Chapter V


Age of MahÄvÏra


The age of Mahävïra can be regarded as one of the most creative epochs in Indian history. This age is marked by outstanding achievements in different spheres – religion, politics, society, economy, art & literature. It saw the beginning of the political unification of India under the hegemony of Magadha and the propagation of Buddhism, Jainism and other heterodox religious sects. A social code for the observance of the people was prescribed. Because of the flourishing of trade and commerce during this period, there was all-round prosperity. There was a revival of urban life. The script was probably discoursed, and the use of coinage started.

1.  Mahävïra's Religious Contemporaries and Contemporary Sects

The age of Tïrthankara Mahävïra (6th century B.C.) was of far-reaching religious reformist activities not only in India but also throughout the ancient world. It was an age of enlightenment for the human race. The materialistic interpretation of history would attribute this change in human consciousness to a change in social milieu. The idealist historiography would see here an unfoldment of the spirit or the progress of thought through its autonomous dialectic. Suddenly and almost simultaneously and almost certainly independently, there started religious movements at separate centres of civilization. Zoroaster gave a new creed to Iran; Confucius and Loa-tse taught in China; the Jews in ther Bablyonian captivity developed their tenacious faith in Jehova, and the Sophists in Greece began tackling the problems of life.

Even in India, this was an age of freedom of thought which gave rise to new religious movements and brought about radical changes for the better in the old ones.  The Sämaññaphala Sutta and the Brahmajäla Sutta in the Digha Nikäya of the Buddhists mention about sixty-three different philosophical schools — probably all of them non-Brähmaîa existing at the time of Buddha. In the Sütrakôitäõga, Bhagavati, etc., of the Jainas, we find a far larger number of such heretical schools. These statements about the number of sects may have been influenced by the tendency to exaggerate which was widespread in ancient India. We should not assume that they were independent religious sects or schools because these are distinguished only by very subtle and minor differences in matters of doctrine and practice. It is not possible today to prove once for all that all these sects originated at the same time. Some of them may have owed their origin to a time far more remote than that of Mahävira.  

Origin of These Sects

There are divergent views among the scholars about the origin of these ascetic intellectual movements. According to T.W. Rhys Davids1, the growth of the wandering bodies of religieux, the Paribbäjakas, was the result of an intellectual movement before the rise of Buddhism which was, in a large measure, a lay-movement, not a priestly movement. However, it is difficult to understand this movement as a lay-movement. It was in fact neither priestly nor lay. It originated neither in Brahmanical reform nor in Kshatriya revolt; nor was it a middle class effort. It was a classless and casteless movement, and it had no special affinity with the attitude and interest of any particular social classes.

MaxMuller,2 G. Buhler,3 H. Kern,4 and H. Jacobi5 — all contend that the Brahmanical 'ascetic' was the model of the Buddhist, the Jaina, and the other heretical sects of this age. It has also been suggested that these arose out of the antiritualistic tendency gaining ground within the religion of the Brähmaîas. G.C. Pandey6 has tried to show that the antiritualistic tendency within the Vedic fold is itself due to the impact of an asceticism which antedates the Vedas. Some of the sects, such as Jainism and the Äjivikïsm, may represent a continuation of this pre-Vedic stream.

There was not one but several factors which have rise to these religious movements. It was an age of frequent and bloody wars, which made people long for peace. The great economic prosperity also filled some of them with despair of material life. There was considerable social distress because of the rigid caste system. The clash of rival schools and sects also led the people to spiritual quest.

Áramaîa and Brahmanical Sects

The sects of this age were divided into many classes, but the main division was between the two Áramaîa or Non-Brahmanical sects and Brahmanical sects. The main differences between the two were as follows :

1. The attitude of the Brahmanical sects towards secular life was not so uncompromising, for they emphasized renunciation only after the proper fulfilment of social duties. On the other hand, in the Áramaîa Sects, their followers practised a detached life with a view to liberating themselves from all worldly attachments. They could take to a life of renunciation (pravrajyä) any time after ceasing to be under age.

2. In Brahmanical sects, only a Brähmaîa or Dvïja could become a Parivräjaka, while in the Áramaîa sects all members of the community, irrespective of their social rank and religious career (Varîa and Äárama), could be admitted to their church.

3. The difference in scriptures and in the attitude towards them was another dividing line between the two sects. The Áramaîas challenged the authority of the Vedas.

4. The orthodox sects did not permit renunciation for women, who however, could and did join some of the heterodox ascetic Orders.

5. The Brahmanical sects emphasised the rituals, while the followers of the Áramaîa Sects observed a set of ethical principles.

Some of Mahävira's chief contemporary religious teachers belonging to the Áramaîa sects were : Püraîa Kassapa, Pakudha Kachchäyana, Makkhali Goáäla, Ajita Keáakambalin, Sañjaya Belaûûhiputta, and Buddha. The following account of their views based on the Jaina and Buddhist texts is both breif and lop-sided and, therefore, it may not give us a correct picture.

Püraîa Kassapa

From the Jaina7 and Budhhist8 records, it is clear that Püraîa Kassapa (Pürîa Käáyapa) was an old, experienced, and respectable teacher. Though his date is not definite, it is presumed that he might have lived in the sixth century B.C. as is evident from references to him as a contemporary of king Ajätaáatru of Magadha. He was the head of a religious order and the founder of a school (tittha-kara). He was followed by a large body of disciples and honoured throughout the country. It seems from his name that he was born in a Brähmaîa family. The name Püraîa (Püraîa) indicates that he was believed to have been fully enlightened and perfect in wisdom.

No-Action Theory (Akriyäväda)

Püraîa Kassapa is known to be the exponent of the 'no-action' theory (Akriyäväda). It is said that Ajätaáatru once visited Püraîa Kassapa, who expounded his views thus :"To him who acts or causes another to act, mutilates or causes another to mutilate, punishes, or causes another to punish, causes grief or torment, trembles or causes another to tremble, kills other creatures, takes what is not given, breaks into houses, commits dacoity or robbery or tells lies, to him, thus acting, there is no guilt…… no increase of guilt would ensure… In giving alms, in offering sacrifices, in self mastery, in control of senses, and in speaking truth, there is neither merit nor increase of merit."9 This is called an exposition of the 'no-action' theory (Akriyäväda). According to it, man is an irresponsible agent, because his action brings neither any merit nor any demerit. In other words, this doctrine was amoral because one might do whatever one wanted to do without becoming sinful or virtuous.

The Sütrakôitäõga10 furnishes a parallel passage where the doctrine is expressly called Akriyäväda. Áïläõka calls it Akärakaväda and implicitly identifies it with the  Säõkhya view. The identity between the view of Püraîa Kassapa and the Akärakaväda is probable, not certain.

The Doctrine of the Passivity of the Soul

Most probably, Kassapa was, as B.M. Barua11 states, an advocate of the theory that the Soul was passive (nishkriya), that no action could affect it, and that it was beyond good and bad, a vew which many previous Vedic thinkers had enunciated. When we act or cause others to act, it is not the soul that acts or causes others to act. Whether we do good or bad, the result does not affect the soul in the least.

No-Cause Theory (Ahetuväda)

Kassapa is said to be an upholder of the 'No-cause theory' (Ahetuväda). It is reported in the words of the Buddha that no hetu (cause) and no pachchaya (condition) are accepted by Püraîa Kassapa as instrumental in either defiling a person or purifying him.12 Abhaya says that Kassapa accepts no cause for näîa (knowledge) and dassana (insight).13 B.M. Barua14 tries to bring his view under Adhichcha-samuppäda (fortuitous in origin) referred to in the Brahmajäla Sutta, i.e. Ahetuväda. G.C. Pandey15 does not subscribe to the view that Püraîa Kassapa held to the doctrine of Adhichcha-samuppäda. Events may "have  nothing to do with the soul," and yet may not be fortuitous in origin.

Theory of Introspective Knowledge

In the passage of the Aõguttara Nikäya,16 two Lokäyatika Brähmaîas are said to have stated that according to Püraîa Kassapa's theory only an infinite mind can comprehend the finite world, whereas according to Nigaîûha Nätaputta's theory the finite world can only be a context of finite knowledge. Püraîa Kassapa has been described as one always in possession of ñäîadassana (introspective knowledge), while walking or staying etc., and that he perceived the finite world through infinite knowledge.17 In another passage, Buddha is said to have represented Kassapa, along with other heretical teachers, as possessing the power of divining where a particular dead person was reborn.18

The Doctrine of the six Classes of Beings (Chhaläbhijätiro)

In a pasage of the Aõguttara-nikäya,19 Änaîda expounds to Püraîa Kassapa Makkhali Goáäla's doctrine of the six classes of human beings (Chhaläbhijätiyo), such as Kaiîhäbhijäti (black class of being), nïläbhijäti (blue class of being) etc. A.L.Basham20 has tried to prove that Püräîa, a heretical leader of long standing who maintained a fatalistic doctrine with tendencies to antinomianism, came in contact with Makkhali Goáäla, a younger teacher with doctrines much the same as his own, but with a more successful appeal to the public. Recognizing his eclipse, he admitted the superiority of the new teacher, and accepted the sixfold classification of men, which placed Makkhali Goáala and his forerunners, Nanda Vachcha, and Kisa Saõkichcha, in the hgihest category.

Pakudha Kachchäyana (Kakuda Kätyäyana)

Pakudha Kachchäyana was an elder contemporary of the Buddha. He was a leader of some religious body and was held in great esteem by the people of the time. Buddhaghosha says that Pakudha is his personal name and Kachchäyana his family (gotra) name. The term 'Pakudha' has been traditionally interpreted as prakrudha, furious. Its alternative form is Kakudha or Kakuddha which means the same thing. Assuming 'Kakuda' to be original and correct form meaning 'a man having a hump on his back,  B. M. Barua connects this Kätyäyana with Kabandhï Kätyäyana, one of the pupils of the sage Pippaläda of the Praána Upanishad.21 The suggestion, though ingenious, lacks a convincing proof.

As Pakudha Kachchäyana has left us no records of his own, we have to depend for a knowledge of his doctrine on the praánopanishad, the Sämañña-phala-sutta, and the Sütrakôitäõga. In the Praánopanishad, in answer to Kätyäyana's question to Pippaläda as to the roots of things, he was told that the roots were Matter (Rayi) and Spirit (Präîa). Buddhaghosha records that Kachchävana never used to touch cold water.22 He never even crossed a river or a marshy pathway, lest he should transgress his vow.

The Doctrine of Seven Categories

In the Buddhist Sämañña-phala-sutta,22 Kachchäyana's philosophy is described as the doctrine of seven categories (Satta-käya-väda). He has been represented as saying : "The following seven things are neither made nor commanded to be made, neither created nor caused to be created; they are barren (so that nothing is produced out of them), steadfast as a mountain peak, as a pillar firmly fixed. They move not, neither do they vary; they trench not one upon another, not avail aught as to ease (pleasure) or pain or both. And what are the seven ? The four elements — earth, water, fire and air —, and ease (pleasure) and pain, and the soul as a seventh. So there is neither slayer  nor causer of slaying, hearer or speaker, knower or explainer, when one with sharp sword cleaves a head in twain, no one therby deprives any one of life, a sword has only penetrated into the interval between seven elementary substances."23 Kächchäyana accepted seven elementary substances as permanent and eternal, neither created nor caused to be created. This Sattakäyaväda furnishes an instance of what the Buddhists called Sassataväda. Its plurality of substances recalls Vaiáeshika; its denial of interaction between soul and matter as well as the aloofness of the soul from Sukha and Dukha recalls Säõkhya.

The Doctrine of SOul as a Sixth Category (Ätma-Shashûhaväda)

The Sütrakôitäõga24 presents the system of six categories omitting pleasure and pain, adding ether or space in their place. Áïläõka named it 'the doctrine of soul as a sixth category (ätma-shashûha-väda) which somehow resembles the doctrines of Pakudha. It is also somewhat different because the existence of Äkäáa (ether or space) is distinctly recognised, and it omits sukha and dukha. Áiläõka identifies the doctrine of soul as a sixth category with the doctrine of the Bhagavad Gïta, as well as with the Säõkhya and some of the Áaiva systems. There is no doubt about some sort of historial relationship existing between them.

Views about Action and the Soul

Like Kassapa, Kachchäyana denied not the appearance, but the reality of action and also asserted that the soul was really untouched by change and was therefore superior to good and evil. It is perhaps not too much to imagine that this doctrine was formulated in opposition to the doctrine of Saãsära according to which the soul suffered and was itself responsible for its sufferings. Goáäla accepted the process of Saãsära but gave of it a new explanation. Being apparently Brähmaîas, Kassapa and Kachchäyana were probably acquainted with the Upanishadic speculation and were still more radical in their denial of the real existence of the problem itself.

Theories of Eternalism and Non-Action

The fragment of the Sütra-kôitäõga clearly shows that Kachchäyana adopted the Gotamaka or Eleatic postulate of being that nothing comes out of nothing.26 It appears from the fragments of both the Sütrakôitäõga and the Sämañña-phala-sutta that the term Eternalism27 was strictly applied by Mahävïra and Buddha to the doctrine of Kachchäyana. It also comes under the definition of what Mahävïra calls Pluralism (Aîikka väda).28

Mahävïra and Buddha considered Kachchäyana's doctrine to be a doctrine of non-action (akriyä-väda). If the elements are eternally existent and unchangeable by their very nature, if they mechanically unite or separate by Pleasure and Pain inherent in each of them, if there is no volitional activity of consciousness, there is no ground for the conception of or distiction between good and bad, between knowledge and ignorance, and so forth. From this it follows that in reality, there is no act of killing or hearing or instructing. The act of killing, if it is possible at all in the world, means nothing but the act of separating from one another the elements of being in their organic unity.

Kachchäyana and Empedocles Compared

B.M. Barua29 compares Kachchäyana and Empedocles, looking upon the former as the Empedocles of India. Both of them maintained that the elements of being are so distinct qualitatively from one another that there is no transition from the one to the other. Just as Empedocles is called, justly or unjustly, an Eleatic, so is Kachchäyana called an Eternalist, an Eternalist being but an Indian Eleatic. In the view of both becoming is impossible. Both conceive being as a plurality of unchangeable elements. According to both, the four roots of all things are the four elements, which are in their nature permanent, that is, they know no qualitative change. Just as Empedocles conceives some ground or cause of change, similarly Kachchäyana regards Pleasure and Pain (Sukha, dukha) as the two principles of change. Finally, they resemble each other in admitting that there are pores (vivara) in organic bodies, and they also deny the void. The only point of difference between the two thinkers is that while in the case of Empedocles, it is not known whether he left any room for the conception of soul in his scheme of existence, in the case of Kachchäyana, it is positive that he did.

Ajita Keáakambalin

Ajita Keáakambalin is known to be the historical founder of Indian Materialism. He was held in great esteem by the people of his time. He was called Keáakambalin because he put on a blanket of human hair. The philosophical and religious ideas of Ajita Keáakambalin are known from the Sämaññaphala Sutta.30 There are two aspects of his philosophy, negative and positive.

Negative and Positive Aspects

Ajita was antinomian in ethics. It is remarkable that his categorical assertions are all negative in form. According to him, there is no merit in sacrifice or offering, no resultant fruit from good and evil deeds. No one passes from this world to the next. No benefit results from the service rendered to mother and father. There is no afterlife. There are no ascetics or Brähmaîas who have attained perfection by following the right path, and who, as a result of knowledge, have experienced this world as well as the next and can proclaim the same.

There is no existence of individuality after death. The four elements of existence constitute a living body. When a man dies, earth returns to earth, water to water, heat to fire, air to air, and the sense faculties pass into space. It is a doctrine of fools, this talk of existence after death, for all alike, the foolish and the wise are cut off, annihilated, and cease to be after death.31 Ajita in the negative aspect of his doctrine resembles Epicucurs, while on the positive side of his speculations he seems to be more a Stoic than an Epicurean, his fundamental point being that nothing but the corporeal is real.32

Doctrine of Taã-Jiva-Taã-Sarïra-Väda

Ajita's doctrine was described by Mahävïra and Buddha as Taã-jiva-taã-sarïra-väda, in contradistinction to the doctrine of the soul being distinct from the body (Aññaã-jïva-aññaã-sarïra-väda). Ajita was not so much against the dogmas of the Brahmanic faith as against the doctrine of Kachchäyana and others who made a hard and fast distinction between the body and the soul, between matter and spirit, in short, who conceived the soul as an entity existing independently of anything corporeal or material. Thus 1in one sense like a Stoic, he identified the corporeal with the mental, and in another sense he did not. His intention was not to identify the body with the soul, judged as concepts, for what he sought to establish was that the real fact of experience is always a living whole, a whole which the apprehending mind can conceive in its various aspects.33 Hence the distinction which Kachchäyana made between the elements of being is in the view of Ajita untenable, the distinction being only an act of our mind. No such distinction exists in the living concrete individual taken as a whole.

Ajita's view was followed by Päyäsi, and it was made more intelligible. The soul is not an entity distinct from the body. We cannot separate the soul from the body like him who draws a sword from the scabbard and says, “This is the sword and that the scabbard.34 We cannot say this is the soul and that's the body. Ajita and Päyäsi viewed the corporeal from the point of view of the self on the ground that form cannot exist apart from matter.

The Moral Deductions of Ajita's theory of Self

According to Mahävïra, by denying future life, Ajita taught men to kill, burn, destroy35 and enjoy all the pleasures of life. The truth seems to be quite the contrary. He taught us to believe rather in life than in death and to show proper regard to persons when they are alive rather than honour them when they are dead. In another Jaina passage, we are told that Ajita was an Akriyä-vädin, as he upheld the doctrine of non-Being. The study of the views of Áïlänka and Säyaîa Mädhava leads us to believe that the foundation of Ajita's doctrine was laid in a statement of Yäjñavalkya which is : the intelligible essence emerging from the five elements vanishes into them at death.36

Sañjaya Belaûûhiputta

Sañjaya Belaûûhiputta was one of the religious teachers of the sixth century B.C. As is obvious from the Sämaññaphala Sutta, he was a wanderer and the founder of a religious Order as well as of a school of thought in Räjagôha. He is believed to be identical with Parivräjaka Sañjaya, teacher of Säriputta and Mogalläna described in the Vinaya Mahävagga, and the Dhammapada. Such as identification is possible, because Parivräjaka Sañjaya is known to be a sceptic. Still, we are not definite as the name Parivräjaka Sañjaya is not found along with Sañjaya Belaûûhiputta in the early Buddhist work named Sämaññaphala Sutta.

Sañjaya Belaûûhiputta was celebrated for an opinion which was a blend of scepticism on the one hand and a primitive stage of criticism of knowledge on the order, like that of the Sophists in Greek philosophy. From the point of view of their philosophical doctrine his disciples were known as Agnostics, Sceptics, or Eel-wrigglers, and from the point of view of their moral conduct, as friends or Good-natured ones.

Jaina Account

The Jainas mention the theory of Ajñanaväda or Agnosticism of which Sañjaya Belaûûiputta seems to be the chief advocate. Áïläñka says : “Literally, the ‘Agnostics’ as those in whom there is ‘ignorance’ or ‘who walk about in ignorance’. They think : even if we avowedly maintain a view — “That this is good” (Kuáala), we are conscious that we are not acquainted with truth, the matter is not familiar to our knowledge. Indeed, we have not as yet got beyond ‘perplexity’ — perplexity which is blindness and delusion of the mind.

“Some conceive the existence of an all-seeing soul, while others controvert it. Some speak of an all-pervading self; others contend that the body being such an entity, it cannot be all-pervading. Some estimate that soul is equal to a digit in size, while others say that it is equal to a grain of rice. Some posit a soul that has a material form while others maintain that it is formless. Some point out that the heart is the seat of soul, while others oppose them by saying that the forehead would be the right place …

“How can there be an agreement of views among these philosophers ? Many moral injuries may result from the issues of such antagonistic blunders. For us, ignorance is far better than these follies.”37

Buddhist Account

According to the Sämaññaphala Sutra,38 Sañjaya's doctrine was neither a doctrine of acceptance nor a doctrine of denial. He neither denied the existence of the next world nor accepted it. Whether the beings are produced by chance, or whether there is any fruit of good or bad action, or whether a man who won the truth continues after death – to all these questions he gave the same answer.

A follower of this sect has been described in the Brahmajäla Sutta39 as Amarävikkhepika, who, when asked a question, would equivocate and wriggle out like an eel. B.M. Barua40 thinks that the Aviruddhakas mentioned in the Aõguttara Nikäya were also followers of Sañjaya, that they were called Amarävikkhepikas for their philosophical doctrines and Aviruddhakas for their moral conduct.

Sañjaya's Place in the History of Indian Philosophy

The very fact that Sañjaya's opponents were compelled to put his views to the hardest test demonstrates that these could not be so easily dismissed. He had a large following, a fact which goes at once to prove that there was some truth in his teaching that could appeal to so many thoughtful men. He suspended his judgements only with regard to those great questions of which a decisive answer will ever remain a matter of speculation. He called away the attention of the philosopher from fruitless inquiries and directed it towards the Summum bonum, which is the attainment and preservation of mental equanimity.

Sañjaya may be considered to be a true precursor of Mahävïra who propounded a doctrine of antinomies (Syädväda) and of the Buddha who advocated a critical method of investigation (vibhäjyaväda). Both Mahävïra and the Buddha agree that there are some important questions of cosmology, ontology, theology and eschatology on which no finality is possible.

Maõkhali Goáäla

Mahävïra's contemporary leader of the Äjïvaka sect was Maõkhali Goáäla who seems to have been preceded by Nanda Vachchha and Kisa Saãkichchha.41 He was born at Saravaîa near Sävatthi. His father was Maõkhali and his mother's name was Bhaddä. His father was Maõkha, that is, a dealer in pictures. Goáäla himself followed his father's profession in the beginning and hence he was so named.42 As he is said to have been born in the cow-shed, he was called Goáäla. In the Buddhist records, the name is also spelt : ‘Makkhali’, which means one who stumbled in the mud. The true name seems to be Maskarin, the Jaina-prakrit form of which is Maõkhali, and the Pali form Makkhali. This name indicates a school of Wanderers or Sophists who were so named not because they carried a bamboo staff about them but because they denied the freedom of the Will.

Relationship of Goáäla and Mahävïra

When Goáäla grew up, he left home for some unknown reason and became a homeless wanderer, spending twentyfour years as an ascetic. After his meeting with Mahävïra at Paîiyabhümi, he spent six years with him. Probably because of this association we find some points of similarity in Jaina and Äjïvika doctrine and practice. From the account of the Bhagavati Sütra, it is known that Goáäla became a disciple of Mahävïra. Afterwards, Goáäla parted company with Mahävïra on account of doctrinal differences and went to Árävastï where he spent sixteen years as a religious leader of the Äjïvika sect. The two years intervening between these two periods were no doubt filled with a journey to Kumäragäma, six months' penance, and preliminary wanderings before making Árävastï his headquarters.

His Efforts for Propagation

It is not likely that Goáäla resided for sixteen years continually at Sävatthi; probably like his great rivals Mahävïra and the Buddha, he travelled from place to place among the towns and villages of the Gaõga valley, preaching and gathering converts. There is evidence that the Äjïvikas, both ascetics and laymen, existed in a fairly large number at this time. His mission consisted largely in knitting together local Äjïvika holymen and their followers, regularising their doctrines and gaining converts by the display of pseudo-supernatural powers. He obtained the strongest support for this sect at Sävatthi. The Koáalan king Pasenadi was more favourably disposed towards this sect than was his contemporary Bimbisära of Magadha.

Äjïvika Scriptures and the Death of Goáäla

When Goáäla made his headquarters at Sävatthi in the workshop of the potter woman Hälahalä, he was surrounded by many disciples. At this time, he was visited by six diáächaras, in consultation with whom he codified the Äjïvika scriptures. The scriptures of the Äjïvikas consisted of ten Puvvas, i.e., eight Mahäîimittas and two Maggas, like the fourteen Pürvas of the Jainas. The dialect adopted for their scriptures was closely allied to Ardha Mägadhi, a few stereotyped fragments of which have survived in the Jaina and Buddhist literatures.

Soon after the visit of the six diáächaras, Mahävïra exposed Goáäla openly with the result that the relations between the two sects became very hostile. Afterwards Goáäla suffered from delirium and died. His death took place sixteen years before that of Mahävïra.

The comparison of the Buddhist references with those found in Jaina sources enables us to form a tolerable picture of the doctrines of Goáäla. While discussing these doctrines, we must also keep in mind that both Goáäla and Mahävïra lived together for some time and that the scriptures of the Äjïvikas and the Jainas are said to have some common sources of origin.

Doctrine of Transformation (Pauûûaparih äraväda)

Goáäla was the propounder of a ‘doctrine of change through re-animation’ (pauûûaparihäraväda) or, better still, of a theory of natural transformation (pariîamaväda) which he came to formulate from the generalisation based on the periodical re-animations of plant life.44 He came to the conclusion that just as the sesame seeds after having completely perished come to life from their inherent force or will-to-be, so are all living beings capable of re-animation.

Theory of Purification through Transmigration (Saãsära-Áuddhi)

The basic idea underlying the above doctrine implies a process of purification through transmigration.45 In the Buddhist phraseology, purification is the equivalent of ‘the end of pain’ (dukkhassanta), and the word transmigration signifies the passing of soul from one state of experience to another. According to this theory of purification through transmigration, one will put an end to pain after wandering through various births for the allotted term. There are eighty-four hundred thousand periods during which both fools and wise, wandering in transmigration, shall at last make an end of pain. Neither the wise nor the fool can get rid of the Karma – there can be no increase or decrease thereof. Everything is predestined. Just as a ball of string when unrolled, spreads out as far as and no farther than it can unwind, so shall both fools and wise alike, wandering in transmigration exactly for the allotted term, make an end of pain.

Fate, Species and Nature (Niyati-Saõgati-Bhäva Pariîatä)

Goáäla offers for his theory of perfection through transformation no less than three explanations : Fate or Necessity, Class or Species, and Nature.46

As a rigid determinist, Goáäla exalted fate (Niyati) to the status of the motive factor of the universe and the sole agent of all phenomenal change.47 Man's destiny is pre-ordained, human effort could effect no change in it, and emancipation was to be obtained only through a long series of transmigrations. Pleasure and pain are not caused by the souls themselves nor by others, but by destiny. There is no such thing as exertion or labour or power or vigour or manly strength, but that all things are caused by destiny which is unalterably fixed. The Sämäññphala Sutta also gives an account of Goáäla's teachings from where we get the same denial of the usefulness of effort or manly vigour.

