CHAPTER-17 : State Structure and the Varna System in the Age of the Buddha

Ancient History of India
OLD NCERT
Short Notes or Revision Notes 

Second Urbanization in Ancient India

Dating and Markers:

  • 5th century BCE (Northern Black Polished Ware – NBPW) marks the start.
  • NBPW: high-quality, glossy pottery for the wealthy.

Urban Development:

  • Evidence of wooden palisades in Patna (pre-Maurya era).
  • Champa (near Bhagalpur) – “Vaniyagama” (settlement of merchants).
  • Specialized artisan centers (e.g., 500 potter shops in Saddalaputta, Vaishali).

Rise of Coinage:

  • 7th century BCE: Invention of stamped metal coins in Lydia (Asia Minor).
  • “Nishka” and “Satamana” in Vedic texts might be prestige metal objects, not true coins.

Population Growth:

  • By 300 BCE, significant urban populations:
    • Pataliputra: 270,000
    • Mathura: 60,000
    • Vidisha/Besnagar & Vaishali: 48,000 each
    • Kaushambi & Rajgir: 40,000 each
    • Ujjain: 38,000

Rural Economy

Iron Tools:

  • NBPW phase in Kaushambi reveals iron tools like axes, knives, etc.

Village Types (Pali Texts):

  • Typical villages with various castes and communities (headed by bhojaka).
  • Suburban craft villages (e.g., carpenters near Varanasi).
  • Border villages at the edge of the countryside.

Taxes and Agriculture:

  • Peasants paid 1/6th produce as tax.
  • Rich peasants called gahapatis.
  • Large-scale paddy transplantation began around this period.

Administrative System in the Pre-Mauryan Era

Central Administration:

  • King held supreme power.
  • High officials (Mahamatras) assisted the king:
    • Ministers (Mantrins)
    • Commanders (Senanayakas)
    • Judges
    • Chief Accountants
    • Heads of Royal Harem
  • Ayuktas – Another class of officers with similar functions (in some states).

Examples:

  • Vassakara: First minister who helped Ajatashatru conquer the Lichchhavi republic.
  • Chanakya: Helped the king of Koshala.

Local Administration:

  • Village headmen managed rural areas:
    • Originally tribal military leaders (Gramini)
    • Evolved into village heads (Gramabhojaka, Gramini, Gramika)
    • Bimbisara is said to have summoned 86,000 gramikas.

Army and Taxation:

  • Large professional armies emerged.
  • Example: Nanda army under Alexander’s invasion – 20,000 cavalry, 200,000 infantry, 2,000 chariots, 6,000 elephants.
  • Taxes:
    • Kshatriyas (warriors) and Brahmanas (priests) exempt.
    • Burden on peasants (Vaishyas/Grihapatis).
    • Bali (voluntary tribal payment) became mandatory tax collected by Balisadhakas.
    • Tolls collected by Shaulkikas/Shulkadhyakshas.

Decline of Assemblies:

  • Territorial kings abandoned Sabha and Samiti (old assemblies).
  • Replaced by Parishad – a smaller council consisting only of Brahmanas.

The Republican Experiment in Ancient India

Existence and Origins:

  • Republican system found in Indus basin or foothills of Himalayas.
  • Possibly remnants of Vedic tribes; some monarchies transitioned to republics.

Power Structure:

  • Tribal oligarchies held real power in republics.
  • Ruling class in Shakyas and Lichchhavis belonged to same clan and varna.
  • Membership criteria varied; some based on elephant supply.

Administrative Machinery:

  • Simple structure: raja, uparaja, senapati, bhandagarika.
  • Multiple hierarchical courts tried cases.

Differences from Monarchies:

  • Revenue claims made by tribal oligarchs in republics.
  • Each oligarch maintained own administration and army, unlike centralized monarchies.
  • Brahmanas had little influence in early republics.

Decline:

  • Republican tradition weakened post-Maurya period.

Ancient India: Law, Society, and Economy (c. 600 BCE – 400 BCE)

Social Order & Legislation:

  • End of Tribal Law:Rise of the Dharmasutras (legal texts) marking the end of tribal law (no class distinction)
  • Varna System:Foundation of civil and criminal law based on the Varna system (4 social classes)
    • Higher Varnas (Kshatriyas & Brahmins): “Uttama” (best castes), expected higher moral conduct.
  • Lower Varnas (Vaishyas & Shudras): Assigned duties and limited rights.
  • “Hina” Castes: Mentioned in Pali texts as “despicable crafts and castes”.

Economy & Polity:

  • Iron Age Agriculture:Advanced food production using iron tools and paddy transplantation (esp. in Eastern UP & Bihar).
  • Rise of Towns:Development of towns due to trade, industry, and metal money.
  • Taxation System:Increased cereal production enabled collection of taxes from peasants, funding large states.
  • Varna System & Governance:Varna system established to maintain social order, with each Varna assigned specific functions.

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