Settlement in Early Historic Ganga Plain

by Chirantani Das | 143,447 words

This page relates “A case study of Varanasi” 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 2 - A water centric growth of a nodal point: A case study of Vārāṇasī

Though Kāśī and Vārāṇasī often used synonymously, the ancient city of Vārāṇasī was actually the capital of the Kāśī. The ancient kingdom of Kāśī stretched to 100 km east and 250 km north-west to the ancient city of Vārāṇasī. The kingdom of Kāśī was bordered by Kośala on the north, Magadha on the east and Vatsa on the west.[1] in the 7th century Vārāṇasī was 667 miles in circuit. Its probable boundaries in respect to other kingdoms were the river Gomati on the north, Allahabad in the south, from Tonsto Bilhari on the west to Rehand, karmanasa and Gaṅgā on the east.

The city Vārāṇasī is located on the left bank of the Gaṅgā, between the Varuṇā on the north east and Asi on the south west. While Varuṇā is a major river of the region, Asi is a mere stream which is not even shown even in the most detailed maps of the region except that of James Princep. The road from Vārāṇasīto Rāmnagar crosses the Asi, just off the city. The stream merges with the Varuṇā, just at a little distance. The place where the two streams meet is held particularly holy. Popularly Vārāṇasī was believed to have derived its name from the name of these two rivers and was considered very holy. Though the river Varuṇā is located to the north east of the city but probably it was not because of this the city is known as that. Rather it might be a name of the Gaṅgā itself, since Varuṇā means the daughter of Varuṇā and Gaṅgā means water, from the sky to the earth. Sarasvatī, another celebrated river of early India also means holder of sweet water. All these names imply a river and therefore generic names. In this way Vārāṇasī simply means located on the bank of a river. It does necessarily mean located to the bank of Varuṇā. In other words, any settlement grown on the riverside may be called Vārāṇasī. Vārāṇasī is eternal and a riverside is an ideal and right choice for the growth of a settlement.[2] Alternatively the city was rebuilt by Raja Banar and hence named after him. Vārāṇasī occupies a central position to the Buddhists because it was at Dhamek near Vārāṇasī the Buddha first preached his sermon. Also it was frequently visited by the Buddha.[3]

The Jātaka stories are laden with information about Vārāṇasī. It was only in the Buddhist literature Vārāṇasī was mentioned as the capital city of Kāśī unlike the Vedic Samhitas that mention both these places but never really made a distinction between them. Nevertheless, Vārāṇasī was only the core of the large cultural zone which was actually meant in the Buddhist Jātakas. So far archaeological remains are concerned the earliest exposed level of Vārāṇasī belonged to the 8th century BCE, much earlier antiquity could be traced nearby though.

Field investigations around Vārāṇasī found out numerous diverse types of settlements (Sārnāth, Ᾱktha, Ramnagar, Tilmanpur, Asapur, kotwa and many other minor sites) and formed a cultural zone with the twin sites of Vārāṇasī-Sārnāth as the nuclei. Even in the Jātakas never denote a single city or settlement by Vārāṇasī but a complete geographic unit encompassing the city, supporting settlements, craftsmen’s settlements, forests and hills etc. A careful study of this region can only show the true essence of Vārāṇasī.[4]

Footnotes and references:


Subodh Kapur, Encyclopedia of Ancient Indian Geography, vol-I, Cosmo Publication, Delhi, 2002, p.365.


K.N. Prudhvi Raju and Manish kumar Pandey, Varanasi: Origin and Growth from a Geomorphic Perspective in Vidula Jayaswal ed., Varanasi Myths and scientific Studies, Proceedings of an Interdisciplinary Workshop, New Delhi, Aryan Book International, 2013, pp.137-138.


Subodh Kapur, op.cit. 2002, pp.695-96.


Vidula Jayaswal, op.cit. 2009, pp.2,3,21.

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