Settlement in Early Historic Ganga Plain

by Chirantani Das | 143,447 words

This page relates “Location and trade routes 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 7 - Location and trade routes of the Vārāṇasī region

Vārāṇasī was the central to the tract joining Ballia and Benaras of U.P. lying mainly along the northern bank of the Gaṅgā and includes the hilly tract beyond Mirzapur up to the border of Surguja in M.P. to the south. Basically it covers most of the area of the ancient kingdom of Kāśī and its Vindhyan periphery. The position of Vārāṇasī was such that many important historic routes either emanated or passed through it. Basically it was a junction of different routes. It connected three important routes.

1) The route from Vārāṇasī to Sasaram.

2) The Route from Vārāṇasī-Mirzapur to the foot of Vindhyan scarp, which constitutes a section of the route from the Gaṅgā valley to the Deccan.

3) The route from Vārāṇasī to Surguja through Robertsgunj in the modern district of Sonbhadra.

The first route joining Vārāṇasī and Sasaram came to be a well frequented route since the Mauryan times. Minor rock edicts were located at Sasaram and Ahrauna. They are located almost on a straight line. Vārāṇasī was linked by a straight road with Ahrauna via Bhuili. The second route is even more important because it is linked to Malwa and gives adirect access to the far Deccan. The portion of the route from Vārāṇasī to the Vindhyas formed an important part of the whole route. The routes towards the Son valley in the Lalgunj-Robertsgunj sector are connected with the main route from Vārāṇasī to Surguja and beyond via Ahrauna and Robertsgunj. The famous Jogimara inscription of the 2nd-1st centuries BCE near Ambikapur in Surguja in M.P. refers to a sculptor of Vārāṇasī, named Devadinna and a temple girl Sutanuka. This clearly suggests the existence of a route between Vārāṇasī and Surguja in the ancient times. The Robertsgunj area provides a suitable environment for the growth of settlements and a large number of BRW and later sites were found here. The region can also be approached from Chakia and the route finally meets across the Gaṅgā to Candauli. Thus an easy route was made available by the Robertsgunj-Chakia region starting right from Sasaram and ending at Surguja.

The old route to Deccan or the one to Surguja probably starts from the broad alignment of routes of Ramnagar -Mirzapur at modern Malaviya bridge over the Gañgā. On the Ramnagar side, between Ramnagar and Mirzapur the last line of the Vindhya-Kaimur scarp can be seen on the left and the hills touch the river at least at two places-Chunar and Vindhyachal. From the alignment of hills at the Ramnagar -Mirzapur area a number of routes branched off in the direction of Surguja and the Deccan. These routes touched multiple important points like Ramnagar -Bhuili-Ahrauna-Sukrit-Robertsgunj-Panchamukhi–Copan-Garhwa-Surguja line and the Mirzapur-Lalgunj-Halia-Dibhar-Hanumana-Rewa alignment.

Basically the Vārāṇasī-Ramnagar-Mirzapur sector was the first receiving point of the Gaṅgā plain of the huge traffic and merchandise coming from central India and the Deccan. It had a direct link to the vast uplands reaching as far as the forest tracts of central India. This further increased the importance of the route manifold. Vārāṇasī, being a city, moreover the capital of the Kāśī mahājanapada and the first point to meet the huge traffic took full advantage of the situation and promoted it’s trade accordingly. In the northern India the routes linking important towns like Ayodhya, Śrāvastī, Lumbinī all pass through the Mirzapur area. In this regard, the Vārāṇasī region became indispensable for any traffic moving from north to south or even east to west. It occupied such a central position both geographically and strategically that it brought the town immense profit.[1]

Vārāṇasī’s location had twin advantages of having rivers the Gaṅgā and the Varuṇā flowing nearby and thus providing the water transport. Vārāṇasī had a virtual monopoly over river bound traffic. On the other hand the trans-Gaṅgā hills in the Ramnagar -Mirzapur area directly linked Vārāṇasī to the central Indian uplands and the Deccan. Findings at Ramnagar located on the opposite bank of the Gaṅgā beyond the south-western boundary of Vārāṇasī, confirmed that it was a manufacturing point of the deluxe NBPW pottery and variety of beads. Vārāṇasī was the main consumer centre of the former. From all likelihood Ramnagar appears to be a supporting settlement of Vārāṇasī. But the strategic location of Ramnagar implied that it was not only a manufacturing centre of luxury items but also a trading point. In a way it linked Vārāṇasī with other trading points of the Uttarapatha and the Dakṣiṇapatha.[2] So Vārāṇasī had a control over land routes to Deccan via Ramnagar. This put Vārāṇasī in an advantageous position to tap the Deccan resources and regulate the trade. Sojourn to M.P. or even Deccan was attested by the Jātakas too. We learn of traders of Vārāṇasī going to Ujjayini and Bodhisatva as a musician accompanied them.[3]

The fact that Vārāṇasī was an important trading centre has been mentioned in the Jātakas many a time. Traders going on business trips with 500 wagons or cart loads were mentioned in more than one stories.[4] On other occasions we learn of merchants having enormous wealth.[5] Such a wealth and bounty was definitely an attribute of brisk trade. The prime location of Vārāṇasī helped the trade. This was another important factor of Vārāṇasī’s overall rise and wealth.

Vārāṇasī had all the geographical bounties of abundance of water provided by mighty rivers, streams, lakes and nallas. This was one of the basic prerequisites for any settlement’s growth, particularly in the ancient times. It was noted in this whole area numerous small and supporting settlements of Vārāṇasī grew along these small water sources, helping Vārāṇasī economically and many other ways. The city was blessed with a vast and rich agricultural and mine hinterland. Finally a control over both north and south bound land and water traffic provided a wholesome growth quotient to Vārāṇasī. These rich geographical bounties were effectively converted into economic terms in Vārāṇasī’s favour.

Footnotes and references:


Dilip. K. Chakrabarti, Archaeological Geography of the Ganga Plain, Permanent Black, New Delhi, 2001, pp. 229-47.


Vidula Jayaswal and Manoj Kumar, Excavations at Ramnagar; Discovery of a Supporting settlement of ancient Varanasi in K.N. Dikshit ed, Puratattva, no. 36, 2005-06, New Delhi, 2006, p.89


E.B. Cowell ed.& translated from Pali by Robert Chalmers, The Jātaka or the Stories of the Buddha’s Former Births, vol. II, Delhi, Motilal Banarasidass Pvt. Ltd., 1990, no. 243, Guttila Jātaka, p.172.


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. 1,Apaṇṇka Jātaka,no.2,Vaṇṇupatha Jātaka, no.54, Phala Jātaka, pp.1-12,135- 36.


E.B. Cowell ed.& translated from Pali by Robert Chalmers, The Jātaka or the Stories of the Buddha’s Former Births, vol. II, Delhi, Motilal Banarasidass Pvt. Ltd., 1990, no.251, Samkappa Jātaka,no.291,Bhadra-Ghaṭa Jātaka, pp.189-193,293- 295.

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