The attainment of a certain peculiar condition, and of a certain peculiar character on the part of all things, all lives, all beings, depends in part on the class or type to which they belong. It is partly according to their position this class or that that they possess certain special properties, that they have certain physical characteristics, that they inherit certain peculiar habits, develop certain faculties, and so on. Thus fire, for example, is hot, ice is cold, water is liquid, stone is hard, a thorn is sharp, a peacock is painted, the sandal tree possesses fragrance, the elephant's cub, if it does not find leafless and thorny creepers in the green wood, becomes thin; the crow avoids the ripe mango, etc.48

Buddhaghosha explains Goáäla term ‘nature’ as ‘the peculiar nature of each being’.49 The world originates and develops from its inherent force or immanent energy. It is also probable that he sought for an explanation of the diversity of appearances, characteristics, habits and behaviour of things in nature. He conceived Nature as a self-evolving activity. Nature has two modes of operation : by one made things come to pass and by the other they cease to be (pravôtti and nivôtti). More accurately, he seems to have understood by Nature the specific faculties or characteristics of a living substance other than those which it possesses in common with the race or species.50

Views of Kamma

Goáäla's views on Kamma appear to have been peculiar. The classifications found in Sämaññaphala passages are obscure, and Buddhaghosha sheds little light. From this it appears that once earned, the inheritance of Kamma was held to be independent of individual will and supposed to work its way out along its own logic. From the statement just made, it appears that Kamma was considered to be in some way casually connected with Sukha-dukha. How, then, was it supposed to be related to the triad of Niyatisaõgatibhäva ? Since individual initiative is denied, Niyati probably, was considered to be the cause of Kamma prior to the attainment of liberation. Goáäla, in short, considered man bound to the cycle of rebirth by a force – Kamma or Niyati over which he had no voluntary control.

Sixfold Classification of Humanity

Goáäla's classification of human beings into six abhijätis51 (groups) according to their psychic colour is as follows : black (Kaîha) includes all who live by slaughter and cruelty, such as hunters, thieves, fishermen and others; blue (nila) contains ‘monks who live as thieves’; red (lohita) probably applies to all monks of Jaina type; (4) green (halidda) seems to refer toÄjïvika laymen; (5) white (sukka) is related so Äjïvika ascetics of both sexes; and (6) Supremely white (Parama-sukka) contains only three names, that is, those of Nandi Vachcha, Kisa Sankichcha, and Makkhali Goáäla. The Abhijätis have much is common with the Jaina leáyäs, and it is possible that both Goáäla and Mahävïra might have derived from some common source. By urging this doctrine, Goáäla wants to emphasize that the supreme spiritual effort of man consists in restoring the mind to its original purity, i.e., rendering it colourless or supremely white by purging it of all impurities that have stained it.

Theory of Eight Stages of Development (Aûûhapurisa-Bhümiyo)

Goáäla advocated that there are eight stages of development through which every man must pass for the attainment of perfection in order to become a Jina.52 The first stage is babyhood which begins with the birth of a person. Babyhood is followed by the play-time, and that again by the third stage when the child attempts to walk. This period of trial is duly succeeded by the period when the child is able to walk. When he becomes older, he is sent to learn under a teacher. In course of time, he renounces the world and equips himself, sooner or later, with all that his teacher knows. Then comes a time when he realizes that what his teacher taught him was not all, that in fact it was nothing. The Äárama theory of the Dharmaáästras was based on the notion of the gradual development of the self but it was formulated as a biological principle of evalution in its application to education.


We also know about the penances of the Äjïvikas. The Bhagavati Sütra says that they abstained from eating umbara (ficus glomerata), vaûa (ficus indica), bora (jujube), satara (?) and pilaõkhu (ficus infectoria), all fruits, and also from eating roots, etc. The Sthänäõga Sütra53 says that the Äjïvikas practised four kinds of austerities, viz., severe austerities, fierce austerities, abstention from ghee and other delicacies, and indifference to pleasant and unpleasant food. They observed the fourfold brahmacharya consisting of (1) tapassitä, asceticism; (2) lükhachariyä, austerity; (3) jeguchchita, comfort-loathing; and (4) pavivittatä, solitude. The Aupapätika Sütra54 describes the system of collecting alms as adopted by the Äjivika ascetics. Some of them begged in every second or third or fourth or fifth or sixth or even in every seventh house; there were seven who accepted lotus stalks only as alms under certain conditions; some begged in every house, but did not accept alms if there was a flash of lightening. There were some ascetics who practised penances by entering into big earthen vessels.


Both the Buddhists and the Jainas regarded the Äjïvikas as amoralists and proceeded to condemn them as immortal in practice. On the evidence of Jaina scriptures, A.F.R. Hoernle55 accuses Goáäla of hypocrisy and incontinence.

B.M. Barua56 on the other hand considers these strictures merely sectarian. According to him, Goáäla's theory of Pariîämaväda seeks to establish even with the help of its fatalistic creed a moral government of law in the universe where nothing is dead, where nothing happens by chance, and where all that is and all that happens and is experienced are unalterably fixed as it were by a pre-determined law of nature.

It teachers that as man is pre-destined in certain ways and as he stands highest in the gradations of existence, his freedom, to be worth the name, must be one within the operation of law, and that the duty of man as the highest of beings is to conduct himself according to law, and to act and behave in a manner that does not induce him to trespass upon the rights of others, to make the fullest use of one's liberties, to be considerate and discreet, to be pure in life, to abstain from killing living beings, to be free from earthly possessions, to reduce the necessaries of life to a minimum, and to strive for the best and highest, i.e. Jinahood, which is within human powers.

This fatalistic creed, which is a logical outcome of Pariîämaväda, confirms popular Indian belief that action has its reward and retribution and that heaven and hell are the inevitable consequences hereafter of merits and demerits of this life.57

ÄjÏvika Doctrine Vis-a-Vis the Niganthas

Apart from those relating to practice, the chief differences between the Äjïvikas and the Niganthas concerned the nature of will and of the soul. As to the latter, Buddhaghosha informs us that while Goáäla held the soul to be Rüpï, Mahävïra considered it Arüpï. Among the striking similarities between the two doctrines : one may mention the common expression Sabbe Sattä päîä… bhuta… Jivä, the division of animals into Ekendriya, Dvindriya, etc. Belief in the omniscience of the released was also common. Goáäla and Mahävïra both enjoined the practice of nudity for saints.

The Buddha

Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, was the junior contemporary of Mahävïra. We possess no authentic accounts of his life and teachings. Two poems in the Sutta Nipäta and a few early Suttas supply us with some data but for details, we have to depend upon comparatively later works, which appear to have preserved older traditions.

Early Life

Gautama alias Siddhärtha was born in 563 B.C. at Lumbinivana, now identified with Rumminidei on the border of Nepal. His father Suddhodana of the Säkya clan was the ruler of Kapilavastu. His mother Mäyä died seven days after his birth, and he was brought up by his mother's sister Mahäprajäpati Gotamï. When he grew up, he married Yaáodharä, and had a son, Rähula.

The idea of renunciation, according to the later text, came into his mind from seeing four persons in four different stages – an old man, a cripple, an ascetic, and a corpse. In the early texts like the Sutta Nipäta, it is simply stated that looking at the miseries of the world, he embraced the life of a wandering hermit at the age of twentynine.

Passing through a number of villages, Gautama at last reached Vaiáälï where he stayed at a hermitage of the teacher Äräâa Käläma. There he became his disciple and learnt the Säõkhya doctrine from him. Since evidently he was not satisfied, he left the hermitage of Äräâa to become a disciple of another teacher Rudraka Rämaputra, who was then living in the outskirts of Räjagôha. Not satisfied with Rudraka either, he left him and began to observe severe penances along with five other Brähmaîa ascetics. He was deserted by the Brähmana companions when they noticed slackness on his part in observing penances, and he decided to take food just sufficient to sustain his body.

After leaving Rudraka's hermitage, Gautama went to Uruvilva where he took his seat under a pïpal tree. After spending seven weeks in meditation under this tree, he finally realized the Truth. He thus became the Buddha (the Enlightened One). With his attainment of both insight and knowledge, he became emancipated from birth and rebirth. He then turned his attention to his five Brähmaîa companions who were then residing at Ôishipattana (Särnäth) near Banaras. He proceeded there and delivered before them his first sermon, which is metaphorically represented in Buddhist literature as “turning the wheel of the Law”.

Missionary Life

Along with these five Brähmaîa companions, Buddha went to Banaras where he converted Yaáa, a rich Seûûhi's son and other followers. From Banaras, he proceeded to Räjagôiha where he spent the second, third, and fourth Vassäs (retreats). In Magadha, at this time, there were many Brahmanical and non-Brahmanical teachers and wandering monks. The Buddha spent much of his time and energy in refuting their doctrines and convincing them of the excellence of his teaching. He succeeded in making a large number of converts, the most notable among them being Säriputra and Maudgalyäyana, who were formerly disciples of Saõjaya Belaûûhiputta, the Brahmanical ascetics, the Jaûilas, Upäli Grahapati, and Abhayaräjakumära, all staunch followers of Nigaîûha Nätaputta; Anäthapiîâika a merchant possessing fabulous wealth; kings Bimbisära and Ajätaáatru, and later, king Muîâa. Besides Räjagôiha, Buddha visited Gayä, Uruvilva, Nälandä, and Päûaliputra.

Buddhism gained a footing even at Koáalä (Sävatthi) where the Buddha spent the last twentyone vassäs. His favourite resort was the famous Jetavaîa monastery, which was purchased for him by Anäthapiîâika at a fabulous price. King Prasenajit (Pasenadi) became interested in his discourses while his queen Mallikä and his two sisters, Somä and Sakulä, became lay-devotees. Another influential supporter was Visäkha, who built the Pubbäräma monastery for him.

The Buddha visited Kapilvastu and converted the members of his family including his son Rähula and foster-mother Mahäprajäpati Gomatï. Buddha also spent the fifth Vassä at Vaiáälï, where Ambapälï, the famous courtesan became his devotee and offered her mango grove to the Saãgha. The Buddha passed the ninth Vassä at Kauáämbï where queen Sämavatï of Udayana became his follower. He visited a distant place Verañjä (near Mathurä) to spend his twelfth Vassä there and deputed his disciple Mahäkachchäyana of the propagation of Buddhism in Avanti. He converted king Pradyota and others to Buddhism. He made his last journey to Malla's capital Kusinärä where he gave up his body after a fatal illness and attained parinirväîa at the age of eighty.


The earliest available source of our knowledge of the Buddha's teachings is the Päli Piûaka which consists of the five Nikäyas, viz., Dïgha, Majjhima, Saãyutta, Aõguttara and Khuddaka. As many alterations and additions were made in it from time to time by the succeeding generations, it cannot be called homogeneous, nor is it possible to state definitely what actually were the original teachings of the Buddha.

Buddhism, like Jainism, was originally a moral code rather than a metaphysical or religious system. The Buddha instructed his followers to pursue practical methods in order to arrive at the Truth. For the removal of ignorance, thirst, attachment, etc., for instance, he advocated the four Äryasatyas (Noble Truths), viz., (1) that worldly existence is full of misery (dukkha); (2) that thirst, attachment, etc., are the causes of wordly existence (samudaya); (3) that worldly existence can be ended (nirodha) by the destruction of thirst, etc. The Path is the well-known Eightfold Way, viz., right speech, right action, right means of livelihood, right exertion, right mindedness, right meditation, right resolution, and right point of view. The first three practices lead to physical control (Áïla), the second three to mental control (chitta), and the last two to intellectual development (prajñä).

The exposition of the Eightfold Path is said to be the Buddha's first discourse. It is also widely known as the Middle Path (madhyama pratipat) as it keeps clear of the two extreme ways of life, one being that of ease and luxury and the other of rigorous ascerticism. This path allowed a monk to live a life of moderate comfort, with the bare requirements of food, clothing and residence, but with the wind intent on achieving the goal.

The second discourse, which is said to have been delivered by the Buddha, strikes the keynote of his teachings, viz., that the five constituents which make a being are without a self (anätma), impermanent (anitya), and are not desirable (dukkha). He who realizes the absence of soul or substance in the constituents knows that he does not exist as an individual and as such there can be no relationship between himself and the objects around him. There is nothing in this world to make him happy or sad and so he is free (vimukta), he is an arhat – perfect.

Ascetics of the Brahmanical Sects

The Brahmanical ascetics were probably divided into two classes, i.e., the one retiring to the forests Vänaprasthins and then passing to the stage of Sannyäsa, and the other consisting of the Tävasa, the Geruya or Parivräjaka etc. The Jätakas most probably depict the life of the Vänaprasthins and the Sannyäsins, but there is no line of demarcation drawn between the two. It is only in the Dharmasütra literature of a later period that a clear distinction is made between the two stages of life. Now the question is : how far does the account of the Jätakas correspond with that of the Dharmasütra. According to the Baudhäyana-Dharmasütra, to cite one example, one could renounce the world after the student life, or after being a householder, or from the forest.58 Äpastamba and Vasishûha allow one to have the option of becoming an ascetic after the completion of the Brahmcharya stage or after becoming a householder.59 Thus we find the Brahmanical sources supporting the Buddhist account.


The Tävasas lived in forest where they occupied themselves with meditation, sacrificial rites, self-torture, and in reading the scriptures. They gathered fruits and roots for their sustenance and visited the villages for alms. On one of the journeys he made during his ascetic life, Mahävïra put up in a hermitage (äsamapada) in Sannivesa.60 He came across another hermitage named Kanakakhala in Uttaravächäla where five hundred hermits were staying;61 still another hermitage is referred to in Poyaîapura where Vakkalachïri was born.62

The Oväiya Sütra63 mentions the following classes of Vänapattha Tävasas residing on the bank of the Gaõga. It is possible that some of the classes might have belonged to the later period than that of Mahävïra but we are not in a position to distinguish them positively.

Hottiya : They offered sacrifices.

Kottiya : They slept on the bare ground.

Pottiya : They put on a special kind of clothes.

Jaîîaï : They performed sacrifices.

Saââhai : They belonged to the devotional class of ascetics.

Thälaï : They carried all their belongings with them.

Humbauûûtha : They carried a water vessel with them.

Dantukkhaliva : They lived on fruits and used their teeth as mortar.

Ummajjaka : They bathed taking only a dip.

Sammajjaka : They bathed without taking a dip in water.

Nimajjaka : They remained in water only for a short time.

Sampakkhäla : They rubbed and cleansed their limbs with mud.

Dakkhiîakülaga : They dwelt on the south bank of the Ganga.

Uttarakülaga : They dwelt on the north bank of the Ganga.

Saãkhadhamaga : They blew a conch-shell to keep people away.

Küladhamaga : They blew a conch-shell on the river bank to keep people away while they took their meal.

Miyaluddhaya : They killed animals.

Hatthitävasa : They used to kill an elephant every year with arrows and lived many months on its flesh. The motive was to spare the lives of other animals for as long as the flesh of the elephant would last.They claimed that they committed but one sin in a year, the killing of the elephant, which was counterbalanced by the merit earned by not killing other lives during this time.64

Uââaîâaya : They moved about raising their staff and are referred to along with Boâiya and Sasarakkha mendicants who went about naked and used the hollow of their hands as alms-bowl.65

Disäpokkhi : They sanctified all sides by sprinkling water and then collected flowers and fruits. The Bhagavati66 refers to the royal sage Áiva of Hattinäpura, who joined the order of the Disäpokkhiyas on the bank of the Ganga. He practised chaûûhama (a fast, broken at sixth meal), and on the day on which he broke his fast, he sprinkled the eastern quarter, propitiated Soma, the lord of the east, and collected bulbous roots, leaves, flowers, fruits, seeds and green vegetables. Then he returned to his hut, cleaned the sacrificial altar (Vedikä) and went to bathe in the Ganga. He made another altar with grass and sand, kindled a fire by the friction of pieces of wood, and keeping ritualistic paraphernalia by his side, offered honey, ghee, and rice to the fire. Then he prepared Charu (oblation), worshipped Vaissadeva and the guests, and then took his meal. Then Áiva observed the Chaûûhama fast again and proceeded to the south to propitiate Yama, then to the west to propitiate Varuîa, and finally to the north to propitiate Vesamaîa. Somila was another hermit of Väränasï who belonged to the same order and was a worshipper of the four diáäs.67 King Pasannachand also belonged to the same order which he joined along with his queen and the nurse.68

Vakaväsï : They put on a dress of bark.

Ambuväsï : They lived in water.

Bilaväsï : They lived in caves.

Jalaväsï : They remained submerged in water.

Velaväsï : They lived on the sea-coast.

Rukkhamülia : They lived under trees.

Ambubhakkhi : They lived by drinking water only.

Väubhakkhi69 : They lived by inhaling air only.

Sevälabhakkhi70 : They lived by eating moss.

The Tävasas followed the rules of the Vänaprastha Äárama. Like other ascetics, they also moved in a body. We hear of three hermits, Koâinna, Dinna and Sevälï, who were followed by a body of five hundred disciples each. They lived on roots, bulbs, decayed leaves, and moss; they set out to pay a visit to Aûûhävaya.71

The Parivräjaka or Geruya Samanas

Though they formed a distinct and separate group, the Parivräjakas belonged to the class of ascetics. According to T.W. Rhys Davids,72 “the Paribbäjakas or the wandering mendicants were teachers or sophists who spent eight or nine months of every year wandering about, and they were often lodged in the public halls where conversational discussions were held on philosophical and religious questions. Besides, they lived on alms collected from door to door.” B.M. Barua73 mentions that these Brähman wanderers were in a position to learn the languages, customs, and usages of the people living in different parts of the world in which they themselves lived. In those early ages of civilization, when there was neither any printing press nor any easy means of communication between one country and another, elements of knowledge could be gathered, disseminated or utilised for scientific purpose by no better means than such travelling.

The Parivräjakas or the wanderers were the great teachers of the Brahmanic lore and were highly respected. In the Vasishûha Dharmasütra, it is stated that a Parivräjaka should shave his head, clothe himself with one piece of cloth or skin, cover his body with grass pulled off by cows, and he should sleep on bare ground.74 The Parivräjakas maintained their regular monasteries (Avasaha) and wandered from place to place in order to propagate their teachings. From the Oväiya, we know that they were versed in the four Vedas, Itihäsa, Nigghaîûu, six Vedäõgas, and six Upäõgas. They preached the doctrine of charity (Dänadhamma), purity (soadhamma), and that of bathing at holy places. According to them whatever was impure became pure by applying mud to it and by being washed with water. They believed that they were pure themselves and that by taking bath they would attain heaven. They never travelled in a cart or a litter, never entered a lake or a river for bathing, never rode a horse or an elephant, never visited the performance of a dancer or a bard, never trampled upon or rubbed green vegetables, never indulged in talks regarding women, food, country, king, and thieves, never kept any costly pots except a bottle gourd, wooden, or an earthen pot, never put on garments of various colours except one pair dyed with red-clay, never wore any ornaments except one copper ring, never wore any garland except a pair of flower earings, never besmeared their body with any fragrant substance except the clay of the Ganga, and they took only one Magadha prastha (a measure used in Magadha) filtered (Paripüya) water for drinking purposes.

From the Bhagavatïsütra,75 we know about one wandering mendicant, Ajjakhanda of Kachchäyana gotra, a disciple of Gaddabhäli, who was putting up in Sävatthi. Once he took his ritualistic objects, viz., triple staves, water pot (Kuîâi), rosary (Kañchaîiyä), earthen bowl (Karoâiyä), seat (bhisiyä), sweeping duster (Kesariyä), teapoy (chaîîäliyä), hook (ankusaya), ring (pavittaya), and the forearm ornament (kalächikä), and taking an umbrella and wearing shoes and dyed robes, proceeded to pay a visit to Mahävïra. He was well-versed in Vedic literature.

In the early Buddhist records,76 we have frequent mention of a number of such Parivräjakas (wanderers), all of whom were the contemporaries of the Buddha, e.g. Poûûhapäda, Dïgha-nakha, Sakula Udäyi, Anna-bhara, Varadhara, Potäliya or Poûali-putta, Uggahamäna, Vekhanassa Kachchäna, Mägaîâiya, Sandaka, Uttiya, three Vachchhagottas, Sabhiya, and Pilotika Vachchhäyana. Besides these wanderers, we have to take into account many celebrated Brähmaîa teachers of the Buddha's time, such as Pokkharasäti (Pushkarasädi), Sonadaîâa (Áaunadanta or Áaunaka), Kuûadanta, Lohichcha, Kaõki (Chaõki), Tarukkha (Tärukshya), Jänussoni (Jataáruti), Todeyyas, Todeyya-putta or Subha, Käpaûhika Bhäradväja, Aggika Bhäradväja, Piîâola Bhäradväja, Käsi Bhäradväja, Väseûûha, Assaläyana, Moggalläna, Päräsariya, Vassakära, and others.77

Most of these religious teachers belonged to Magadha, and Räjagôiha was the centre of their activities. The famous Parivräjaka Sañjaya lived at this place with two hundred and fifty disciples among whom Säriputta and Moggalläna were the foremost. Säriputta was the first to resolve to embrace the faith and was followed by Moggalläna.78 These two friends tried to persuade their teacher, Sañjaya, to see the Buddha, but failing to convince him, abandoned him and went over to the Buddha, followed by all the disciples of Sañjaya.79 Sakula-Udai was also residing at Räjagôiha. Poûaliputta and Dighanakha also established their headquarters at his place. Moliyasïvaka and Sabhiya are said to have met the Buddha here. The Niguttara Nikäya80 refers to Annabhära Sarabha and others as staying in the Parivräjakäräma on the bank of the Sappiniya river. Anugära and Varadhara are mentioned as staying at Moraniväpa Parivräjakäräma in Räjagôiha which had several delightful spots like Veluvana, Ghijjhaküûa mountain, Moraniväpa, the Parivräjakäräma on the bank of the Sappiniya river, Tapodäräma, Jïvaka's Ämravana, Sïtavana, Maddakuchchi, and so on which were resorted to by a large number of Parivräjakas. These had made Rajagôiha famous as a halting place for the wandering monks.

There was another pleasant and delightful Äárama at Uruvela on the bank of the river Nerañjara. Pavärika's mango grove at Nälandä, Ghaggara Pokkharaîï at Champä, Mahävana near Vaiáäli, Mallikäräma in Árävastï, and others were important places meant for the Parivräjakas during this period. Vachchhagotta stayed at Vaiáälï in the Puîâarïka Parivräjakärma. Jambukhädaka is known to have met Säriputta at Nälakagäma (in Magadha) and Ukkavela (in Vajji). Ugghamäîa had seven hundred Parivräjakas under him.81 The leaders of the Brähmaîa ascetics were known as the Gaîasatthäs.82

Besides these, other parivräjakas too have been mentioned.83

Charaka : It is said that they begged alms while moving in company and kept on moving even while eating. They accepted cleansed alms and put on a lion-cloth. It is said that these mendicants were the direct descendants of Kapilamuni.84

Chirika : They picked up rags from the road side.85

Chammakhaîâia : They either wore a dress of hide or else their religious requisites were made of hide.

Bhikkahuîâa : They would eat nothing except what had been obtained by alms and would not take cow-milk etc. They are considered identical with Buddhist monks.

Paîâuraõga or Paîâaraga : There were Áaiva mendicants who besmeared their body with ashes. According to the Nïáitha chürîi, however, the disciples of Goáala were called Paîâarabhikkhu. The Anuyogadvärachürîi identifies them with the Sasarakkha (Sarajaska) Bhikkhus.

Then there were other Parivväyagas.

Saõkha : They followed the Säãkhya system.

Joi : They followed the Yoga system.

Kavila : They followed the atheistic Säãkhya system and regarded Kapila as their master.

Bhiuchcha : They were the disciples of Bhôigu.

Haãsa : They lived in mountain caves, roads, hermitages, shrines, and gardens and entered a village only to beg.

Paramahaãsa : They lived on river banks, the confluence of streams and discarded clothes before they died.

Bahüdaga : They lived one night in a village and five nights in a town.

Kuâivvaya : They lived in their own house and considered getting victory over greed, illusion, and egotism as their goal.

Kaîhaparivväyaga : They woshipped the Näräyaîa.


Some Brahmanical hermits were called the Jaûilas on account of their matted hairs.86 These ascetics lived in large groups in forests, had group leaders, engaged in austerities, tended fire, and performed sacrifices. They were also called Aggika Jaûilkä.

Uruvelä, the place of the Buddha's Sambodhi, was then a great centre of Vedic religion. There were three settlements or colonies of the Jaûilas on the banks of the river Nerañjara under three Kassapa brothers, Uruvela Kassapa, Nädi Kassapa, and Gaya Kassapa, each at the head of 500, 300 and 200 Jaûilas respectively.87 They were born in a Brähmaîa family on Magadha and were highly respected by the inhabitants of Aõga and Magadha.88 Most probably they were Naishûhika Brahmachärins. It is said that Uruvela Kassapa used to perform annually a great sacrifice which was attended by the neighbouring people with abundant food.89 On the occasion of the Ashûakas, in the snowy-cold winter nights, they are described as plunging into the river Nerañjara and emerging out of it repeatedly on account of their belief in purification by bathing.90

That these three brothers had gathered quite a large number of followers and had made three colonies of them, shows that they had developed a congregational life. In the opinion of B.M. Barua, there was no corporate life, and among the Jaûilas forming three distinct groups, the tie in each group was rather domestic than congregational.91 To convert these Brähmaîa ascetics who performed Vedic rites and enjoyed the respect of their people, was the principle aim of the Buddha, for that would, he thought, produce a magical effect on popular monks. According to Mahävagga, he was successful in changing the heart of 1000 Jaûilas along with their leaders who entered the Order.92


There is a reference to the Lokäyatas in the Dighanikäya. A Brahmaîa well-versed in the Lokäyata doctrine asking the Buddha a series of questions has been mentioned.93 A Jätaka passage refers to Lokäyatika doctrine.94 The teachers and the student of this doctrine were both known as Lokäyatika. The name of this school was identical with the theory of elements as the prime cause (Bhütaväda and Uchchhedaväda).

Other Schools and Sects

The Four Great Schools

The Sütrakôitäõga95 describes the four heretical creeds of the time of Mahävïra, creeds called Kriyäväda, Akriyäväda, Ajñänaväda, and Vinayaväda. These four great schools comprise three hundred and sixty-three schools : Kriyäväda consists of one hundred and eighty schools; Akriyäväda of eighty-four schools, Ajñänaväda of sixty-seven schools, and Vinayaväda of thirty-two schools.


Kriyä denotes the existence of the soul (jiva), and those who believe in the existence of the soul are called Kriyävädins. It is stated that one who knows the tortures of beings below in hell, one who knows the influx of sin and its stoppage one who knows misery and its annihilation, is entitled to expound Kriyäväda.


The Akriyävädins deny the existence of the soul, etc., for according to them everything is of a momentary existence, and a state comes to an end the moment it comes into existence, and, therefore, it cannot have any kriyä. Without continuity of existence, no kriyä is possible; the existence itself is the cause and effect of it. They are identified with the Buddhists, who hold the doctrine of Kshaîikaväda. Akriyävädins were also called Viruddhas, since they held to doctrines opposed to those of other heretics.


The Ajñänvädins deny the necessity or importance of knowledge to attain salvation, since there is assertion of contradictory statements in it.


