by Chirantani Das | 143,447 words
This page relates “Status as the capital of the Kashi mahajanapada” 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).
Trade seems to be an important rationale for Vārāṇasī’s growth and sustenance. For its strategic location it was the first point to receive huge amount of Deccan bound traffic. This supreme status of Vārāṇasī was aided by the political primacy of the Kāśī mahājanapada. The Kāśī kings had imperialist plans to be the prime among kings and neighbouring state of Kośala faced the brunt of Kāśī’s imperialism. Frequent clashes between these two states were common in these two states and in more than one occasion Kośala was defeated by Kāśī.
The Kāśī kingdom even stretched up to Asmaka capital of Poṭali at Godavari valley in one occasion and its prince became a vassal of Kāśī king. So Kāśī was able to establish its unquestionable authority over the archaeological zone of trade routes, comprising the ancient Kāśī and Kośala kingdoms and its territory went even beyond the Vindhyas. This political unification and sway controlled the trade zone and the Deccan bound trade in Vārāṇasī’s favour. So it became easier for Vārāṇasī to emerge as a famous port. This position of a prime port of northern India was never lost and Vārāṇasī’s pride as a city never faded even when Kāśī kingdom faced a political eclipse under ruthless Magadhan imperialism. The Kāśī-Kośala rivalry now started to be settled in Kośala’s side. The Jātakas inform us that Kāśī was defeated several times by Kośala but the most decisive victory of Kośala over Kāśī was exerted by Kaṃsa and won the title Banarasiggaho or the conqueror of Vārāṇasī.
Dr. H.C. Raychaudhuri thinks that that the political subjugation of Vārāṇasī took place little earlier than the rise of the Buddhism. From Kośala it was passed to Magadha during Magadha-Kośala marriage alliance. Later there were problems between these two states over the possession of this but Kośala could not retain the possession over Kāśī on the face of Magadhan aggrandisement under Ajātaśatru and continued to be so till the Gupta rule. It is interesting to note Vārāṇasī was the main cause of political rivalries among early states but Vārāṇasī held its importance through all thick and thin. Secondly it is also worthwhile to note that the elaborate trade network that developed around Vārāṇasī in the early days later came to be utilised by Magadha. In case of Vārāṇasī its urbanity did not depend on favourable political conditions. In a waning Kāśī kingdom Vārāṇasī was a prosperous city and a thriving force. It may be said that Vārāṇasī after the initial days did not depend much on royal patronage, rather derived its rationale from trade more than anything else.
Footnotes and references:
E. B. Cowell ed.& translated from Pali by W.H.D. Rouse, in The Jātaka or Stories of the Buddha’s Former Births, Vol II, Delhi, Motilal Banarasidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 1990, no.282, Seyya Jātaka, pp. 273-74.
Chakrabarti, 1995, op.cit. p.170