Society: Evolution of Jatis
The earliest Vedic literature comes from a background of pastoralism giving way gradually to agricultural settlements. Early Buddhist literature suggests a more settled agrarian economy and an emergent commercial urban economy. The post-Maurya period witnessed a series of small kingdoms ruling in various parts of the subcontinent and at the same time a tremendous expansion in both internal and external trade. The Gupta and Post Gupta periods witnessed the beginning of a major change in the agrarian system with the assignment of land grants and revenue grants and revenue grants to both religious and secular assignees resulting in a new politico-economic structure in many parts of the subcontinent. The migration of the Aryan speaking peoples brought in the new Aryan elite.
Though the brief campaign of Alexander did not seriously disturb the centres of powers in the Punjab and Sind, the invasions of the Indo-greeks, Sakas and Kushanas for two centuries definitely affected Indian society in the northern and western parts of the subcontinent. The impact of the Huna invasion in the 5th century AD was felt as far as the heartland of the Ganges. The migrations of people from central Asia to northern and western India in the post-Gupta period produced an even greater impact.
Caste meaning Varna or colour to the Aryans was the logical distinction between the conquerors (Aryans) and the conquered (Dasas and Panis). It was in about 1,000 B.C. that the Aryans settled between the Indus and Gangetic regions; it was here that they learnt the art of cultivation. With the coming of agriculture, greater division of labour came into existence and thereby different occupations.
Once the Aryans settled as agriculturists and experienced the consequential developments mentioned above, the Aryan society also developed into grouping known as the four-fold caste system. Those who took to the occupation of fighting were know as Kshatriyas; those who took to cultivation were known as the four-fold caste system. Those who took to the occupation of fighting were known as Kshatriyas; those who took to cultivation were known as Sudra; and as there was an opportunity to contemplate because of the leisure engendered by agricultural occupation, the priestly community elevated themselves to the status of brahmins. Significantly, as the Aryans began to cultivate land, the earlier word "gavasthi" meaning search for cows came to mean 'to fight', because fights between the various tribes of Aryans for fertile land and herds of cattle were common.
Soon, by 600 B.C. a new grouping emerged in the Aryan community, Whenever a community takes to agriculture, some agriculturists produce surpluses or accumulate capital. Such an activity naturally brings to the forefront a group of people dealing with trade and commerce. That is how vaishyas came into existence, since the emergence of this community is rooted in the surpluses generated by agriculture, the erstwhile sudra community moved up to form this new grouping, while the non-Aryans and mixed-Aryan became sudras. About this time the concept of pollution also figured. It is definite that pollution was a known idea at this time because those who undertook unclean occupations like cleaning of carcases, fishing and other occupations came into existence. It was this aspect of unclean occupations associated with pollution that later on grew into untouchability.
From sixth century B.C. onwards there is historical evidence to show that the Sudras were primarily drawn from non-Aryans and mixed-Aryans, as for example, Ashoka enslaving one and-half lakh people after the kalinga war and bringing them to the Gangetic region to cut forests and cultivate land. We can, therefore, say that the four-fold caste division based on occupations was as good as established by the time the Mauryan empire was established. It is also significant to note that there are references in the inscriptions of Ashoka that bird-catchers, fishermen and butchers came to be treated as people beyond the pale of the then social structure. This stigma, in all probability, was confirmed because of the growing belief in the non-slaughter of animals, both on the part of the Buddhists like Ashoka and those of the Aryan community gradually discarding sacrifices.
Apart from these developments by the sixth century B.C., Brahmanism grew obscurantist because of its rituals and sacrifices. The Aryan rituals and festivals were over-emphasised by the priestly community because of the compulsion for making themselves indispensable in those time. As the Aryans took to agriculture, the priestly community realized that they had no meaningful occupation to perform apart from catering to some of the medical needs of people. Furthermore, looking at the way in which the Kshatriya warrior community was thrusting itself ahead, the brahmins or priestly community brought out a coup de grace by building mythologies to beguile the Kshatriya community. Historical evidence shows that it was during the Aryan stay in the Saraswati region that the legend of manu was created - all kings were adjudged as descendants of the ninth Manu, while the first Manu was created by Brahma. At this stage, the priestly or brahmanical community laid more emphasis on rituals and festivals supporting it by interpretation of the Rig Veda so that their own importance would not be ignored. Thus, in this process brahmins overshot their worm by making religion obscure to the average man.
