Settlement in Early Historic Ganga Plain

by Chirantani Das | 143,447 words

This page relates “Reviewing the Rajagriha-Nalanda Zone” 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).

Chapter IV - Reviewing the Rājagṛha-Nālānda Zone

Full title: Rationale and Functioning of Settlements in Early Historic Ganga Plains: Reviewing the Rājagṛha-Nālānda Zone.

Our attempt to understand settlement dynamics in Aṅga-Magadha circle in the early historic phase stretching from 6th century BCE to 3rd century CE grew and sustained due to a complex bond of events and circumstances. Here, in the concluding chapter we may look at the complex cultural scene that can address the problems from an integrated approach. The zone was set into the early historic middle Gaṅgā plains, which qualify as a cultural unit too because of concentration of many early historic urban sites which are mostly the capital and administrative headquarters of their respective states or mahājanapadas and also numerous small to medium rural and semi–urban sites. Besides this was one of the earliest zones in the greater Gaṅgā Valley to experience human activities and consequent colonisation and beginning of settlement. All these make this region a very important zone for study. Our research, focussing on two case studies of urban growth in early historic middle Gaṅgā plains actually aims to demonstrate how urbanity was reached as a result of interplay of complex causative factors and circumstances from a very remote antiquity. Within this paradigm we are also looking at the cultural dynamics of settlement development especially where we have evidence for evolution of satellite sites. In this case the relationship of Rājagṛha and Nālandā has been selected for a comparative–causal analysis so as to understand the emergence of human population centres within complex cultural zones, where such centres characterise these complexes. Of course, in this specific case the interrelations between Rājagṛha and Nālandā underwent major changes over the historical period which we have traced. This in fact illustrates the dynamic and organic nature of the whole phenomenon of urbanity and settlement growth.

Our first select zone of Rājagṛha-Nālandā is now located 90 km south-east of Patna at Nālandā district in south Bihar. Like many other urban sites of the period. Rājagṛha’s urban fame was short -lived and was much due to the fact that it was the old Magadhan capital under the Haryankas. Rājagṛha’s rise as the capital of Magadha under the Haryaṅkas coincided with the rise of Magadha as a superpower. While this aspect highlights the politico-military attainments the actual beginning of settlements had started much earlier in the Neolithic or even prior to that. Jethian valley, located only 12.5 km from Rajgir, towards Gaya and Paimar is an Upper Palaeolithic site at the vicinity of Gaya. It bears enough testimony indicating the early beginning of settlement in this sector.[1] Paisra, an important Mesolithic site of Bihar, is located in the Kharagpur hills in the district of Munger.[2] A number of quartzite artefacts have been uncovered at the site with an underlying raw material layer. But these sites are far and dispersed and could not offer a consistent cultural flair. A much more impressive and vast Neolithic level has been reported from all over Bihar with prominent sites like Maner, Senuwar, Taradih,Chirand, Chechar-Kutubpur etc., implying that a broad cultural zone was already developing in the Neolithic times.

Though the Neolithic horizon was vast in south Bihar its manifestations were not the same everywhere. Such sites mainly grew near the riverbanks that provided a steady food supply to both humans and animals. During the rains the rivers often inundated the banks and created fresh layers of alluvium. That was helpful for agricultural purposes. Neolithic culture showed an overall inclination towards agriculture. Taradih and Senuwar have yielded carbonised specimens of rice, barley, lentil, grass pea, millet etc. From the late Neolithic phase cultivation of wheat started. No ploughshare or digging stick was found suggesting grains were sown in soft, wet land after the rains. Saddle and quern found at sites implied they were used for separating grains from husks. Neolithic phase was metal free and agriculture was done by chitta method meaning throwing seeds in the wetland. So depending upon monsoonal rain and wetland created in this time crops were grown. But this was still at the level of subsistence and could not grow surplus. Winnowing baskets, mullers, grinding stones found from spots suggest that associated agricultural operations were done by them. The whole agricultural operation was done on a non-kin based professional relationship. The total ceramic assemblage collected from different sites consisted of Burnished Grey Ware, Cord Impressed ware, Rusticated Ware, Red ware, Black and Red Ware and Black Slipped Ware with common household type articles. Discovery of bones of domesticated animals were humped bulls, domestic buffalo, sheep, goat, pig, dog, rhinoceros, Indian elephant, swamp deer, chital, wild boar and often with cut marks suggested their dietary use. Fish bones and remains of other aquatic creatures implied their consumption for food purpose. So the economy was multi dimensional, based on hunting gathering, animal husbandry/ pastoralism and agriculture which is a common feature of Neolithic cultures elsewhere too. Wattle and daub was normally used for residential purposes. So the Neolithic phase actually represented a subsistent semi-sedentary village life with agriculture and pastoralism as the mainstay of economy. The earlier practices of hunting and foraging also continued and animals played an important role in the economy.

