Settlement in Early Historic Ganga Plain

by Chirantani Das | 143,447 words

This page relates “Urbanization in the South Bihar area” as it appears in the case study regarding the settlements in the Early Historic Ganga Plain made by Chirantani Das. The study examines this process in relation to Rajagriha and Varanasi (important nodal centres of the respective Mahajanapadas named Magadha and Kashi).

Part 7 - Urbanization in the South Bihar area

By the NBPW phase diverse types of urban centres emerged and concentrated in the South Bihar area. Historically the area stood for ancient Aṅga and Magadha kingdoms. These urban centres were characterised on the basis of their largeness, fortification and other physical attributes. They mainly worked as satellite settlement on a local level. A very prominent example of this type was Devangarh. It regulated the flow of resources from the south of Rajgir. Many similar types of settlements were already discussed here. In essence they resembled the Droṇamukha, Karvaṭika or samgrahana type of towns mentioned in the Arthaśāstra. These are actually headquarters of revenue collectors in charge of four hundred, two hundred or ten villages respectively.[1] So they might have served two or more purposes. In all respects this area as the hub of a number of great cities and a number of middle range towns qualifies as a cultural unit. Rājagṛha as a major urban centre of this belt represents this particular cultural aspect and urbanity.

A detailed sketch of this broad geo-cultural zone brings out that by harnessing the favourable ecological conditions human occupation began in this terrain as early from the Neolithic phase. This was proved by the vast Neolithic horizon in this belt. Rich agricultural data collected from Paisra, Chirand, Taradih, Maner and most importantly Senuwar and allied sites show that the early agriculturists practised advanced agricultural operations on a non-kin professional basis and produced all the staple food grains. So a stable agricultural base was formed in the Neolithic-Chalcolithic phase, in this belt. This was further expanded in the iron–NBPW phase with paddy transplantation and introduction of newer variety of crops. A concomitant ceramic industry with handmade cord impressed pottery and stone and bone industry showed rural society was on the rise with varied economic engagements. By the later periods coinciding with the NBPW cultural level a promising metal craft industry developed with an iron centrality. A very important breakthrough in the economic sphere was the advent of metal currency that brought revolutionary change in the mode of exchange and encouraged craft and industrial production. Ivory, glass, bone industries took a parallel growth, resulting in the strengthening and widening of the economy. The chrono-cultural sequence clearly shows that far reaching changes took place in the economic plain.

Ancient Aṅga-Magadha plain, we have already noticed, covered a varied topographic tract and rich mineral deposit certainly supplemented this economic growth. The hills extending from Gidhraur to Seykhpura division in the Patna and Bhagalpur district was particularly rich in ordinary rock formation. In the Neolithic-Chalcolithic times we noticed stone wide base of manufacturing units from the places of Chirand, Maner, Sonpur, Susipar, Baragaon, Manjhi and Oriup. The nearby Son riverbed may be a possible source of chalcedony, agate, jasper and chert nodules found from Chirand. The hills in the west of the river Son were rich in sandstone deposit. Red and white jasper was found in plenty from the Rajgir hills near their slopes at Bodhgaya. But the richest area of mineral base was Chotanagpur region. The core of the Chotanagpur plateau was made of Gneissic rock and basic rock of Rajmahal hills are of Basaltic type. This was one of the original sources of agate, carnelian of cryptocrystalline nature. Numerous copper rich sites were located from Singhbhum, Bhagalpur, Hazaribagh and Santhal Parganas, all situated in the Chotanagpur region. Auriferous quartzite may only be found near the Mayurbhanj border and alluvial gold is found in the Sanjai and Suvarnarekha valleys. Two types of iron ores are to be found at Singbhum area, namely in a nodular form from the hills and in the form of black earth.[2] A number of copper smelting furnaces were discovered at Chapri, Singhbhum belonging to the early period. Some vertical shaft type iron furnaces were also exposed at Netarhat plateau.[3] Arun Kumar Biswas considers a keen interest in mining and metallurgy is a distinct feature of urbanization. We find some degree of truth in his comment from the suggestions of Kauṭilya. He devotes an entire chapter on the principles, marks of good quality and processing of minerals of various types. In the last portion of the chapter he recommends how minerals may be kept in vigilance, supervised, processed and marketed. He prescribes stringent actions against anyone involved in misappropriation or other malpractices.[4] Thus, mines were put under absolute state control. This control and monopoly could be exercised through a bureaucratic set up and a seat of command that may be fulfilled by a fixed place in the area that was fountainhead of state power and command. It directly calls for a capital city which was also the administrative seat. Growingly, scholars are coming to the consensus that a general urbanization and a technological breakthrough had a direct bearing on opening up of trade and cultural links that underwent a revival from around 800 BCE after the Harappan links, which was the starting phase of the urbanity in early historic Gaṅgā plains.[5]