The Vinayavädins or Vainayikas are mentioned as Aviruddhakas in the Aõguttara.96 They do not accept signs, external rules of ceremony, and the scriptures, but uphold the supremacy of reverence as the cardinal virtue leading to perfection. The upholders of this faith paid equal reverence to eight classes of beings, viz. god and master, ascetics, men, aged persons, inferiors, mother and father, and they maintained that to each of these eight classes of persons reverence may be shown in four ways, i.e., physically, mentally, verbally and with gifts. Vasäyaîa was a Vinayavädi ascetic who was practising päîämä pavajjä with his arms uplifted when Mahävïra and Goáala arrived in Kummagäma.97

Besides these, the names of some other sects too have been mentioned in Jaina literature.

Attukkosiya : They belonged to the class of ascetics who were proud of themselves.

Bhüikammiya : They administered ashes to the people suffering from fever, etc.

Bhujjo bhujjo Kouyakäraka : They administered auspicious baths for procuring good luck. They are also known as Äbhiogias.

Chaîâidevaga : They had hangers (sikkaka) as their ritualistic paraphernalia.

Dagasoyariya : An adherent of the Dagasoyariyas, also known as Suivädi, who took bath after cleaning his body sixty-four times if touched by anybody, has also been mentioned. A Dagasoyariya ascetic, it is said, was putting up in the Näräyaîa Koûûha in Mathura. After breaking his three-day fast he pretended to have taken cow-dung; he never uttered the word itthi (woman) and observed silence. People were so much attracted by his practice that they offered him robes, food, and drink. According to Malayagiri, however, these ascetics were the followers of the Säãkhya religion.

Dhammachintaka : They studied religious books, and contemplated on the Dharmasaãhitäs composed by Yäjñavalkya and other sages, and acted accordingly.

Giyarai : They devoted themselves to songs and pleasures of love.

Goama : They earned their living by painting and decorating a young bull with cowries in his neck and performing tricks of touching feet etc., and created amusement for the people. These ascetics lived on rice.

Govvaia : They behaved like a cow, and in order to support their bovine character, followed a cow wherever it went grazed, drank water, returned home, and slept. They lived only on grass and leaves.

Kammärabhikhu : They led a procession with idols.

Kuchchiya : They grew beard and moustaches.

Parapariväiya : They spoke ill of other ascetics.

Piîâolaga : They remained very dirty, and their body which was an abode of lice emitted a foul smell. A Piîâolaga is said to have crushed himself under a rock on the mountain Vebhära.

Sasarakkha : They were adepts in casting spells, etc., and stored dust for the rainy season. They moved about naked, and used the hollow of their hands as alms bowl.

Vaîimago : They were greedy of food and begged alms by exhibiting themselves to the devotees of Áäkya, etc. They put themselves in a pitiable state, and in order to divert the attention of the donors spoke pleasing words.

Väribhadraka : They lived on water or moss and engaged themselves in bathing and washing their feet.

Värikhala : They washed their pot with mud twelve times.

Contemporary Schools of Philosophical Thought (From Buddhist Sources)

The Brahmajäla Sutta in the Digha Nikäya classifies the contemporary philosophical thought into sixty-two schools which were in existence in the sixth century B.C. The four schools of Eternalists or Sassatavädas held that the soul and the world are both eternal. The first three schools held this view as a result of their having perceived through a recollection of the memories of past lives that the soul and the body have always been in existence, and the fourth school held this view not as a result of memory but on logical grounds.

The four schools of Semi-Eternalists or Ekachcha-Sassatikas were also well-known. The first school believed that while Brahmä was eternal, individual souls were not. The second school believed that debauched souls are not eternal but that undebauched souls are. The third school believed exactly the same thing as the second school except that in the case of the former the debauchery of the gods is mental unlike the debauchery of the gods of the latter school which is physical. The fourth school held that the soul was eternal but not the body.

The first of the four schools of Extentionists or Antänantikas held that the world was finite, the second that it was infinite, the third that it was infinite sidewise but finite upward and downward, and the fourth that it was neither finite nor infinite.

The four schools of Eel-wrigglers or Amarävikkhepikas did not give categorical replies to any question but avoided them by ambiguous and equivocating replies, and different only in respect of the motive for giving such replies.

The two schools of Fortuitous-Originists or Adhichchasamuppannikas held that the soul and the world came into being without a cause. The first came to this conclusion as a result of the remembrance of past lives and the second as a result of logical reasoning.

The thirty-two schools of consciousness-maintainers or Uddhamäghatanikas believed that the soul after death passed into various states of existence, viz., conscious or unconscious, subject to decay or not subject to decay, neither conscious nor unconscious, and all in respect of the form, finitude, different modes of consciousness, and happiness of the soul.

The seven schools of Annihilationists or Uchchedavädis maintained that the soul is annihilated after death and identified it with the body, essence of the body, mind, infinite space, infinite consciousness, or with the boundless and with that which is beyond ideas.

The five schools of Nirväîists or Diûûhadhammanibbänavädas believed that a soul was capable of obtaining complete emancipation in this visible world through full enjoyment of the pleasures of the senses or through each of the four stages of dhyäna.

Vedic Pantheon and Religious Practices

People had not forgotten the Vedic pantheon and religious practices because of the rise of different religious sects and schools during the time of Mahävïra. The Vedic rituals were scrupulously performed by a large section of people. Though their number grew smaller and smaller, they never died out altogether.

The Jaina and Buddhist literary sources throw some light on Brahmanical religion and practices. The Sotthiyas and the Brahmana Mahäsälas of the age were custodians of the Vedic religion which was mostly sacrificial. The Brähmaîa Mahäsälas sometimes performed sacrifices for themselves, and sometimes officiated as priests in the Yajñas performed for kings. Descriptions of the preparations for the Mahäyajñas of the Brähmaîa Küûadanta of Magadha98, of the Brähmaîa Uggatasarïra of Sävatthi99 and of king Pasenadi of Koáala100 throw considerable light on the method of performing these Yajñas. Animals sacrificed included cows, bulls, steers, goats, sheep, etc. The number of animals used for sacrificial purposes sometimes rose to 500 or 700.

There are references to the performance of the Assamedha, the Parisamedha, the Sammapasa and the Väjapeya sacrifies.101 Yajñas were performed with pomp and grandeur, and people flocked from neighbouring places to witness it. They were attended by big feasts, offerings, gifts of cows, beds, garments, women, chariots, carpets, and even places filled with corn. The picture of the Yajñäs thus revealed by the Buddhist sources is similar to the painted by the Brahmanical sources leaving aside a few exaggerations.

The Brähmaîas appear as teachers representing various Vedic schools, such as the Addhariyas (Aitareyas), Tittiriyas (Taittiriyas), Chhandokas (Chhändogyas), Chhandävas, and so on.102 They worshipped Indra, Soma, Varuîa, Ïáäna, Prajäpati, Brahmä, Mahiddhi, Yama, etc. They invoked them and offered prayer.103

Popular Deities

Because of the new notions regarding religion current during the time of Lord Mahävïra, the functions of the old gods underwent modification and alteration, and new gods were created. Contact with indigenous cults at this time was responsible not only for the importation of new objects of worship, but also for the incorporation of new mythologies of the older cult. Not only from Brahmanical literature, but from Buddhist and Jaina literature also, we know about the popular deities worshipped during the sixth century B.C.


Indra, the chief of all other gods, is the Vedic god of great antiquity, and it appears that he was one of the most popular deities. In the Kalpasütra,104 Indra has been described as enjoying divine pleasure in heaven in the company of various gods, eight chief queens, three assemblies, seven armies, seven commanders-in-chief, and body-guards. Indramaha was most prominent among all other mahas in ancient days. The festival of Indra was celebrated with great pomp and show. In Buddhist literature, he is mentioned by various names such as Sakka, Väsava, Maghavä, and so on. He is also described as descending to this world for helping the virtuous punishing the evil-doers.105 He resides in the place known as Sudhammä, Vejayanta, and Missakasära in the beautiful Tävatinsa heaven.106


During the period of the Brähmaîas, Prajäpati occupied the supreme position and was looked upon as the creator. In the sixth century B.C., he was called Brahmä. In the Buddhist Nikäyas, it is this personal Brahmä of the popular religion that is pictured, attacked, and ridiculed. In fact, his unity is not recognized, and many Brahmäs with different appellations such as Sanatkumära, Sahaãpati, and so on were conceived for worshipping.107


Agni (Fire-god) occupied an important place in Brahmanism on account of the importance of Agnihotra. The Gôihyasütras and the Dharmasütras prescribe a number of domestic sacrifices for which Agni is needed. Agni was given a high position due to his use in yajña. The Buddhist writers108 ridicule Agni-worship probably due to the association of fire with yajña which involves slaughter of living beings.


In the Vedic period, the Sun occupied an important position but the moon was insignificant. From Buddhist literature, it appears that both were popular deities as they were worshipped by a fairly large number of people.109

Female Deities

Siri and Sirimä the goddesses of Fortune and Luck, were the popular deities of this period. They are referred to also in the Kalpasütra.110 In Buddhist literature, Siri has been regarded as the daughter of Áakra while Sirimä as the daughter of Dhôitaräshûra.111 Of the abstract deities that were worshipped,112 some were Vedic and others new additions. Saddhä (Áraddhä) is a Vedic deity, but Äsä and Hiri are non-Vedic.

Ajjä and Koûûakiriyä were two different forms of the goddess Durgä who is also called Chaîâiyä. The Ächäräõga refers to the worship of Chaîâiyä with the sacrifice of goats, buffaloes, and human beings to please an inferior type of god.113 The peaceful goddess Durgä is called Ajjä, and when she rides on a buffalo she is called Koûûakiriyä.


There are four Lokapälas (Chätumahärajika Devas)114 in the four quarters. Dhataraûûha Mahäräja, Virulhaka Mahäräja, Virupakkha Mahäräja, and Vessavaîa Mahäräja are the lords of the East, the South, the West and the North respectively.115

Yaksha Worship

From the Brahmanical, the Jaina, and the Buddhist sources, it appears that Yakshas were objects of worship. In Vedic literature, the word ‘Yaksha’ signifies a supernatural being, or a ghost-like appearance. In the sixth century B.C., the worship of the Yakshas or Jakkhas became very popular, and so every important city had its own shrine dedicated to the Yaksha. The Yakshas sometimes granted worldly desires, especially progeny and wealth while some of the Yakshas have been associated with cosmological functions, others are looked upon as malevolent beings who take possession of men's persons inducing in them symptoms of frenzy.

Yaksha Gaîâitinduga of Väräîasï guarded the great sage Mätaõga in the Tinduga garden.116 Bihelaga was another Yaksha who paid reverence to Lord Mahävïra when the latter was engrossed in meditation.117 Gaîgadatta,118 Subhadda,119 and Bhaddä120 were blessed with a child by the worship of the Yakshas. The Yakshas are also said to have cured diseases, Pürîabhadra and Maîibhadra, both Yakshas, seem to be more popular, for to them offerings of food were made.121 Some of the Yakshas caused trouble to the people and often were satisfied only after killing them. We hear of Sülapäîi Jakkha who used to kill persons who happened to stay in his shrine.122 Another strange belief regarding the Jakkhas was that they enjoyed sexual intercourse with human maidens. The Gaîâitindurga Jakkha is said to have had sexual intercourse with the princess Bhaddä.123

Like Yakshas, the Väîamantarïs or the Jakkhiîïs also played an important part in ancient Indian life. The Väîamantrï Salejjä is said to have paid reverence to Mahävïra124 whereas Kaûapütranä gave him trouble.125 Various feasts and festivals were celebrated in honour of the Jakkhas. Bhaîâïravaîa, the abode of Bhaîâïra Jakkha, a popular deity of Mathurä,126 drew a large number of pilgrims.

The abode of a Yaksha is often referred to as cheiya, a term which was applied to the whole sacred enclosure containing a garden grove or park and shrine. Mahävïra, the Buddha, and many other religious ascetics are represented as halting or resting in these shrines. From the Uväsaga-dasäo, we learn that Mahävïra visited the shrine of Pürîabhadra at Champä, the shrine called Dvipaläsa of Vaîijagräma, the Koshûhaka shrine of Väräîasï, the garden called Saõkhavana of Älabhï, the garden called Sahasrämravana of Kampilyapura, Sahasrämravana of Poläsapura and the shrines called Gunasila and Kushûhaka of Räjagôiha.

Buddhist literature refers to the cities and haunts of the yakkhas. Their cities were known as Yakkhanagaras, which were usually situated in islands, deep forests, and deserts. A Jätaka story mentions a Yakkhanagara called Sirisavatthu in Tambapaîîidïpa127 and another in a forest.128 But some had individual haunts.129 More than thirty individual Yakshas are known by name.130 Yakkha Süchiloma had his haunt near Gayä.131 The Saãyutta-Nikäya and the Sutta-Nipäta describe him as discoursing with the Buddha.132 Yakkha Indraküûa made the Indraküûa hill at Räjagôiha his abode.133 For yakkha Maîimäla, there was the Maîimäla chetiya.134 Ajakaläpaka resided at Päûaliputra in the Ajakaläpaka chetiya.135

Naga Worship

Naga worship seems to have a non-Aryan origin. Its emergence as a cult may be traced to the time of the civilization of Mohenjodäro as it is clear from the two seals where it appears in an attitude of devotion to a figure in Yogic posture. It appears that this cult was adopted by the Aryans partly as a consequence of the absorption of non-Aryan deities into the Brahmanical fold, and partly as a protection against snake-bites.

References to Näga-worship, like those to the worship of Yakshas, are abundant in the Jaina136 and the Buddhist137 sources. Jainism and Buddhism had to admit the serpent in a subordinate capacity in their own religious systems. Pärávanätha has a serpent as his special symbol. It is said that the Buddha received the homage of Muchilinda and Eläpattra. The Buddha advised the Bhikshus to honour the royal families of the Nägas, so that they could be protected from snake-bites, and the regions which were covered with dense forests may have given impetus to snake worship. As Magadha was originally a non-Aryan land, it remained a centre of Näga worship from the earliest times. The Mahäbharata refers to the images and temples of the Nägas at Räjagôiha. The Buddhist sources tell us that the Nägas were worshipped by the offerings of milk, rice, fish, meat, strong drink, and the like.138 According to the Gôihya-sütras, they were offered fried grain, flour of fried barley, and flour over which ghee had been poured.139

Tree Worship

That the tree was a non-Aryan object of worship is clear from some of the seals of the Indus-Valley Civilization. These seals show that the Pippal tree was worshipped by the people in two forms, i.e., in its natural form and in the form of the spirit of the tree which was shown emerging from the tree. Because of the absorption of the non-Aryan tribes in the Aryan fold, many non-Aryan objects of worship were also gradually incorporated in Brahmanism.

During the time of Mahävira, tree-worship seems to havebeen well known. Trees were considered to be the residences of some divine spirits who were worshipped by people for the fulfilment of their desires for sons, daughters, honour, wealth, and so on. Sometimes they were regarded as abodes of evil spirits like Pretas, and people worshipped them out of fear so that these malignant spirits may not harm them. The tree cult became further popular when the custom of using trees as symbols of saints and worshipping them as such became fashionable. The Bodhi tree, for instance, was one such tree for the Buddhists.

Miscellaneous Deities

Besides the celestial gods worshipped by their devotees, people seem to have worshipped various animals and birds too, such as elephants, horses, bulls, cows, dogs, and crows.140 The Buddhist sources141 speak of the honour shown to the bull, sometimes in normal course and sometimes on occasions like his death. The custom of showing reverence to the bull was probably on account of his indispensability to agriculture.

Rivers and sacred streams began to be venerated, and tirthas or sacred spots on their banks came into existence and began to be thronged with worshipful pilgrims. People made pilgrimages to these holy places because facilities for travel were available.

The dread of demons must have driven people to take recourse to rites in order to keep them in good humour. Magical formulae and incantations must have been largely used to placate the invisible spirits and to control their vagaries. There are numerous allusions to persons versed in demonology (bhüyaväiya). There were dealers in antidotes as well as charmers who knew the science of spirits, and by means of various ceremonies, enchantments, and preservatives cured those possessed.142 The Bôihatkalpabhäshya referes to a shop called Kuttiyävaîa143 where everything living or non-living was available. It is said that there were nine such shops in Ujjeît during the reign of Chaîâapajjoya.

From about the sixth century B.C., the old Vedic religion and practices gradually underwent transformation, and formed some sort of a new religion. Although the final form of this new religion is not clearly perceptible, its beginnings were marked in this age by the adoption of theistic Vaishîavism and Áaivism within the fold of the Brahmanical religion. These two theistic religions centred round two deities, Vishîu and Áiva, and they both emphasized devotion.

The first step in the evolution of Vaishîavism was the identification of Väsudeva-Kôishîa with the Vedic deity Vishîu, standing originally for the ‘Sun’. This reference in the Chhändogya Upanishad seems to point to a date in the seventh or sixth century B.C. Next, that Väsudeva-Kôishîa-Vishîu was identified with a sage Näräyaîa, is clear from the Baudhäyana Dharmasütra. This Bhägavata or Vaishîava religion seems to have originated first with the Yädava-Sätvata-Vôishîi people of the Mathura area.

The cult of Áiva probably goes back to a very early period. That it was current among the non-Aryans of the pre-Vedic period is obvious from the fact that some scholars have identified the figures on seals with Áiva who is also identified with the Vedic god Rudra. In the Ávetäávatara Upanishad, Áiva figures as the Great God (Mahädeva) superior to the Vedic pantheon.

Belief in heaven and hell was widespread at this date and it was said that those who perform various noble acts attain heaven, while those who indulge in evil acts go to hell.

2.  Political Conditions and Institutions

Since at the time of Lord Mahävïra, there was no paramount power in North India, the region was divided into many independent states. The period, however, was politically very important in ancient Indian history and marked the end of the tribal stage of society, while it also gave rise for the first time to those organized states which were known as sixteen great countries Solasamahäjanapada. These states formed some definite territorial units and included both monarchies and republics. A trial of strength was taking place amongst the monarchies, and, what is more, between the monarchical and the non-monarchical forms of government. It led to the decline of the republics, the rise of absolutism, and the growing success of Magadhan imperialism.

The Jaina, Buddhist, and Puräîic texts furnish catalogues of these states. In spite of the striking resemblances between one list and another, there are also important differences, a fact which leads to the assumption that the lists were originally drawn up at different times, and they reflect the difference in their author's knowledge of or interest in or even his intimacy with the different parts of the country.

The Jaina Bhagavati Sütra,144 (otherwise called Vyäkhyä-Prajñapati), provides a list of sixteen Mahäjanapadas at the time of Lord Mahävïra as follows :

(1) Aõga, (2) Baõga (Vaõga), (3) Magaha (Magadha), (4) Malaya, (5) Mälava (ka), (6) Achchha, (7) Vachchha (Vatsa), (8) Kochchha (Kachchha), (9) Päâha (Päîâya or Pauîâra) (10) Läâha (Läûa or Räâha), (11) Bajji (Vajji), (12) Molï (Malla), (13) Käsi (Käáï), (14) Kosala, (15) Aväha and (16) Sambhuttara (Suãhottara).

The Buddhist texts,145 which testify to their existence in the sixth century B.C., only incidentally refer to them. Among them, the Aõguttaras Nikäya is the most important as it is the earliest. The sixteen states enlisted in it are as follows :

(1) Käsi (Käái), (2) Kosala (Koáala), (3) Aõga, (4) Magadha, (5) Vajji (Vôiji), (6) Malla, (7) Chetiya (Chedi), (8) Vaãsa (Vatsa), (9) Kuru, (10) Pañchäla, (11) Machchha (Matsya), (12) Sürasena, (13) Assaka (Aámaka), (14) Avanti, (15) Gandhära and (16) Kamboja.

The Janavasabha Suttanta (Dïgha Nikäya, II) refers to some of them in pairs, viz., Käsï-Kosala, Vôiji (Vajji)-Malla, Chedi-Vaãsa, Kuru-Pañchäla, and Matsya-Áürasena. The Chullaniddosa adds Kaliõga to the list and substitutes Yona for Gandhära. The Mahävastu list agrees with that in the Aõguttara Nikäya save that it omits Gandhära and Kamboja and mentions Áivi and Daáärîa instead.

Aõga, Magadha, Vatsa, Vajji, Käsi, and Kosala are common to both the Bhagavatisütra and the Aõguttara Nikäya lists. Mälava of the Bhagavatï is probably identical with Avanti of the Aõguttara. Molï is probably a corruption of Malla. The other states mentioned in the Bhagavati are new, and indicate a knowledge of the far east and the far south of India. E. J. Thomas146 suggests that the author of this work lived in South India, and that the more extended horizon clearly proves that its list belongs to a later period than the one given in the Buddhist Aõguttara. Along with the monarchies, both the Jaina and Buddhist texts mention the existence of republics which formed the distinctive feature of Indian politics in the sixth century B.C. Päîini, in his Ashûädhyäyï (500 B.C.), mentions both classes of states, viz., the Republics, to which he applies the term Saãgha or Gaîa, and the kingdoms called Janapadas. Baudhäyana in his Dharmasütra mentions states like Suräshtra Avanti, Magadha, Aõga, Puîâra, and Vaõga.


The Jaina Prajñäpaîä ranks Aõga and Vaõga in the first group of Aryan peoples. Aõga seems to have comprised the districts of Bhagalpur and Monghyr. Dadhivähana is known to Jaina tradition147 as having ruled over this region in the time of Lord Mahävïra. His daughter Chandanä or Chandrabälä was the first female who embraced Jainism shortly after Mahävïra had attained the Kevaliship. There is another tradition148 that when Áreîika (Bimbisära) conquered Aõga, he posted his son Küîika (Ajätaáatru) as its Governor.

The capital of Aõga was Champä which stood at the confluence of the river of the same name. A. Cunningham149 points out that there still exist near Bhägalpur two villages Champänagara and Champäpura, which most probably represent the actual site of the ancient capital. At the time of Mahävïra, the capital was a beautiful and prosperous city, a detailed description of which is given in the Oväiya.150 It was one of the ten important capitals, a big centre of trade, from where merchants travelled as far as Mithilä, Ahichchhaträ, Pihuîâa, and other places with their merchandise.

The Dïgha Nikäya also refers to Champä as one of the six principal cities of India. It was noted for its wealth and commerce, and traders sailed from it to Suvarîa-bhümi in the Trans–Gangetic region for trading purposes.151 Other important cities in Aõga were Assapura (Aávapura) and Bhaddiya (Bhadrika).152


The Käáï was more powerful than most of the contemporary Janapadas, including Kosala, is clear from the combined testimony of many Jätakas and the Mahävagga. The kingdom of Käáï, whose extent is given in the Jätakas as three hundred leagues, was wealthy and prosperous. The twenty-third Jaina Tïrthaõkara Pärávanätha, who attained Nirvana 250 years before Mahävïra, i.e. in or about 777 B.C., was the son of King Aávasena of Banaras. Käáï was conquered by Kosala some time before Mahävïra. Käáï and Kosala were known for their eighteen confederate kings (Gaîaräjä), who fought against Küîiya on the side of Cheûaka. Several Jätakas bear witness to the superiority of its capital Banaras over the other cities. It was also a commercial centre of repute.


Kosala was one of the most important kingdoms in Northern India during the life-time of Lord Mahävïra. It exactly corresponds to modern Oudh. It was probably bounded by the Sadänïra (Gandak) river on the east, Pañchäla on the west, the Sarpikä or Syandikä (Sai) river on the south, and the Nepal hills on the north. Kosala contained three great cities, namely Ayodhyä, Säketa, and Sävatthi or Árävastï, besides a number of minor towns like Setavyä and Ukkaûûhä.

The only kings or princes in the Puräîic list, who are known from the Vedic and early Buddhist texts to have reigned in Kosala or over some outlying part of it, are Hiraîyanäbha, Prasenajit, and Áuddhodana. Though the Puräîic chroniclers make Hiraîyanäbha an ancestor of Prasenajit, they are not sure of his position in the dynastic list.152

Prasenajit of Kosala, a contemporary of Mahävïra, figures as one of the most important rulers of the time. Under him, Kosala became a powerful kingdom. First of all, he annexed Käsï to his kingdom. That he soon extended his supremacy over the Säkyas of Kapilavastu, probably also over the Kälämas of Kesaputta, and other neighbouring states, is clear from the evidence of the Aggañña Suttanta153 and the introductory portion of the Bhaddasäla Jätaka.154 His relations with Áreîika (Bimbisära) of Magadha were cordial. He married Áreîika's sister and gave him the dowry of a village in Käsï with a revenue of 100,000. But after the death of Áreîika, he carried on a protracted struggle with Küîika (Ajätaáatru). The Jaina texts present Ajätaáatru as the conqueror of the powerful political confederacy which included the Gaîa-Räjyas of Käáï and Kosala.155 Viâuâabha, who succeeded him, seems to be the last ruler. The rivalry with Magadha ended in the absorption of the kingdom into the Magadhan empire.


The Vôijji (Vajji) territory lay north of the Ganges and extended as far as the Nepal hills. At the time of Lord Mahävïra, it was ruled by the Vajjian republic, about the constituent clans of which we are in the dark. On the basis of the name of a Judicial committee of the Republic — Aûûhakulaka (Ashûakulakä) some scholars156 assumed that the confederacy consisted of eight Kulas (clans). Of these, the old Videhas, the Lichchhavïs, the Jñätrikas, and the Vôijis were the most important. The remaining seem to be the Ugras, the Bhogas, the Aikshväkavas, and the Kauravas because these are associated with the Jñätôis and the Lichchhavïs as subjects of the same ruler and members of the same Assembly.157 The Aõguttara Nikäya158 too refers to the close connection of the Ugras with Vaiáäli, the capital of the Vôijian confederation.

There is no reason to believe that the eight members of the judicial court represented the eight clans of the republic. Yogendra Mishra159 has tried to prove that Videhas of Mithilä did not form part of the Vajjian Republic. Vôiji was only the name of the confederacy but not of the constituent clan. Only the six clans may be treated as inhabiting the Vajjian territory. The Lichchhavï capital was definitely at Vaiáälï, which is represented by modern Besarh (to the east of the Gaîâak) in the Muzaffarpur district of Bihar. The Jñätôikas were the clan of Siddhärtha and his son Mahävïra, the Jina. They had their seats at Kuîâapura or Kuîâagräma and Kolläga, suburbs of Vaiáäli. Though dwelling in suburban areas, Mahävïra and his fellow clansmen were known as Vesälie, i.e. inhabitants of Vaiáälï.160 The remaining people of the confederacy, viz., the Ugras, Bhogas, Kauravas, and Aikshväkavas, resided in the suburbs, and in villages or towns like Hatthigäma and Bhoganagara.161

The Lichchhavïs were on friendly terms with king Prasenajit of Kosala. Their relation with the neighbouring Mallas was on the whole friendly. The Jaina Kalpasütra162 referes to the nine Lichchhavïs as having formed a league with the nine Mallakïs and eighteen clan-lords of Käáï-Kosala. We learn from the Nirayävali Sütra that an important leader of this alliance was Cheûaka whose sister Triáalä or Videha-dattä was the mother of Mahävïra, and whose daughter Chellanä or Vaideh was, according to Jaina writers, the mother of Küîika-Ajätaáatru. The great rival of Vaiáälï was Magadha. According to tradition, the Vaiáälians sent at army to attack Magadha at the time of Bimbisära.163 The matrimoninl alliance was, according to D.R. Bhandarkar, the result of the peace concluded after the war between Bimbisära and the Lichchhavïs. In the reign of Ajätaáatru, this great confederacy Vôiji was utterly destroyed.


Originally, the Mallas had a monarchical form of Government, but at the time of Mahävïra, they were a Saãgha or corporation, of which the members were called Räjäs. The Jaina Kalpasütra164 refers to the nine clans of the Mallas, and each of them ruled over a separate territory. Among these, two were prominent : one with its headquarters at Kuáïnärä and the other with Pävä as its chief town. The river Kakutsthä (Kakutthä) formed the boundary between the two territories. Kuáïnärä is identified with Käsiä on the smaller Gandak about 56 km. to the east of Gorakhpur, and Pävä with Padaraona 19 km. to the north-east of Kasiä.165 In the Saõgïti Suttanta, we have a reference to the Mote Hall of the Pävä Mallas named Ubbhaûaka.166 There were some other Malla towns, namely, Bhoganagara lying between Jambugräma and Pävä, Anupiyä between Kuáïnärä and the river Anomä and Uruvelakappa.

The relations between the Mallas and the Lichchhavïs were sometimes hostile and sometimes friendly. They became allies for self-defence at the time of Küîika-Ajätaáatru's invasion, though the Bhadasäla Jätaka167 offers us an account of a conflict between them.

Jainism and Buddhism found many followers among the Mallas. From the Jaina Kalpasütra, we learn that the nine Mallakis or Malla Chiefs were among those that instituted an illumination of the day of the new moon, saying, “Since the light of intelligence is gone, let us make an illumination of material matter.”168 At the time of the Buddha's death, we find both the main sections of the Mallas claiming a share of his bodily remains. This also proves that these two main clans retained their distinctive independence.

Soon after the Buddha's death, the Mallas appear to have lost their independence with their dominions annexed to the Magadhan empire.169

Chedi (Cheti)

The Chedis were one of the most ancient tribes of India. They had two distinct settlements, of which one was in the mountains of Nepal and the other in Bundelkhand. D. R. Bhandarkar170 maintains that Cheta or Chetiya corresponds roughly to modern Bundelkhand. Sotthivatïnagara, probably identical with Áukti or Áuktimatï of the Mahäbhärata, was its capital. Other important towns of the Chedis were Sahajäti and Tripuri. Sahajäti lay on the trade route along the river Ganga.171 We learn from the Vedabbha Jataka172 that the road from Käsï to Chedi was unsafe on account of its being infested with roving bands of marauders.

The Mahäbhärata and some of the Jatakas mention the names of the early kings of Chedi, but their accounts are legendary and cannot be relied upon for genuine historical purposes.


Vatsa or Vaãáa was the country south of the Ganga of which Kauáämbï, modern Kosam, on the Yamuna, near Allahabad, was the capital. The king of Vatsa in the time of Mahävïra was Udayana.

According to the Puräîic evidence, Udayana was a scion of the Bhärata Kula. There is no unanimity in regard to the names of even the immediate predecessors of Udayana. His father's name is said to be Áatänïka II.173 He married a princess of Videha on account of which his son is called Vaidehïputra.174 He is said to have attacked Champä, the capital of Aõga, during the reign of Dadhivähana.175

There are legendary traditions about Udayana Vatsaräja of Kauáämbï and his contemporary Pradyota of Avanti. A critical examination of these legends will yield a number of historical facts of considerable importance. Udayana and Pradyota, both rulers of two adjoining kingdoms, appear to have been connected by marriage and to have engaged in war. It seems that later on cordial relations were established between them. According to the Priyadaráikä he conquered Kaliõga and restored his father-in-law, Dôiâhavarman, to the throne of Aõga. The latter is probably the same as Dadhivähana who, according to another legend, was defeated by Udayana's father.

Udayana had a son named Bodhi, but we do not know anything definite about Vatsa after Udayana, not even whether Bodhi ever succeeded his father to the throne.


In the time of Tïrthaõkara Mahävïra, Magadha corresponded roughly to the present Patna and Gaya districts of South Bihar. The boundaries were probably the Ganga to the north, the Son to the West, a dense forest reaching to the plateau of Chotä Nagpur to the south, and Aõga to the East. The river Champä formed a boundary between Magadha and Aõga : but in Mahävïra's time Aõga was subject to Magadha. Its earliest capital was Girivraja or Räjgôiha.

Mahävïra's contemporary rulers of Magadha were Bimbisära and Ajätaáatru. In their reign, Magadha was the first among the states of the sixth century B.C. to make a successful bid for the establishment of its supremacy over them. By his conquests and matrimonial alliances, Bimbisära enlarged his influence and power. Afterwards, his son crushed the great republic of the Lichchhavïs after sixteen years of struggle, vanquished Kosala, and annexed Käáï. The kingdom of Bimbisära is stated to have been 300 leagues in extent, to which an addition of 200 leagues was made by Ajätasatru's conquests.

Jaina writers mention two early kings of Räjagôiha, Samudravijaya and his son Gaya.176 Bimbisära, who belonged to the Haryaõka-Kula, occupied the throne of Magadha immediately after the fall of Bôihadratha dynasty in the sixth century B.C. According to the Mahävaãáa, he was fifteen years old when he was enthroned by his father. This would show that he was not the founder of the royal family. D.R. Bhandarkar has inferred that Bimbisära, who was originally a Senäpati probably of the Vajjis, made himself the king.

Bimbisära was helped in his political career by his matrimonial alliances. His first wife was a sister of Prasenajit, the king of Kosala, who gave him the dowry of a village of Käáï with a revenue of 100,000. His second wife was Chellanä, daughter of the Lichchhavï Chief, Cheûaka. His third wife was Vaidehï Väsavï. His fourth wife was Khemä, daughter of the king of Madra (Central Punjab).

Not content with these matrimonial alliances, Bimbisära embarked upon his career of conquest and aggrandisement. His father was defeated by Brahmadatta, king of Aõga. It was probably to avenge this defeat that Bimbisära led a campaign against Aõga. He was completely successful and enlarged Magadha by conquering and annexing this powerful and prosperous kingdom. He appointed his son Küîika as the Governor at Champä. According to Jaina legend, Pradyota of Avanti set out to attack Räjagôiha even during the lifetime of Bimbisära but he was foiled in his attempt by the cunning art of Prince Abhaya.177 Bimbisära is known to have friendly relations with Pradyota and with Pushkarasärin, king of Gandhära. When the king of Avanti was suffering from jaundice, he sent his own physician Jïvaka.

According to Buddhist traditions, Bimbisära lost his life at the hands of his Ajätaáatru who was incited to the crime by Devadatta. But Jaina tradition is more charitable to Ajätaáatru. It does not represent him as a parricide. It relates that in his eagerness for the throne, he put his father in prison, but Bimbisära took poison and killed himself.

Ajätaáatru added largely to the extent of the kingdom by his conquests. He started with a war against Kosala because Prasenajit revoked his gift of the Käáï village after the death of the Kosalan princess. Ajätaáatru was defeated and had to surrender himself to Prasenjit along with his army. In the end, peace was concluded between the two by Prasenjit restoring to Ajätaáatru his liberty, army, and the disputed village of Käáï and even giving his daughter Vajïrä in marriage to him.

The Jaina texts present Ajätaáatru as the conqueror of the powerful political confederacy which dominated Eastern India at that time and comprised thirtysix republican states – nine Mallakï, nine Lichchhavïs, and eighteen Gaîaräjyas of Käáï and Kosala.178 The overthrow of this confederacy resulted from Ajätaáatru's conquest of its most powerful member, the Lichchhavï republic, although the cause of the conflict between the two is differently stated in different texts.

(1) According to the Buddhists, a jewel mine was discovered at the foot of a hill at a port in the Gaõgä and it was agreed that Ajätaáatru and the Lichchhavïs would have an equal share of the gems. The Lichchhavïs violated this agreement and so brought on the conflict.

(2) According to the Jaina version,179 the bone of contention was the Magadha state elephant Áreyanäka and a huge necklace of eighteen strings of pearls which were given by Bimbisära to his sons Halla and Vehalla. They carried off the elephant and the necklace to Vaiáälï and sought the protection of their grandfather, king Cheûaka, against Ajätaáatru. Having failed to obtain them peacefully, Küîika-Ajätaáatru declared war on Cheûaka.180

(3) It is also stated that Pamävatï incited her husband Ajätaáatru to this conflict.

It was not easy to conquer the Lichchhavïs who were then at the zenith of their power as the head of a vast confederacy. Their leader Cheûaka actually mustered up the confederate powers, including the Gaîa-räjäs (republican chiefs) of Käáï and Kosala and inspired them to fight.181 They all maintained their high traditions and were ready to stake everything for the success of the republic. Ajätaáatru proved equal to his difficult task and took recourse to three means for the subjugation of the hostile state – machination, military strength, and strategy. He deputed his minister Vassakära on the mission of sowing seeds of disunion among the Lichchavïs at Vaiáälï. Infected with jealousies and quarrels between the different classes, between the rich and the poor and the strong and the weak, the Lichchhavïs became a changed people, lacking the social unity of former days.

But Ajätaáatru had to plan his military preparations for the conquest on a large scale. Räjagôiha was too far inland to serve as a base of operations against the distant Lichchhavïs on the other side of the Ganga. Therefore he selected a convenient site directly on the Ganga for the construction of a fort and laid the foundation of Päûaliputra, his new capital. He also made secret weapons of war which may be compared to modern tanks.

The construction of the fort was followed by his expedition against Vaiáälï. The war between Ajätaáatru on the one hand and these various republics under the leadership of Cheûana of Vaiáälï on the other was a long-drawn-out and arduous affair. It must have lasted for at least sixteen years. Ajätaáatru came out successful on account of his manifold and well-designed preparations.

These conquests of Ajätaáatru by which he became the paramount power of Eastern India provoked feelings of hostility in his equally ambitious rival king Chaîâa Pradyota of Avanti. He was planning an attack upon his capital at Räjagôiha. Ajätaáatru applied himself to the task of strengthening its fortifications. But the king of Avanti could do nothing against him. He thus extended the boundaries of his kingdom and laid the foundations of the Magadhan empire on solid grounds.


Kuru is identified with modern Kurukshetra or Thaneshwar. As is apparent from the Mahä-sutasoma Jataka,182 it was three hundred leagues in extent. The capital of the Kurus was Indraprastha near modern Delhi, which extended over seven leagues. Another important town was Hastinäpura. Besides other small towns and villages known to us, were Thullakoûûhita, Kammässadamma, Kaîâi, and Väraîävata.

The Jatakas183 mention the names of some Kuru kings and princes such as Dhanañjaya, Koravya, and Sutasoma, but we are not sure of their historicity in the absence of further evidence. The Jaina Uttarädhyayana Sütra mentions a king named Ishukära ruling at a town, Ishukära, in the Kuru country.184 It seems that the Kuru realm was divided into small states of which Indraprastha and Ishukära were apparently the most important. “Kings” are mentioned as late as the time of the Buddha when one of them paid a visit to Raûûhapäla, son of a Kuru magnate, who had become a disciple of the Áäkya Sage.


Pañchäla roughly corresponds to the modern Badaun, Farrukhabad, and the adjoining districts of the Uttar Pradesh. In very early times, this country was divided into northern or Uttara-Pañchäla and southern or Dakashiîa-Pañchäla. The Northern Pañchäla had its capital at Ahichchhatra (identified with modern Rämnagar in the Bareilly district) while Southern Pañchäla had its capital at Kämpilya, i.e. Kampil in the Farrukhäbad District.

The history of Pañchäla from the death of Pravähaîa Jaivali to the time of Bimbisära of Magadha is obscure. A great Pañchäla king named Chulani Brahmadatta is mentioned in the Mahä-Ummagga Jataka,185 the Uttarädhyayana Sütra,186 the Svapnaväsavadatta,187 and the Ramäyaîa.188 In the Uttarädhyayanasütra, Brahmadatta is styled a universal monarch. The story of the king is, however, essentially legendary, and little reliance can therefore be placed on it.

The Uttarädhyayana Sütra mentions a king of Kämpilya named Sañjaya who gave up his kingly power and adopted the faith of the Jinas.189 It is difficult to assign any definite date to this ruler. It seems that in the sixth century B.C., the Pañchälas like others established a Saãgha form of Government of the Räja-áabd-opajïvin type and its leaders assumed the title of Räjäs. One of these Räjäs was apparently the maternal grandfather of Viáäkha Pañchälïputra, a disciple of the Buddha.190


The Matsya or Machchha country corresponds to the modern territories of Jaipur and Alwar. Its capital was Viräûanagara (modern Bairäû) named after his founder king Viräûa. Upaplavya was another city of Matsya kingdom where the Päîâavas transferred themselves from Viräûa on the completion of the period of their exile. The Mahäbhäratä191 refers to a king named Sahaja who reigned over the Chedis as well as Matsyas. The Matsyas had no political importance of their own during the time of Mahävïra. In Päli literature, the Matsyas as a people are usually associated with the Áürasenas.


Mathurä was the capital of Áürasena which is identified with the region round Mathurä. In the Mahäbhärata and the Puräîas, the ruling family of Mathurä is labelled as the Yadu or Yädava family. The Yädavas were divided into various branches, namely, the Vïtihotras, Sätvatas, etc.

At the time of Lord Mahävïra, Avantiputra was the ruling chief of Áürasena country. It may be inferred from the epithet ‘Avantiputra’ that Avanti and Áürasena were bound to each other by a matrimonial alliance. Avantiputra, king of the Áürasenas, was the first among the chief disciples of the Buddha through whose help Buddhism gained ground in the Mathurä region. Mathurä was also a centre of considerable importance for the Jainas. It is said to have been visited by Mahävïra, Ajja Maõgu, and Ajja Rakkhiya.

Sindhu Sauvïra

Sindhu Sauvïra is the Lower Indus Valley, Sindhu being the name of ‘the inland portion lying to the west of the Indus’ while Sauvïra includes the littoral as well as the inland portion lying to the east of the Indus as far as Multan. Vïtabhaya was the capital of this province.192 Udayana was a very powerful monarch of Sindhu Sauvïra. He was converted after he heard Mahävïra's sermon at Vïtabhaya. In course of time, he anointed Keáïkumära, his sister's son, king over Sindhu Sauvïra and joined the order under Mahävïra.193 On the other hand, according to the Buddhists, Udräyaîa, king of Roruka, accepted Buddhism and was ordained by the Buddha.


The early Buddhist texts refer to Aávaka as Mahäjanapada the capital of which was Potana or Potali corresponding to Paudanya of the Mahäbhärata. This Aávaka of Buddhist literature was a south Indian country and it was located either on the Godävarï or comprised the region of Mahäräshûra.

The Kingdom of Aávaka is believed to have been founded by Ikshväku chiefs. The Mahägovinda Suttanta mentions Brahmadatta, king of the Assakas, as a contemporary of Sattabhu, king of Kaliõga, Vessabhu, king of Avanti, Bharata, king of Sauvïra, Renu, king of Videha, Dhataraûûha, king of Aõga, and Dhataraûûha, king of Käáï.194 The Chulla Käliõga Jataka mentions Aruîa, a king of Assaka, and his Minister Nandisena, and refers to a victory which they won over the king of Kalinga. We are not definite about the historicity of these early rulers. In the sixth century B.C. at the time of Lord Mahävïra, the ruler of Assaka was a king whose son was prince Sujäta.


The kingdom of Avanti seems to have comprised roughly modern Malwa, Nimar, and the adjoining parts of Madhya Pradesh. It was named after Avantis, one of the branches of Haihayas. It seems that when the Vïtihotras and Avantis passed away, the country of Avanti was divided into two kingdoms, one placed in the Dakshiîäpatha having Mähishmatï for its capital, and the other, i.e. the northern kingdom, having its capital at Ujjayinï. The southern kingdom, with its capital Mähishmatï, was ruled by Viávabhü, one of the seven contemporary kings of the line of Bharata.195 At Ujjain, a Minister named Pulika (Puîika) is said to have killed his master and appointed his own son, Pradyota, the ruler in the very sight of the Kshatriyas.196 Pradyota was thus Punika's son, and with him commenced the Pradyota dynasty.

Pradyota was one of the most powerful monarchs of North India in the days of Lord Mahävïra, and during that period Avanti rose to a high position. It was no less than Magadha in strength and position. According to the Buddhist text Mahävagga,197 Pradyota was a great soldier; and, according to the Puräîas, he reduced many of his contemporary rulers to subjection. The Puräîas do not give us a detailed list, but those subjugated may have been among the rulers of Shoâaáa-Mahäjanapadas.

The relations of Pradyota with Bimbisära of Magadha were cordial. Bimbisära sent his famous physician Jïvaka to cure Pradyota when he fell ill. On the other hand, the Jain legends mention that Pradyota went forth to attack Räjagôiha, even during the lifetime of Bimbisära, but the attempt was foiled by the cunning prince Abhaya.198 It is however definite that Pradyota's relations with Bimbisära's son. Ajätaáatru became strained. Ajätaáatru adopted an aggressive policy of attacking and conquering Vaiáälï. Being an ambitious ruler himself, Pradyota could not tolerate the aggression launched upon him by Ajätaáatru. Both of them wanted to establish their supremacy in northern India. Pradyota was planning an attack upon his rival's capital at Räjagôiha.199 Apprehending this invasion by Pradyota, Ajätaáatru fortified his capital.

Pradyota wanted to consolidate and extend his kingdom. In his neighbourhood, there was the powerful kingdom of Kauáämbï ruled by his rival Udayana Vatsaräja of the celebrated Bharata family. Pradyota seems to have engaged in war with Udayana200 but later on amity between them was restored. Pradyota gave his daughter Väsavadattä in marriage to Udayana.

Pradyota engaged in hostilities with Pushkarasärin of Taxila but he was unsuccessful in his war.201 Pradyota seems to have established close relations with the Áürasenas of Mathura. The king at this time was known as Avantiputra, a name signifying the existence of some relationship between Pradyota and the ruler of Áürasenas. The Lalitavistara202 gives the personal name of the king of Mathura as Subähu.

Pradyota is said to have ruled for twenty-three years. That he was cruel is evident from the sobriquet Chaîâa and from the fact that he hardly ever followed a good policy. His younger brother, Kumärasena, was killed when he tried to put a stop to the practice of selling human flesh in the Mahäkäla temple.203


Gandhära comprised the region of the modern districts of Peshawar and Rawalpindi. Its capital was Takshaásilä. It was an ancient seat of learning where people from different provinces came for learning. It was also a great centre of trade and its distance from Banaras was 2,000 leagues.204

The Puräîas represent the Gandhära princes as descendants of Druhyu.205 Jaina writers inform us that one of the early kings, Nagnajit, who is reported to have been a contemporary of Nimi, king of Videha, and other rulers, adopted the faith of the Jainas.206 As Päráva (777 B.C.) was probably the first historical Jain, Nagnajit, if he really became a convert to his doctrines, must be placed between 777 B.C. and 544 B.C., the date of Pushkarasärin, the Gandharian contemporary of Bimbisära.

In the time of Lord Mahävïra, the throne of Gandhära was occupied by Pushkarasärin. He is said to have sent an embassy and a letter to king Bimbisära of Maghadha, and waged war on Pradyota of Avanti who was defeated.207 He is also said to have been threatened in his own kingdom by the Päîâavas who occupied a part of the Punjab. In the latter half of the sixth century B.C., Gandhära was conquered by the king of Persia. In the Bahistan inscription of Darius, Cir. 520-518 B.C., the Gandhärians (Gadara) appear among the subject people of the Achamenidan or Achaemenian Empire.


Kämboja, which is included in the Uttaräpatha is generally associated with Gandhära in ancient literature. The Kämbojas occupied roughly the province surrounding Rajaori or ancient Räjapura, including the Hazara district of the North-West Frontier Province and probably extending as far as Kafiristan. Dvärakä, mentioned by T.W. Rhys davids as the capital in the early Buddhist period, was not really situated in this country, though it was connected with it by a road.208 Their capital seems to have been Räjapura, while Nandi Magura was another important city.

Though the Vedic texts do not mention any king of Kämboja, they do refer to a teacher named Aupamanyava who was probably connected with this territory.209 The Mahäbhärata210 mentions their kings Chandravarman and Sudakshina, but we are not definite about them. In latter times, the monarchy gave place to the Saãgha form of government.

Small Republics in the age of Lord Mahävïra

Besides these sixteen big states in the time of Lord Mahävïra, there were also small republics ruled by autonomous or semi-independent clans such as the Áäkyas of Kapilavastu, the Koliyas of Devadaha and Rämagäma, the Bhaggas (Bhargas) of Suãsumära Hill, the Bulis of Allakappa, the Kälamas of Kesaputta and the Moriyas of Pipphalivana.

The Áäkya state was bounded on the north by the Himalayas, on the east by the river Robiîi, and on the west and on the south by the Räpti. Their capital was Kapilavastu, represented most probably by the ruins of Tilaura Koû near Lumbinïvana now identified with Rummindei in Nepal Tarai. Another town was Devadaha which they appear to have shared with their eastern neighbours, the Koliyas. They acknowledged the suzerainty of the king of Koáala.

The Koliyas of Rämagräma were the eastern neighbours of the Säkyas on the side of the river Rohiîi which helped to irrigate the fields of both the clans. A. Cunningham places the Koliya country between the Kohäna and Aumi (Anomä) rivers. The Anomä seems to have formed the dividing line between the Koliyas on the one hand and the Mallas and Moriyas on the other.

The Bhaggas (Bhargas) are known to the Aitareya Brähmaîa211 and the Ashûädhyäyï of Päîini.212 In the latter half of the sixth century B.C., the Bhagga state was dependent on the Vatsa kingdom – a fact evident from the preface to the Dhonasäkha Jätaka in which we are told that prince Bodhi, the son of Udayana, king of the Vatsas, dwelt in Suãsumäragiri of Bhagga State and built a palace called Kokanada.

About the Bulis and the Kälämas, we possess little information. The Dhammapada commentary refers to the Buli territory as the kingdom of Allakappa and says that it was only ten leagues in extent. Allakappa was perhaps not far away from Veûhadïpa, the home of a famous Brähmaîa in the early days of Buddhism who set up a cairn over the remains of the Buddha in his native land.

The Kälämas were the clan of the philosopher Älära, a teacher of Gautama, before he attained Sambodhi. They seem to have acknowledged the suzerainty of the king of Koáala because their town, Kesaputta, was annexed by this state in the sixth century B.C.

The Moriyas (Mauryas) were the same clan which gave Magadha its greatest dynasty. They are sometimes spoken of as Áäkyan in origin, but the evidence is late. The name is derived, according to one tradition, from Mora (Mayüra) or peacock. Pippahalivana, the Moriya capital is identical with the Nyagrodhavana or Banyan Grove mentioned by Hiuen Tsang.

Political Institutions

The age of Lord Mahävïra witnessed a number of important changes in the political sphere. The tribal stage of society gradually disappeared, giving place to organized states. Magadha, Vatsa, Koáala and Avanti became very powerful. The position and fucntions of the king gained in importance. The Samiti of the Vedic period was replaced by the Council of Ministers. The income of the states considerably increased on account of the induction of new resources. The government machinery became complicated and new officers were appointed to meet the new requirements.

We may divide the states of this period into two groups, monarchical and non-monarchical. We shall first discuss the government machinery of the monarchical states.

Monarchical Government

King and Kingship

In ancient India, a king was absolutely necessary and was considered an essential factor for the well-being of the people. He was regarded as the head of men.213 Generally, the rulers of these monarchial states belonged to the Kshatriya caste. Though an absolute despot, the king was to follow the ten prescribed traditional duties of the king (dasaräjadhamme) : giving alms, a moral course of life, sacrifice, truthfulness, mildness, self-denial, forgiveness, not to cause any pain to anybody, patience, and a yielding disposition.214 These are but prescriptions of the general Buddhistic morality applicable to all lay disciples.

According to the Ovaiyä, king Küîika-Ajätaáatru had all the qualifications of the royalty; he was honoured by the people, he belonged to a pure Kshatriya family, was duly consecrated on the throne, and was compassionate. He was a warden of the marchers, an upholder of peace, and a protector of the janapada. He was the master of palaces, bedrooms, seats, carriages and vehicles in large quantity. His treasury was full of gold and silver, and his people had ample food. He was the master of the slaves of both sexes, of cows, buffaloes, oxen and sheep. His treasury, granaries, and armouries were brimming to the full.215

Very often we see in kings an unrestrained tyrant guided by his own whims and caprices, who oppresses and puts down his subjects by punishments, taxes, torture, and robbery. He suffers from many vices such as drunkenness, cruelty,216 corruptibility,217 untruthfulness, and unrighteousness.218

There are instances of tyrannical rulers being removed from the throne or killed by the people. In the Padakusalamäîava Jätaka,219 there is probably a trace of authentic history; in spite of its legendary garb, it may have preserved the memory of actual facts. It is narrated how a young Brähmaîa, after discovering by magic the treasures stolen and concealed by the king and his purohita, calls the king a thief in the presence of the assembled people who resolve to kill the bad king so that he may not plunder them any more. Another example of such a violent removal of the unrighteous king is found in the Sachchaãkira Jätaka.220 Here also the king is driven out of the town by the enraged Khattiyas, Brähmaîas, and other citizens, and in his place, a Brähmaîa is installed king.

Pälaka, the ruler of Avanti, was reputed to have been a tyrant. The populace headed by the President of the guild merchants of the capital deposed him, and, having brought out Gopäla from the prison, put him on the throne.221

Those were the times when wars and quarrels among these states were very frequent as were internal rebellions too. Under such circumstances, the first and foremost duty of the king was the protection of the subjects against internal and external enemies. The people on their part bore the cost of administration of the state, the army, and the court by paying taxes. Gradually, with the growth of civilization, there came other interests as well into the foreground like the king's own cares : the land was made fertile, cities were built, and trade and commerce were encouraged.

According to the Jätakas, kingship was generally hereditary and when there were several sons, it was the eldest who succeeded his father to the throne, while the second son became the viceroy (Uparäjan). As a rule, only the sons of the eldest queen (aggamahisi) who must be of the same caste as the king himself and thus a Khattiya, were deemed legitimate. If the king was without a male heir and if he had a daughter, his son-in-law became heir to the throne. If there was neither a male heir nor a kinsman who could succeed to the throne, the successor was chosen by the ministers. The Jaina texts mention two types of kings, viz., Sävekkha and niravekkha. The former established the crown-prince on the throne within his life-time thus avoiding civil wars and other calamities. In the latter type, however, the crown-prince succeeded after the death of the king.222 The question of succession to the throne was sometimes complicated by the ambitions and jealousies of the princes. The prince Küîiya-Ajätaáatru of Räjagôiha succeeded to the throne after putting his father Áreîika-Bimbisära into prison.

The ceremony, which accompanied the accession to the throne was, according to the Jatakas, the same as that which we know from the Vedas and the epics. The priest or the Purohita consecrated the king and sprinkled water upon him. Originally its significance may have been only a religious one, as symbolizing an act by which the blessings of the gods were showered or, more correctly expressed, invoked by magic, upon the king. It signified a certain dependence of the king upon the priest consecrating him.

The king lived with his court in a fortified town. The Paõchaguru Jätaka223 describes the royal entry of a prince how he went to the spacious hall of the palace and took his seat in godly pomp upon a throne studded with precious stones, over which a white umbrella was spread; surrounding him, there stood, bejewelled with all their ornaments, the ministers, the Bähamanas, the Gahapatis etc., and the princesses, while sixteen thousand dancing girls skilled in dancing, singing, and music, sang and played.

The Jaina canons224 give exaggerated account of the royal palaces. They are described as seven-storeyed, adorned with towers and pinnacles and supported by many columns. They are described as lofty, touching the sky and decorated with flags, banners, umbrellas, and garlands. They had domes and their floors were richly studded with various gems and jewels. The harem, (anteura), which was a part of the royal pomp,225 played an important role in the inner and outer politics of the country. The kings were fond of enriching their harem with beautiful women and girls without any distinction of caste. The harem was a great source of danger to the king and was, therefore, carefully guarded by eunuchs and old men. Besides, the Jaina texts mention the type of guards who should keep watch over the inmates of harem.

Other Members of the Royal Family

The handing over the Viceroyalty (Uparäja) to the king's eldest son generally took place after the completion of his studies.226 If he was still minor, the eldest among the younger brothers of the king would go to Uparäja.227 On ceremonial occasions, the Uparäja sat behind the king on the back of an elephant,228 a seat which was otherwise occupied by the Purohita. In the evening, the Viceroy would do the king's work. We read repeatedly of the king's fears that the Uparäjan might one day become very powerful and dominate him and of disciplinary measures taken by him to guard against such an eventuality. When Áreîika annexed Aõga to his kingdom of Magadha, he posted his son Küîika as Viceroy. The heir apparent thus got an opportunity of having considerable administrative experience before succeeding to the throne.

In addition to the Uparäjan (Viceroy) there was the Senäpati, a kinsman of the king. From the Devadhamma Jätaka, we learn that the king gave his younger brother the office of Uparäja and his step-brother that of Senäpati.229


The Council of the Ratnins disappeared and its place was taken by the council of Ministers variously described as Mantrins, Sachivas and Amätyas. The number of Ministers usually depended upon the size of the state but the Ministry usually consisted of five members only. Among the Ministers of the king, Rajjugähaka amächha (Surveyor) occupied an important position. The Atthadhammänusäsaka amächchha guided the king in worldly and spiritual matters. The Senäpati was the Minister of War. The vinichchäyamchchha (Minister of Justice) not only gave judicial decisions but also advised on matters of law and morality.

The influence of Ministers upon the course of internal and external politics depended upon the ability of the ruler. When there was a weak ruler, these Ministers had a dominating voice. The decision regarding the successor was often left to the Ministers. Indeed, allusions to the actual exercise of sovereign powers by the Ministers are also found. In the Ghaûa Jätaka, for instance, the king sick of worldly life hands over the reins of government to his Ministers.230

When there was a powerful and self-willed ruler like Bimbisära upon the throne of Magadha, some Ministers were dismissed for giving bad advice, others were degraded for inefficiency, while a few were promoted for the wise counsel they gave.231 Vassakära and Sunïdha were the Ministers of Ajätaáatru;232 his contemporary in Koáala, king Prasenajit, relied upon the advice of his Ministers, Môigadhara and Árïvôidha, in carrying out important schemes.233

Officers of the Central Government

The Secretariat might have gradually evolved in the post-Vedic period. The art of writing was coming into more extensive use; kingdoms were developing into empires, and functions of government were becoming more numerous. It may safely be presumed that some kind of Central Secretariat must have existed in the courts of historical emperors like Bimbisära and Ajätaáatru.

The important officials at headquarters were called Mahämätras and were divided into three classes, viz., (1) the Executive (Sabbätthaka), administering all affairs and interests; (2) the Judicial (Vohärika); and (3) the Military (Senänäyaka). In addition to these, there were other officers too as is evident from the Jätakas.

Purohita : The family priest of the king, the Purohita, occupied an extremely peculiar position in the court. For the performance of sacrifices and magical chantings, the king needed a Purohita. The sacrifice was meant to protect the king from imminent misfortune and to help him in acquiring a city which was difficult to conquer. He not only guarded the king's treasures – this was part of his duties but also acted as a judicial officer.

There were officers who increased the wealth of the king. Rajjugähaka234 was the officer of survey. Doîamäpaka235 was one who measured with a dry measure. Balipaûiggähakas, Niggähakas, and Balisädhakas were the tax-collectors who sometimes plundered and oppressed the people by levying heavy taxes.236 Räjabhoggas237 were Royal officers appointed and paid by the king whose orders they had all to obey.

Särathi238 was the king's charioteer. The Keeper of the king's purse was known as Heraññika239 and the superintendent of the king's storehouse as Bhaîâägärika.240 Dovärika241 had for his duty the closing of the gate of the city at night, while Nagaraguttika242 was charged with the duty of arresting and executing the robbers of the city. Choraghäûaka243 occupied the public office of the executioner of thieves.

Provincial and Village Administration

In provincial administration, a considerable degree of autonomy was allowed. We hear not only of a sub-king at Champä, but of Maîâalika räjäs244 corresponding perhaps to the Earls and Counts of medieval European polity. In the small towns and villages, the king's power must have been represented by his officers.

The superintendent of the village, the Gämabhojaka,245 held a position of power and honour. He collected the taxes of the village and exercised judicial powers in the village, insofar as he settled quarrels and made the guilty to pay a fine. He issued prohibitory orders against the slaughter of animals and against the sale of intoxicating liquors.

While according to the Jätakas the villages transacted their business themselves246 evidence corroborating the existence of any regular Council or Standing Committee is not found in these works. Initiative was usually left with the headman, but if he acted unreasonably or against the established customs of the locality or realm, the village elders could set the matter right by pointing out his mistake.247

With the growth of the royal power, self-government was increasingly and proportionately reduced. In the Magadha kingdom, the Gämabhojaka (village Superintendent) remained under the personal supervision of the king, as it is clear from a passage of the Vinaya Piûaka.248 To the king Bimbisära, the overlordship of 80,000 villages was apportioned; he collected together the chiefs (Gämikas) of these villages and gave them instructions in worldly things.

Judicial Administration

In times of peace, the principal work of the king was to attend to the administration of justice. In the Räjoväda Jätaka, it is said of the king that he gave decisions in law-suits. The final decision in law-courts as well as the final word regarding the punishment for breaking the law remained with him.249 The legal life of the smaller towns and villages passed very much out of the direct sphere of action of the king and remained a matter for his representatives as long as no appeal was made against the judgements of these to the king as a higher authority.

The Ministers, especially the Vinichchayämachcha, and also the Purohita and the Senäpati, both took part in the administration of justice, advised the king and, in some cases, had some influence upon his judgements. Vinichchayämachcha was the Minister of justice. His judgement was final in the case of aquittal; in other cases, the matter was referred to the Vohärikas.250 He not only gave judicial decisions, but also advised on matters of law and morality. The Grämabhojaka also exercised judicial powers in the village. The penal code in the reign of Bimbisära included as punishments imprisonment in jails (Kärä), mutilation of limbs, and the like.251

Military Organization

As wars and frontier troubles were very common in those days, the state had necessarily to keep and maintain a well-equipped and organized military force always at its command. The army consisted of four branches, namely, chariots (raha), elephants (gaya), cavalry (haya), and infantry (päyatta).

A chariot was a very important means of conveyance in olden days. Excellent horses were yoked to it and it was provided with an accomplished charioteer. The king's chariots bore special names. For instance, the chariot of Pajjoya (Pradyota) was called Aggibhiru (fire proof) and was considered to be one of the four jewels.252

The elephant played an important part in the army as well as on certain royal occasions. The kings were very fond of elephants, and the state-elephants bore special names. We hear of the elephant Sechanäga over which a great battle was fought between Küîika-Ajätaáatru and Halla and Vehalla.253 The Bhagavati254 refers to two other elephants of Küîika, viz., Udäyin and Bhütänanda. Nalagiri, another elephant which belonged to Pajjoya, was considered one of his four precious possessions.255 Bhadravatï belonged to Udayana who successfully carried off Väsavadattä on its back from Ujjayinï to Koáämbï.256 King Udayana was an adept in the art of winning over elephants by music.257

While the third constituent of the army was the cavalry, the foot-soldier formed its main portion. The whole army was under the control of the Senäpati whose duty was to enforce discipline among the soldiers.

Realizing the terrible loss of both men and money, people tried to avoid wars in general. They first tried the four diplomatic means, viz., Säma, däna, daîda, and bheda, failing which they had to declare war. Before the two parties actually entered into war, a Düta or a courtier, who conveyed the royal proclamation to the opposite party, was deputed with the message. We learn that before entering into war with Cheâaga, Küîiya sent his Düta to his opponent thrice, finally giving him orders to place his left foot on the foot-stool of the enemy (in a spirit of defiance) and deliver him the letter keeping it on the edge of the spear.258

The art of warfare together with its various tactics, stratagems, and practices, was well known in those days. Jaina texts give some interesting details of the military operations of the Magadhan forces. The sagaâavüha (waggon array) and garuâavüha (eagle array) are mentioned in Niryävaliyäo.259 The army of Cheâaga formed the former while that of Küîika the latter. Küîika for the first time made use of two secret weapons of war. The first, the Mahäáiläkaîûaka, was a kind of catapult hurling heavy pieces of stone. The other was the Rathamussala, a chariot which created havoc by wheeling about and hurling destruction by its attached rods.260

Siege-warfare, which was the usual mode of fighting, sometimes continued for a considerable time. Küîika is said to have besieged the city of Vaiáälï for a long period.261 It was for this reason that the cities of those days were strongly fortified. Since Räjagôiha was too far inland and remote to serve as an efficient base of operations, Küîika had to construct a new base, a fort at a convenient site on the river Gaõgä, and thus was laid the foundation of the new capital, Päûaliputra. It was constructed under the supervision of his chief ministers, Sunïdha and Vassakära.

Strategy and diplomacy played an important part in this type of warfare. Manoeuvres and novel tactics were adopted to compel the other party to surrender. We are told as to how Abhayakumära, by a clever subterfuge which consisted in burying counterfeit coins in the enemy's camp, created suspicion in the mind of Pajjoya about the fidelity of his soldiers and thus foiled his attack on Räyagiha.262 A regular system of espionage was another feature of siege-warfare. Spies were regularly employed to watch, over the activities of the enemy. Küîika deputed his Minister Vassakära on the nefarious mission of sowing seeds of disunion among the Lichchhavïs at Vaiáälï.


About the system of taxation during this period, we possess little information. Jätakas may be presumed to give us a glimpse of this age, but the information they give is meagre. They tell us how good kings levied only legal taxes and how the bad ones so oppressed the subjects by illegal impositions that they would often flee to forests to escape from tax-collectors.263

Besides the taxes, there were certain privileges of the king which he could use for filling up his treasury. The unclaimed property belonged to the king.264 If anybody died without heirs, his succession would devolve upon the king. Sometimes the entire wordly possession of a person who renounced the world went to the ruling chief.265

Constitution and Administrative Machinery of the Republics

Along with the monarchical states, there existed some republican states too in the time of Lord Mahävïra. The terms Gaîa and Saãgha have been used for these republican states as distinguished from the monarchical ones. A Jaina work warns a monk that he should avoid visiting a country which has no king, or has a crown prince as its ruler or two kings fighting with each other or is governed by the Gaîa form of government.266 This passage denotes a definite form of government in which the power was vested not in one person but in a Gaîa or group of people. These ancient republican states do not satisfy the modern definition of ‘republic’ in which the power is vested in the whole body of citizens. There were republican states like Sparta, Athens, Rome, and Medieval Venice where sovereignty was not vested in one individual, but sometimes either in a small number of persons or in a fairly numerous class.

There is paucity of evidence regarding the constitution and administrative machinery of these ancient Indian republics. The early authentic literary works make only general statements about these republics, while the detailed information given by the Jätakas is also undependable unless confirmed by some other evidence. These ancient Indian republics possessed certain common features, though they reveal at the same time certain significant differences which were due to their needs and temperaments.

Directive Principles of State Policy

When Varshäkära, the chancellor of the king of Magadha, wanted to know the opinion of the Buddha on behalf of his master, as to the advisability of invading the Vajjis – the Lichchhavïs and the Videhas – the Buddha indicated to Änanda their seven points of excellence. These may be regarded as the directive principles of state policy. It is not improbable that similar directive principles might have been followed by other contemporary republic states. These principles are as follows :267

             1.      The Vajjians hold full and frequent public Assemblies;

             2.      They meet together in concord and rise in concord and carry out Vajjian business in concord;

             3.      They enact nothing not already established, abrogate nothing that has been already enacted, and act in accordance with ancient institutions of the Vajjians as established in former days;

             4.      They honour and esteem and revere and support the Vajjian elders, and regard it as a point of duty to hearken to their words;

             5.      No women or girls belonging to their clans were detained among them by force or abduction;

             6.      They honour and esteem and revere and support the Vajjian shrines (chaityas) in town or country, and do not allow the proper offerings and rites, as formerly given and performed, to fall into desuetude; and

             7.      Rightful protection, defence, and support is fully provided for the Arhants among them, so that they may enter the realm from distant lands, and may live therein at ease.


It seems that the right of citizenship was not granted to the whole population but was confined to the aristocratic Kshatriyas who had a voice in the administration of their respective countries. The artisans, farmers, servants and serfs had no such privileged position. When a quarrel arose between the farmers and servants of the Koliyas and the Áäkyas about the distribution of the water of Rohiîï, they reported it to the officer of their own state, who in turn apprised, their Räjäs of it. It is the latter who decided to go on war with the enemy state. This incident therefore shows that the commoners did not have much influence on the momentous decisions taken by the central government on important topics, such as peace and war, that affected the whole population.

Although there was a privileged system of citizenship, outsiders were eligible to it if they settled in the realm permanently. Khaîâa, who was a refugee of Videha country, settled in Vaiáälï and rose to the post of Senäpati and Gaîapramukha.268 Thus, once a person acquired citizenship, he was offered all opportunities to show his abilities in the political life of the country.

The General Assembly

There were separate Supreme Assemblies in each republic state. The Assembly of the Áäkyas seems to have been composed of 500 members. A few details of the Supreme Assembly of the Lichchhavïs of Vaiáälï are preserved in the Jätaka stories. The Ekapanna Jätaka269 speaks about the number of members of this Assembly. The Chullakäliõga Jätaka270 informs us that these members were given the right of argument and disputation. Further, the Bhadasäla Jataka271 refers to the tank in the Vaiáälï city from where the families of the kings drew water for ceremonial sprinkling.

K. P. Jayaswal272 interprets the passage of Ekapanna Jätaka in this way : “The rule vested in the inhabitants, 7707 in number, all of whom were entitled to rule. They became Presidents, Vice-Presidents, Commanders-in-Chief and Chancellors of Exchequer.” What the Jätaka means to say is that 7707 of the inhabitants, probably the foundation families, were the ruling class, that it is they who became the executive office holders. The natural meaning and interpretation of the Jataka text would make it mean that 7707 Räjans lived at Vaiáälï and that the number of Uparäjans, Senäpatis, and Bhaîâägärikas was the same in each case. As regards K. P. Jayaswal's view that the Räjan, the Uparäjan, the Senäpati and the Bhaîâägärika constituted the Cabinet of the executive authority, it seems to be a mere hypothesis unsupported by facts. So far as the monarchical state is concerned, the Jätaka evidence conclusively proves that the Räjan, the Uparäjan, etc. formed successive grades in the official hierarchy instead of forming a co-ordinate body.

R. C. Majumdar273 thinks that while the number 7707 may be dismissed as a purely conventional one, it may be accepted that the Supreme Assembly of the state consisted of a pretty number of members and must as such be held to be a popular one. Again, he says that the reference to the like number of Viceroys, Generals, and Treasurers would imply that each member of the Supreme Assembly possessed a full suite of officers requisite for the administration of a state. In other words, the whole state consisted of a number of administrative units, each of which was a state in miniature by itself and possessed a complete administrative machinery. The business of the state as a whole was carried on by an Assembly consisting of the heads of these states who were in their turn attended by their principal officers. R. C. Majumdar concludes with the observation that those who are familiar with the Cleisthenian Constitution of the city state of Athens cannot fail to find its prototype in the city of Vaiáälï.

D. R. Bhandarkar274 makes the Lichchhavi state a federation of small principalities. He writes, “The number of the kings constituting the Lichchhavï Gaîa was pretty large. It again seems that each Lichchhavi king had his separate principality where he exercised supreme power in certain respects. Nevertheless, the Gaîa as a whole had power to kill, burn or exile a man from their kingdom which meant to aggregate of principalities of the different kings.” Again he says, “The Lichchhavi Gaîa was a Federation of the chiefs of the different clans of a tribe who were also each the ruler of a small principality. Each confederate principality maintained its separate autonomy in regard to certain matters and allowed the Saãgha to exercise supreme and independant control in respect of others affecting the kingdom.” D. R. Bhandarkar concludes by suggesting some points of resemblance between the constitution of the Lichchhavï Saãgha and the confederation of the German States called the German empire.

A. S. Altekar275 has tried to justify the famous Jataka statement that there were 7707 kings and an equal number of Uparäjäs, Senäpatis and Bhaîâägärikas in the Vaiáälï State. When the Aryans came and occupied this territory, it seems to have been divided into about 7707 Kshatriya families, who were something like so many Zamindär families of the state. They were all Kshatriyas and were known as Räjans. The heads of these families lived in the capital while their managers stayed in the countryside and were known as their treasures. If the Kshatriya householders were known as Räjans, their sons were naturally called Uparäjans or Yuvaräjas. When they were unable to lead their army themselves, they used to nominate a Senäpati or General to act for them.

U. N. Ghoshal276 points out that the statements in the Jataka text belong to a late chronological stratum, while all references in order and more authentic canonical tradition describe the Lichchhavi constitution in very general terms simply as Saãgha or Gaîa. There are therefore grave reasons for doubting the genuineness of the later account.

The number of Vaiáälï nobles exercising sovereign power is 7707, not a round number. It means that there were nobles enjoying privileges who lived outside Vaiáälï. There is no mention of priests, traders and farmers. How, then, could they form a popular body ?

The reference to as many Räjans, Uparäjans, etc. is not corroborated by any other text. To base a definite conclusion on the authority of a single belated and uncorroborated text seems to be opposed to all canons of history. It is, however, hard to understand how a cumbrous constitution of the kind sought to be found in the Jätaka text which puts a premium upon disruptive tendencies, could work in actual practice.

The analogy of the Cleisthenian constitution seems to be hardly convincing. The ten Cleisthenian tribes consisting of the inhabitants of different demes were groups of citizens scattered over the whole of Attica, and their function was to elect five hundred members. On the other hand, according to the interpretation suggested above, the Lichchhavi Räjans with their staff of Uparäjans, etc. would also be resident at the capital, each forming a state in miniature.

Equally unwarranted is the analogy of the constitution of the late German empire. In this constitution, the emperor was the head of the army and controlled a considerable portion of the imperial finance. Among the Lichchhavis on the other hand, the constituent provinces had their separate armies and treasuries while there was no single ruler in charge of the federal army and finance. Again, the German princes, unlike the Lichchhavi princes, ruled their states from their respective capitals.

R. C. Majumdar277 has published an article in support of his earlier views and has thrown some new light on the constitution of the Lichchhavis. His observations are as follows :

The analogy of the Lichchhavi Constitution with the Cleisthenian constitution of Athens is not unfounded. The main object of the Cleisthenian constitution was the substitution of the deme for the clan. The transition from the principle of kinship to that of locality was also achieved by Athens.

The recently discovered Vinaya text of the Mülasarvästivädas sheds some interesting light on the constitution of the Lichchhavis which we do not find in Pali texts. According to it, Vaiáäli was divided at this time into three quarters inhabited by the high, the middle, and the low classes. The Vinaya text does not favour the view that the Supreme Assembly of the state consisted merely of the Lichchhavi nobles. For we find even new comers to Vaiáälï not only admitted into the assembly but also elected to the highest post. It also demonstrates the popular character of the Assembly. It contains strong sentiments against hereditary privileges and enunciates the principle of free election by the Gaîa to all important posts, including that of the Commander-in-chief which seems to have been the highest in the state.

Membership of the Assemblies depended upon whether the aspirant belonged to the privileged order or he did not. There was no electoral roll giving a list of qualified voters; nor were there any periodical elections. Had any such existed, they would have been referred to in the literature bearing upon the science of polity.

The place where the General Assembly met was called Santhägära. In the Assembly, there were different groups known as vargya, gôihya, and pakshya who clashed from time to time for power, a phenomenon so common that it has been referred to even by the grammarians. The term dvandva was used to denote the rival parties and the term Vyutkramaîa to their rivalry.

The rules of procedure and debates in these Assemblies seem to be the same as those of the Buddhist Saãghas which were modelled on Saãgha or Gaîa states. Transaction of the Assembly business strictly required a quorum without which it was considered to be invalid.278 Päîini referes to gaîa-titha as the person whose attendance completed the quorum in a Gaîa and the Saãgha-titha as one who completed the quorum of the Saãgha. The person who acted as a ‘whip’ to secure the quorum was known as Gaîapüraka.279 There was an officer known as Äsanapaññäpaka (seat regulator) who was in charge of the allotment of seats. Probably the executive officers had their seats on a dais and other members were grouped partywise in their front. A person who acted as a Polling Officer in the Assembly who known as Áaläkägrahäpaka,280 or he who collected votes. The technical term for vote was Chhanda, which meant free choice. The Saãghamukhya or the President of the state presided over the Assembly and regulated its debates. He was expected to observe strict impartiality; if he failed, he was furiously criticised.

Definite rules were laid down regarding the method of moving resolutions in the Assembly. Generally a proposal was repeated thrice, and if no objections to it were raised, it was taken as passed. In case of objection, it was determined by votes of the majority. When the ultimatum was received by the Áäkyas from the Koáala king, who was besieging their capital, their Assembly sat to deliberate whether they should open the gates or not. Some favoured the proposal, others opposed it. Eventually, therefore, votes were taken to ascertain the majority view, which, it was discovered, favoured capitulation.281 Accordingly action was taken. This practice must have been followed by other assemblies also.

Voting was sometimes done by the secret method (gäthaka), sometimes by whispering method (Sakarîajapakam), and sometimes by the open method (vivatakam).282 Generally, complicated questions were referred for settlement to different Committees.283 It seems that there were clerks in the Assembly who kept records of its proceedings. Matters, when once properly and finally decided, were not allowed to be reopened.284

The evidence of Buddhist literature shows that the General Assemblies of the republics controlled foreign affairs, entertained ambassadors and foreign princes, considered their proposals and decided the momentous issues of war and peace.285 Generally, this Assembly controlled the Executive. Though there is no specific evidence, it is almost certain that the appointments to the state services were made by this Assembly. That must have been one of the reasons for the keen contest for power that was often witnessed in that body.

The Assembly Hall also served that the purpose of a social club, where social and religious topics were discussed at times. The Mallas of Kusinagara discussed the problems of the funeral of the Buddha and the disposal of his ashes in their Assembly Hall. They, as well as the Lichchhavïs, are known to have requested the Blessed One to perform the opening ceremonies of their new Assembly Halls by first using them for delivering a sermon to a congregation assembled therein. The matters concerning commerce and agriculture were also deliberated there.


The membership of the Executive varied with the size and traditions of each state. The Malla state, which was small, had an Executive of four members only, all of whom are known to have taken a prominent part in the funeral of the Buddha. The Jaina Kalpasütra refers to a passage Navagaîa Räyäîo,286 the exact sense of which is uncertain. It may stand for the nine kings or Executive officers of the Lichchhavï Gaîa. The confederation of the Lichchhavïs and the Videhas had an Executive of eighteen members.287 It appears that normally speaking the Executive of a Republic consisted of four to twenty members. The General Assembly must have elected the members of the Executive Council, because it is inconceivable that the affairs of a state could have been managed by it.

The President (Räjä), the Vice-President (Upa-Räjä), General (Senäpati), and Bêaîâägärika seem to be the designations of the four Executive members. The President of the Executive was probably the President of the Assembly also, a person whose main function was the general supervision of the administration. Besides, he was to ensure internal harmony by promoting concord and preventing quarrels. The general looked after the army. The treasury was in charge of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. There must have been also the portfolios of foreign affairs and of justice. In the course of time, the posts of Executive Members became more or less hereditary, and they assumed the title of Räjä.

The members of the Executives of the Republic States must have been normally capable captains and dauntless leaders, competent to guide the State on occasions of emergency. In addition, they were men of tact and experience, energetic in action, firm in resolution and well grounded in the laws, customs, and traditions of the country. Cheûaka, the Head of the Lichchhavï republic, was an influential leader of eighteen confederate kings (Gaîaräjä) of Käáï and Koáala who were his vassals.288 His sister, Tisalä, was, as pointed out earlier, the mother of Mahävira, the son of Siddhärtha, a petty chief of Kuîâiyapura near Vaiáälï. Khaîâa and his son Siãha, who were competent enough, were elected to be Generals (Senäpati) in succession.289 The President of the Áäkya republic bore the title of Räjä which in this connection does not mean king, but rather something akin to the Roman Consul or the Greek Archon. At one time, Bhaddiya, a young cousin of the Buddha, was Räja, at another the Buddha's father Áuddhodana, held that rank.290


The Lichchhavïs, according to Buddhist documents, formed a league with the Videhas and were together called the Vajjis. We also know from a Jaina Sütra that the Lichchhavïs had once formed a federation with their neighbour, the Mallas.291 The Federal Council was composed of eighteen members, nine Lichchhavïs and nine Mallakïs.292 The members of the Federal Council are designated Gaîa Rajäs. The composition of the Federal Council shows that the Federal states had equal votes and that the federation was based on terms of equality. Though the Mallas were not so great a political power as the Lichchhavïs, yet in Federal Council, both had an equal number of members, i.e., equal voice. Leagues were naturally formed to oppose the great powers amidst whom they were situated, namely, Magadha and Koáala.


It seems that the Judicial administration of the republic states was remarkable, and the liberty of the citizens was efficiently guarded. A person was not declared guilty unless his crimes were proved by all the courts.