Neolithic phase in most sites was followed by Chalcolithic phase. Senuwar shows a clear transition from Neolithic to Chalcolithic phase and a basic uniformity between these two phases can be noted. Number of settlements increased implying a population rise and they exhibited a much richer material culture. Sonpur, an exclusive Chalcolithic site only 15 miles from Gaya was probably associated with rice production asrice husk found on the potteries. The general ceramic assemblage showed a striking change from Neolithic to Chalcolithic times. Handmade potteries were replaced by wheel turned ones. They now appeared in a number of colours and mainly represented household types. Stone tools, implements, beads of different stones, bone objects like heads of socketed, tanged and barbed variety were recovered. The only copper object found here was a copper fish hook. Ovens of various sizes found were might have been used for smelting copper other than normal cooking purpose. Remains of huts and rammed floor were also found here.[3] Microlithic tools of semi-precious stones of moderate quantity were recovered. Chalcolithic phase is known for the use of copper. Here too this phase was marked by limited use of copper. Important items like copper wire, arrow head, stylus and pins have been recovered from different sites of this sector. Copper was available in plenty in ancient Bihar and neighbourhoods. Very old copper mines but of uncertain dates were numerous in places like Singhbhum, Kharsavan, Saraikela and Dhalbhum. In the Singhbhum-Hazaribagh belt oxidised copper could have been obtained from very shallow depth in ancient times. What is more interesting id the presence of iron objects like arrow head, dagger, axe, nail, chisel, spearhead, lance, blade etc. and even novel item like antimony rod and bangles represented a developed material culture.[4] Terracotta figurines, stone beads, polished stone axes were other material finds.[5] Resourcefulness and favourable ecological conditions surely motivated the early settlers to think on permanent terms about settling down in this belt.

Survey of major pre-historic sites brings to notice that though settlement began in this terrain in the Paleolithic-Mesolithic times the real beginning of settlement should be traced from the Neolithic phase because a substantive Neolithic horizon could be located across the region. About the earliest sites whatever little data we have it may be surmised that these were seasonal camps at the rock shelters and sprang up as a result of foraging activities of the early inhabitants of the middle Gaṅgā plain or the adjacent areas. These were subsistence based societies settling down temporarily in some resourceful sites. Antiquities recovered from these sites point that probably they were occupied in a particular season every year but a regular settlement did not grow on these sites and mostly they were abandoned right after the Palaeolithic-Mesolithic phases of the 13th- 12th centuries BCE. In contrast, important Neolithic sites mostly have showed continuous occupation through the historic times. Thus a regular settlement pattern is detectable in this phase from these sites. These are helpful to substantiate the evolution and the scale of advancement with each cultural phase. Improvements in terms of increased agricultural productions and new crop variety, a range of ceramic assemblage, lithic tools and weapons supported by metal tools and brick built structural remains reported mostly from the NBPW phase unmistakably indicates an organised way of life. At Senuwar NBPW was associated with iron that can be dated roughly between 7th to 4th centuries BCE. Iron objects found at Senuwar shows acquaintance with the art of steel making. Techno–chronology of early lithic and metal using communities of the middle Gaṅgā plain was most vividly displayed by Senuwar. So the cultural advancement shows a preparatory stage for urbanisation was formed in the pre historic to proto-historic times. Distribution of these sites discloses that urbanization later occurred in their cultural ambit. Pāṭaliputra the later Magadhan capital is a prime urban site and grew up in a rich settlement zone with important Neolithic to early historic fortified sites like Maner, Balirajgarh, Manjhi around. Though these sites had an older heritage than Pāṭaliputra never rose to the status of being a capital city and they served the former in various ways. Hence their status was that of a supporting settlement to the prime urban centres and as middle range settlements in respect to a settlement zone comprising simplest types of rural sites at the lowest rung and supreme urban sites at the top. In the Rājagṛha-Campā axis too several important Paleolithic to Neolithic-Chalcolithic sites were located like Paisra, Taradih, Senuwar, Oriup, Sonepur, Jhimjhimiya–Kalisthan etc. Thus rise of urban sites is not a sporadic or isolated phenomenon rather a high stage of a process that started much earlier.

The surroundings of Rājagṛha were endowed with natural bounties. Ordinary and semi -precious stones were reported from nearby places. In the Patna-Bhagalpur division quartz may be found in the large rock formations in the hills of Gidhaur in the Sheykhpura division. From the Jasper of red and white colour can be collected from Rajgir hills, at Bodhgaya near Nirañjanā and Mohanā rivers. From Chirand nodules of chalcedony, agate, jasper and chertwere collected probably from the Son valley. However the Chotanagpur plateau is the richest in mineral deposit. Covering the districts of Santhal parganas, including the Rajmahal hills in the north, the Ranchi and Singhbhum districts in the south and the Palamau in the west clearly reveals a Neolithic horizon. Chief minerals found here are phyllite, basalt, sandstone, epidiorite, quartzite, dolerite, agate, steatite and copper/bronze. Rajmahal hills are one of the largest and primary source region of cryptocrystalline silica varieties, i.e. agate, carnelian etc. This area was even rich in iron deposit. Sites like Taradih, Champa, Balrajgarh, Manjhi have shown signs of iron smelting and working. Gold in moderate quantities were found at some places of Champaran and Singhbhum districts from the Iron Age to early historical age.[6] D. D. Kosambi has addressed the issue of Rajgir’s rise as a nodal point in relation to the availability of minerals. He points out unlike the fertile, alluvial parts of the middle Gangā plain where the growth of settlement was difficult in the initial phase because of thick vegetation, Rājagṛha was located in the hillock of five hills and in the less fertile and less vegetation area was fit for early human settlement. In fact Rājagṛha was among the first batch of cities appearing in the whole of the northern India. Later due to population pressure there was a need to clear the densely forested regions. That was not possible without metal implements. Demand for these metals was probably met by the nearest source area of these metals-Chotanagpur plateau forming the core of Rājagṛha’ shinterland. So the demand created by the fertile plains was met by a logical flow towards them from the earliest explored mines of Chotanagpur area. Rājagṛha as the nodal point played a central role in the process. Rājagṛha’s chief function in this regard was resource mobilisation and their delivery to different places. Rājagṛha was served by some supporting settlements in one layer and was itself linked to different cities and site. Rājagṛha was part of an elaborate trade network connecting distant regions. Devangarh, a fortified site might have helped Rājagṛha to tap Chotanagpur minerals at least from the NBPW to early historic times. Citing the examples from the Dīgha Nikaya, Kosambi has also shown that how Rājagṛha was connected to contemporary important cities by land routes often used by the Buddha and his convoy.[7]

