Settlement in Early Historic Ganga Plain

by Chirantani Das | 143,447 words

This page relates “Agriculture of the Varanasi region” 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 6 - Agriculture of the Vārāṇasī region

The Middle Gaṅgā plain was credited as one of the early centres of origin of agriculture and domestication. Archaeological evidences showed that the region owed to the Vindhyas for their first colonization in the Mesolithic period, but both regions were closely related to each other for the origin and development of Neolithic cultures. The[1] C dates from recent excavations at Jhusi and Lahuradewa in the Middle Gaṅgā plain and Tokwa in the Vindhyas suggest that the trans Vidhyan-middle Gaṅgā plains was one of the early centres of agriculture in the world.[2] The Gaṅgā plain has shown a consistent cultural sequence from the Epi Palaeolithic times and this continued through Mesolithic, Neolithic ages and this paved the way for Chalcolithic and iron age cultures of the area. No wonder that it was achieved by the food security ensured by agricultural practices of the region. Practice of agriculture on a regular basis meant reliability of food supply and less human labour employed in food quest. The transformation from foraging to farming took place some 10000 years ago in this region and it could support more people than before and facilitated sedentary life and even brought in significant socio-economic changes.

Explorations have found more than 500 Mesolithic sites in the Vindhya-Middle Gaṅgā zone. Banda, Allhabad, Sonbhadra, hilly parts of Chandauli are some of the important Vindhyan Mesolithic sites. Vārāṇasī, Pratapgarh, Jaunpur, Sultanpur and Allahabad, all located in the eastern U.P. are the important Mesolithic sites of the Middle Gaṅgā plains. In fact of the total 500 discovered Mesolithic sites 200 alone were located at the Middle Gaṅgā plain.[3] Evidence of Chopani Mando located 77 km south east of Allahabad in the Belan valley revealed cultural deposit from Epi Palaeolithic to early Mesolithic period. The site has shown remains of wild rice. Botanical remains of other nearby sites like Damdama, Pratapgarh showed evidences of cultivation of wild grasses, goosefoot belonging to the family of buckwheat, nightshade and wild and cultivated variety of rice. Wild and cultivated rice were found at Lekhania of Chandauli district in the Kaimur hills.

Remains of perennial wild rice, annual wild rice, domesticated rice, moong and other pulses were found at Koldihwa, located on the left bank of the river Belan in the district of Allahabad. At Mahagara, located in the Belan valley barley, wheat, pulses, sesame and small millets were grown. Available evidence suggests that at both sites rice and small millets were cultivated from the beginning of the Neolithic age. At Tokwa, located at Mirzapur, U.P. rice, wheat, barley, green gram, mustard, lentil, small millets, beans and even some fruits were cultivated. Jhusi, at Allahabad has also shown remains of domesticated rice, barley, bread wheat, dwarf wheat, pulses, lentil, green gram, grass pea, field pea, horse gram and lin seed. Lahuradeva, sant Kabir Nagar at U.P. from Neolithic level wild or weedy rice, domesticated rice, foxtail millet were found. Kodon millet, wild and cultivated rice and fruits were discovered at Magha (Mirzapur, U.P.), Kakoria, Chalcolithic Chandauli also shown traced of rice cultivation.

Comparing the dates of six sites discovered in the area under discussion a mean date was suggested from 4000- 2000 BCE. Evidences of Lahuradeva and Jhusi pushed the date back to 7th millennium BCE.[4] Study of the crop remains shows that even during the non-metallic phases of Mesolithic or Neolithic ages practised self-sustaining agriculture characterised by rotation of crops. Rice occurs in maximum number of sites because it was the staple food of the region (whole of south and south-east Asia). A commendable maturity in agricultural practices may be noticed by rotation of crops. This practice is most clearly visible at Senuwar, Imlidih Khurd and Malhar in the Vindhya-Middle Gaṅgā region. Even nearly all important crops of the Mediterranean and Africa were assimilated in the double cropping system of the Neolithic period. So the strong agricultural base of the region was laid during the Neolithic period.[5] With the coming of regular agriculture with Oryza Sativa variety of rice, the earlier subsistence mode of life did not change immediately, though a solid agricultural base was created.

