About the Book
This monograph deals with a very important phase of Indian history, spanning c. 700 and c. 350 BC. During the period iron technology diffused, transforming and multiplying tools; cities arose and commerce spread; the caste system assumed practically all its essential features; powerful states were formed, with armies and bureaucracies; and, finally, jainism and Buddhism brought about a veritable Religious Revolution. All this is described in four chapters with clarity and precision, but with no attempt to conceal points of controversy. Special notes are furnished on punch- marked coinage, the Northern Black Polished Ware, problems of chronology, and the arrival of writing. Nine extracts from source give the reader a taste of the textual sources. There are twelve illustrations and seven maps, and a chronological table at the end. Each chapter is provided with a bibliographical note, indicating sources and suggesting further reading.
About the Author
Krishna Mohan Shrimali (b. 1947), Professor of History at the University of Delhi, is the author of A History of Paficala, 2 vols (1983, 1985); Agrarian Structure in Central India and the Northern Deccan: A Study in Vakataka Inscriptions (1987); and Dharma, Samaj aur Sanskriti (2005).
He has edited Indian Archaeology since Independence (1996) and Reason and Archaeology (1998). He has published widely in academic journals, on ancient Indian history and archaeology. He is currently working on a projected Dictionary of Social, Economic and Administrative Terms in Indian Inscriptions. He presided over the Ancient Indian History Section of the Indian History Congress in 1988, and was the Secretary, Indian History Congress, 1992-95.
There has been a convention to designate the pre-Mauryan times as the ‘Age of the Buddha’. This was, indeed, the title under which this volume was earlier announced under the People’s History of India series. It has, however, been felt that such a title would not be suitable for this volume for two reasons. Firstly, the age of the Buddha would confine our treatment to practically the time he lived, say, the sixth or fifth century BC (there is dispute about his actual date, as we shall see in the main text), whereas we deal with a much longer period of time, spanning the period between c. 700 and c. 350 BC. Secondly, the times when the Buddha lived and preached were marked by not just his discourses, but also by significant religious-philosophic activities f other thinking men, although the Buddha and Mahavira happen to be undoubtedly those of whom we know the most. Further, the accent here is on understanding and explaining processes of historical change through a focus on locating the nature of qualitative changes in the lives of the people, though important individual personalities are not to be ignored.
Once we take the larger view of historical change, we can see that the three hundred and fifty years saw some developments of considerable importance. First of all, it was indubitably India’s Age of Iron. Iron diffused and transformed tools, though this necessarily was a prolonged process. The resultant expansion of agricultural and craft production set the context, if not also the basis, of what is often called India’s Second Urbanization, representing the reappearance of towns and cities after the end of the Indus Civilization over a thousand years earlier. The caste system began to assume the contours that were to cling to it inalienably from this time onwards. In the political sphere, the ancient Indian state system arose out of a welter of tribal monarchies and ‘republics’. Finally, there was the religious revolution, spear- headed by Mahavira and the Buddha, which brought into being religious systems that rejected the entire Vedic tradition and with it the Brahmanical ascendancy. The appellation ‘heterodox’ often applied to these movements appears somewhat to belittle their status as fundamentally independent and alternative systems, and so affects our ability to appreciate the full scope of the transformation in thought and belief that they helped to bring about. The title of this monograph aims at capturing the essence of all these varied changes, from technology to faith.
I am grateful to Professor Irfan Habib, the General Editor, for giving me the opportunity to contribute to this prestigious series, and for his varied comments, queries and suggestions, which, I believe, have greatly helped to enrich the text. I also join him in thanking all his colleagues in the Aligarh Historians Society and Tulika Books who have worked tirelessly to produce this volume with a keen eye on its aesthetics.
A word of special thanks for the Series Cartographer, Mr Faiz Habib. Much labour on his part has gone into locating various archaeological sites in the subcontinent and Afghanistan from topographic sheets, and putting them accurately on the maps drawn by him. He has been faced also with the problem of dealing with places and sites that cannot be confidently placed within the period of this monograph, but are referred to in the text. This, for example, is the case with Map 1.2, where post-300 BC hoards of punch-marked coins could not be shown, because the chronological limits had to be the same as those of the sites of Achaemenian and early Athenian coins also shown on that map. A partial solution has been found in showing most of the places mentioned in the text, irrespective of precise period limits, in the four larger regional maps (Maps 3.1 to 3.4). It is hoped that the reader will find this arrangement satisfactory.
General Editor’s Preface
The Iron Age, Surplus and Economic Change, c. 700-c. 350 BC
Iron in Northern India
Iron Age in Peninsular India
Other Aspects of Material Culture
Iron and Production of Surplus
Long-Distance Trade, Crafts and Cities in the Northwest
Note 1.1: Punch-marked Coins
Note 1.2: Bibliographical Note
Settlements, Towns and the Social Order
Rural Settlements in Literary Texts
Towns in Literary Texts
Cities: The Archaeological Perspective
Gender Relations, Marriage
Acculturation and the Growth of the Caste System
Extract 2.1: The Buddha s Counsel to Sigala
Extract 2.2: The Story of Satyakama
Note 2.1: Northern Black Polished Ware (NBPW)
Note 2.2: Bibliographical Note
Polities and Formation of States
Polities in Northwestern India
Mahajanapadas as Socio-Cultural Regions
The Rise of Magadha
Extract 3.1: On the Original Social Contract
Extract 3.2: The Dynastic History of Magadha
Note 3.1: Problems of Chronology
Note 3.2: Bibliographical Note
The Religious Revolution
The Intellectual Ferment
The Jaina System
The Dhamma of the Buddha
Brahmanism and Brahmanical Texts
Extract 4.1: Spiritual Nihilism
Extract 4.2: Treasure that Cannot be Stolen
Extract 4.3: The Ajivika Creed
Extract 4.4: Mahavira’s Proof of Transmigration of Souls
Extract 4.5: The Universal Essence
Note 4.1: The Arrival of Writing
Note 4.2: Bibliographical Note
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