupied a large proportion of the city population. Trade was facilitated by the use of punch marked coins which are stratigraphically ascribed to the fifth century

B.C. and, may have appeared earlier. More than three hundred hoards of punchmarked coins are known[1] and many of these have been found in the middle Gangetic Zone. In later Vedic literature certain terms are represented to suggest the use of coins, but actual coins are not found before the age of the Buddha. Northern Black Polished Ware, a new kind of pottery, first appeared in this period and was used for ritualistic or table purpose and may have helped trade. The pottery was glossy as well as shining with its very fine fabric suggestive of its being used by posh sections of society. It can be deduced that it was an item of trade. The discovery of slags suggested that iron tools were made at numerous urban sites, and was a significant factor in improving transport and other aspects of trade and manufacture.

Dharmasutras revealed that the brahmanical attitude towards trade was not helpful. Trade and agriculture are specified by the earliest law-books for the Vaishyas, who occupy the third place in society, the brahmanas occupy the foremost place whereas Ksatriyas occupy the second place in society. A limited permission is granted to the brahmanas to trade in times of distress. They could not trade in men, liquids, perfumes, cloth, leather, foodgrains, etc.[2] Trade in these commodities were not appreciated in brahmanical society. Magadha and Angash ² the dwellers of Bihar, traded in certain articles and so they were held in disrespect. Mixed origin of the people of Anga and Magadha was attributed by an early lawgiver, named Baudhayana, and also to the people of some other outlying areas on the fringe of aryandom at the end of the later Vedic period and asserts them to be regretful of drinking liquor, trading in wool, in animals such as the horse, and in arms, and of going to sea. The Dravidians are ascribed the art of coastal navigation by anthropologists, but Baudhayana[3] condemned sea voyage (samudra samyana) as a sinful practice. In contrast to this many examples of sea voyage were recorded by the early Buddhist texts with a sense of approval.

The pancavargiya bhikshu were five persons who firstly converted to monasticism and formed the order of the monks (bhiksu samgha)[4] but the earlier texts did not reveal much about their antecedents. They are exemplified as brahmanas[5], in the Jataka Nidanakatha and in other commentaries but it is a matter of doubt as to whether they belonged to the first varna[6] or not. The recruitment of the first lay converts to Buddhism were from the trading class. Tapassu and Bhallika from Utkala are called traders (vanija)[7] and they are embodied as the first lay disciples. In the early canonical Pali texts the dialogues spoken by the Buddha deal with disputes with numerous brahmanas concerning the usefulness of the sacrifice of animal and the validity of the element of heredity in the caste system, and finally his point or view is appreciated and he finds success in convincing them. The earliest monks include those five brahmanas but at the initial stage, the largest number of monks are from the traders and substantial peasants (gahapati) class. A householder from Banaras, named Yasa, was one of the earliest monks. He was followed by his friends Vismala, Subahu, Purnajina and Gavampati, who were also undoubtedly setthis. Fifty other householders (gihisahayaka) were indoctrinated by the Buddha[8] after knowing that these people had been converted to Buddhism. When the brahmanical attidude to trade is taken into account, it becomes clear that Ana thapindika and other lay merchant millionaires liberally donated to the Buddha and his order.

The involvement of trade included the use of money which further led to money lending and usury. The idea of interest is not found clearly in the Vedic texts but the idea of debt appears. Debt acts as a form of mutual aid and reciprocal lending in simpler societies. No money lending was possible in the absence of money in Vedic society at any cost; among tribal chiefs and their nish kas or golden necklaces were considered as the prestigious objects. But the practice of usury initiated with the arrival of mental money in the sixth century

B.C. Nevertheless, the existing social ideology was not in favour of lending money on interest. Apastamba, an early lawgiver, asserts that the brahmanas should be prohibited from accepting the food of a person who charges interest (VardhushikaÌ) and of those who live on the lobour of persons held as mortgage, presumably in return for interest on the loan.[9] It was laid down by some authorities that the lender should not charge any interest for one year[10]; this makes it clear that the approval of the introduction of interest was reluctant.

Repetitive reference to debtor, creditor, debt and interest by the Pali texts can be seen. A complaint was made by a nun when she spoke of her previous birth, she asserted that she faced much oppression by creditors because she was born as a girl in a carter’s family. She was pulled along with effort from her family house[11] because of the large amount of interest that had accumulated a caravan-leader. The purpose of loans in the Vedic texts is shown in the content of games of dice but the Pali texts show that loans were taken for setting up business. A loan helped the person in promoting his business, paying off the old debt and also saving surplus for the maintenance of his family.[12] Money lending is not deprecated in Buddhist texts. By prescribing a number of don’ts,[13] the Buddhist canons define right livelihood (sammaajiva) and right action (samma kammanta) but the usury is not included in the list. When the other aspect is taken into account, the Buddha gives advice to the householder to repay his debts and bars admission of a debtor to the samgha. A person who is free from indebtedness enjoys his food[14] which hints the encouragement to the people for clearing off their debts. A sense of great relief is attained after paying off debts as indicated by the Digha Nikaya. An ideal caravan leader becomes a brave conqueror and he wanders in the world because he is free from debt.[15] One of the pleasures of a householder include his freedom from indebtedness, ananyasukham. A person acquires pleasure and mental peace[16] in case he owes nothing to anybody. The necessity of paying off debts can be seen in the devotion of a separate sutta to the virtues of freedom from indebtedness. The most important thing is the creation of the confidence in others by a trader that he can pay back the debt along with the interest.[17] In this way the Buddha lays stress on the payment of debt as well as that of interest. The discouragement and reluctance shown by the bramanical law-books concerning direct encouragement to lending money on interest was strengthened by Buddhism.