Agriculture and hunting-gathering went on hand in hand for quite some time. The main rationale behind co-existence of double mode of economy was to achieve food security to diverse section of the society. The problem with exclusive agricultural economy was delayed reward of human toil and uncertainties of nature. In the Vindhya-Gaṅgā area food and non-food resources existed together this was done by professionally specialized and ecologically partitioned communities. This trade of foodstuffs involved food storage and transfer of foods to deficit areas. This social relation among various specializations, parallel to cultivation of plants doubly ensured food security to diverse groups of the society. It appears that well before the historic times the general crop pattern with staple food items and ancillaries arrived. A considerable maturity in the agricultural practices was attained.

Food security on a limited scale was attained. Most of the agricultural sites were located close to Vārāṇasī and were easily accessible. So a reliable agricultural hinterland grew up around Vārāṇasī. But the rural sites engaged in this agriculture were no way in a position to store, manage or distribute it. Such infrastructure was not available to them. Being the most important urban centre of the whole region Vārāṇasī must have played an important role in the management and distribution of grains. Both archaeological and literary sources suggested that Vārāṇasī was an important grain trade centre and had the prerequisites needed for this trade. It had the storage facility as the underground structures in the ancient city of Vārāṇasī have been identified as Dhannagāra or granaries[6] and the rivers provided the water transport, necessary for the trade.

In the Jātakas we often hear of grain dealers. In the Taṇḍulanāli Jātaka, we find Bodhisatva as the valuer of the king and how a deceitful horse dealer wanted to get hold of Vārāṇasī’s grain and he was taught a lesson by the Bodhisatva.[7] The Jātakas also spoke about almonries in the city of Vārāṇasī.[8] So the overall picture of Vārāṇasī that emerges from the Jātakas is one of a storage and controlling centre of grain supply to nearby places. So while the vast agricultural hinterland ensured a constant food supply to Vārāṇasī and its suburbs the management and distribution of this agricultural produce was monopolised by Vārāṇasīfor being the most important urban site of the whole of the trans-Vindhyan -Middle Gaṅgā Plain.

Footnotes and references:


Vibha Tripathi and Prabhakar Upadhyay, Further Excavations at Agiabir (2005-06) in K. N. Dikshit ed., Puratattva, no. 37, New Delhi, 2007,p.124.


J.N.Pal, Early Farming of the Middle Ganga Plain: Origin, Evolution and Chronology and the main features in Vibha Tripathi and Prabhakar Upadhyay, op.cit.2010,pp.134- 147.


Ranjit Pratap Singh-Beginning of Agriculture in the Ganga Plain in Vibha Tripathi and Prabhakar Upadhyay op.cit. 2010, pp.194-201.


Umesh C. Chattopadhyay, From Cultivation of Food resources to the Cultivation of Social Relationships: A Critique of Near eastern Neolithic Narratives in the Light of Archaeological Evidence fromthe Vindhya-Gangetic Complex, in Vibha Tripathi and Prabhakar Upadhyay op.cit. 2010, pp.53-73.


K.S. Saraswat, Agricultural Background of the Early Farming Communities in the Middle Ganga Plain in Vibha Tripathi and Prabhakar Upadhyay op.cit. 2010, p.160.


Birendra Pratap Singh, Life in ancient Varanasi: An account based on Archaeological Evidence, Delhi, 1985,pp.63- 70.


E.B. Cowell ed.& translated from Pali by Robert Chalmers, The Jātaka or the Stories of the Buddha’s Former Births, vol. I, Delhi, Motilal Banarasidass Pvt. Ltd., 1990, no.5, Tanḍulaṇālī Jātaka, pp.21-23.


E.B. Cowell ed. & translated from Pali by H.T. Francis and R.T. Neil, The Jātaka or the Stories of the Buddha’s Former Births, vol.III, New Delhi, Cosmo Publications, 1979, no.340, Visayha Jātaka, pp.85-86.

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