Settlement in Early Historic Ganga Plain
by Chirantani Das | 143,447 words
This page relates “Important trade routes 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 3 - Important trade routes of Vārāṇasī
The same was true about the Kāśī-Vārāṇasī zone. Vārāṇasī too in the ancient times was the focal centre of the whole cultural zone as in modern times. It was too connected to a number of important routes and played a vital role as an important point and mediator of the route and in a way is profited by this large scale long distance trade.
Important routes touching Vārāṇasī were
- From Pāṭaliputra to Lumbini,
- Vārāṇasī to Sasaram,
- Vārāṇasī to the Vindhyan scarp i.e. from Gaṅgā valley to the Deccan,
- Vārāṇasī to Surguja through Robertsganj,
- route from Deccan passing through Surguja, Vārāṇasī and reaching Ayodhya and beyond.
In this region we notice numerous sites belonging to different time categories. Some even had Neolithic or Mesolithic beginnings. Settlements grew in number and size in the successive periods while some even had a consistent occupation from earliest to historic times. There were many BRW/ BSW/ NBPW sites covering the whole region. Loriya-ka-tila, Basantpura, Karnai, Bhunadih, Ekail, Pakka Kot, Tika Deori, Waina, Khairadih, Nahush-ka-tila, Masaon-dih, Bairant, Bhuili, Nal-ka-tila were a few to mention. Among them Pakka Kot, Khairadih, Nahush-ka-tila, Masaon-dih and Bairant were fortified sites and some other sites like Loriya-ka-tila, Tika Deori, Waina, Raja-Bhar-ka-tila were given an urban status for their comparative bigger sizes. Bairant is located at only 20 km distance to the south-east of Vārāṇasī on the other side of the Gaṅgā, along a dried up river channel. Size wise it is almost equal to Vārāṇasī. In this Bairant sector there is a concentration of sites, suggesting a population density. So Bairant had the potential to grow as an urban centre but was shadowed by Vārāṇasī which held the supreme position in this whole area. Sites like Bairant rather served Vārāṇasī in various ways, particularly those along the rivers as important points in the trade routes connecting Vārāṇasī to other places. Johuragunj and Prahladpur are two such settlements on the Gaṅgā. Tikadeori and Lakhnesardih were sites on Chhoti Sarayu and Pakka Kot was another ferry point.
The Pāṭaliputra-Lumbini route emanating from Pāṭaliputra touched many points on the way and Vārāṇasī surely played a very important role in this trade. After Pāṭaliputra the next halt must had been Masarh. Its importance may be gleaned from the presence of an Aśokan pillar. Little before Buxar there is a major ferry point and in all probability Pakka Kot seemed to be this point. In this zone Tika Deori and Lakhnesardih were supporting sites of Pakkakot. Hence this portion seems to be very important. After crossing Ghagra, Khairadih is another important station of the route. Ayodhya, Sohgaura, Kopia and finally Bansi near Lumbini with an Aśokan pillar complete the route. In this route other than important independent cities like Pāṭaliputra, Ayodhya and Lumbini other points were medium to large sites with limited urban traits. They held a subordinate position to Pāṭaliputra or Vārāṇasī. The route connecting Vārāṇasī to Sasaram largely came into use in the Maurya times because Aśokan edicts were found at Sasaram and Ahraura. From Vārāṇasī, Ahraura can be reached very easily. The Sasaram-Ahraura alignment is very important because it directly links Vārāṇasī to Karmanasa and beyond.
Bypassing Vārāṇasī one can also reach Central India and Deccan through this Sasaram-Ahraura alignment. This constitutes a very important juncture in the north and south bound traffic. Moreover in this alignment there is a concentration of BRW sites. It is an extension of the site Senuwar area along the alignment. Next is the route running from Vārāṇasī to Malwa and then the Deccan. The area around Mirzapur is a main crossing in this route. Both ancient and modern routes were the same up to Lalgunj. The old route passed through Halia on the Adwa nala bank. Here small villages served as halts for the merchants who travelled along this route. Robertsgunj may be approached very easily from Lalgunj. From this sector a number of smaller and minor routes toward the Son valley come out. Therefore this segment no doubt formed a very important satellite zone for ancient Vārāṇasī for serving as a junction and halting place for long distance trade. Routes towards the Son Valley are connected to the main route by Vārāṇasī and Surguja and beyond via Ahraura and Robertsgunj. Even presently Ahraura Road railway is located on the Ahraura-Banaras road.
In ancient times Vārāṇasī used to be the destination and final stop of this trade. The Robertsganj area is irrigated by two rivers the Belan flows through it and the Karmanasa flows in its eastern side which also marks the boundary between Magadha and Kāśī. Therefore this area is a fertile plain serving as an agricultural hinterland for Vārāṇasī. Perhaps for this reason a large number of BRW and later sites sprang up in this region. Robertsganj may also be approached by Chakia, to the east of Ahraura. Nal-ka-tila, one such BRW site is located on Chakia side. It provided a shortcut to the Son valley and Surguja from Sasaram and bypassed the Ahraura line. It is notable that location of a BRW layer and growth of settlement cluster served Vārāṇasī -Mirzapur sector in different ways and connected this sector to different places of Magadha and even provided an easy access beyond the Vindhyas and the Deccan. In this sense Robertsganj area served both Vārāṇasī and Rājagṛha-Pāṭaliputra as satellite settlement under them. In case of the Deccan route from Vārāṇasī to Surguja, the broad alignment of crossing of the route from Vārāṇasī to Surguja is located near the Malaviya bridge over the river. Between Ramnagar and Mirzapur the last traces of the Vindhya-Kaimur ranges may be seen at Chunar and Vindhyachal. In this sequence of hills between Ramnagar and Mirzapur a number of routes took turn towards Surguja and the Deccan. The most important ones were the one Ramnagar to Surguja and the other Mirzapur to Rewa. Even in the first branch there are some deviations.
All in all, in the Ramnagar-Mirzapur sector an elaborate network of trade routes arose. This sector acted as the first recipient of the Gaṅgā valley to receive huge traffic from Central India and the Deccan. Vārāṇasī was the central node in this traffic. And it actually bestowed Vārāṇasī a virtual monopoly over the Central Indian and Deccan trade. Secondly, Vārāṇasī had an absolute mastery over the vast upland hinterland rich in agricultural and forest produce of Central India. Mirzapur area was the link between The Deccan and northern cities like Ayodhya, or Lumbini. It means Vārāṇasī even managed the routes reaching other important, contemporary northern cities. It is also notable that Vārāṇasī had an overarching authority over a vast region by way of its trade network maintained through these sites. All these surely placed Vārāṇasī in an advantageous position. Thus can be demonstrated Erdosy’s basic argument that city’s contribution in the cultural evolution and the change of its nature through the participation should be taken into account which is so far been neglected. His view may be substantiated by Vārāṇasī’s role and relation in respect to its locality or for that matter by Rājagṛha-Pāṭaliputra belt. Therefore in our present context both urban zones held an advantageous position to be connected to far-flung regions via these trade routes and thereby had a monopoly over a brisk trade.
In both select zones trade was a dominant factor that surely contributed in the development of nodal points. Being the capital city or enjoying a convenient location or having both these sites were often the terminal point of the trade routes. Many small to medium sites, halting places grew along the routes and formed a culture zone. Thus growing as nodal points actually meant assuming a much bigger role of which urbanism was an important part. Growing as a nodal point was certainly of great help to both Rājagṛha and Vāraṇasī to grow as prime urban centres.
Footnotes and references:
Erdosy, op.cit. p.83.