The Aûûhakathä293 throws light espically on the judiciary of the Lichchhavïs of Vaiáälï. A criminal was at first sent for trial to the officer called Vinichchya Mahämattä. If he found the accused innocent, he acquitted him but if in his opinion, he was guilty he could not punish him but had to send him to the next higher tribunal viz., that of the Suttädhara. If he considered him guilty, there were three other tribunals with similar functions viz., those of Aûûhakulaka, Senäpati, and Uparäjä, each of which could acquit the accused, if innocent, but had to send him to the next higher tribunal if found guilty. The last tribunal, viz., that of the Räjä, had alone the right to convict the accused, and in awarding the punishment, the Räjä was to be guided by the book of precedents. Thus a person could be punished only if seven successive tribunals had unanimously found him guilty, and he was quite safe if but one of them found him innocent.

U.N. Ghoshal294 expresses doubt in the Judicial system of the Lichchhavïs described above. The first difficulty in accepting the above interpretation lies in the lateness of the Sinhales tradition which has come down to us only as prescribed by Buddhaghosha who flourished some eight centuries after the fall of the Vajji republic. Again, the very elaborate procedure described above for which there seems to be no parallel elsewhere, is enough to raise suspicion about the genuineness of the whole account. But to suppose that no one in the Vajji state could be convicted unless unanimously found guilty by seven successive courts is to imply that the supreme authority in the state had little or no confidence in the judicial capacity or honesty of its own officers. In any case, a cumbrous procedure of the kind suggested above providing ample loopholes for the escape of criminals from the hands of justice would be attended with grave risk of abuse of liberty by the subjects.


3. Social Conditions

The age of Lord Mahävïra is remarkable for many social changes. The religious reformers of this period opposed the caste system based on birth and even challenged the superiority of the Brähmaîas. The Sannyäsa Äárama became quite distinct from Vänaprastha during this period because of the influence of Jainism and Buddhism. Marriage was made gradually compulsory both for men and women. While society was based upon the joint-family system, the idea of proprietary rights had also begun to grow. The Gotra and Pravara came into existence. The old system of Niyoga gradually disappeared because of the growth of ascetic ideas in the society. Women enjoyed a high position. Because of the propagation of the doctrine of Ahiãsä, people began to prefer a vegetarian diet.

Social Organization

The four Varîas, Brähmaîas, Kshatriyas, Vaiáyas and Áüdras, which were formed more or less on birth during the later Vedic period, became gradually rigid and fixed. The influence of the Brähmaîas greatly diminished both in the intellectual and political field and their place was taken by the Kshatriyas who began to consider themselves superior to other classes on account of the great importance they attached to their purity of blood. Consequently, they occupied the first position in the caste hierarchy. This period also witnessed the deterioration in the position of the Áüdras, with the result that a number of religious leaders raised their voice for their uplift. Mixed castes resulted from organizations like guilds of people following different arts and crafts. Inter-caste marriages also led to the origin of such castes.

The feeling of caste superiority was intense during this period. Both the Kshatriyas and the Brähmaîas considered themselves to be superior to other castes. This feeling of superiority was widespread even in certain groups of the same caste because they considered themselves higher than others. The Udichchha Brähmaîas who were proud of their origin, regarded themselves as higher than other Brähmaîas. The Áäkya Kshatriyas regarded themselves as higher than other Kshatriya clans.

Both Mahävïra and the Buddha opposed the idea of a hereditary caste system, emphasising all the time that one's caste should be determined by what one did rather than by the caste of the family to which one belonged. It is a mistake, however, to suppose that case distinctions were abolished once for all during this period. No doubt, both succeeded in removing caste distinctions in their monastic order, but they failed in their attempts to abolish it permanently from society.


During the time of Tïrthankara Mahävïra, the Kshatriyas of the Eastern countries consisted of kings, nobles, ministers, military commanders, and other officers. In Jaina Suttas and Buddhist Pali texts, they are mentioned as occupying the foremost position in the caste order. It is believed that no Tïrthankara was born in a family other than that of a Kshatriya. A legend tells us that before his birth, Mahävïra was removed from the womb of Brähmaîï Devänandä to that of Kshatriyäîï Triáalä.

 The Kshatriyas took keen interest in the intellectual activity of the time. It is clear from the Jatakas that they used to devote considerable time to the study of the Vedas and other branches of knowledge. Several princes used to go to Taxila at the age of sixteen for higher studies. Even in the spiritual field, the Kshatriyas of this time were not behind any caste. The doctrine of salvation was advocated by Mahävïra and the Buddha, who were Kshatriyas. The superiority of the Kshatriyas is clear from the legend in which the Buddha decided to be reborn as a Kshatriya and not as a Brähmaîa. In one of the Buddha's discourses, there is between the Buddha and Ambaûûha, in which the latter recognised the Buddha's superiority.

There were certain factors which led to the feeling of superiority among the Kshatriyas. They enjoyed the highest privilege, the right to rule, that is, which could not be claimed by others. It is natural that the ruling class should enjoy power, prestige, and dignity. The head of the state was known to be the best among men. In was in the Kshatriya caste that the leaders of the two new schools of thought, Buddhism and Jainism, were born. It was but natural that the members of the caste from which emerged Mahävïra and the Buddha should have developed a sense of superiority. As both the Kshatriyas and the Brähmaîas received similar education under the same teacher, there was no valid reason for feeling inferior among the Kshatôiyas in the intellectual sphere.

Certain Buddhist texts also show that instead of following their own professions strictly, the Kshatriyas worked as potters, basket-makers, reed-workers, and cooks.295 We find Kshatriyas of the Áäkya and Koliya clans cultivating their fields.


The Brähmaîas of this period may be divided into two broad categories : (1) true Brähmaîas and (2) wordly Brähmaîas. The true Brähmaîas included ascetics, Vedic teachers, and priests. In fact, the true Brähmaîa was one who attached value only to virtuous conduct. In a dispute between two youths as to whether a person is a Brähmaîa by birth or by his action, the Buddha is said to have given his decision in favour of the latter alternative. Mahävïra himself was styled ‘Mähaîa’296 or ‘Mahämähaîa.’297

The general duties of the true Brähmaîas were the study of the Vedas, teaching, performance of sacrifice for themselves as well as for others, making and accepting gifts, etc. From the Jätakas we know of the Brähmaîas as renouncing the world and going to the forest either at an early stage298 or after passing through the successive stages of Brahmacharya and Gärhasthya.299 Brähmaîas have been described as well-grounded in the Vedas and versed in the different branches of learning such as Nighaîûu, Vyäkaraîa, and Lokäyata.300 Brähmaîas like Suîetta,301 Sela,302 and others303 possessed vast knowledge and imparted education to a large number of students, some of whom came to be known as the teachers of world-wide repute.

The practice of offerings sacrifices was very common among the Brähmaîas. During his tour, Mahävïra is stated to have spent the rainy season in a sacrificial house of a Brähmaîa of Champä.304 The Brähmaîas made sacrifices and assumed that the gods were willing to accept their offerings. On the occasion of these sacrifices, they used to receive däna. In the Somadatta Jätaka, it is narrated that the king gave a Brähmaîa 16 cows, ornaments and a village. With the spread of Jaina and Buddhist doctrines, the cult of sacrifice gradually declined. It is said that while Vijayaghosha was engaged in performing Brahmanical sacrifice Jayaghosha, a monk approached him for alms and converted him to his faith after telling him what true sacrifice really meant.305

The second category of the Brähmaîas, known as worldly Brähmaîas could not stick to their hereditary professions of teaching and priesthood but followed other professions under the pressure of social and economic necessities. According to Äpastamba and Gautama, trade and agriculture were to be taken up by them in times of distress. From the Buddhist sources, it is gathered that the Brähmaîas in the ordinary walk of life appeared as farmers, craftsmen, businessmen, soldiers, administrators, and so on. The Daáa-Brähmaîa-Jätaka306 states how Brähmaîas in those days pursued ten occupations against rules. They acted as : (1) physicians, carrying sacks filled with medicinal roots and herbs; (2) servants and wagon-drivers; (3) tax-collectors who would not leave a household without collecting alms; (4) diggers of the soil in the garb of ascetics with their long hairs and nails, and covered with dust and dirt; (5) traders selling fruits, sweets, and the like; (6) farmers; (7) priests interpreting omens; (8) policemen with arms to guard caravans and shops, like Gopas and Nishädas; (9) hunters in the garb of hermits killing hares, cats, fish, tortoises, etc.; and (10) menials of kings who helped them in their baths in the garb of Yäjñikas. This may appear as over-exaggerated but in other Jatakas too, there are references to Brähmaîas practising as physicians,307 ploughing the land,308 trading309 and hawking goods,310 working as carpenters,311 as shepherds,312 as archers313 and as hunters.314

There were others who expounded dreams315 and went about telling fortune (Lakkaîa-Päûhaka),316 reading the past, future, and the character of an individual from the signs on his body (Aõga-Vijjä-Päûhaka),317 and reading the luck of swords (Asikkhaîa Päthaka).318 Some of them worshipped demons and practised magic. They possessed Mantras like the Vedabbhamanta,319 the Paûhavjayamanta320 and Chintämaîivijjä.321 The art of exorcism was also practised by a few.322 It appears from these references and from the account of the Brahmajäla Sutta that the Brähmaîas could be found in all walks of life, and that some of them took up objectionable practices such as hunting, carpentary, and chariot-driving.

The picture of the Brähmaîas in Jätaka literature is quite different from the one given in Brähamnical literature. It is gloomy, especially in Jätaka literature. The Brähmaîas are pictured as greedy, shameless, and immortal. While the shamelessness of the Brähmaîas is clear from Junha Jätaka,323 the Sigäla Jätaka324 shows that they were greedy. That their moral standards were not quite high is clear from the Saãbhava Jätaka.325

Brahmanical literature on the other hand makes it abundantly clear that the Brähmaîas enjoyed certain special privileges. For certain offences, for instance, they received milder punishment than those belonging to other classes. They were exempt from taxes. In the matter of treasure-troves, they were more favourably treated than the members of other classes. As a matter of fact, these privileges were granted only to learned Brähmaîas, not to all of them. Moreover the Brähmaîas did not occupy a privileged position in the eye of law. A criminal, whosoever he was, was executed, as is evident from a number of passages in the Jatakas, one of which also speaks of the execution of a Brähmaîa.


The Vaiáyas were not homogeneous in their occupation but followed different professions. They were known as Gahapati or Gähävai, Kuûumbika and Seûhïs. Gahapati or Gähävais means, literally, a householder, but it seems to have constituted the high and rich middle-class families owning land and cattle. Jaina texts mention a number of Gähävai who were adherents of the Jaina faith. One such Gähävai was Änanda, a rich land-owner of Väîiyagäma, who possessed a large number of cattle, ploughs, and carts.326 Päräsara was another Gähävai, prosperous in agriculture (kisi) and hence known as Kisipäräsara; he had six hundred ploughs.327 Kuiyaîîa is described as another Gähävai who is said to have owned a pretty large number of cows.328

The expression Kuûumbika is used to denote the head of a family,329 but during this period, he belonged exclusively to the Vaiáya community. We find him both in cities and in villages; in the former mostly as a businessman, dealing in corn,330 practising trade331 and money-lending332 and in the latter as a well-to-do cultivator.333 Some of the Kuûumbikas figure as very rich citizens.334

The Seûhïs were the richest aristocratic section of the Vaiáya caste. They are represented as respectable tradesmen, enjoying a high position of honour among the members of their caste. They rendered various services to the kings and tradesmen. It appears from the Jatakas that some of them occupied an official position in the royal court. Nanda is mentioned as an influential Seûhï of Räjagôiha.335 Anäthapiîâika had spent considerable wealth for providing residence for Buddhist Bhikshus. They were usually charitable, and spent a good portion of their wealth in charities. Their sons received education along with the Kshatriyas and the Brähmaîa youths, and offered the teacher a handsome honorarium.336

The Áüdras

The word ‘Áüdra’ denotes a number of castes. In the contemporary Jaina and Buddhist literatures, we do not find a specific mention of a caste called ‘Áüdra’. But the occupation and status of a class of people living in those days make it clear that they were none other than the Áüdras. Both Mahävïra and the Buddha tried their best to improve the general condition of these down-trodden people.

The artisans were developing into different castes all engaged in their hereditary professions. The potters (Kumbhakära),337 smiths (Kammära),338 ivory-workers (Dantakära),339 carpenters (Vaââaki),340 etc. belonged to hereditary families and had their own settlements.

There were a number of unorganised, unsettled, and wandering castes, who earned their livelihood by entertaining the people. There were the dancers and singers (Näûa),341 acrobats (Laõghanaûaka),342 tumblers,343 jugglers (Mäyäkära),344 snake-charmers (Ähituîâika),345 mongoosetamers (Koîâadamaka),346 musicians (Gandhabba),347 drummers (Bheri Vädaka),348 conchblowers (Saõkhadhamaka)349 and so on. Expressions such as Bherivädakakula,350 Saõkhavädakakula,351 Naûakakula,352 Gandhabbakula,353 and the like suggest that they formed separate castes of their own.

Similar in status to these people but leading a more settled life were the cowherds (Gopälaka), cattlemen (Paáupälaka), grass-cutters (Tiîîahäraka), stick-gatherers (Kaûûahäraka), and foresters (Vanakammika) as they are described in the Majjhima-Nikäya354 and Kuîäla Jatakas.355 They probably lived an exclusive life, collecting together into villages of their own, away from the towns and cities which they visited for selling their produce to earn their livelihood.

The Despised Castes

There were certain castes which were looked down upon by the higher sections of society either due to their ethnic origin or on account of their following low professions. The Chaîâälas, the Veîas, the Nïshädas, the Rathakäras, and the Pukkusas appear as low castes.

Among the despised castes, the Chaîâälas were the most unfortunate. ‘Contemptible like a Chaîâäla’ became a proverbial expression. He was the lowest and the meanest on the earth,356 and the Sigäla Jataka compares a jackal, low and wretched among animals, with a Chaîâäla.357 The Chaîâälas were not only untouchable but also unseable. The daughter of the Seûhï and wealthy merchant washed her eyes when she saw the Chaîâäla at the city gate. Food was polluted at the sight of a Chaîâäla. Sixteen thousand Brähmaîas were once ostracized because they committed the sin of eating the food served by a Chaîâäla. One Brähmaîa was starved to death because of the same sin. The wind, that had touched the body of a Chaîâäla, was considered impure. The Chaîâälas lived outside the city gates. Their dialect was different and showed their ethnic difference. They were often engaged as carriers of corpses and as slaughterers of criminals condemned to death by the king.

However, we also come across some Chaîâälas who were respected in the society. Harikeshabala, born in the family of Chaîâälas, became a monk possessing some of the highest virtues. He subdued his senses and observed the rules of walking, begging, speaking etc. He controlled himself and was always attentive to his duty. He protected his thoughts, speech and body from sins.358

Along with the Chaîâälas, there were Nishädas, Pukkusas, and others. The Nishädas were generally hunters and foresters. The Pukkusas used to pluck flowers and lived generally by hunting and only occasionally by dirty work like cleaning temples and palaces. There were carpenters, basket-makers, flute-makers, weavers, and barbers whose professions were considered to be low.

Mixed Castes

There must have been a steady increase in the mixed castes during this period, and these are found mentioned in the Dharmasütras. These mixed castes arose not only as a result of the permitted anuloma marriages (a member of a higher caste marrying a woman or women of lower castes), but also as a result of the prohibited pratiloma marriages (where the husband's caste was lower than that of the wife). Difference in occupation must have resulted sooner or later in an increase in the number of such mixed castes.

From the four Varîas, there came into existence several castes and sub-castes, such as Ambaÿûha, Äyogava, Süta, and Karîa. A passage in the Sütrakôitäõga359 names the following classes in this order – Ugras, Bhogas, Aïkshväkavas, Jñätrïs, Kauravas, warriors, Brähmanas, Lichchhavïs, commanders, and generals. Other passages of the Jaina scriptures add princes, artists,360 and Kshatriyas.361 The Nägas, too, formed a part of the country's population.362 Many cities were named after castes or professions, e.g., Uttara-Kshatriya-Kuîâapura (after Kshatriyas), Dakshiîa-Brähmaîa-Kuîâapura (after Brähmaîas), Nätika (after Jñätis or Jñätrikas), Bhoganagara (after the Bhogas), and Väîijyagräma (the village of commerce.)


During this period, slavery was quite common in the society, and both male and female slaves (däsas and däsis) were employed for doing all sorts of household work. Not only kings and wealthy people, but even ordinary families could keep slaves. The practice was confined not only to cities but was in vogue also in the villages. It was not restricted to a particular Varîa, but even Kshatriyas, Brähmaîas, and men belonging to the upper strata of society were reduced to slavery.363 It is said that Püraîa Kassapa and Ajita Keáakambalï had been slaves in their previous lives.364

There were different categories of slaves. Slaves born of slave mothers were known. That slaves were bought and sold is mentioned in the Jaina, Buddhist and Dharmaáätra literatures. According to Nanda Jataka,365 seven hundred paîas were enough for the purchase of a slave. The Sattubhakta Jataka366 reveals that one hundred Kärshäpaîas were more than sufficient for having nine slaves.

The physical fitness of a male slave and the beauty of a female one might have been responsible for a higher price. Slaves were also given in gift. The Digha and Aïguttara Nikäyas say that the Buddha had prohibited the Bhikshus from accepting the gifts of slaves, either male or female.367 According to a Jataka, a Brähmaîa demanded a hundred slave girls from a king along with other requisites as his gift, and his demands were fulfilled.368

War-captives, who were reduced to complete subjection, might have been either sold or given in gifts to others by their masters. Chandanä, the first female disciple of Mahävïra, was a slave of this type.369 Some people became slaves for paying off their debts. A widow who purchased two palis of oil from a grocer on credit, had, when unable to pay off the debt, to serve him as a slave girl.370 Slaves were made during famine for want of food.371 The Vidhura-pandita-Jataka refers to those men who were driven to slavery mainly on account of fear.372 Some were condemned to slavery as a punishment for their crimes.373

The nature of the work of a slave depended upon his own ability as well as the social and financial status of the master. In the case of rich masters, the qualified slaves could be kept as treasurers, store-keepers, and even private secretaries.374 Thus, from the Nanda-Jataka,375 it is known that the master showed his full faith in his slave by giving the latter all sorts of information relating to his treasure. In the Nänachchhanda Jataka,376 the Brähmaîa master is found taking the advice of Pannä, a slave girl, about the boon he would ask of the king.

In spite of all the commendable jobs given to slaves, there is no doubt that most of them were employed to perform ordinary household duties. U. N. Ghoshal rightly observes, “A slave was ordinarily engaged in cooking, fetching water, pounding and drying rice,  carrying food to and watching the field, giving alms, ministering to the master when he retired, or handling the plates and dishes, bringing the spitoon and fetching the fans during meals, sweeping the yards and stables and other such duties.”377

As regards the regards treatment meted out to the slaves, it depended upon the temperament of the master. There are conflicting statements on this subject. Generally masters harassed their slaves but in a few cases, they showed kindness towards them. Slaves were punished for their acts of commission and omission. Sometimes they were ill-treated by their masters when the latter chose, in a wanton mood, to do so. The Aõguttara-Nikäya378 states that the slaves toiled with tearful faces for fear of the rod. One Jataka379 informs that the wanton daughter of a high treasurer used to revile and beat her slaves and servants. According to the Nämasiddhi Jataka,380 the master of the slave girl Dhanapälï used to beat her. She was also sent on hire to work for others. Slaves were given thrashing and kept in fetters by their masters.

No serious attempt was made to improve the lot of slaves. Even a great reformer like Mahätmä Buddha did not have courage enough to admit any slave into his Order. The Lichchhavïs were not prepared to recognize the sons born of their female slaves as free men. Väsavakhattiyä was not recognised by them as a member of the Áäkya family only because she was the daughter of Prince Mahänäma's slave girl Nägamuîâä.381

There are some instances to prove that some slaves received good treatment from their masters. They were given opportunities to learn reading, writing, and handicrafts along with their masters' sons. Kaûähaka grew up in the company of his master's son, got his education along with him, learnt two or three handicrafts, and was appointed as the store-keeper of his master.382 Sometimes, the daughters of the masters fell in love with their slaves. In the Kaûähaka383 and Kalaîâuka Jatakas,384 girls of some reputed families are found marrying their slaves and eloping with them.

Certain methods of liberating the slaves prevailed in the society. War-captives made slaves could get emancipation if the vanquished party subsequently regained its strength and conquered the enemy. Slaves could also be liberated either by accepting Sannyäsa (monkhood) or by the will of the masters or by paying them a ransom for their emancipation.

Orders or Stages of Life

Even before the time of Mahävïra and the Buddha, the existence of the three well-known Aáramas (stages), namely, Brahmacharya, Gôihasta, and Tapas, is a fact evident from the Chhändogya Upanishad and the Bôihadäraîyaka Upanishad. As a matter of fact, the number of Äáramas is four, not there, though there are slight differences in their nomenclature and in their sequence. All the four were known by their specific names to the Jabälopanishad. From the time of the early Dharmasütras, these four Äáramas with their successive stages became well known. The Äpastamba Dharmasütra385 says, “There are four Äáramas, viz., the stage of a householder, that of one staying in the teacher's house, the stage of being a Muni, and the stage of being a forest-dweller. Äpastamba places the householder first among the Äáramas probably on account of the importance of that stage to all other Äáramas. To Gautama386 the four Äáramas were Brahmachäri, Gôihastha, Bhikshu and Vaikhänasa. Vasishûha Dharmasütra387 names the four Äáramas as Brahmachäri, Gôihastha, Vänaprastha and Parivräjaka. The Buddhist literature388 knew all the four stages into which the life of the three upper classes was divided.

The first part of man's life is Brahmacharya in which he studies in his teacher's house; in the second part he marries and becomes a householder, pays off his debts to his ancestors by begetting sons and to the gods by performing Yajñas. When he sees that his hair is growing grey and that there are wrinkles on his body, he resorts to the forest, i.e., becomes a Vänaprastha. After spending the third part of his life in the forest for some time, he spends the rest part of his life as a Sannyäsin.

It is believed that the scheme of the Äárama was so devised that the individual may attain the four goals of existence, namely, Dharma, Artha, Käma, and Moksha. In the Brahmacharya stage, through the discipline of his will and emotion, he attains dharma. In the Gôihastha Äárama, he marries, becomes a householder, tastes the pleasures of the world, enjoys life, has sons, discharges his duties to his children, to his friends, relatives and neighbours and becomes a worthy citizen, the founder of a family. He is supposed to attain Artha and Käma during this period. In Vänaprastha, he is called upon to resort to a forest life for pondering over the great problems of the life hereafter and to accustom himself to self-abnegation, austerities, and a harmless life. In Sannyäsa, he may succeed in realizing the supreme goal of Moksha in this very life or he may have to continue to rise in spiritual height until after several births and deaths the goal is in view.

This Äárama system was related to the theory of the three debts – Rishiôiîa, Pitôiôiîa, and Devaôiîa – and through this tripartite system, an attempt was made to pay them off. The debt to the Ôishis was paid off by studying their works at the stage of Brahmacharya, the debt to parents by procreating sons and educating them at the stage of Gôihasta, and the debt to gods by performing sacrifices at the stage of Vänaprastha.

It is difficult to accept the theory propounded by Rhys Davids389 to the effect that the four orders of life were of Post-Buddhistic origin and that the Brahmanical class unable to cope with the progress of new ideas formulated the theory of Äáramas according to which no one could become either a hermit or a wanderer without having first many years as a student in the Brahmanical school. The theory of Äárama was formulated long before the advent of Buddhism. It is possible that the separation of the last two orders, and particularly the development of the last one, may be due to the development of ascetic ideas stemming from the rise of Jainism and Buddhism.

No attempt was ever made to make the four stages obligatory except the first stage. It was not compulsory for an individual to enter into other stages. This system was never imposed arbitrarily with state legislation, ex-communication, perpetual banishment, or execution. The hold of the Äárama dharma on the life of the people was rather loose. Had it been strictly imposed on the whole population, the consequences would have been disastrous. It seems that it was confined only to the superior communities like the Brähmaîas without any binding obligation.

Family Life

Throughout this period the system most in vogue was the joint-family system, and it included father, wife, children, mother, minor brothers, and sisters. The relationship between the different members of the family was mostly cordial and affectionate. The father was the head of the family, and he was respected by all the members. His wife was the mistress who performed her household duties, looked after the members of the family, and was obedient to the master. The mother was highly respected by one and all. We hear of king Püsanandi who was greatly devoted to his mother.390 The mother on her part had great love for her children. When prince Meghakumära decided to embrace the life of an ascetic, his mother became unconscious and fell to the ground like a log of wood. She was sprinkled over with water, fanned with a palm-leaf, and was consoled by her friends. Her eyes were filled with tears, and using some of the most pathetic words, she persuaded her son not to give up worldly pleasures.391

There are also instances which reveal that amity did not exist between one member of the family and the other. Daughters-in-law and mothers-in-law often sought refuge in nunneries to escape from the tyranny of one another. One daughter-in-law even conspired to kill her mother-in-law. In one case, four daughters-in-law drove their father-in-law out of the house. We have the case of a son who refused to marry on the ground that wives generally showed scant respect to their parents-in-law and even domineered over them.392

The conception of proprietary rights came into existence in the family circle. The reason was that trade and commerce prospered highly, and the number of professions increased. The members of the family began to earn their living independently. Some of the Dharmasütra writers began to give due recognition to the self-acquired property of the son. Gautama says, “Among the brothers one who is Vaidya, need not give his own earning to those who are not Vaidyas.” Vishîu clarifies the point a little further, saying that if the Vaidya had acquired his knowledge with the help of the family property, he must share the property with others.

Formerly, the father had extraordinary powers. There was a time when the gift or a sale of a son was not regarded as beyond the power of the father. These practices came to be disallowed during this period, no matter whether this was due to a Áästric prohibition in the proper sense of the term or to an alteration in the conception about the extent of the father's right over the son. With the beginning of the Vänaprastha system, the joint-family system began to crumble. Before becoming a Vänaprasthi, the father had to divide his property among his sons. Sometimes he had to divide his property among his sons against his will. The son started demanding his legitimate share in the property even against the wishes of the father. Some of the Dharmasütras declared that a son, who would force a partition upon his father should not be invited to perform the latter's Sräddha. This shows that such a procedure was disapproved by the society, but the son had legal rights and could get them enforced through the court of law. Gautama says that sons have rights by birth. Äpastamba opines that the connection of the son with inheritance cannot be broken.


In the sixth century B.C., marriage was generally regarded as necessary and desirable for all. There are also exceptional cases where both males and females thought of leading an unmarried life by renouncing the world under the influence of religion. Sometimes such persons were unable to live up to their high ideals, and their lapses were furiously commented upon by the public. Hence it was the married who enjoyed real respect in society and felt elevated and dignified.

Forms of Marriages

From the Jaina and Buddhist sources, it appears that Brähma, Präjäpatya, Äsura, Gändharva, and Räkshasa marriages were common during this period. Marriages referred to in the Dharmasütras are of eight forms, viz., Brähma, Daiva, Ärsha, Präjäpatya, Äsura, Gändharva, Räkshasa and Paiáächa. Brähma and Präjäpatya marriages were the most popular. In these two forms, marriage was settled by parents. Auspicious days were fixed for the marriage ceremony393 and the bridegroom's party reached the house of the bride on a fixed day. The bride was carried in a car to the bridegroom's place escorted by a number of people.394

The Äsura form of marriage, in which a wife was procured by paying a substantial amount to her father, was also prevalent. The minister Teyaliputta wanted to marry the daughter of a goldsmith.395 A merchant, after leaving his negligent wife, married another girl by paying a large sum.396 A robber, who had plenty of money, paid the desired amount, and married a girl.397 From Buddhist literature we know that the father of Isidasi had received a bride as price for her in her marriage.398

The Gändharva or love marriage was also popular among the nobles of the time. In this form of marriage, both the bride and bridegroom made their own choice by falling in love with each other without the knowledge of their guardians, and were married without rites or ceremonies. The marriage of Udayana with Väsavadattä is well known. We hear of King Sïharaha of Puîâavaddhaîa who married a girl in the Gändharva way.399 Some Jataka stories400 also refer to this type of marriage. The Baudhäyana Dharmasütra401 refers with approval to the view of some thinkers that love-unions ought to be commended as they presuppose reciprocal attachment.

People sometimes resorted to the Räkshasa form of marriage. The forcible carrying of the girl to be married was the essential feature of this kind of marriage. There are many instances of elopement and abduction. Suvarîäõgulikä, a maid servant of Udayana, was abducted by king Pajjoya, Ruppiîi by Kaîha, Kamalämelä by Sägarachanda,402 and Chellaîä by king Seîiya. The Jaina texts403 also refer to the abduction of Dovaï by king Paumanäva of Amarakaõka. This type of marriage figures frequently in the Jätakas,404 and it remained quite popular among the warrior class from very early times.

The Jaina and Buddhist texts of this period do not refer to the Paiáächa, Ärsha, and Daiva marriages which are known from certain Brahmanical sources. In the Paiáächa marriage, the bride is either duped very often by making her overdrunk or physically overpowered by the bridegroom in order to make her yield to passion. Jainas and Buddhists do not regard it as marriage at all. When a daughter was offered in marriage to an officiating priest by the sacrificer, the marriage was designated as a Daiva one. This marriage was not practised among the Jainas and the Buddhists, who might have included it in the category of Brähma and Präjäpatya forms of marriage. In Ärsha marriage, the bride's father received a bull and a cow at the time of his daughter's marriage. Since it was thought to be a variety of Äsura marriage, it was probably not mentioned.

The most interesting type of marriage known as Svayaãvara (self-choice) was confined originally to the Kshatriya class, wherein a princess selected her husband of her own free will, from among the assembled suitors, or as a result of a tournament or contest in the use of warlike weapons. There are several instances of this type of marriage. The Näyädhammakahä refers to the Svayaãvara of Dovai which was attended by various prominent kings and princes.405 The Uttarädhyayana commentary refers to another Svayaãvara marriage of the princes Nivvui.406

Caste and Gotra Consideration

During this period, caste and family (jäti and kula) became important factors in determining marriages in order to preserve the purity of blood. Brähmaîas, Seûhïs, clansmen, treasurers, and others are mentioned as solemnising marriages with the members of their respective castes of equal family status. The Jaina and Buddhist accounts are supported by the Dharmaáästras which prescribe that the bride should be of the same caste. Generally, endogamy was in practice, and restrictions were imposed on the intermixture of castes.

During the Vedic period, Gotra denoted a cow-pen, but it came to be used in the sense of lineage or ancestry at this time. When king Prasenajit asked the Gotra of Aõgulimäla's parents, the latter replied that his father was of the Gärgya Gotra, and his mother of the Maiträyaîi.407 Opinions are divided about the consideration of Gotra in settling marriages. Some of the law-givers (e.g., Gautama and Baudhäyana) are silent on this point, but some of them prohibit Sagotra marriages. A verse in the Kachchhapa Jätaka suggests that generally, parties united in wedlock belonged to different Gotras.408

There are during this period a few examples of brothers marrying their own sisters. Buddhist literature speaks of the Áäkyas marrying their sisters for the sake of continuing their family line.409 Incestuous marriages were also prevalent among the Lichchhavïs.410 Marriage with one's own cousin was also in vogue. Bambhadatta married his maternal uncle's daughter.411 The Jätaka stories refer to the marriages of Käáï and Áivi princes with their maternal uncle's daughters.412 The sister of the Koáala king Prasenajit was married to Bimbisära, and his daughter Väjirä was wedded to Ajätaáatru, the son of Bimbisära.413 The marriage of Jyeshûhä to Nandivardhana, the elder brother of Mahävïra, also belongs to this category. Such marriages were not confined to the royal families, but were prevalent also among the common folk as is evident from several popular stories. Some Dharmasütras refer to the custom of marrying one's maternal uncle's daughter, but this practice was confined to the South.414

Marriage was guided by two special laws among the Lichchhavïs of Vaiáälï. One of them probibited the marriage of a Lichchhavï lady with any outsider.415 This law was so strictly followed that the secret marriage of Siãha's daughter416 with the romantic king Bimbisära of Magadha brought on the dreadful fight between the Lichchhavïs and the Magadha people, resulting in the discomfiture of the former and their resolve to make “a requital of enmity (Vairaniryätana) even to the sons of the king.” They were so particular about it that this resolution was got recorded and kept in a box duly sealed.417

The second law was in connection with Strïratna ‘the jewel of women’ (the most excellent woman).418 According to this law, the Strïratna was not allowed to be married for herself, but was to adorn and entertain the society in which she was brought up, for which she was called Nagaraáobhini. She was thought to be one of the greatest treasures of the nation, a treasure which was not to be under the possession of an individual, however great he might be in position or in wealth. She was to belong to the whole Gaîa. At this time Ambapälï, for example, was the most excellent girl, and was therefore made Nagaraáobhinï.

Inter-Caste Marriage

The system of inter-caste marriages was not a common practice. Only the people of higher classes practised it, but not quite often. The marriage of a bridegroom belonging to a higher caste with a bride of a lower caste was known as Anuloma marriage, and the marriage of a high-caste girl with a low-caste boy was named Pratiloma marriage. We find in a Jataka that a king saw a beautiful girl named Sujätä, daughter of a greengrocer selling jujubes, fell in love with her and made her his queen consort.419 A Jätaka describes Senäpati Ahipäraka as marrying Ummadantï, a merchant's daughter.420

Marriageable Age

There seems to be no doubt that the usual age of the bride at the time of her wedding was sixteen. The bridegroom used to be older than his partner and it can well be presumed that he used to be at least eighteen or twenty. The Therigäthä states that Isidäsï in her former birth was married at the age of sixteen.421 Nuns like Viáäkhä and Kuîâalakeáa were sixteen years old at the time of their entry into the nunnery when their marriages were being contemplated. The commentary on the Dhammapada describes the girls of sixteen years as eagerly pining for being united with husbands.422 The Jätakas clearly state that girls of this age were regarded as ripe for marriage and were possessed of rare beauty and grace.423

The Gôihyasütras composed during this period lay down that the consummation of the marriage (Chaturthikarma) should take place on the fourth day after marriage. Some Gôihyasütras also provide for the contingency of the bride being in her monthly course during the marriage ceremony. All this proves that the girl was married at an advanced age.

Remarriage and Divorce

As far as the husband was concerned, he was allowed to remarry after the death of his wife. With regard to widow-remarriages, evidence is conflicting. There are cases of permission as well as prohibition. Some Brahmanical sources of this period taking an idealistic view disapprove of widow remarriage. Their rules were followed by the priestly class and the higher section of society, but the ordinary people generally followed local customs. It appears that only a few among the higher section of society took recourse to widow-remarriage. Widows having no issue might have found it easier to remarry than those who had the burden of looking after their sons and daughters. The term Punarbhu was used to denote a widow who remarried.424 The Brahmanical authors are of opinion that generally the remarriage of the widow should be confined to a member of the family of her deceased husband. The reason was the popularity of Niyoga from the earlier period.

It appears from the Buddhist sources that there was no such restriction. Probably liberal rules were followed by people of the eastern part of the country where widows had more freedom in the selection of their new husbands than those of Madhyadeáa. According to the Nanda Jataka,425 a squire who had a young wife was apprehensive of her marrying after his death and transferring the movable family property to her new husband. The Susima Jataka426 describes a king's priest marrying the widowed queen. In the Aõguttara Nikäya,427 we find a lady assuring her husband on his death-bed that she would never remarry, but would look after her household and her children.

Besides widowhood, a lady had to face the problem of remarriage when her husband either became a recluse or went abroad and did not return. Because of the rise of the new religious ascetic orders like Jainism and Buddhism, a large number of young men renounced the world in their youthful age abandoning their young wives. We know from the Jätakas that some of them followed their husbands while others, whose desires and cravings for their youthful pleasures were still unsatisfied, remarried and restarted their conjugal lives. In some of the Jätakas, husbands are represented as expressing their views to the effect that their wives would take new husbands after they had renounced the world.428 Some Brahmanical sources tell us that in case a husband became an ascetic or went abroad and did not return, the wife was free to marry within a limited time.429

Marriage after divorcing the husband or wife on certain grounds was also prevalent in society. According to Vasishûha, one can seek a new husband if the first proves to be impotent or mean or insane. The Buddhist Jätakas also refer to such cases. It appears that marriage by divorce was common in the lower section of society, but in the higher classes, it was resorted to only in a few cases. The Piyajätika Sutta of the Majjhima-Nikäya states that the relatives of a woman, who did not like her husband, intended to separate her from him and to unite her with another person.430 A Jätakas relates the story of princess Phusati of Madra, who wanted to get rid of her ugly husband Kansa (the Bodhisativa) of Kuáävatï and to marry another prince who was handsome, according to her wishes.431

Family and local traditions also played an important part in controlling this custom. A Jätakas story shows that in spite of the absence of any deep-rooted lover for the husband the wife did not exercise her right of divorcing him, but preferred to remain in her uncomfortable condition.432 It is said that a Brähmaîa who was asked, whether he would keep or abandon his wife found guilty of adultery, expressed his view against deserting her and remarrying.433

Polygamy and Monogamy

Generally monogamy was followed by the vast majority of the people, but polygamy was fashion among the rich and ruling sections of the society. The kings and princes considered it a privilege to have a crowded harem. In the Jätakas, most of the princes have been described as polygamous.434 Kings like Bimbisära, Prasenajit, Udayana, and Ajätaáatru were all polygamous. The rich house-holder of Räjagôiha, Mahäsayaga, had thirteen wives.435 The examples of Salïbhadra, Dhanya Kumar, Jambu Kumar are well known in Jaina literature. The Raûûhapäla-Sutta describes Raûûhapäla, the son of a Brähmaîa, Gôihapati, as having several wives.436 In the Aõguttara-Nikäya, a wealthy and happy householder is described as being waited upon by four wives with all their charms.437 The Therïgäthä tells us that Isidäsï in her former birth was married to a merchant's son who had already another wife.438 The Päraskara Gôihyasütra states that a Brähmaîa should have three wives, a Kshatriya two and a Vaiáya one, besides on Áüdra wife to all.439

The Courtesans

Courtesans became a special feature of city life during this age, especially in cities like Räjagôiha. Champä, Vaiáälï, Mithilä, Säketa and Árävastï. People had become wealthy and begun to entertain themselves in different ways. As the courtesans were custodians of such fine arts as singing, dancing, and music, they occupied a respectable position in the society of the period. They were beautiful, graceful and pleasant. As their presence in a royal city was material to its citizens, they were especially installed with honour. They appeared even in royal palaces on festive occasions to give the finest exhibition of their artistic talent.

Sälavatï of Räjagriha and Ambapälï of Vaiáälï were two of the most well-known courtesans of this time. When Ambapälï was installed as a courtesans of Vaiáälï, her example was followed by installing Sälavatï as a courtesan of Räjagriha.440 Both were not only superbly charming but also well versed in singing, dancing and music. The fact that the Buddha accepted an invitation extended to him by Ambapälï and went to her residence with the Bhikshu Saãgha441 and that she dedicated the Ambapälï grove to the Saãgha,442 shows that a courtesan occupied no mean position. The way in which Ambapälï proceeded to see the Buddha at Koûigäma with a number of magnificent vehicles443 shows that her equipage was almost royal. She was supposed to be “the pride of the city” (Nagaraáobhinï). King Bimbisära of Magadha was so much intoxicated by her beauty that he risked even his life to pay a visit to her at a time when a severe fighting was going on between Magadha and Vaiáälï. He is said to have stayed with her for some time. And it was Ambapälï who is said to have given birth to prince Abhaya, son of Bimbisära. That the great physician Jïvaka was born of Sälavatï,444 the courtesan of Räjagôiha,445 shows that some of the sons of the courtesans could rise to eminence and occupy position that had a prestige value in society.

The Jätakas inform us about Sämä,446 Sulasä,447 Kälï448 and other courtesans.449 Kälï is described in the Takkäriya Jätaka as one possessed of the qualities of social decency and self-respect. The Sulasä Jätaka represents Sulasä as a woman of rare wisdom and courage. About the income of these courtesans, the Jätaka stories give exaggerated accounts which are not reliable. On the other hand, the information given by the Vinaya Piûaka appears to be authentic and we may accept fifty to one hundred silver punch-marked coins as their daily income. Ambapälï is described as earning 50 Kahäpaîas per night, whereas Sälavatï is said to have been charging 100 Kahäpaîas.450

The character of the courtesans has also its seamy side. Generally, they sold their flesh for money for which they were looked down upon by men and women alike. Their profession is described as a vile trade (nichakamma).451 Expression like ‘a house of ill fame’ (nichch-ghara or gaîikäghara)452 and ‘a low woman,453 (duratthi kumbhadäsï) indicate that the profession of the prostitute was not considered respectable.

Food and Drink

Both literary and archeological sources reveal that rice, wheat, and pulses were the main cereals which people consumed. Rice, no doubt, was known in the preceding age too, but wheat and pulses were added to the dietary system of this period. Rice was very popular. The chief varieties454 of rice were Säli, Taîâula, Häyana, Shashûika, and Nivära which seem to have been cultivated in this region. Rice of superior quality was taken by the rich sections of society, whereas the inferior variety was the food of the people belonging to the lower strata.455

Cooked rice was called Bhatta or Bhakta456, and by Päîini Odana.457 It was ordinarily eaten with süpa (pulses) and vegetables.458 Päîini tells us that meat, süpa, vegetables, guâa, ghee, etc. were added to Bhäta.459 Rice-milk was highly praised by Buddha, and he recommended it for the Bhikshus as a morning breakfast.460 Honey was also mixed with it. Yavägü (rice-barley gruel) was a common liquid food.

There were a few special preparations known to us. Sattu461 was also eaten during this period. Kummäsa or Kulmäsha was a coarse food of the poor.462 Sweet cake now known as Puvä was a favourite dish. According to the Illisa Jätaka, it was prepared from rice, milk, sugar, ghee, and honey. Piûûêakhajjaka (Khäja) was another sweetmeat liked by all. Säriputta was fond of it but took a vow not to eat it, for it tended to make him greedy.463 Palala (modern tila-kuûa) was a delicious sweetmeat mentioned by Päîini.464 It was made of powdered Tila and sugar or Guâa. Pishûaka, now known as Pithä, was prepared from the ground paste of rice.465

Milk and milk-products like curd, butter, and ghee were largely eaten.466 Vegetables like pumpkins, gourds, and cucumbers and fruits like mango and jamboo were included in the diet of the people.467

That during this period a large number of people were non-vegetarian is proved by the discovery of bones at different archaeological sites. It seems that the custom of meat-eating was so common that the Buddha prohibited it for the Bhikshus.

This practice of meat-eating during this period might have produced a natural reaction in the mind of Tïrthankara Mahävïra which led to the propagation of the doctrine of non-injury to living beings. For the protection of animal life, he instructed both monks and laymen to abstain from meat-eating.

Drinking was fairly common during this period. There are references to Surä and Meraya (Maireya) as intoxicating drinks.468 The kings, princes, nobles, warriors, and rich people called Seûhïs drank liquor. The religious people and the Brahmachärins of all castes were to abstain from drinking. The Jaina sütras probibit the Jaina monks from visiting festival gatherings in which people drank.469 According to the rules of the Vinaya, the novices were not to drink strong drinks and intoxicating liquors,470 and the same rule applied to the elders. We learn from the Dharmasütras of Äpastamba,471 Gautama,472 and Vishîu473 that the Brähmaîas were not allowed to indulge in drinking.

The Jaina and Buddhist sources inform us that the festive occasions were marked by feasting, drinking, and merry-making.474 There used to be a festival known as Sürä-Nakkhala (drinking festival) which was marked by unrestricted drinking, feasting and dancing,475 leading finally to brawls in which people broke their heads, feet, and hands.476

Liquor was manufactured or consumed on a large scale. Taverns (Päîägära : Kappasälä) where various kinds of wine were sold were common. From the Jätakas stories, we know that there were crowded taverns, where liquor was kept filled in jars and sold.477 The owners of the taverns kept apprentices who helped them is their business.478 Generally, these taverns were managed by the Seûhïs who were the aristocratic Vaiáyas owning considerable property. Some people used to go to these taverns for drinking with their wives.479

Dress and Ornaments

Besides the usual vastra and vasana denoting clothing in older literature, chïra, chela, and chïvara began to be used during this period. There were different fabrics used for preparing clothes. The Ächäräõga480 mentions some of them as wool (jaõgiya or jäõghika), bhaõga (bhag tree), hemp (säîiva), palm leaves (pottaga), linen (khomiya), and tüla (tülakada). It is started that a monk or a nun could beg for the garments mentioned above.481 Although cotton (kärpäsa) was the material generally used, cloths made of silk (kauáeya); linen (kshauma), and wool (aurîa) were also in demand.

The dress of the people consisted of antaraväsaka (under garment), uttaräsaõga (upper garment), and Ushaîisha (turban or headgear). The Vinaya texts482 refer to the variety of ways in which dhotis (undergarments) were arranged – hastiáauîâika (forming the trunk of an elephant), tälavôintaka (in the shape of a fan), matsyavälaka (like a fish-tail), chatushkarîaka (having four angles), and Áatavallika (having a hundred folds). The same texts refer to a complete weaving outfit. The cloth was fastened at the waist by a Käyabandha (girdle), and a variety of girdles are mentioned in the Vinaya Texts,483 such as Kaläbuha (those made of many strings plaited together), deââubhaka (those made like the head of a water-snake), muraja (those with tambourines or beads on them), or maddavïna (those with ornaments hanging from them). Both men and women wore Kañchuka, a robe probably like the modern shirt.484 Women wore särïs known as saûïa-säûûaka.485 Ladies of the upper strata of society wore coloured garments, while widows were dressed in white.

A Jaina monk was allowed to wear three robes, two linen (Kshaumika), undergarments (omachela) and one woollen (aurîika) uppergarment.486 The Buddha also allowed three robes : a double waist cloth (saãghäta), an upper robe (uttaräsaõga), and a single undergarment (antaraväsaka).487

Both from the Jaina488 and Buddhist489 sources, it is evident that sewing and stitching of clothes were coming into fashion. There are references490 to the needle, thread, scissors, etc. The monks were allowed to sew their clothes.

People also put on shoes. A large variety of shoes is also referred to in the Vinaya Texts, such as shoes with one, two, three, or even more linings; shoes adorned with skins of lion, tiger, panther, antelope, otter, cat, squirrel, and owl; boots pointed with horns of rams and goats, ornamented with scorpions‘ tails, sewn round with peacock feathers : boots, shoes, slippers of all hues, such as blue, red, yellow, brown, black, and orange. Sometimes, the shoes were ornamented with gold, silver, pearls, beryls, crystal, copper, glass, tin, lead or bronze. Poorer people used wooden shoes, shoes made of leaves of palmyra and date-palm, or of various kinds of grass. Shoes were also made of wool. The Bôihatkalpa Bhäshya491 prescribes the use of shoes for the Jaina monks, especially when they were on tours, and in the case of illness single-soled (egapuâa) shoes, puâaga or Khallaka shoes to cover the foot sore, vägurä shoes to cover the toes and also the feet, Kosaga shoes to cover the toes, Khapusa shoes to cover the ankles, and ardhajaõghikä and jaõghikä shoes to cover the half and full thighs respectively.

The difference between the male and female dresses and ornaments was not much marked. The ornaments, which decorated the bodies of both men and women, were costly and of various types and designs. Every part of the body from head to foot had its appropriate ornaments made of gold, silver, pearls, gems and precious stones. We know from the Vinaya Texts,492 that at first even monks used to wear ear-rings, ear-drops, strings of beads for neck, girdles of beads, bangles, necklaces, bracelets and rings. The only ornaments referred to as worn by women alone were waist-bands and anklets. The Jätakas493 also mention earrings, frontlet pieces and torques round the neck. Among ornaments, Päîini refers to añgulïya (finger-rings)494 Karîika (ear-rings),4 laläûika (ornaments of the forehead),496 and graiveyaka497 (torques or necklaces). Some luxurious ornaments of this time like ear-lobes, torques of different shapes, necklaces, bangles, pendants, and rings made of different materials such as terracotta, precious stones, glass, ivory, bone and copper, have been discovered from North Indian sites.

There are elaborate references to toilet articles in the Vinaya Text. Hair was besmeared with pomade or hair-oil of bees-wax, and then smoothed with a comb. Scents, perfumes, garlands, and unguents were used, and faces were rubbed with ointment and painted. The body was also painted, and feet were rubbed with sandstone, gravel, and seafoam. To keep long hair seems to have been the fashion. Beards were also dyed blue, red, purple or green according to individual taste. Nails were polished or cut with nail-cutters, and tooth-sticks were used for cleaning the teeth. Some of the objects of toiletry discovered in the excavations included antimony rods of copper, hair-pins of bone, combs of ivory, terracotta flesh rubber, and nail parer.

When bathing, people used to rub their bodies – thighs, arms, breast and back – against wooden pillars or walls. Chunam (lime) was also rubbed over the body by means of a wooden instrument in the shape of a hand or a string of beads. Special bathing pools or tanks are also referred to. They were floored or faced with brick, stone, or wood, and had walls or steps of the same material. To prevent water becoming stale, pipes were laid to drain it off. There were also arrangements for hot-bathrooms with chimney and fire-place, and the roof covered with skins. The bathers put scented clay over their faces and took their bath seated on stools. There were cells to be used as cooling rooms after the steam bath.498 The Brahmajäla Sutta contains a stock list of dress-and-toilet processes comprising no less than twenty items.499 Of these items, Päîini500 refers to mirror, collyrium, garlands, perfumes, shoes, and staff.

Furniture and Utensils

The progress of civilization during this period brought with it certain amenities, such as furniture and utensils, to make life easy and the homes comfortable. The Vinaya Texts501 give a long list of the articles of furniture and utensils. There was a pretty large variety of chairs rectangular, cushioned, cane-bottomed, straw-bottomed arm-chair and state chair, and sofas with or without arms. There were also different types of bedsteads with legs carved to represent animals' feet. Some bedsteads had lofty supports with arrangements for rocking backwards and forwards, and the bed, comprising mattresses stuffed with cotton and pillows half the size of man's body, was strewn over with flowers. Bolsters stuffed with wool, cotton cloth, bark, grass or talipot leaves, and chairs and bedsteads covered with upholstered cushions to fit them were in use. For poorer people, there were mats made of grass and bedsteads made of laths of split bamboo.

For reclining their bodies people used lofty and large things such as large cushions, divans, coverlets with long fleece counterpanes of many colours, woollen coverlets, white or marked with thick flowers, mattresses, cotton coverlets dyed with figures of animals, ruga with long hair on one or both sides, carpets inwrought with gold or with silk, large woollen carpets with designs such as a nautch girl's dance, couches covered with canopies or with crimson cushions at both ends. There were also rich elephant housings and horse-rugs or carriage-rugs. Sheep-skins, goat-skins, and deer-skins were used as coverlets, and fine skins, such as those of lions, tigers, panthers or antelopes, were either used for reclining upon or cut into pieces and spread inside or outside the couches and chairs. We also hear of sun-shades, mosquito-curtains, filters for straining water, mosquito-fans, flower-stands, and fly-whisks (chämara) made of tails of oxen and peacocks or of bark and grass.

Costly utensils were used such as bowls of various kinds made of beryl, crystal, gold, silver, copper, glass, tin, lead or bronze, and some of them were painted or set with jewels. Even circular supports of bowls were made of gold or silver. The increasingly large use of pottery vessels during this period is proved by archaeological excavations. The most remarkable is North Black Polished Ware which enjoyed the status of a de luxe ware of the period on account of its beauty and durability. Bowls and dishes of this ware have been found in a large number.

Festivals and Games

People amused themselves by participating in Samajjas (festival gatherings) which formed a regular feature of social life during this period. The Jätakas inform us that the Samajjäs were special gatherings where crowds of men, women and children gathered together and witnessed various kinds of shows and performances, such as dancing and music, combats of elephants, horses and rams, bouts with quarter-staff and wrestling.502 The Jaina sütra inform us that festive entertainments were characterised by feasting, drinking and amorous acts.503

Though the festive assemblies at this time were mostly secular, some of them were no doubt religious in nature. The centres of these festivals were the cities and towns where people gathered from the neighbouring villages to enjoy themselves. On the occasion of a festival the cities were decorated, displaying great pump and show. Generally these were organized by the kings themselves who went on elephants round the city in solemn processions. The beauty of the festivals lay in the nocturnal decorations when people in their fine and colourful garments came out of their houses to enjoy and entertain themselves. On the occasion of some festivals, people were given holidays. Some festivals lasted for seven days while some continued even for a month.

The Chäturmäsyas were old seasonal festivals. The Äpastamb-Gôihya-Sütra504 tells us that there were three Chäturmäsya festivals, each celebrated at an interval of four months, which indicated the advent of the three seasons, spring, rainy, and winter. They were celebrated on the full-moon days of Phälguna, of Äshäâha, and of Kärttika.

Jaina and Buddhist texts mention various other festivities. The Chäturmäsya festival of the month of Kärttika was known as the Kaumudi or the Kattikä. On the day of Kaumudïmahotsava, men and women came out of their houses after sunset, and spent the whole night in wanton merriment.505 In the Sämaññaphala Sutta of the Digha-Nikäya,506 king Ajätaáatru of Magadha is described on the Kaumudï night as sitting on the upper terrace of his palace, surrounded by his ministers. The Sañjiva-Jätaka507 tells us that when Ajätaáatru was the king of Magadha, the city of Räjagôiha was so lavishly decorated on the Kattikä festival days that it looked like a veritable city of gods.

The name of a festival Surä-Nakkhata dedicated only to drinking points out that drinking was so much in vogue that people thought it necessary to organise festivals in honour of a popular habit. A drinking festival at Räjagôiha is mentioned in the Sigäla Jätaka.508 Another Jätaka tells us of a drinking festival held at Väräîasï.509 The occasion was characterized by unrestricted enjoyment of drinking and dancing. Even ascetics, for whom drinking is strictly prohibited, were for a while led astray. Women also drank hard, danced, and sang in a large number.