Trade and Buddhism at least in the early stage played active role in each other’s growth. We often see the Buddhist sites growing along the trade routes. The process first started in the middle Gaṅgā plain where the Buddha spent most of his time in five major cities of Sārnāth, Rājagṛha, Vaiśālī, Śrāvastī and Kauśāmbī. This has been documented in both literary and archaeological data. He usually took the trade routes that connected these cities. The early Pāli texts enlisted 127 settlements located in these trade routes. They often served as halting places for traders and the ascetics in course of long journeys. Some of them eventually assumed a Buddhist colour and developed into small scale Buddhist sites and nodal points along the trade routes. Bodhgaya might have had a humble beginning and ended up in being a big monastic establishment.[8]

A systematic resource utilisation and distribution was closely linked to the trade factor and the Aṅga-Magadha sector took an active role in the trading affairs because a number of important and trans-regional trade routes passed through this region. Moti Chandra in his book “Trade and Trade Routes in Ancient India” has analysed the complex trade routes connecting far flung places cutting their ways and meeting each other and important nodes growing out at their junctions. Delhi, Agra, Kanauj, Ayodhya, Prayag, Vārāṇasī, Pāṭaliputra and Campā are important early port towns grown along the river banks of the Gaṅgāonthe route between Peshawar and Bengal. They were in charge of the protection of their respective crossings. A little further from Pāṭaliputra the Bihar hills entered Bengal along the Gaṅgā. So the Magadhan victory over Aṅga and control over Campā virtually placed this portion of the route under Magadhan command. The second long route mentioned in the Rāmāyaṇa started from the western Punjab, proceeded through important points and terminated at Girivraja or Rajgir identified with Giriyak near Jalalpur.[9]

The Buddhist texts speak about inter-city shorter routes that are commonly accessed by travellers, merchants and the Buddha himself. The first one connected Mathura with Rājagṛha and the second one was between Śrāvastī and Rājagṛha. It is notable that small to medium nodal points sprang up along these routes whose existence was surely due to the trade and therefore economic factor. From Mathura the route proceeded through Berenja (not identified), Soreyya (probably Soron in the Etah district), Sankissa (identified with the village of Sankisa in Farakkabad district), Kanyakubja and reached Prayaga. Crossing the Gaṅgā it reached Vārāṇasī. Alavaka was located at a distance of thirty yojanas from Śrāvastī and ten yojanas on the route between Vārāṇasī and Rājagṛha. Once the Buddha started from Śrāvastī, crossed Kiṭagiri, from there proceeding to Alavi he reached Rājagṛha.[10]

From Kauśāmbī the routes towards Kośala and Magadha were taken by travellers and merchants because the city was a great station for caravans. Vārāṇasī’s commercial links with Cedī and Ujjayinī was maintained through Kauśāmbī. From here one route approached towards Rājagṛha and another towards Śrāvastī. One route from Vārāṇasī reached Ukkachela(Chalcolithic site of Sonpur) and proceeded towards Vaiśālī and meets the earlier route from Śrāvastī to Rājagṛha.[11] Another route connected Vārāṇasī to Uruvela or Bodhgaya.

The second major route connected Śrāvastī to Rājagṛha. The distance between these two cities was 60 yojanas and it passed through Vaiśālī. Here the northern route to Śrāvastī and southern route to Vārāṇasī met. The grand route from Śrāvastī took to east and reached Bhaddiya (Monghyr). The route moves even further to the great commercial city of Campā. It provided an access to Tamralipti. A second and minor route from Śrāvastī turned towards Rājagṛha.[12]

Location of so many trade routes in this sector brings to our notice certain points. This sector was the convergence point of many long and short distance routes connecting several important ports and cities. While important cities are often the terminal points of these trade routes secondary sites are serving one or more big cities grew as important nodal points in the juncture of these routes. In the Aṅga–Magadha sector three important cities namely Rājagṛha, Campā and Pāṭaliputra taking active part in distant trade many secondary sites are located along the trade routes which often passed through the hinterland of the cities. This has been archaeologically documented by the location of a group of fortified or unfortified large and often semi-urban settlements in this belt. A general fortification started around 6th- 5th centuries BCE and reached maturity in the 3rd century BCE when a number of fortified sites can be located in this region. Deo Umga, Devangarh, Sikligarh, Naulagarh, Balirajgarh, Katragarh, Manjhi are either mud walled or fortified settlements helped creating a general urban topography in the broad cultural region. Functionally they stood as mid level supporting settlements providing a link between city and its hinterland by helping the former to tap the resources and control it. In ancient Magadha region and around, Rājagṛha was not the only the urban site. At least four great nodal points may be located here. Pāṭaliputra the later Magadhan capital, Aṅga capital Campā and Licchavi capital Vaiśālī other than Rājagṛha could be located. Function of these middle range settlements was to serve one or more of these cities in different ways and different times. They were the fixed places in the bigger hinterlands and helped the nodal points to utilise the resources. Rājagṛha tapped and controlled Chotanagpur resources through Devangarh. Similarly Chechar–Kutubpur served as a ferry point under Pāṭaliputra to regulate Samastipur-Begusarai traffic. Such sites played very important role in conducting long distance trade at regional level. They helped in proper functioning of the portion of a long distance trade.

Other than the trade feature cities and supporting settlements of various ranges constitute a whole settlement set up. Mutual relationship of these sites was loosely based on their individual functionality and what service they rendered to the broad cultural zone. In context of Rājagṛha we actually see a number of supporting settlements grew up in the hinterland of the metropolis. These middle range sites were entrusted with the chief function of tapping resources from the hinterland and to channelise them to the capital city Rājagṛha. Thus their role was restricted on a regional scale. On the other hand, Rājagṛha was connected to distant places through trade routes fulfilled the material need of a vast region and assumed a supra regional role. Difference in their status was easily explained by the function they performed in respect to each other and whole of the settlement zone. The same was true about two other prime urban centres of the zone Campā and Pāṭaliputra. This supra regional role of these cities brings us close to Monica Smith’s method to measure urbanity or on what grounds a site can be called an urban one.[13] Internal specialisation means Childean set of traits or internal monumental and cultural traits that are essentially associated to urban sites and missing in the rural sites. External specialisation means what kind of service a site renders to the neighbourhood and beyond. A site needs to have high proportion of at least one and some proportions of the other two traits to be called a city. In our present context precise information about demography is unavailable though increase in the number of sites since the Neolithic times and expansion of existing sites implied a steady population growth. Monumental feature is also less prominent at Rājagṛha. However architectural remains in the form of Veṇuvana, Jīvaka’s mango grove, Gṛdhrakuṭa hill top partially fulfilled the internal specialisation of Smith’s model. Fortification wall around the city and many other religious sites like Saptaparṇī cave, the venue for the first Buddhist council or Maniyar Math added to the monumentality of the site and comprised the religious landscape of the region. Thus the monumental aspect satisfies the demands of Childean criteria of urbanity. Rājagṛha’s service to a larger landscape in respect to trade made it an externally specialised site. Having these components, present Rājagṛha certainly deserves to be called an urban site. It represents a supreme urban model of the earliest batch in the region and the subcontinent.

Magadha’s rise to power and its primacy among the mahājanapadas was much due to the geographical factors comprising the location of the site and natural resources and an effective management of available resources. We have already noticed that during the Neolithic-Chalcolithic times a subsistent rural life developed on the basis of food sufficiency created by food production, pastoralism and hunting-gathering. This self-sufficiency was sustained and even enhanced in the later periods. Availability and identification of minerals led to their mining and purification. Their efficient distribution demanded a trade network that could ensure greater revenue for the state. Passing of major and minor trade routes from this terrain from a very early time linked the region to far and wide areas. Thus active participation in trade brought a large chunk of revenue to this geo–cultural zone. All these ensured an effective revenue generation that fulfilled the primary economic precondition for the growth of state. That’s why we see nascent state formation took place in this sector in the proto historic times reflected in the rise of Jarāsandha, the semi mythical king of Magadha mentioned in the Mahābhārata[14] and the Purāṇas.[15] His assassination by Bhīma was necessitated by Yudhiṣṭhira’s performance of Rājasuya sacrifice because only he could challenge Yudhiṣṭhira’s claim to paramountcy. This power of Jarāsandha was certainly derived from the economic stability ensured by a huge revenue generation. This may be explained by an agricultural self-sufficiency achieved in a relatively early time, rich mineral deposit and location in the juncture of numerous trade routes helped in their proper distribution and earned revenue for Magadha. In this sphere, Rājagṛha as the naturally defended, hill-of girt site was virtually impregnable and satisfied the essentials to be a seat of power and emerged as the capital of early Magadha state. Jarāsandha’s historicity was not beyond doubt but it speaks of a strong monarchical polity with the capital city Rājagṛha as the repository of power. So since the proto historic times a process of political formation started in this area but that was still in the level of tribal chiefdom and could not establish Magadha to the height of an imperial power. However the creation of a political ambit may be linked to the quick and steady rise of Magadha as the supreme among the mahājnapadas in the early historic period. The process of imperial expansion and political supremacy started under the Haryaṅkas and Rājagṛha continued to be the royal seat under this house. This was primarily because of the security it had for being located in the hillock and exactly matched the notion of giridūrga described in the Arthaśāstra. Kauṭilya calls it the most preferred and defended position for the capital cities.[16]

The first known monarch in the line of Haryaṅkas was Bimbisāra who augmented his power and position by cautious policy of matrimonial alliance with contemporary greater power of Kośala and gained the port town of Kāśī. He also married the Licchavī, Madra and Videhan princess. These marriages brought him powerful political alliances. The sole military campaign of Bimbisāra was the conquest and annexation of the adjacent state of Aṅga and the control over Campā, the great urban and trading point of Aṅga. It has already been illustrated that a number of trade routes passed through this sector and Campā virtually controlled the trade of this sector. Magadha in the early period had no port and annexation of Campā gave it a complete access of this trade. It brought immense economic profit and a consequent increase in revenue and political power. The cordial matrimonial relation between Magadha and Kāśī, Kośala, Licchavī ended up in complete subjugation of all of them under Ajātaśatru, the son and successor of Bimbisāra. It was during the campaign against the Lichhavis or the Vajjian confederacy that the fortification of Pāṭaligāma started. Its strategic location at the meeting point of the Son with the Gaṅgā was convenient for carrying out military operations. Its location also fulfilled the Magadhan search for a natural port that the kingdom so long lacked. Therefore it enhanced the importance of Pāṭaligāma.

From the Dīgha Nikāya we get to know that with the fortification of Pāṭaligāma, important personages and royal officials of every rank started settling down in the site.[17] Probably this was motivated by the transfer of some state departments to Pāṭaligāma. However such a conjecture cannot be established by historical evidences. Nevertheless a sizeable number of soldiers and generals were stationed there for the impending Magadha-Vajjian war. That created a sound demographic base for Pāṭaligāma. This factor was one of the basic factors for the growth of cities or any type of settlement. We may trace the beginning of the growth of Magadha’s second capital from this point. Under the next ruler Udayin with the formal transfer of capital to this site and renaming the site as Pāṭaliputra deprived Rājagṛha from its former glory of being the capital city of Magadha Mahājanapada. The desertion of Rājagṛha was also caused by the outbreak of some epidemic or fire. But the prime reason for the transfer of capital was the better strategic position of Pāṭaliputra in the changed situation. Compared to the early times, when Rājagṛha was chosen as the capital for its natural defence now Pāṭaliputra’s closeness to water route provided better communication and satisfied the need for a port that suited the needs of an expanding imperial power like Magadha. Rājagṛha’s rise and fall symbolises a pattern where the cities are only meant to serve the state.

Another factor that could have accounted for Rājagṛha’s rise as a fountainhead of cultural development was the new religious orders of Buddhism and Jainism. This was evident in the emergence of Nalanda as a religious centre under the auspices of the Mauryan rule. Although it remained a rural in status for the time till the Gupta period, the centre continued to sustain as a Buddhist centre. At the same time, a cosmopolitan atmosphere was emerging at Rajgrha as a seat of Haryanka rule and a nodal point in overland communication linked to Campa in the north to Paithan in southwest, helped the traders and Vaiśya community to flourish in this region. Closely linked to the trade routes was the location of pilgrimage spots. Wandering asceticism was the prevalent culture and the trade routes were the usual routes of movement of teachers of new faiths. It was likely that traders and ascetics travelling through the same routes often interacted with each other. Egalitarian social attitude of these faiths appealed to them so far deprived of their social status in a Brāhmaṇical system. So the early social base of the new religions particularly Buddhism was created in the urban centres and the nearby trade routes by a receptive community of followers, mostly comprised of trading community. This has been attested by the Buddhist texts. We learn about Sonakolivisa, the son of a Campā Setthi who under the influence of the Buddha renounced his enormous wealth of eighty cart loads of gold and a retinue of elephants and received pabajja.[18]

The setthi of Rājagṛha made to build sixty dwelling houses and donated them to the Buddhist samgha. Inspired by his donation, the commoners of Rājagṛha also started to make lavish grants to the Buddhist order.[19] Before the rise of the organised monastic life such grants and donations provided material help to the Buddhist order for its sustenance and growth. Then we hear of Sigalika, the Householder’s son to become a lay follower of the Buddha.[20] They lavishly granted the new sects with Ᾱrāmas, Vihāras, monetary grants and so on. Often the structural remains of old cities, particularly in case of Rājagṛha were of religious character. The famous Buddhist sites like Veṇuvana, Jīvaka Ᾱmbavana, Jain site Maniyar Math etc. are made by lay donations. So they helped in the growth of a religious or monastic site and also added to urban features.

The halting places near these routes often assumed the form of monastic sites for exposure to new faiths. This sector of our interest was thoroughly travelled by the Buddha and many sacred places full of memories of the Buddha became a part of this Buddhist landscape. The composite religious character of the region that has been pointed out has helped Nālandā to grow as a satellite settlement of Rājagṛha. Nālandā derived its basic rationale for growth from the religious factor. In the Rājagṛha-Nālandā-Bodhgaya belt we see different religious groups hovering around. However the place was not exclusive to the Buddhists in the beginning. In fact the Rājagṛha zone was dotted with religious settlements of different characters and sizes. The region was in no way exclusive to any particular sect though Buddhism was the strongest among them. It has been pointed out that during Ajātaśatru’s time names of leaders of at least six heretical sects were found in the Dīgha Nikāya. Rājagṛha–Nālandā route was often frequented by the Buddha and took shelter in the Pāvarika Mango grove and Ambalithika on the way.[21]

We have the reference of the Buddha meeting three jaṭilas named Uruvela Kassapa, Nadikassapa and Gaya Kassapa at Bodhgaya.[22] The ascetic culture took strong roots in this region and their seasonal and permanent settlements grew up all along this Nālandā-Rājagṛha-Bodhgaya sector. This has been testified by the excavation and identification of old religious sites. Rājagṛha was famous as the birthplace of Muni Suvrata-a Jaina monk. Sonbhandar Caves, located at the south of the Vaibhava hill was associated with Jain Tirthankaras and popularly known as the treasure of king Bimbisāra. Another important Jain site is Maniyar Math. Kundalpur, Sambasran, and Pavapuriall located in Nālandā witnessed three very important incidents. Mahāvīra was born at Kundalpur, he preached for the first and last time at Sambarsan and died at Pavapuri. So these places were of supreme importance to Jainism and some kinds of structures were erected to commemorate the importance of these places. The region was also sacred and central to other sects like the Ajīvikas.

The Barabar cave near Gaya was a famous stronghold of them. But the most important religious order was that of the Buddha’s. Remnants of Buddhist structures all over the region are plenty. Latest excavations revealed more such settlements of religious types often with a strong Buddhist flavour. Discovery of a stūpa mound at Kesariya, east Champaran,[23] Vanganga Rajgir[24] and Chandimao, an insignificant modern village near Silao[25] implied the vast and elaborate Buddhist network in this region. The main reason for the concentration of these religious groups in this region was because of the political importance that it enjoyed and to rally the support of the rich and even ordinary people for the growth of these infant sects. They provided the popular base and material support to these sects. This was more elaborately exemplified at Nālandā. Nālandā was not the sole site of this type in this region but had some natural advantages that no other site shared. It was located at the juncture of a long route starting from Bodhgaya and the three sites Bodhgaya, Rājagṛha and Nālandā are located in the same route and are three important points.

Nālandā could also be approached from Pāṭaliputra. It was also an important stop in the Śrāvastī-Rājagṛha route which reached Gaya ultimately. Here this route meets another route connecting Vārāṇasī to Tamralipta. This strategic location certainly placed Nālandā in a much more advantageous position than many other religious and even Buddhist sites. It was the birthplace of the Buddha’s favourite disciple Sariputra and he died here too. Nālandā was described as a populous and rich place where the amenities and alms were readily available. Thus the primary condition of the growth of a monastic settlement was fulfilled. It was far from the noise and disturbances of city life yet could avail all the civic amenities. Nālandā provided a perfect choice to the Buddha and we see him and his order moving frequently between Nālandā and Rājagṛha.

From this Nālandā was transformed into a vihāra or a permanent monastic settlement and grew in size and qualitatively with consistent and huge donations. It stood as an international university that attracted bright students from all over the world particularly the Buddhist world. So Nālandā’s fame was mainly for being a centre of advanced learning. As Nālandā’s fame reached far and wide it received more grants. For example Bālaputradeva of Suvarṇadvīpa wanted to grant five villages to Nālandā for the maintenance of a monastery that he built there. Many such big or small grants made earlier and later by different agencies brought many villages and settlements under Nālandā’s jurisdiction. Therefore the responsibility of the management of these villages and settlements fell on Nālandā. College seals were found in large number. Probably the mahāvihāra was the apex body controlling different institutes but each college had its own seal. Many janapada and village seals, municipality and police station seals found there spoke about diverse roles played by Nālandā other than purely educational pursuits. Discovery of a large number of official, private and even individual seals confirmed its administrative and miscellaneous functions. In these seals Gaya or Rājagṛha often figured as administrative sub divisions.

It is very interesting to note the changing inter settlement relations. Nālandā rather had a modest origin as one of the many Buddhist monastic centres in the suburb of old Magadhan capital. It had a long history of gradual rise to the height of an international university and the administrative headquarter of a vast area. Rājagṛha started losing its primacy since the time when the Magadhan capital was transferred to Pāṭaliputra. With the loss of political and administrative identity the main rationale for its existence and growth was lost. It remained as a Buddhist site laden with memories of the Buddha, the Buddhist council and many other interactive activities between the kings, laity and other contemporary heterodox sects. It stood as a pilgrimage centre, very sacred to the Buddhists, Jains and even the Hindus. On the contrary, all the endowments, grants and donations were showered on Nālandā primarily for being a Buddhist monastic centre. Most of the grants came from the Buddhist kings, even outside the country and rich and ordinary laity, faithful to the Buddhist order. Secondly its outstanding academic pursuit also impressed the world and added to the glamour quotient. That also provided a very strong ground for its lasting status in historical focus. Thirdly diverse types of administrative and other functions performed by the Nālandā mahāvihāra made it the administrative headquarter of the region. All these provided enough reasons for its growth and sustenance.

In the growth of nodal points in this zone some features may be delineated. The zone had an early beginning that may be dated to Neolithic or even Mesolithic or epi-Paleolithic times. Identification and utilisation of resources started quite early evident from a promising lithic and metal industry. Therefore crystallization of polity and state formation might have started early in this area as we have the reference of faint germination of chieftainship in the Jarāsandha legend. Later a strong monarchical state with expansionist designs grew in this area. Need for a royal seat necessitated a search for a secured spot. From the time of Jarāsandha, Rājagṛha served that purpose. So administration was a principal factor for Rājagṛha’s rise as a nodal point. In this sector we also note an overwhelming command of trade factor. Most long distance routes and even sub continental routes passed through this region. Many middle range sites located in the junctures of these routes mainly supervised part of these routes. Many of these routes terminated at one of these sites or connected them to a network. Thus Rājagṛha, Campā or Pāṭaliputra grew as important nodal points of these routes, often working as emporiums, entrepot or distribution point of goods and commodities. So rather a combination of factors provided for the growth of nodal points. Rājagṛha’s position as a major nodal point with an overt political character of being the royal seat was rather a short-lived one. Its rise and fall was determined by the state’s requirements. Selection of the site as the capital was due to the natural defence that it offered to the capital. A better strategic location, better communication and defence provided to Pāṭaliputra by rivers from three sides made it a more preferred choice for a capital. The consequent shift of capital to Pāṭaliputra took away from the former not only the pride but the vital identity of the administrative nodal point. Hence among the many factors that contributed to the growth of Rājagṛha as a nodal point a vital one was lost. Loss of political power and prestige can be accounted for the loss of other aspect that is trade. We hear of Pāṭaliputra as a major trading port but cease to hear about Rājagṛha’s participation in trade. Not only Pāṭaliputra enjoyed a better communication by riverine routes that offered a quicker and safer transport, but as the capital of the growing Magadhan state it was a natural destination of travellers and merchandise. These places as nodal points in a vast landscape, Rājagṛha in its heyday and later Pāṭaliputra served much bigger function than just a city did.

Loss of power and vigour certainly curbed the urban status of Rājagṛha. But it was still a part of the religious orbit created since the days of the Buddha. The religious identity formed in this belt with in numerable religious settlements was kept intact for a long time. Excavation at New Rajgir by Pandit Daya Ram in 1905 has brought out some Buddhist remains of later antiquities from the upper level of a mound. Buddhist items were clay seals, oval clay seals with Buddhist symbolism, four small stone Buddha heads, tablet of the Buddha in abhaya mudra and a seated image of the Buddha in Dhyana mudra.[26] In the western part of the mound a number of miniature clay stūpas each with a Buddhist inscription (ye dharmāhetu-prabhavahetuṃteshaṃ Tathagatahy = avadatteshaṃchayonirodhaevaṃ -vadimahāśramaṇah) of characters of 8th- 9thcenturies were discovered.[27] Jaina records of 3rd- 4th centuries CE have been recovered from Sonbhandar caves in the southern scrap of the Vaibhara hill. The inscription written in Jaina Prākṛtspeaks of Muni Vairadevah who established images of arhats for the salvation of sages.[28] The most fascinating example of varied religious culture of Rajgir comes from Maniyar Math. Though known as a Jaina shrine, several nāga and nāgī figures found in the site probbly represented popular religion of the surrounding hills. Images of Hindu deities like Ganeśa and Śiva, demigod like Bāṇasura were represented in the images. Later traditions speak of a mythical king of Rājagṛha hid his treasures inside the building. Probably in the early Gupta period around 350- 500 CE the building was erected.[29]

It has already been demonstrated that a very active Buddhist circle grew in this belt with Rājagṛha and Nālandā as two important nodal points. While the former drew its settlement logic from various factors the latter was earlier fully dependent on the former. These two sites were closely linked as before. Though Rājagṛha lost its earlier fame and fortune we still hear of occasional grants made to Nālandā from Rājagṛha. A metal image inscription issued in the 3rd year of Devapāla’s rule refers to the building of some establishment of obscure nature by a lady named Viśākhā in association with the residents of the village of Purika, in commemoration of a victory by her husband who was described the vanquisher of the Kalachuris.[30] The content of the inscription suggests that Rājagṛha still held some political importance and was an active population centre. On the other hand, Nālandā too rose to a prominent status of a Buddhist site with multiple functions. Many official and administrative duties were ascribed to Nālandā that has been attested from varied official seals. At the same time a close relation between Rājagṛha and Nālandā was retained. More than one office seals spoke about the official relation between these two sites. From a votive inscription of Devapāladeva we get the phrase of RājagṛhaviṣayeandNālandāmahāpaṭale[31] probably indicates that Nālandā was a great territorial subdivision under the district of Rājagṛha. We also have another example of seal of 7th- 8th centuries CE refers to the establishment of some saṃgha at Rājagṛha with affiliation to Nālandā.[32] Survey of these epigraphical records show relation of Rājagṛha and Nālandā in no way was homogenous. While a huge grant was made to Nālandā by Viśākhā shows that still some royal authority prevailed at Rājagṛha. But the affiliation of the saṃgha of Rājagṛha to Nālandā implies the latter’s superior position as a sacred Buddhist place. Lastly the administrative record shows that Nālandā was still a subdivision of Rājagṛha. Probably they shared a complementary relation in a Buddhist network. So the overall picture rather suggests that a hetararchical relation between the two sites, i.e. settlements with equal or no rank.

Rājagṛha represented the settlement model of administrative seat of an ambitious and expanding empire. With a solid economic base of agriculture and minerals and being well connected to far flung areas, Magadha of an imperial character required a strong repository of power that it found in well protected Rājagṛha. The other importance of the city was its centrality to the Buddhist circle created in the Gaya-Rajgir-Nālandā axis. Numerous religious sites grew in this circuit along the trade routes. Nālandā was a bāhirikā or suburb of Rājagṛha, easily connected to it. This was the setting in the early phase of history of this tract. For political and strategic advantages Pāṭaliputra replaced Rājagṛha very soon as the capital of Magadha and being a port even captured the trading links of this region. Thus, Rājagṛha lost two prime reasons for its position, but did not die altogether. It stood as an important religious centre till quite late times. Nālandā, however won favour from all tiers of the Buddhist circle, grew as a monastic site and was promoted to a Buddhist academic centre. It also managed a lot of administrative and variety of functions. These functions are so divergent in character that it would be difficult to ascribe any character to Nālandā’s specific functions. Bur it held an important place in the area for playing multiple roles. Often we see Nālandā as an important administrative unit under the subdivision of Rājagṛha. In this model, the relation between Nālandā and Rājagṛha was that of a centre and satellite. Rājagṛha represented a decaying centre while Nālandā broke free from the shadow of Rājagṛha, followed its own course and stood as an independent entity with a separate identity. Rājagṛha maintained its legacy as a religious centre and building of modern Buddhist monuments in this valley suggests its relevance to the Buddhists did not diminish.

