The Age of Iron And The Religious Revolution (C. 700 – C. 350 BC) - A People's History of India

The Age of Iron And The Religious Revolution (C. 700 – C. 350 BC) - A People's History of India

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Item Code: IHK005
Author: Krishna Mohan Shrimali
Publisher: Tulika Books
Language: English
Edition: 2008
ISBN: 9788189487362
Pages: 173 (5 B/W Illustrations
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 9.5 Inch X 6.2 Inch
Weight 260 gm
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Back of 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 state were formed with armies and bureaucracies and finally Jainism and Buddhism brought about a veritable religious revolution all this is described in four chapter with clarity and precision but with no attempt to conceal points of controversy. Special notes are furnished on punch marked courage the northern black polished ware problems of chronology and the arrival of writing. Nine extracts form 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 bibliography note indication sources and suggestion further reading.

Krishna Mohan Shrimali (b. 1947) Prof. of History at the University of Delhi is the author of a history of pancala 2 vols (1983, 1985) Agrarian structure in central India and the northern Deccan a study in Vakataka inscription (1987) and dharma samah 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.

The Aligarh historians society the sponsor of the project of a people’s history of India is dedicated to the cause of promotion the scientific method in history and resisting communal and chauvinistic interpretations.

General Editor’s Preface

It is a privilege for this series to have a volume contributed to it by a historian of professor Krishna Mohan Shrimali’s eminence. This volume covers the period c. 700 to c. 350 BC which saw the firm establishment of iron technology and of the caste system and the rise of Jainism and Buddhism. The author has aptly emphasized in the title the twin processes of iron use and religious change. Readers will obtain here a dispassionate account of the changes in economy society and beliefs and an informed appreciation of the main issues being now debated from matters is owed to Professor Shrimali for having largely followed the pattern of the other volumes of this series in the arrangement of contents and the recommended explanatory style. The extracts from sources technical notes maps and illustrations should add further utility and interest to the volume.

The maps have been prepared by Faiz Habib our regular cartographer with advice from his senior colleague, Mr. Zahoor Ali Khan. Mr. Ghulam Mujtaba had carried out the photographic work required for the illustrations.

Mr. Muneeruddin Khan has processed the entire manuscript for the press Mr. Arshad Ali took care as usual of our accounts and Mr. Idris Beg of Xeroxing and other necessary chores.

Professor Shireen Moosvi Secretary of the Aligarh historians Society has been responsible for the overall organization of the preparatory work. Dr. Rajendra Prasad and Ms Indira Chandrasekhar of Tulika Books along with their colleague shad naved have continued to give their full support along with a considerable amount of indulgence.

Before I close their is an apology to be given for clumsy number 3A that this volume bears. By a last minute slip the Volume on Mauryan India published in 2004 was given the number 4 instead of 5 that was assigned to it in our scheme. Owing to this there was no option but to assign the number 3A to this volume.


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 whereas we deal with a much longer period of time spanning the period between c. 700 and c. 350 BC secondly the time shwen the Buddha lived and preached were marked by not just his discourses but also by significant religious philosophic activities of 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 location the nature of qualitative changes in the lives of the people though important individual personalities are not 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 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 form 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 suggestion 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 labor 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 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 sires of Achaemenina and early Athenian coins also shown on that map. A partial solution has been found in showing most of the places larger regional maps. It is hoped that the reader will find this arrangement satisfactory.


General Editor’s Preface ix
Author’s Preface xi
1The Iron Age Surplus and Economic Change
C.700-C. 350 BC
1.1Iron in Northern India 2
1.2Iron Age in Peninsular India 9
1.3Agriculture 12
1.4Other Aspects of Material Culture 14
1.5Iron and Production of Surplus 18
1.6Metal Money 20
1.7Trade 23
1.8Long Distance trade crafts and cities
in the Northwest
Note 1.1: Punch marked coins 28
Note 1.2: Bibliography Note 31
2Settlements Towns and the social Order 33
2.1Rural Settlements in Literary texts 33
2.2Towns in Literary Texts 35
2.3Cities The Archaeological Perspective 39
2.4Social Groups 46
2.5Gender Relations Marriage 56
2.6Occupational Divisions 59
2.7Acculturation and the Growth of the caste System 62
Extract 2.1: The Buddha’s Counsel to Sigala 70
Extract 2.3: The story of Satyakama 71
Note 2.1: Northern Black Polished ware(NBPW) 71
Note 2.2: Bibliography Note 76
3Polities and formation of states 78
3.1The Janapadas 78
3.2Polities in Northwestern India 89
3.3Mahajanapadas as Socio cultural regions 92
3.4State Formation 94
Extract 3.1: On the Original Social Contract 103
Extract 3.2: The Dynastic history of Magadha 104
Note 31: Problems of Chronology 105
Note 3.2 Bibliography Note 107
4The Religious Revolution 109
4.1The intellectual Ferment 109
4.2Ajivikas 112
4.3The Jaina System 114
4.4The Dhamma of the Buddha 124
4.5Brahmanism and Brahmanical Texts 140
Extract 4.1: Spiritual Nihilism 146
Extract 4.2 : Treasure that cannot be stolen 146
Extract 4.3 : The Ajivika Creed 146
Extract 4.4 : Mahavira’s Proof of Transmigration of souls 147
Extract 4.5 : The Universal Essence 148
Note 4.1 : The Arrival of Writing 148
Note 4.2: Bibliography Note 151
Chronology 153
Index 154
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