Settlement in Early Historic Ganga Plain

by Chirantani Das | 143,447 words

This page relates “Distribution of population of Rajagriha” 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 4 - Distribution of population of Rājagṛha

Though the agricultural surplus was a prime mover for the growth of cities, it is obvious that surplus does not automatically find its way to the city. Rather its proper exploitation, collection in the forms of tax and other means was necessary.[1] Otherwise the surplus was useless. A class of officials was obviously in charge of collection of tax. Kauṭilya elaborately describes their duties.[2] next was the question of their distribution. In case of Rājagṛha it was a situated in a valley surrounded by mountains from all sides. Therefore its accessibility was not easy. Yet it did not hinder it from being major centre for exchange and trading of goods. Several trade routes linked Rājagṛha with important places. Via different routes Rājagṛha was connected to Uruvela, Vāraṇasī, Prayāga, Kanyakubja, Mathurā, Takṣaśīlā, Śrāvastī, Pāṭaliputra, Tāmralipta and even to the Deccan.[3] Raw materials and goods must have reached the valleythrough these routes.

In Rājagṛha there was a blooming mercantile population to supply the city dwellers with their needs. The Buddhist texts are of particular help on this point. Sona Kolivisa–a Campā setthi’s son came to Rājagṛha with eighty cart loads of gold and a retinue of elephants.[4] Another merchant named Belattha Kakkana was travelling on the road from Savatthi to Rājagṛha with 500 carts fully loaded with sugar.[5] Even on this way there was a sugar factory and a Buddhist monk saw men making sugar.[6] This concentration of merchants in the city has been by many scholars. Makkhan Lal in his population study of the proto historic times has shown from BRW to PGW to NBP upto early historical times there was a steady population growth in the Ganga valley. Number of urban settlements grew and they showed a greater concentration of population and typically non-agricultural population. Conningham also holds similar view and takes our attention to the tremendous population growth and concentration in early historical cities. In Rājagṛha roughly 40000 people resided when it was Magadhan capital.[7] It was not only a quantitative growth but characteristic change also followed. New professions and professional class emerged.

In Rājagṛha particularly numerous new professions arose. Ajātaśatru’s retinue included elephant-drivers, horse drivers, chariot fighters, archers, standard bearers, adjutants, army caterers, champions, senior officers, scouts, heroes, brave fighters, cuirassiers, slave’s son cooks, barbers, bathmen, bakers, garland makers, bleachers, basket makers, potters, calculators, accountants and other skills. They are described skilful and happy.[8] Since these ancient cities had large burnt brick fortification around, Conningham thinks building of these walls must have involved a large number of men. Making burnt bricks also required some kind of potter’s skill.[9] From PGW site of Atranjikhera pottery kiln has been discovered, suggestive of baking of bricks[10] . So brick making and pottery were also important professions where a considerable number of people were engaged. Mostly, people living in the urban or the suburban areas of Rājagṛha can be identified with these non-agricultural professions. Now, with varied economic scopes and active engagements Rājagṛha may be described as an active population centre.

Thus it appears that though the proto historic northern India had urban potential, they had to wait till the 6th- 5th centuries BCE to flourish. High walls demarcating towns from surrounding areas gave it an exclusive character. At the same time it sustained its growth by exploitation of surrounding rural areas that constituted the hinterland of the city. Its monumental buildings are expression of this exploitation and city’s superiority and hegemony over village. At the same time phenomenal population growth, proliferation of new professions gave it a totally different character from rural settlements. It represented an organized system of revenue collection, distribution and sustenance of non agricultural urban population. It signified a strong central authority and new type of socio-economic way of life.

Footnotes and references:


A. Ghosh,op.cit, 1973, p. 21


R.P. Kangle, op.cit, chapter ll, Heads of departments, pp.62-218


Arun Kumar Singh, Archaeology of the Magadha Region, New Delhi, 1991, p.34.


Friedrich Maxmüller ed. & translated from Pali by T.W. Rhys Davids and Hermann Oldenberg, Mahavagga, First Khandaka. 28, Vinaya Text, Part ll, Sacred Book of the East, Vol 17, Oxford 1882, p.13


Maurice Walshe, The Long Discourses of the Buddha, A Translation of the Dīgha Nikāya, Boston, Wisdom Publications, 1995,chapter. 26. 1, Cakkavatti-Sihanada sutta, p.93.


Ibid, chapter 16, p.67.


R. A. E. Conningham, “Dark age or Continuum?” F. R. Allchin edited, The archaeology of early Historic South Asia, Emergence of Cities and States. Cambridge University Press, 1995,p.69.


Maurice Walshe, The Long Discourses of the Buddha, A Translation of the Dīgha Nikāya, 1995, op.cit.Samannaphala sutta,p.93.


Conningham, op. cit, 1995, p.70


T. N. Roy, op. cit, 1983 p. 138.

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: