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The Mauryan Empire – Urbanisation, Art & Culture

Process of Urbanisation

  • Urbanisation is the process of the establishment of towns and cities in an agrarian landscape.
  • Towns can come up for various reasons – as the headquarters of administration, as pilgrim centres, as commercial market centres and because of their locational advantages on major trade routes.
  • In what way do urban settlements differ from villages or rural settlements?
  • To begin with, towns and cities do not produce their own food and depend on the efficient transfer of agricultural surplus for their basic consumption needs.
  • A larger number of people reside in towns and cities and the density of population is much higher in cities.
  • Cities attract a variety of non-agricultural workers and craftsmen, who seek employment, thereby forming the workforce for the production of manufactured goods and services of various kinds.
  • These goods, in addition to the agricultural products brought in from the rural countryside, are traded in markets.
  • Cities also tend to house a variety of persons in service-related activities.
  • The sangam poetry in Tamil and the Tamil epics provide vivid pictures of cities like Madurai, Kanchipuram and Poompuhar as teeming with people, with vibrant markets and merchants selling a variety of goods, as well as vendors selling various goods including food door to door.
  • Though these literary works relate to a slightly later period, it is not different in terms of the prevailing levels of technology, and these descriptions may be taken as an accurate depiction of urban living.
  • The only contemporary pictorial representation of cities is found in the sculptures in Sanchi, which portray royal processions, and cities are seen to have roads, a multitude of people and multi-storeyed buildings crowded together.

Urbanisation in Sixth Century BCE

  • One of the first pre-requisites for urbanisation is the development of an agricultural base.
  • This had evolved in the Indo-Gangetic plain and from very early on there are references to cities like Hastinapura and Ayodhya.
  • By about sixth century BCE, urbanization had spread to the doab and many new city centres like Kaushambi, Bhita, Vaishali and Rajagriha, among others, are mentioned in the region.
  • Buddhist texts about Buddha’s preaching were always located in urban centres.
  • Cities developed primarily because of the spread of agriculture and wet rice cultivation, in particular in the doab region, after the marshy land was drained and reclaimed for cultivation.
  • The fertile soil and plentiful availability of water from the perennial rivers made it possible to raise even two crops of rice, and the production of a large agricultural surplus to feed the cities.
  • The improvements in iron technology also had an impact on economic life both in rural and urban areas.
  • As Magadha grew, many regional centres like Ujjain were also incorporated into the empire.

Housing and Town Planning

  • Towns were often located along the rivers, presumably for ease of access to transportation.
  • They were surrounded by moats and a rampart to provide defensive protection.
  • They were always open to attacks since treasuries holding government revenue were housed in them, in addition to the fact that as trading centres, the local people and merchants were also wealthy.
  • As the towns became more prosperous, the quality of the houses, which were built of mud brick and even of fired brick, improved.
  • Towns also had other facilities like drains, ring wells and mud pits, testifying to the development of civic amenities and sanitation.
  • Excavations from the Mauryan period show that the standard of living had improved as compared to the earlier period.
  • The houses were built of brick, and the cities had ring wells and soak pits.
  • There was a quantitative increase in the use of iron and the variety of iron artefacts.

City of Pataliputra

  • Pataliputra was the great capital city in the Mauryan Empire.
  • It was described as a large and wealthy city, situated at the confluence of the Ganga and Son rivers, stretching in the form of a parallelogram.
  • It was more than 14 kilometres in length and about 2 kilometres wide.
  • It was protected by an outer wall made of wood, with loopholes for shooting arrows at enemies.
  • There were 64 gates to the city and 570 watch towers.
  • There was a wide and deep moat outside the wall, which was fed by water from the river, which served both as a defence and an outlet for sewage.
  • There were many grand palaces in the city, which had a large population.
  • The city was administered by a corporation of 30 members.
  • Ashoka added to the magnificence of the city with the monumental architecture that he added to the capital, like the many-pillared hall.

Art and Culture

  • Most of the literature and art of the period have not survived.
  • Sanskrit language and literature Emergence of State and Empire were enriched by the work of the grammarian Panini (c. 500 BCE), and Katyayana, who was a contemporary of the Nandas and had written a commentary on Panini’s work.
  • Buddhist and Jain texts were primarily written in Pali.
  • Evidently many literary works in Sanskrit were produced during this period and find mention in later works, but they are not available to us.
  • The Arthasastra notes the performing arts of the period, including music, instrumental music, bards, dance and theatre.
  • The extensive production of crafted luxury products like jewellery, ivory carving and wood work, and especially stone carving should all be included as products of Mauryan art.
  • Many religions, castes and communities lived together in harmony in the Mauryan society.
  • There is little mention of any overt dissension or disputes among them.
  • As in many regions of that era (including ancient Tamil Nadu), courtesans were accorded a special place in the social hierarchy and their contributions were highly valued.

Decline of the Mauryan Empire

  • The highly centralized administration became unmanageable when Ashoka’s successors were weak and inefficient. A weakened central administration with a large distance to communicate led to the rise of independent kingdoms.
  • After Ashoka’s death, the kingdom split into two. There were invasions from the northwest. The notable groups that undertook military expeditions and established kingdoms on Indian soil were the IndoGreeks, the Sakas and the Kushanas.
  • The last ruler Brihadratha was killed in (c.185 B C (BCE)) by his commander-inchief Pushyamitra Sunga who founded the Sunga dynasty that ruled India for over hundred years.

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