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History of India

HISTORY
Subject

History

Paper No.

Paper - I
History of Ancient India

Topic No. & Title

Topic - 6
Emergence of New Culture

Lecture No. & Title

Lecture - 3
Urbanization

(For under graduate student)

Script
Emergence of New Culture: Urbanization
Prior

to

the

beginning

of

the

janapadas

and

mahajanapadas, many parts of the subcontinent made


transition from the chalcolithic to the Iron Age. The
archaeological

evidence

indicates

large

number

of

settlements, mainly relying on a well established and stable


agricultural base supplemented by annual domestication
and

hunting.

Cultures

just

prior

to

urbanization

are

sometimes differentiated by the use of Painted Grey Ware

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in the western part and Black and Red Ware in the eastern
part. Incipient urbanism is noticeable by about the early 6th
century BCE at some sites. A lustrous luxury ware known as
the Northern Black polished ware suggest urbanism. Crafts
specialization and metallurgical techniques for iron crafting
became visible in most of the areas. The location of later
Vedic corpus in the Ganges plain describes conditions that
are prelude to urbanization. In the later Vedic texts we find
reflections of transition from chiefdoms to territorial states
in the Ganga valley.
This transition from chiefdom to the establishment of
kingdoms and oligarchy in the Ganga valley is also linked
with the emergence of urban centres in the region. Urban
centres become visible in textual accounts and field
archaeological materials from 6th century BCE though the
foundations were laid in the preceding period with the
establishment of a firm agricultural base that ensured
sustained food surpluses. This is regarded as the Second
Urbanization in Indian history, the first being the Harappan
experience. The cities of second urbanization are mainly
located in the Ganga valley though there were a few outside

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the Ganga plains. The basic feature of second urbanization


is that it had an epicenter in the middle Ganga valley.
Interestingly it is mostly the Buddhist texts which talks of
urban centres though the knowledge of a nagara is not
unknown

to

Brahmanical

authors.

The

term

nagara

denoting an urban space occurs for the first time in the


Taittereya

Aranyaka.

distinction

between

Panini
a

was

nagara

and

also
a

aware
grama

of

the

and

he

mentioned that nagaras were located to the east implying


the Ganga valley as he himself was a resident of Sialkot in
present day Pakistan. An early normative Sanskrit text, the
Baudhayana Dharmasutra forbids a visit to the city as in the
orthodox Brahmanical ideology, the city stood for the
perpetual

non

study

of

the

Vedic

texts.

The

Mahaparinibbanasutta , one of the early Pali canonical text


enlists the name of sixty nagaras at the time of the great
demise of Buddha. Out of these six were mahanagaras.
They were Champa (near Bhagalpur in Bihar), Rajagrha
(Rajgir in Bihar), Sarnath (near Varanasi in UP), Kaushambi
(near Allahabad in UP), Sravasti (Sahet Mahet in UP) and
Kushinagara (Kasia in UP). Besides these mahanagaras we

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have reference to other important urban centres like


Ahichchhatra ( near Bareilly in UP), Hastinapur (situated in
the Delhi Meerut region), Mathura (near present day
Mathura), Vaishali (Basarh near Muzaffarpur in Bihar).
Apart from the mahanagaras Pali canon refers to other
kinds of urban settlements. These were pura, a town often
associated with fortifications, nagara was a fortress or
town. Nigama referred to a market town and could be
placed midway between a gama and a nagara. We also
have reference to putabhedana as an exchange centre.
During this period trade was certainly a contributing factor
to urban development but certainly not the most significant
agent of change. This could be explained with the example
of Pataliputra. Interestingly Buddhist texts do not mention
Pataliputra as a city. Instead it is referred to as Pataligama
located at the junction of the Ganga and Son and has been
described not as a nagara but a putabhedana in the
Mahaparinibbanasutta of the Dighanikaya. As a centre of
trade the putabhedana acted as a ware house. The Buddha
did not fail to appreciate the importance of Pataligama as a
trade centre and its strategic location. He thus prophesied

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the future greatness of the putabhedana as the greatest


city (agganagara) of future. Buddhas prophecy came true
and Pataligama was transformed from a trade centre to a
leading urban centre and the apex political centre of
Magadha after Ajatasatrus reign.
The literary description of a city often refers to imposing
fortification

walls,

gates

and

watch

towers

of

cities,

excellent residential structures, the regular presence of


merchants along with the hustle and bustle of urban life.
But these descriptions are stereotypical and the specificities
of urban lay out and hierarchy among cities does not
feature here. For this we have to turn to archaeological
data.
It is important to note that archaeology confirms the
importance

of

the

great

cities

of

literature.

