Settlement in Early Historic Ganga Plain

by Chirantani Das | 143,447 words

This page relates “Internal specialisation and space use (of Varanasi and Rajagriha)” 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 5 - Internal specialisation and space use (of Vārāṇāsī and Rājagṛha)

At archaeological level city has some distinguishing features. First is its areal expanse. In an average the remnants of the walled enclosure of most city sites were found 3-4 miles long. Fortification was held as a major variable of urbanisation and in all the primate urban sites of our zone fortification in some form was present. Frederica Barba in her paper, “Fortified Cities of the Ganges Plain in the First Millennium B.C.” has cited the observations of leading scholars like George Erdosy, D.K. Chakrabarti, B. and R. Allchin that probably the earliest sites to be fortified were Vārāṇāsī (Rajghat), Atranjikhera, old Rajgir, Ujjayini and Campā.[1] They were enclosed by a mud wall and this had a symbolic value more than for a defensive one. They were somehow linked to the growth of the first territorial states and rise of cities.

However these sites did not attain full urbanity in this stage. The second phase of fortification pointed out by Ghosh took place in the 2nd- 1st centuries BCE after the downfall of the Mauryas when all dynasties fortified their capitals. Therefore an element of defence came to be associated with it. These king-size ramparts were provided with gateways, bastions, moats and other defensive measures. They signified not only the defensive aspect but also the social, political and economic importance amidst disorganised outside. Major cities like Pāṭaliputra, Mathurā, Śrāvastī, Vaiśālī were fortified between 300-100 BCE. Barba has enlisted altogether fifteen fortified cities in northern India.

At Rajgir there are Old and new cities both having walls around them. The inner rampart around New Rājagṛha (located to the north of the valley) rests on a basal deposit where NBPW sherds and punch marked coins were found. Probably it was built in a later date and that suggests the coining of the terms Old and New Rajgir. The cyclopean wall of old Rājagṛha runs on the summit of the hills encircling the valley and its length measured by A. Ghosh was 25 to 30 miles. Its greatest height was 11-12 ft may be noted towards the southern end of the valley near Banganga rivulet. Sixteen bastions are attached to this of which seven are found in this area. Watch towers were also built to strengthen the defence. There were several gates in the outer wall of which only the northern gate was found at Vaibhara hill. At Vārāṇāsī the wall was erected in a fashion of an embankment along the river and not around the whole city. Whatever is the function or character of the enclosure wall around these cities fortification stands as a common component of early historic cities in the middle Gaṅgā plains. Discovery of NBPW coins, moulded terracotta figurines and seals from Campā and Rajgir suggest a class of economic specialists taken as a symbol of urbanism by Childe. Not only the spatial span but an advanced city planning was another important feature of urbanism.

From NBPW phase a wholesale urban picture grew up at Vārāṇāsī with houses with many rooms and an advanced sanitary system. Drainage pipes, different types of vertical pits and kaccha drains composed the city sanitary system. Terracotta ring wells also came to be used from 300 BCE as an advanced form of sanitary system. The last was also found at Rajgir though very restricted in number. Singular ruins like Maniyar Math, Sonbhandar caves, Jīvaka’s mango grove, Bimbisāra Jail were identified are mostly religious ruins and do not adhere to city planning. Nevertheless, in ancient context the cities were religious sites too. Hardly any city has not yielded remains of religious shrines like stūpas, monasteries and temples. New protestant faiths like Buddhism and Jainism were mainly urban movements and these religious sites were related to them. In this sense, they also comprised the city monuments. Location of important Buddhist complexes in or around cities or along the trade routes was not coincidental. They were oft-visited by the king or leading merchants. Therefore the venue chosen for the First Buddhist Council was Saptaparṇī cave at Rājagṛha was certainly for its urban facilities and availability of alms. Use of space within the city was carefully done. Often the palatial area, defence area or commercial area is marked. This may be found to a degree at Vārāṇāsī.

Both Vārāṇāsī and Rājagṛha representing the earliest batch of early historic cities do not show all the distinct remains like Palace or army base. But at Vārāṇāsī we see streets in north-south and east-west orientation, joined by bylanes and shops located on both sides of the street. On mound I at Rajghat a commercial complex was discovered with underground large storages to store grains and other important items. There also might have been located the office or office cum residence of the Sannidhata or officer in charge of stores. These structures were meant for the purpose of trade because Vārāṇāsī was mainly a port town apart from being the capital of Kāśīmahajanapada. Trade links of Vārāṇāsī to distant places, existence of a prominent merchant class dealing with variety of items were referred to in the Jātakas. The Śaṅkha Jātaka referred to a journey to the Suvarṇadvipa. The Indian travellers knew the seas like Khuramāla (Persian gulf), Agṇimāla (Red Sea), Dadhimāla, Nilakusamāla, Nalamāla(unidentified) and Balabhumukha(the Mediterranean Sea).[2] Their corroborative archaeological proofs are scanty but they spoke about brisk trade activities.

At Rājagṛha we are told that 36000 merchants were followers of the Buddhist sect. Prominent among them was Sona Kolivisa–the son of a Campāśetthī’s son. He was seen donating lavishly to the Buddhists reflecting his wealth.[3] Another was Śigalika converted to Buddhism was a wealthy merchant of Rājagṛha.[4] other than the merchant class there was a notable class of professionals. We see Ajātaśatru’s personnel included elephant-drivers, horse drivers, chariot fighters, archers, standard bearers, adjutants, army caterers, champions, senior officers, scouts, heroes, brave fighters, cuirassiers, slave’s son cooks, barbers, bathmen, bakers, garland makers, bleachers, basket makers, potters, calculators, accountants and other skills.[5] Therfore both cities of our study saw a burgeoning professional class often found in cities and taken as an important component of urbanity. Therefore it becomes clear that the two cities fulfill most of the Childean criteria for urbanism. Thus the axe of internal specialisation in the triaxial method was also met by these two cities.

Footnotes and references:


Frederica Barba, Fortified Cities of the Ganges Plain in the First Millennium B.C. Journal East and West, vol.54, no.1, December 2004, pp. 223-250.


E.B. Cowell, ed., &translated from Pali by W.H.D. Rouse, The Jātaka or Stories of The Buddha’s Former Births, Vol. V, New Delhi,Asian Educational Services, 1995, no.463, Supparaka Jātaka,pp.86- 91.


Friedrich Maxmüller ed. & translated from Pali by T.W. Rhys Davids and Hermann Oldenberg, Mahavagga, Fifth Khandaka. I, Vinaya Text, Part ll, Sacred Book of the East, Vol 17, Oxford, 1882,Patimokkha, p. 6.


Maurice Walshe, The Long Discourses of the Buddha, A Translation of the Dīgha Nikāya, Wisdom Publications, Boston, 1995, Sigalikasutta, pp. 461-69.


Ibid, Sammanaphalasutta, Wisdom Publications, Boston, 1987, reprint 1995, p.93

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