Some Buddhist teachings arising in the Inna sutta hint that poverty and indebtedness are not desirable. Both poverty and borrowing are the causes of misery[18] since a poor person having incurred debt lives in it in suffering. Debt binds[19] a person and he has to be at the beck and call of the creditor, subject himself to labour or confine to prison and as a result all these cause misery and pains. A comparison can be made in this context and that is to teach a monk who shows no devotion to dhamma is equivalent to a poor person who is in debt.[20] But the teaching also include that if a person is in debt, he must pay them back.

The Buddhist teachings prescribe certain behavioural pattern of an ideal trader similar to that of a monk. It has been stated in the first Papanika Sutta that the shopkeeper who neglect his duties in the morning, at midday and in the evening does not proper, and the same case is applicable to the monk as well.[21] It is important to known that early Buddhist teachings prescribed a number of tips to succeed in trade. Three qualities enabled a trader to inspire confidence i.e. vision, shrewdness and ability.[22] Vision enables him to judge the nature of the commodity, the price at which it arrives and the price which will give him profit.[23] Shrewdness consists in his skill in selling and purchasing goods.[24] Confidence is inspired not only by trading with borrowed money but also by supporting one’s son and wife and also by repaying the borrowed money with interest on time.[25] Such a shopkeeper soon becomes great and rich. It would become easier for the monks to comprehend the nature of dukkha or misery, acquire efficiency in dhamma, take good care of the monks who come from outside[26] if they try to imitate these qualities of a shopkeeper. The small trader or the shopkeeper acts as a model for the monk in all these respects with a difference that the former is fully concerned with worldly affairs whereas the later is a renouncer.

The Bahmanical outlook conditioned by a simple agricultural society was not in favour of the urban setting in the age of the Buddha which gave rise to some features of town life. A common feature of town life eating, houses was not considered to be desirable. apastamba advised people of higher classes (most probably brahmanas) to neglect food prepared in shops[27], whereas there was exception[28] concerning some items; it is now obvious that there was existence of prejudice concerning the new shopping class and the mode of life in urban settlements in general. But there is no exhibition of such an attitude in the Buddhist texts.

Footnotes and references:


I have obtained this information from Dr. Pratipal Bhatia.


S.C. Banerjee, op. cit., pp.158, 182.


Ibid., p.185. The term samudra-samyana is explained by Govindasamin as going to another island by boat (Ibid.).


Dharmananda Kosambi, op. cit., p. 147.


Ibid., pp. 145-6.


Ibid., p. 146.


Mahavagga (Oldenberg’s edn), p.4. I owe this reference to Prof. Mahesh Tiwari. Also see AN, I, 26.


Mahavagga, pp. 15-20.




Gautama Dh. S., II.3.27 = XII.27.


The Elders’ Verses II Therigathaa, tr., K.R. Norman, PTS, London, 1971, p. 44.


soham yani ca poranani ina-mulani tani ca byanti-akasim, atthi ca me uttarim avasittham darabharanayati. DN (PTS), i. 71-2.


Walpola Rahu., What the Buddha Taught, New York, 1962, p. 47.


an-ano bhunjami bhojanam. MN, ii, 116.


utthehi vira vijita-samgama satthavaha anana vicare loke. DN, ii, 39.


so na kassaci kinci dharemi appam bahum vati adhigacchati sukham, adhigacchati somanassam idam vuccati, gahapati, a nanayasukham, AN, ii, 69.


AN quoted in Bhagchandra Jain, Bauddha samskriti ka Itithasa, Nagpur , 1972, p. 254.


daliddiyam dukham loke inadanam ca vuccati, daliddo inamadaya bhunjamano vihannti, A.N., iii, 353.


tato annucaranti nam bandhanam pi nigacchati, etam hi bandhanam dukham kamalabhabhijappinam.


Ibid., 352.


AN, i., 115-16.


papaniko cakhuma ca hoti vidhuro ca nissayasampanno ca. Ibid., p.116.


idam paniyam evam kitam, evam vikkayamanam, ettakam mulam bhavissati, ettako udayo’ ti. Ibid.


Papaniko kusalo hoti ketum ca vikketum ca. Ibid.


ito, samma papanika, bhoge karitva puttadaram ca posehi, amhakam ca kalena kalam annupadehi’ ti. Evam kho bhikkave, papaniko nissayasampanno hote. Ibid., 117. The gist given in the body is based on the translation in the gradual sayings, I, 100-1. The phrase bhoge karitva is rendered as trading (Ibid., 101, fn. 2), clearly on the bais of the commentary. In the same way in an earlier passage of the same type the term anuppadatum is explained in the commentary as gahitadhana-mulikam vaddhim anuppa. Incidentally this term is not explained in the Pali-English Dictionary.


AN, I, 117.


na paniyamannamashiyat. Ap. Dh. S., I.V.17.14.


Ibid., I.V.17.15-19.

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