Challenged by these desertions of common people as well as royalty, the Aryans, in particular the Brahminical community, brought about another coup de grace in the four centuries preceding the Christian era. Sanskrit language was rejuvenated by Panini. Coupled with this linguistic victory Brahmins wrote a number of dharma shastras including that of Manu. The Work of Manu is of a colossal magnitude. It relates both to secular and sacredotal fields of life. They also supplemented these with grihya dharma, rajya dharma, sreni-darma, ashrama-darma, silpi-shastra and so on. The purpose of all these writing was to regulate and discipline the whole life of man, whatever his calling or situation in life.
Also, in the same period, there were many more developments. With the influx of foreigners, a place was to be found for all of them. To achieve the objective the priestly order of India evolved the concept of jati-dharma, it is the dharma to be followed by each sub-caste or grouping within the four Walls of caste system. From now onwards, the four-fold division lost its usefulness and increasingly became a metaphysical concept. The real sacred lay in the jati-dharma or the dharma of the sub-caste; while the concept of chatur-varna stayed as an abstraction. What exactly any individual belonging to a jati a or a sub-group should do was minutely laid down covering all facets of life, like taboos relating to dinning, the items of consumption, the pantheon of gods to be worshiped, contraction of marriage, and the reverence to be shown to other jatis as well as the substraction of four-fold caste system as ad when the occasion called for. Since every individual was born into a jati and as the dharma of jati comes to be treated as an immutable truth, each individual was born in some kind of subjection.
The non-Aryan concept of karma or re-birth was smuggled into a configuration of dharmas, sutras and other concepts. By this time, the idea of the outcaste mentioned earlier was very well institutionalised. The observations of Fahien in the fifth century A.D. clearly show that untouchability was institutionalised beyond redemption. Roughly from the fourth century B.C. till the third century A.D. The Aryan concepts of religion underwent mutational changes. The metaphysical concept of God are found in the Upanishads was interpreted in the form of puranic stories and a vast hierarchy of gods. Soon enough the Aryan genius added a constellation of goddesses to support the male pantheon. Far more important was bringing down all these god and goddesses to the each in the form of images. Even the rituals were transmitted into stylised recitations of Sanskrit phraseology and some slokas faintly reminding one of the hymns of the Vedas.
Aryanism became intelligible and simple enough to the ordinary people. This development meant dislodging Buddhism because the strong point of Buddhism in its youthful days was its simplicity and intelligibility to the ordinary man Since Aryanism achieved the supreme feat of dislodging all that was not acceptable to the common people and as it was able to evolve dharmas, it emerged as the sole driving force of India by the third century A.D. That is why from the post-Mauryan era onwards, founders of dynasties were very often Brahmins, royal titles were sanskritized, and kings performed Vedic rituals. This triumph of Aryanism along with the attendant superiority of Brahmins continued in the succeeding ages with slight modifications.
Economy and Society
In the post -Mauryan era (200 BC -300 AD) the economy moved at an accelerated tempo. Society witnessed structural reorientation as significant groups of foreigners penetrated into India and chose to be identified with the rest of the community. The occupation of craftsmen was an important segment of the day's socio-economic milieu. The craftsmen were not only associated with the towns but also villages like Karimnagar in the Telengana region of AP. The categories of craftsmen who were known in this period bear out the truth that there was considerable specialization in mining and metallurgy. A large number of iron artefacts have been discovered at various excavated sites relating to the Kushan and Satavahans period. Telegana region appears to have made special progress in iron artefacts not only weapons but also balance rods, sickles, ploughshares, razors and ladles have been found in the Karimnagar and Nalgonda districts.