Here, we see growth of a nodal point was necessary. Two basic requirements of the zone were the proper management of agricultural and mineral resources that demanded a centralised seat of power and administration and secondly the trading links, that was based on the principle of distribution, exchange and marketing. Sub continental and long distance routes passed through this belt, clearly showing the business relations. A sketch of these routes may reveal the position of this belt in the trade relations. Moti Chandra in his book “Trade and Trade Routes in Ancient India” has delineated all the major ancient trade routes. We notice that important sub continental routes and long distance routes passed through this region, forming important fords in the region. One important node in the route between Peshawar and Bengal was the Rajmahal hills between Bengal and Bihar forming a node in this region. Here, Bhagalpur or the ancient port of Campā was a strategic point, not only in charge of huge mercantile transactions but also protected the riverbanks and crossing points. Safeguarding the crossing points was a prime concern for territorial states. Near Buxar the river Gaṅgā is so wide that it becomes difficult to cross the river. The city of Pāṭaliputra, on the confluence of Gaṅgā and Son was a strategic point. A little further from Patna, the Bihar hills enter Bengal and give an access to other overseas routes. So vigilance over crossing points of this area was necessary. To check a possible attack of the Licchavis, Pāṭaliputra was fortified. The long land routes to which Rājagṛha was connected were many. The route starting from western Punjab, proceeding through important points and finally reached Girivraja, has been identified with Giriyak near Jalalpur. The second connects Mathurā to Rājagṛha.

Passing through important early cities like Vārāṇasī and Śrāvastī and their subsidiary sites it met Rājagṛha. The next was the grand route from Śrāvastī to Rājagṛha. Covering a distance of 60 yojanas between two terminal points, the route passed through many important points like Setavya, Kapilavastu, Kusinara, Pāva and Bhoganagara. In this sector, north bound route from Śrāvastī and south bound route from Banaras met. The grand route from Śrāvastī was directed towards Campā, the port town of this sector that was linked to the sea port of Tamralipta and provided access to oceanic trade. A secondary route branched off to Rājagṛha. In the Rājagṛha branch, many halting points, mostly rural type were situated. The Buddha in his journey from Rājagṛha to Kuśinara, halted at Ambālithika, between Rājagṛha and Nālandā. He crossed the Gaṅgā at Pāṭaliputra, took stops at Koṭigāma, Nadika to reach Vaiśālī.[6]

Many long and short routes passing through this region, cutting one another, formed a dense network of routes. Important nodes were created at their cross roads. The region catered to a busy trade traffic and demanded nodal points to supervise regional, supra regional level transactions. The economic geography of the place may be viewed in terms of rich mineral deposit and a burgeoning trade relation. A proper exploitation and management of the economy largely depended on political power, manifested through administrative machinery. A fixed place on the landscape could fulfil the requirements. Here, the location of three cities -Campā, Pāṭaliputra and Rājagṛha reflected this functional role that the cities were supposed to play. All of them were capital cities with Campā, being the capital of Aṅga and Rājagṛha and Pāṭaliputra standing as the early and late capital of Magadha mahājanapada. While Pāṭaliputra had a relatively late emergence, Campā and Rājagṛha were contemporary and were important nodal points located at the junctures of important trade routes. It is notable that Campā was a port town with a direct access to water routes, particularly to oceanic trade through her connections to Tāmralipta. So it played the dual role of a capital and a port. Rājagṛha stood in sharp contrast, though connected by land routes had no touch with water. In fact, it was a mountain valley, in a hillock of five hills. It played significant role in land trade but did not satisfy the requirements of a port. We may take a note that what geographical considerations led to the establishment of Rājagṛha as the capital of Magadha.

Footnotes and references:


R.P.Kangle, Kauṭilya Arthaśāstra,2.1.4, Settlement of the Countryside, Vol. II, An English Translation with Critical and Explanatory Notes, Motilal Banarasidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd. New Delhi, 1997, p.


Nayanjot Lahiri, The Archaeology of Indian Trade Routes (up to c. 200 B. C.) Resource Use, Resource Access and Lines of Communication, Delhi, Oxford University Press, 1992, pp. 226- 234 and314-15


Rina Srivastava, Smelting Furnaces in Ancient India in Indian Journal of History of Science, 34 (1) 1999, pp.35, 41(33- 46)


R.P.Kangle, The Kautilya Arthashstra, vol. II, 2.12, Delhi, Motilal Banarasidass Pvt. Ltd, 1997, pp.121-125


Arun Kumar Biswas, Minerals and their Exploitation in Ancient and Pre-modern India in Ramchandra Rao and N. G. Goswami ed. Metallurgy in India: A Retrospective, Jamshedpur, 2001, p.9 (1-24)


Moti Chandra, Trade and Trade Routes in Ancient India, New Delhi, Abhinav publications, 1977, pp.12-22

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