Thus

excavations revealed the presence of massive fortifications


in some of the sites. The earliest of these- at Ujjain,
Kaushambi, Rajghat and Rajgir can be dated to the 6th -5th
centuries BCE, others at Ahichchhatra, Champa, Vaishali,
Mathura, Shravasti and Pataliputra were built in the 4th to

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2nd centuries BCE. The fortifications consisted of an earthen


rampart with a corresponding moat and crowned with
parapets. The building of these ramparts involved not only
considerable feats of engineering but also the organization
of a sizeable labour force, indicating a significant change in
the level of social organization. This view is supported by
the massive size of some of the fortified sites, the largest of
which Kaushambi measures almost 50 hectares. George
Erdosy has thrown interesting light on the process of urban
formation in and around Kaushambi. According to him
Kaushambi did not stand alone as an urban centre, two
more sites of Shringaverapura and Kara being located on
the banks of the Ganga and both of an identical size of 12
hectares. These were towns associated with various sorts of
manufacturing activity. Two sites represent the third level
of settlements, around 6 to 7 hectares with evidence of
some craft activity and iron smelting. The fourth and
smallest tiers of site were represented by 16 sites between
0.42 and 2 hectares. Thus a four level hierarchy was
identified in Kaushambi. Artifacts from the very small sites
indicate that these were primary centres of production,

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partly agricultural and partly artisanal. Kaushambi fits in


well with the nomenclature of a mahanagara.
At Rajghat, a fortification wall has been found in the pre
NBPW

phase.

Rajagriha

was

naturally

secure

being

surrounded by five hills. It was the capital of Magadha and


further had a cyclopean wall 40m long. Crafts production
was another important feature of these urban centres.
Shravasti was a flourishing site of craft production. It
experienced incipient urbanism prior to 6th century BCE but
flourished as an urban centre only in 6th century BCE.
Most urban sites have yielded pottery and potsherds of
different shapes and types. Two particular types are
important- one is the Black and red Ware and other the
Northern Black Polished Ware. The smaller number of NBPW
would suggest that it was not a pottery of daily use but
used on special occasions, a deluxe ware. It has generally
been accepted that NBPW was not only associated with
urban way of life, it was also an exchangeable item. It is
seen as the diagnostic pottery of the early period of second
urbanization.

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An important aspect of urbanism was the emergence of


coinage. Pali texts refer to kahapana which is matched by
archaeological evidence of silver punchmarked coins of
many sites. Monetization marked a qualitative change in
economic transactions which had implications in trade also.
It also ushered in usury which is well documented in Pali
literature. Artisans were a dominant class of the urban
milieu. Manufacturing was carried out by artisans organized
into guilds and by less skilled labourers under their control.
The genesis of these urban centres was not uniform and
thus they had different features. Some grew out of political
and administrative centres and were the hub of power such
as

Hastinapur.

It

was

the

mahajanapada. Excavations

political

centre

here reveal

that

of
the

Kuru
city

experienced flooding which is supported by the epic. Others


grew out of markets, located at places where there was an
agricultural surplus and which could form a part of the
exchange network e.g. Ujjaini. Towns also grew from being
sacred

centres

where

people

regularly

gathered

for

pilgrimage like the case of Vaishali. Thus towns grew where


there was a perceptible concentration of people with a

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scope to earn their living from a wide range of occupations.


The principal residents of an urban centre would be
craftsmen, merchants, administrators, religious leaders and
all other non food producing groups. Thus an agricultural
surplus was necessary to towns people and so one cannot
delink an urban centre from the agrarian material milieu.
But production of a surplus does not provide key to
urbanization. It has to be gathered and distributed in such a
way that is acceptable to the society and here in comes the
role of a political authority. Thus urbanization and the
formation of states are inter-dependent.
There is a debate which focuses on whether iron technology
was the key to urban formation. The remarkable agrarian
development,

according

to

Kosambi,

Sharma

and

N.R.Banerjee lay in the development of iron technology and


the availability of iron implements for agriculture. The
argument

that

iron

technology

changed

agricultural

production is linked to the fact that iron axes facilitated the


clearing of forests so that land could be used for cultivation.
The iron ploughshare replacing the wooden share was more
effective and eventually crop production increased. Thus

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10

there was agricultural surplus with which both the urban


population and functionaries of the emerging states could
be sustained. This view of the emergence of urban centres
in the Ganga valley has been questioned by A. Ghosh and
D.K.Chakrabarti. Their position is that vital agricultural
surplus is not merely a technological product, but a sociopolitical product the realization of which depends on a
strong administrative authority and administrative authority
of this kind was present in the ganga valley in the form of
mahajanapadas. In fact for the first time the greater parts
of northern India witnessed the advent of territorial polities,
mostly monarchical but a few non-monarchical too called
the gana samghas. Formation of cities and formation of
States are interrelated and not isolated processes. Both are
witness to the transformation of a society from a relatively
simple stage to a more stratified phase. The advent of cities
also coincides with the emergence of a coinage tradition
which indicates brisk trade and exchange related activities
and proliferation of market places. No less striking is the
remarkable specialization and diversity of craft products
evident from textual accounts.

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11

Textual sources actually point to early urbanization in two


ways.

One

was

description

of

some

villages

which

specialized in some professions such as black smithing,


pottery, carpentry, cloth weaving, and basket weaving and
so on. These were villages close to the raw materials and
linked to trade routes which helped in their transformation
to a city. Thus a city accommodated wide ranging identities.
It was a political, social and economic space. It is a beehive
of activity, of movement, of convergence for some texts
while others view it as a special space to be separated and
protected, where king occupied the central place. According
to B.D.Chattopadhyaya, literature tells us more eloquently
about the citi-ness of the city beyond its physical contours.