Footnotes and references:


Arun Kumar Singh, Archaeology of Magadha Region, Ramanand Vidya Bhavan, New Delhi, 1991, p. 38.


Parth R. Chauhan, The lower Palaeolithic of the Indian Subcontinent, in Evolutionary Anthropology,18:62- 78, 2009, p.71.


Arun Kumar Singh, Archaeology of the Magadha Region, New Delhi, Ramanand Vidya Bhavan, 1991, pp.41-42.


Rina Srivastav, Mining of Copper in Ancient India, Indian Journal of History of Sciences, 34(3) 1999, pp.174- 79


Arun Kumar Singh, op.cit. 1991, pp.39-40


Nayanjyot Lahiri, The Archaeology of the Indian Trade Routes Up to C. 200 BC–Resource Use, Resource Access and Lines of Communication, Oxford University Press, 1992, pp. 229- 315


D.D. Kosambi, Ancient Kosala and Magadha, in Bhairavi Prasad Sahu ed. Iron and Social Change in Early India Oxford, 2011, First Published in 2006, pp.38-39.


Abhishek Singh Amar, The Buddhaksetra of Bodhgaya: Sangha, Exchanges and Trade Networks in Religions and Trade: Religious Formation, Transformation and Cross-Cultural Exchange between East and West, Ed. Peter Wick and Volker Rabens, BRILL, December 2013, pp. 117-22


Moti Chandra, Trade and Trade Routes in Ancient India, Abhinav Publications, New Delhi, 1977, pp.5-16.


Friedrich Maxmüller Ed.& translated by T.W. Rhys Davids and Hermann Oldenberg, Kullavagga, Sixth Khandaka, chapters 12to 20, Vinaya Text, part III, Sacred Book of the East, Vol. 20, Oxford, 1885, pp.204-220.


Ibid, Kullavagga, Fifth Khandaka, chapters 12 and 13, 21 and 22, pp.98-100 and 125-31.


Moti Chandra, Trade and Trade Routes in Ancient India, New Delhi, Abhinav Publications, 1977, pp.16-17.


Monica L. Smith,The Archaeology of the South Asian Cities, Journal of Archaeological Research, 14 (2) June 2006, pp.107-08.


Dr.Ishwar Chandra Sharma and Dr. O. N. Bimali ed and M.N. Dutt Translated The Mahabharata, Sanskrit text with English translation, Sabha Parva, ch. 17, Delhi, Parimal Publications, 2001, pp. 680- 83


Manmatha Nath Dutt ed. and based on professor H. H. Wilson’s translation, Vishnupuranam, Calcutta, published for the society for the Resuscitation of Indian literature, part IV, section-XXII, 1912, pp.306-7


R. P. Kangle, The Kauṭīlya Arthaśāstra, 2.3.2,vol. II, An English Translation with Critical and Explanatory Notes, New Delhi, Motilal Banarasidass, 1997,p.67


Maurice Walshe, The Long Discourses of the Buddha, A Translation of the Dīgha Nikāya, Boston, Wisdom Publications, 1995, Mahaparinibbana Sutta, p.237.


Friedrich Maxmüller Ed.& translated by T.W. Rhys Davids and Hermann Oldenberg, Mahavagga, Fifth Khandaka, chapter 1,Vinaya Text, Part II, Sacred Book of the East, Vol. 17, Oxford, 1882, p.1.


The Kullavagga, op.cit. Fifth Khandaka, chapters 8-9 and Sixth Khandaka, Chapter 1, op.cit.1885, pp.78, 157.


Maurice Walshe, Digha Nikāya, op.cit. Sigalikasutta, p.467.


Ibid, Sammanaphalasutta, pp 91-97.


The Mahavagga, 1.15.1, Sacred Books of the East, Vol. XIII, 1881,p.118.


Indian Archaeology,1998-99, A Review, published by The Director General, ASI, 2004, pp. 2-3


Indian Archaeology, 1999-2000, A Review, published by The Director General, ASI, 2005,p.11


Indian Archaeology, 2000- 01, A Review, published by The Director General, ASI, 2006,p.8


Trial Excavations in New Rājagṛha, Annual Report, Archaeological Survey of India, 1905-06, p.102


Mohammad Hamid Kuraishi, revised by A. Ghosh, Rajgir, published by the Director General, Archaeological Survey of India, New Delhi, 1987, p.11


Annual Report, Archaeological Survey of India, 1905-06, p.98


Annual Report, Archaeological Survey of India, 1905-06, p. 105


Hirananda Sastri, Nalanda and its Epigraphic Materials in The Memoirs of the Archaeological Survey of India, Government of India Press, Calcutta, 1942, p. 87


B.N. Misra, Nalanda, New Delhi, 1998,p.240


H. N. Sastri, 1942, op.cit. p.49

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