The progress was made in cloth making and silk weaving. Dyeing was a craft of repute in some south Indian towns. The use of oil was also high because of the invention of oil wheel. The inscriptions mention weavers, goldsmiths, dyers, workers in metal and ivory, jewellers, fishermen as the donors of caves, pillars, tablets, cisterns etc. Among the luxury items the important ones were ivory and glass articles and bead cutting. Coin minting reached a high level of excellence made out gold, silver, copper, bronze, lead and potin. A coin mould of the Satavahans period shows that through it half a dozen coins could be turned out time. In urban handicrafts the pride of place goes to beautiful pieces of terracotta produced in profuse quantities. They have been found in most of the sites belonging to the Kushan and Satavahans periods. The terracotta figures of great beauty have been found in the Nalgonda district of Telengana. The immense manufacturing activity was maintained by guilds. At least a dozen kinds of guilds were there. Most of the artisans known from inscriptions hailed from the Mathura region and the western Deccan which lay on the trade routes leading to the ports on the western coast. The guilds coming from the days of the Mauryan period became a more important factor in the urban life both in being instrumental to increase in production and moulding public opinion.
The primary guilds of the day were those of the potters, metal workers and carpenters. Some guilds organized their own distribution system while owning a large number of boats to transport goods from various ports of the Ganges. Ususry was a part of banking and the general rate of interest was around 15% loans extended to sea trade carried higher interest rate. The immense commercial activity was bolstered by the thriving trade between India and Roman Empire. With the movement of Central Asian people like Sakas, Parthians and Kushans trade came to be carried across the sea. Among the ports the important ones were broach and Sopara on the western coast and Arikamendu and Tamralipti on the eastern coast. Out of these ports Broach was the most important as not only goods were exported from here but also goods were received. Across land the converging point of trade routes was Taxila which was connected with the Silk Route passing through Central Asia. Ujjain was the meeting point of good number of trade routes. The trade between India and Rome mostly consisted of luxury goods.
To begin with Rome got her imports from the southern most portions of the country. The Roman imports were pearls, jewels and precious stones from Central and South India. Iron articles formed an important item of export to Roman Empire. The Romans exported to India various types of potters found in excavations at places like Tamluk in West Bengal, Arikamedu near Pondicherry and few other places. Indian kingdoms sent ambassadors to Rome the best known being the one sent about 25 BC which included strange collection of men and animals-tigers, snakes, tortoises. This mission reached Rome during the days of Emperor Augustus in 21 BC. According to Pliny the largest Indian ship was 75 tons. There was a boom in trade with south-east Asia. The growing number of outsiders in the port towns and trade centres led to their absorbing Indian habits as their numbers grew. Social laws of the day became rigid as seen form the law code of Manu. Non Indian groups gradually grew into separate subcastes. Theoretical knowledge confined to Brahmins and other practical and technical knowledge became the preserves of professionals. It was during this time Dharamshastras came to be written. These shastras made the social structure to be rigid. Poetry and drama were also popular. In Sanskrit Asvaghosa and Bhasa were the two great dramatists. The important towns of northern India were Vaishali, Patliputra, Varanasi, Kausambi, Sravasti, Hastinapur, Mathura and Indraprastha. Most of the towns flourished in the Kushan period as revealed by excavations. The excavations at Sonkh in Mathura show as many as seven levels of the Kushan. In Jalandhar, Ludhiyana and Ropar also several sites show good Kushan structures. The Satavahans kingdom also witnessed thriving towns like Tagar, Paithan, Dhanyakataka, Amravati, Nagarjunakonda, Broach, Sopara, Arikamedu and Kaveripatnam.
This culture was one of the earliest iron-using archaeological settlements in South India. Megaliths were the burial monuments for important tribal figures. In these monuments we find different implements like stone and iron tools which were needed for daily existence. They were found around river valleys, important trade routes and strategic places. In the different districts of South India we have discovered megalithic monuments. Many inscriptions of the Mauryan king Ashoka have been found in these regions where megalithic sites have been discovered. The people followed a primitive kind of agriculture. They were used to move from place to place. Primitive form of exchange existed between the different tribal groups. These settlements indicate the beginning of use of iron for the purpose of production. It is said that they belonged to the period around 5th century BC.
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