The Hatthi-Maõgala (Elephant Festival) was celebrated with a view to exhibiting the feats of elephants in a spectacular manner. The Susima Jätaka510 describes this festival held annually in the royal courtyard. The chaplain of the king conducted the festival and was expected to know the three Vedas and the elephant-lore (Hatthisuttam). This festival was performed for the entertainment of the nobles and of those associated with royal dignity.

Áälabhañjikä festival was a popular festival during this period and a large number of people assembled on certain days in the Säla groves, plucked Säla flowers, sported, and spent the time in merry-making. The Avadänaáataka511 gives a graphic account of this festival : “Once the Lord Buddha dwelt at Árävastï in the Jetavana, the garden of Anäthapiîâika. At that very time, the festival called Áälabhañjikä was being celebrated at Árävastï. Several hundred thousands of beings assembled there and, having gathered Säla blossoms, they played, made merry and roamed about.” The description of the Áälabhañjikä festival celebrated in the Lumbini garden situated between the two towns, Kapilavatthu and Devadaha, has been given in the Nidänakathä512 : “The whole of Lumbinï Grove was like a wood of variegated creepers, or the well-decorated banqueting hall of some mighty king. The queen beholding it was filled with the desire of disporting herself in the Säla grove; and the attendants entered the wood with the queen. When she came to the root of an auspicious Säla tree, she wanted to take hold of a branch of it. The branch, bending down, like a reed heated by steam, approached within reach of hand. Stretching out her hand, she took hold of the branch, and then her pains came upon her.” According to Päîini, this festival was peculiar to the eastern people.513

The people of Räjagôiha were very fond of festivals. In the Vinaya-Piûaka, a festival celebrated at an elevated place at Räjagôiha is described as Girajjasamajja. That it took place at the top of a hill, probably a sacred place, points to the religious nature of the gathering. From the Visuddhimagga514 we learn that there was a festival at Räjagôiha in which five hundred virgins (Kumäris) offered Mahäkassapa there a kind of cake which he accepted. There used to be held at Räjagôiha a festival known as the Nakkhattakilam (the spot of the stars) in which the rich took part. This festival lasted for a week.515 Chhaîa and Sabbarttiväro were the most important festivals in which the Lichchhavïs of Vaiáälï spent the whole night in merry-making.516

There was a ploughing festival which has been described in the Käma-Jätaka.517 It is said that on that day the king held the plough. Most probably the first ploughing at the beginning of the rains was observed as a sacred day and celebrated as a festival. In addition to these important festivals, there were other minor ones celebrated in honour of gods like Skanda, Rudra, and Mukunda; there were festivals to propitiate Demons, Yakshas, and Nägas : there were festivals to honour shrines and tombs, and there were festivals to worship trees, cows, wells, tanks, ponds, rivers, lakes, seas, and mines.518

Some household ceremonies too were celebrated with great rejoicings. Aväha was celebrated before wedding when betel leaves etc. were served; viväha was the wedding ceremony;519 ähena was held at the time of the bride entering the bridegroom's house; pahena was celebrated when she returned to her father's house. Then hiõgola was celebrated in honour of the deceased person or a yaksha; in piîâanigara, food was offered to fathers. Then sammela or goûûhï was a social gathering in which the relatives and friends assembled.520 According to the Jaina tradition it was king Bimbisära who first promulgated this feast.

Besides participating in festivals, people amused themselves in different ways. They took keen interest in singing and dancing. King Udayana of Kauáämbï was a great musician who by his music could control elephants run amuch. He was asked by king Pradyota of Avantï to teach music to the princess Väsavadattä.521 A court-musician named Pañchaáikha of Sakka is known to have pleased the Buddha by his music.522 It seems that singing and dancing played an important part in Äjïvika religious practices. The Äjïvika scriptures namely two Maggas (paths) are said by Abhayadeva to have been those of song and dance.523 Possibly the Äjïvika in their Äjïvika-sabhä gathered together for ecstatic religious singing and dancing. “Wandering dancers and musicians”524 gave additional pleasure to the people by showing the skill. There were drummers and conch-blowers525 to entertain them.

The gatherings of religious preachers and learned philosophers526 certainly soothed their hearts and quenched their mental thirst. Besides, dramatic performances were also quite popular, and they might have been an important source of recreation. Painting527 and embroidery,528 apart from proving sources of income, must also have charmed the people. The manufacture of clay figurines of both human and animal forms was an object of amusement for children. The performance of jugglers529 and snake-charmers (ahiguîûhika)530 gave them special delight. As long as the festivities lasted, the youths had the pleasure of enjoying the company of the nagaraáobhinïs.531

Parks and gardens with diverse flowers and fruits were also the places where people used to visit for recreation. The existence of several beautiful tanks532 and the nearness of rivers must have facilitated them in cultivating the habit of taking interest in swimming and sailing. There were forests where they took special delight in hunting animals and birds. Chariot-races, archery matches, wrestling, cock-and-peacock fights, and combats of buffaloes, bulls, horses and elephants533 were the noteworthy pastimes of the people.


4. Economic Conditions

The period of Lord Mahävïra was epoch-making in economic history because of the numerous important changes that occurred in it. States well organised came into existence for the first time, leading to the establishment of peace and order. As a result, this period witnessed an allround development of agriculture, industry and trade. The increased use of iron for different purposes resulted in the surplus of wealth and prosperity. Many new arts and crafts came into existence, and they became localised and hereditary. Both trade and industries were organized into guilds. The coined money was introduced, which facilitated trade and commerce. The merchants became very prosperous and a number of cities and towns came into existence. Population increased by leaps and bounds on account of better means of subsistence and living condition.

Rural Economy

(i) Village

Rural economy had its centre in the gräma or village, a collection of gôihas (houses) and kulas (families) numbering from 30 to 1000. It was closed by a wall or stockade provided with gates.534 Beyond this enclosure lay the arable land of the village, the gräma-kshetra, which was protected by fences535 and field watchmen536 against pests like birds and beasts. This land was divided into separate holdings cut off from one another by ditches dug for co-operative irrigation.537 Usually these holdings were small enough to be cultivated by their owners and families with the help of hired labour, if necessary.538

Large holdings were not unknown. We read of estates of 1000 Karisas (probably acres) and more, farmed by Brähmaîas.539 In the Suttas, again, the Brähmaîa Käáïbhäradväja employed 500 ploughs and hired men (bhatikä)540 to drive his plough and oxen.541

The rural economy at this time was based chiefly on a system of village communities of landowners. There was no such proprietary right as against the community. We hear of no instance of a shareholder selling or mortgaging his share of the village-field to an outsider; and it was impossible for him to do so at least without the consent of the village council. Nor had any individual the right of bequest, even to the extent of deciding the shares of his own family. No individual could acquire either by purchase or inheritance any exclusive right in any portion of the common grassland or woodland. The king granted not the land, but the tithe due, by custom to the government as yearly tax.

Adjoining the arable land of the village lay the grazing pastures542 of herds of cattle543 and goats,544 – herd belonging to the king545 or commoners.546 Commoners customarily entrusted their flocks to a communal neatherd called Gopälaka whose duty was to pen up the flocks at night or to return them to their owners by counting heads. Besides pastures, villages had their suburban groves like the Veluvana of king Bimbisära at Räjagôiha, Aõjanavana of Säketa, or Jetavana of Árävastï.

(ii) Different types of villages

Gäma,547 Gämaka,548 Dväragäma,549 and Pachchantagäma550 mentioned in Päli literature seem to be different types of villages. The Gäma and the Gämaka were probably the ordinary village and the hamlet respectively, the difference being only in size. The Nigama was probably a busy market village, distinct from the quiet agricultural one. The Dväragämas were situated at the gates of cities, and probably were suburbs, most of them being industrial villages. The Pachchantagäma was located at the border of the kingdom. Owing to border invasions, the economic condition of such villages always remained unstable.

Several industrial villages, exclusively inhabited by men of the same craft, came into existence during this period. Such villages were those of carpenters,551 smiths,552 weavers,553 and so on. Another feature of some of the villages was that they were peopled by the men of the same caste. Such caste villages were Brähmaîagräma named after the Brähmaîas,554 Kshatriyagräma555 after the Kshatriyas, Baniyagräma556 after the Vaiáyas, Chaîâälagäma557 after the Chaîâälas, and Nesädagäma558 after the Nesädas. There were also villages of park-keepers (Ärämikagäma)559 and robbers (Choragämaka).560 Thus the economic factor of specialisation of labour was responsible for the localisation of various industries at separate villages and for the grouping of the people of the same profession and caste. The number of such villages, however, was small. Most of the villages had the mixed population of persons of different castes, occupations and trade, following their own professions.

These villages can be classified into two categories – the agriculture villages and the industrial ones. In the agricultural villages, the main occupation of the people was agriculture. With the growth and development of industries, there came into existence the industrial towns where the craftsmen migrated to pursue their crafts. It seems that the Dväragämas, which supplied the needs of the cities, were industrial towns. Such expressions as Dväragämaväsi Vaââhaki,561 Dväragämaväsï Kumbhakära,562 etc., probably refer to the inhabitants of such villages. The Uväsagadasäo tells us of a village of 500 potters outside the city of Poläsapura.563

(iii) Agriculture

(a) Methods : Agriculture was the main source of people's livelihood. It made further progress during this period with the methods of cultivation becoming more perfect than those of the Vedic period. Vast areas were brought under cultivation. New devices were introduced for the irrigation of agricultural land. The literary sources of this period make references to the ploughing and fencing of the fields, irrigating them, sowing the seeds, getting the weeds pulled up, reaping the harvest, arranging the crops in bundles, getting them trodden, picking of the straw, removing the chaff, winnowing and garnering of the harvest as the various successive stages of the agricultural process.564

For the purpose of cultivation, big ploughs were also used.565 At some places, the land was ploughed with hundreds and thousands of ploughshares. We read of the gähävai Änanda who limited the cultivable land to five hundred ploughshares, each one ploughing one hundred acres (niyattaîa) of land.566 The ploughing of land and harvesting of crops became easy with iron sickles and hoes which began to be used.

(b) Crops : Some new crops seem to have been discovered during this period, crops which are conspicuously absent from Vedic literature. Vihi and Taîâula are the terms used for rice in the Päli Nikäyas567 and the Jätakas568 which probably denote its different varieties. In the Jaina canonical literature, Kalamaáäli,569 raktaáäli, mahäáäli and gandhaáäli570 have been mentioned as different varieties of rice. Godhüma (wheat), barley (Yava), and millet (Kaõgu) were also produced. Among pulses cultivated were grams (Kaläya),571 beans (Mugga),572 pear  (Mäsa),573 and Kolatthi.574 Among oil-seeds, castor oil seed (Eraîâa), sesame (Tila), and mustard oil-seeds were well known. The discovery of the cereals, namely, rice, wheat, and pulses in the excavations at Ter and Nevasa in the N.B.P. level, testifies that they were cultivated.

Among fibre-yielding plants, cotton (Kappäsa) was the most important.575 Among other kinds of fabrics, silk (Kosseya), wool (uîîiya), linen (khoma), and hemp (saîa) may be mentioned. Probably indigo (guliya)576 and other chemical dyes were produced, for the mention of a variety of colours leads us to believe in their existence.

Among the spices mention is made of fresh ginger (siõgavera),577 dry ginger (suîûha), cloves (lavaõga), turmeric (haridrä), cumin (vesaîa), pepper (mariya), pippala (long pepper), and mustard (sarisavatthoga).578

Sugarcane (uchchhu) seems to have been a common crop. A sugarcane store-house (uchchhughara) is mentioned in Daáapura.579 The sugarcane press (Mahajanta : Kolluka)580 is also mentioned, there were sheds for pressing sugarcane (jantasäla).581 Jantapilaîa was an occupation specialising in crushing sugarcane, sesame, and other articles by machine.582 Puîâravardhana was noted for sugarcane cultivation.583 Three varieties of sugar are mentioned, viz., Machchaîâikä, puppottara, and  paumuttara.584 Gourds were grown585 and were used by the ascetics.586

Betel (tämbüla)587 and arecanut (püyaphali)588 were known. Vegetables called áäka and müla were grown in addition to vrinjal, cucumber, radish, pälaõka (mod. pälak), karella  (mod. Keretä), rubwe eoora (äluga), water-nut áôõatala, (mod. siõghäâä), onion, garlic, and gourd. Vegetable-gardens (kachchha) were known where radish, cucumber, etc., were grown.589 Among flowers, most important are navamälikä, koranûaka, bandhujïvaka, kaîera, jäti, mogara, yüthikä, mallikä, väsantï, môigadantikä, champaka, kunda, and others.590 Among fruits mention may be made of mango, fig, plantain, date, wood-apple, citron, bread-fruit, pomegranate, grapes, cocoanut, and others.591 Koûûaka was a drying place for fruits; people used to gather fruits from jungles and store them at this place; they carried them in waggons, bundles  etc. to cities for sale. Among the miscellaneous products of this period mention may be made of saffron (kuãkuma), camphor (kappüra), lac, sandal,592 honey (mahu), and others.

For protection of the standing crops from animals and birds, various steps were taken by the farmers. They dug pitfalls around the fields, fixed stakes, set stonetraps, and planted snares.593 They also guarded the fields by fences and placards.594 Wealthy cultivators kept watchmen who guarded their fields day and night.595

Crops were also damaged by natural calamities like drought and flood.596 Their references are found in many a literary work. Famines are known to have broken out in the countries of Uttaräpatha,597 Koáala,598 and Dakkhiîävaha.599 Päûalïputra,600 Kañchanapura,601 and Srävastï suffered considerable loss due to floods.

Arrangements were made for irrigating the fields by drawing water from tanks and wells, the remains of which have been discovered in the archaeological excavations conducted at Ujjain, Vaiáälï, etc. There were engineers who constructed canals for watering the fields.602 The Áäkyas and the Koliyas had made a dam on the river Rohiîï,603 an example which might have been followed by others elsewhere too.

Agriculture depended upon cattle comprising cows, buffaloes, goats, sheep, asses, camels, pigs, and dogs. The possession of these animals meant a sort of wealth for the people. In fact, cattle-rearing was one of their main occupations. The pasture grounds were known as gochara. During the day time, cattle were taken out to the grazing-land by the cowherds (Gopälakas) and returned by the evening to the people.

There were large cow-pens (gomaîâava) where the herds of cows, bulls, and calves were kept. Cattle-lifters (küâaggäha) often went to the cow-pen and robbed the cattle at night.604 Quarrels among cowherds are frequently referred to. Cows were often attacked and devoured by lions and tigers in the jungle.605

Dairy farming was in an advanced state and the supply of milk, and its four products (gorasa), viz., curds, buttermilk, butter, and ghee, were abundant. People, therefore, could get highly nutritious food. References to the milk of cow, buffalo, camel, goat, and sheep are often met with,606 Khiraghara was known as a place where milk products were available in plenty,607 Bullocks were used for pulling the plough. The cattle were also utilized for the production of hide, bones, ivory nails, and hair.608 Slaughter-houses were known. A slaughter-house where five hundred buffaloes were slaughtered every day has been mentioned.609

Flocks of sheep and goats were confined in an enclosure (väâaga).610 They were utilized for woolproduction. Brooms (rayaharaîa) and blankets were made of sheep wool.611 People used to kill sheep and eat their flesh seasoned with salt, oil and pepper.612 Mention is made of a young ram which was fed on rice and grass till it was fattened and killed on the arrival of the guest.613 Veterinary science also flourished.614

Forest Tracts

Near the village and town, forest tracts were located. A forest (aâavï) of eighteen yojanas is said to have existed near Räyagiha.615 Many species of trees covered with fruits and flowers have also been mentioned : nimba, ämra, jambu, áäla, aõkola, bakula, paläáa, putrañjana, bibhitaka, áiãáapä, áriparîi, aáoka tiîâuka kapittha, mätuliõga, bilva, ämalaga, phaîasa, däâima, aávattha, udumbara, vaûa, nandi, tilaka, áirisha, saptoparîa, lodhra, chandana, arjuna, tälatamäla, and others.616

The trees provided people with wood for the supply of firewood and litter. Various kinds of bamboos, creepers, grass, medicinal herbs, and roots were found in plenty. Vanakamma is mentioned as the occupation of those who dealt in wood, an occupation which included the felling of trees. Iõgälakamma was another profession the followers of which prepared charcoal from firewood.617 There were wood-gatherers (Kaûûhahäraga), leaf-gatherers (pattahäraga and grass-cutters (taîahäraga) whom we meet frequently roaming about in the forest.618

The forests also yielded other valuable animal products such as hides, skins, sinews, bones, teeth, horns, hoofs, and tails of such creatures as the leopard, tiger, lion, elephant, buffalo, yak, crocodile, tortoise, snake, and birds.

Arts, Crafts, Professions and Industries

Arts and crafts made considerable progress during this period. The earlier industries continued to make progress, but there was a tendency towards specialization in different branches of the same industry. With the growth and development of urban life, some new arts and crafts also began to meet the needs. With the establishment of big kingdoms, military needs also increased. Wide use of metal further increased the efficiency of several industries.


Next to agriculture, spinning and weaving should be regarded as most important. References to the weaver (tantuväya),619 the loom (tanta),620 weaving appliances (tantabhaîâa),621 and weaving sheds622 (tantuväyaáälä) in literary works suggest that weaving was fairly common in society. There were various textile fabrics such as linen (Khomaã), cotton (Kappäsikam), silk (kosseyam), wool (Kambalam), and hemp (säîam) out of which threads were spun and woven into cloth of various varieties and qualities.622

There are references to what is called the Käáï clothes which are said to be very fine.623 It is likely that other cities such are Árävastï, Kauáämbï, Räjagôiha, Champä, Vaiáälï, Kusinärä, and Mithilä manufactured plenty of textile goods of high quality both for domestic as well as foreign market.

Textile goods manufactured in those cities were of numerous varieties. Various kinds of garments, blankets, and curtains were among the finished goods. Costly and dainty fabrics of silk and gur are said to have been worked out into rugs, blankets, cushions, coverlets, and carpets.624 The Jätakas tell us that embroidered clothes were also manufactured. Kings put on turbans worked with gold.625 State elephants were aborned with golden clothes.626 Various kinds of garments, blankets and curtains were among the finished goods of the period.

Then there was also the washing and dyeing industry. Washermen formed one of the eighteen corporations and soda (Sajjiyäkhära) was one of their washing materials. Mention must also be made of the existence of laundries (rayagasälä).627 Clothes such as towels were dyed in saffron.628 Clothes dyed in red colour (käsäi) were worn in hot weather.629


Carpentry, which was one of the important occupations during this period, made great strides. Prior to the development of stone-architecture, wooden architecture was common. Carpenters were employed for building houses, palaces, halls and staircases. Next to house-building, they built ships, boats, vehicles of all sorts, carts and chariots of different kinds, and various machines. They made furniture for houses, such as seats, chairs, bed-steads, pegs, boxes, and toys. Wooden Sandals (pädalehaîiyä) were made by clever artists from the wood of various trees,630 were set with vaiâurya and excellent rishûa and añjana (granite) and then ornamented with glittering and precious stones.631 Axe, hatchet, and other implements were known as the tools of a carpenter.632

House Building

With the rise of cities and towns, the house-building activity greatly increased. For building a house the services of different artists were required. Among them, the architect was the foremost and indispensable. He was skilled in divining good sites633 and was well grounded in the science of constructing houses. Masons who worked with bricks (Iûûhakavaââhaki)634 and clod-hoppers (Gahapatisippakära)635 were also required for the construction of buildings. Apart from wooden structures, houses were built of bricks and mud. Probably such houses were of durable nature. Most probably houses of bricks and mud had wooden ceilings and roofs.

In the Jätakas, the stone-cutter (Päshäîakoûûaka)636 also figures as taking part in house-building. There is no direct evidence of stone architecture prior to the Mauryan age and the Jätakas in this respect may be regarded as referring to the Mauryan and post-Mauryan periods. Stone was used for laying the foundations of buildings in the pre-Mauryan age, but whether it was cut into specific sizes is doubtful.

The Jätaka description of the construction and decoration of a play-hall637 suggests that the practice of decorating the walls of buildings with various paintings was in vogue. It was the painter Chittakära who gave the finishing touch to the work of the architect, the carpenter, and the stonecutter. He probably painted frescoes on the clay and wooden walls after they were plastered.


Mining was an important industry at this time. The principal kinds of ores obtained from the mines were iron, copper, tin, lead, silver, gold and diamond.638 Iron and other metals were obtained by fusion.639 Besides metals, there were also several substances, such as salt (loîa), Soda (üsa), yellow orpiment (hariyäla), vermilion (hiõgulaya), arsenic (maîasila), mercury (säsaga) and antimony (Añjana).640


The economy of this period is marked by the widespread use of iron. The blacksmith (Kammära) occupied an important position among the artisans. In literary works, we find mention of smith-shops (Kammärasälä : aggikamma).641 Iron furnaces (ayakoûûha) are referred to and it is said that they were filled with ore, and a man handled it with tongs (saîâasï), then it was taken out and put on the anvil (ahikaraîi).642 The existence of the villages of the blacksmiths consisting of a thousand families suggests that this craft was in a flourishing condition.643

The discovery of different types of iron objects from the post-chalcolithic and pre-N.P. levels in the excavations at Ujjain, Nagda, Eran etc. confirms the wide popularity of iron to which the literary works of this period testify. Ujjain has yielded evidence of the existence of a kind of furnace meant for melting iron.644 Both from the literary and archaeological evidences, it is clear that iron was used for several purposes. Tools  and implements of warfare, such as daggers, knives, swords, arrow-heads, spear-heads, spikes and caltrops, were manufactured. Looking at the military needs of the time, production of war material must have been a large-scale industry that absorbed a number of blacksmiths. Articles of domestic use comprised blades, hooks, nails, chisels, drills, axes, lamps, ladles, bowls and rings. Iron had also penetrated into the sphere of agriculture in the form of hoes, choppers, hooks and sickles. The limitless potentialities of this new metal led to the quickening and expansion of agriculture, the utilization of forest wealth and the exploitation of mineral resources. It resulted in a surplus of wealth and prosperity. In the wake of the popularity of iron, use of copper became restricted. It was now used in the production of punchmarked and cast coins and also for manufacturing antimony rods, toys, rings, and beads.

Industry of Precious Metals

Because of great general prosperity, the industry of precious metals made its mark. The goldsmiths (swarîakäras) and maîikäras had a flourishing trade, Kumäranandi is mentioned as a rich goldsmith of Champä.645 Musiyadäraya was another goldsmith (Kaläya) of Teyalipura.646 Gold was first collected in the form of an ore metal; it was then refined and afterwards used for making ornaments. Both men and women were fond of wearing ornaments. The Buddhist, Jaina and Brahmanical sources reveal that several types of ornaments for different parts of the body were made out of such metals as gold and silver. We find allusions to Patûikä, muddikä (ring), vallikä or kuîâala (ear-ring), Keyüra or Graiveyaka (necklace), Suvarîamälä or Käñchanamälä (golden chain), Pämaõga (ear-drop), ovattikä (bangles) Hattharana (bracelet), mekhalä (waist-band), etc.647

Not only men and women but even elephants and horses were adorned with ornaments. The elephant wore neck-ornaments made of various gems and jewels and an upper garment. The horses were adorned with small mirrors (thäsaga) on their waists and chowries.648 Mayüräõgachülikäs are referred to as ornaments of cows.649 The Saãyutta-Nikäya650 and the Jätakas651 inform us that elephants, horses, chariots, etc., were decorated with golden ornaments (Savaîîälakõara), golden banners (Suvaîîadhaja), golden network (Hemajälapatichihhädana) and the like.

The kings and nobles used golden bowls in which they ate and drank. The chair, bed-steads, thrones, and royal cars used by kings were inlaid with gold.652 Golden vases (bhiõgära) were not unknown. Silver (rajata) was used frequently for preparing household utensils.653

Pearls, Gems and Precious Stones

In Jaina literature, we find references to many precious stones, jewels, pearls, conches, corals, rubies,654 gomedaya (zircon), ruchaka, aõka, sphaûika (quartz), lohitäksha, marakara (emerald), masäragella, bhujagamochaka (serpentine), indranïla (sapphire), haãsagarbha (a variety of rock-crystal), pulaka, saugandhika, (a ruby), chandraprabhä, vaiâürya (cat's eye), jalakänta or chandrakänta (moon-stone) and Süryakänta655 (sun-stone). Buddhist literature refers to muktä (pearls), maîi (crystal), beluriya (beryl), bhaddaka (luck-stone), saõkha, silä, paväla (coral), lohitaõka (ruby), and masäragala which were obtained from the ocean.656 Most of the jems and precious stones mentioned above were used for making ornaments657 and inlaid work. The art of skilfully cutting precious stones and giving them various shapes was known. Nanda is mentioned as a rich jeweller of Räyagiha.658 Bhaîâägära was known as a treasure-house where no less than sixteen kinds of jewels were preserved.659 We also hear of ten expert stringers (muttis).660

Ivory Work

Ivory work (dantaväîijja) was also a well-known industry, and ivory workers were mentioned among important artisans (áilpa-ärya). Some of the cities having separate quarters for the ivory-workers became the centres of this industry. These ivory-workers made bangles, trinkets, and articles of diverse forms.661 Costly carvings, ornaments, handles for mirrors, and inlaying of royal chariots were made by them.662 An instrument resembling a saw (kakacha or kharakakacha) is known to have been used for shaping the ivory pieces.663 Ivory was obtained from the forests, either from dead elephants or from the living ones.664 This industry has probably given rise to a class of people whose occupation was to collect elephant tusks from the forests.

Garland-making and perfumery

Garland-making and perfumery were practised because flowers were grown in large quantities. The garland-makers made beautiful garlands and bouquets.665 Apart from being objects of daily consumption, these garlands were in special demand on the occasion of marriages and festivals. There was a garland-maker named Ajjuîaya who had a flower garden (pupphäräma) in Räyagiha where flowers of different shades and colours were grown.666

The perfumer (gandhaka) used to manufacture several kinds of perfumes from various materials. His shop, known as gandhiyaáälä, was also common in those times.667 The Mahävagga refers to sandalwood, Tagara, black Anusäri, Käliya, and Bhadramuktaka which were used for perfuming ointments.668 The Nikäyas refer to scents produced from roots (Mülagandha), sära, flowers (Papphagadha), Phegu, Tacha, Papaûi, fruits (phalagandha), leaves (pattagandha), and juice (rasagandha).669 Among flowers from which perfumes were produced were Vassika, Mallikä, lotus and Piyaõgu,670 Agara, Tagara, and other flowers were also used for perfuming.


Literary as well as archaeological sources reveal that pottery was in a flourishing condition. The most important ware of this period is North Black Polished Ware. Smoothness and lustre are the characteristics of this pottery. It originated in the Indo-gangetic plains where much has been found in the excavations.

The Jätakas tell us that there existed potters' villages where various types of bowls, jars, and vessels of all types were made.671 Like weavers and blacksmiths, the potters also found favour with the Jaina Áramaîas who frequently took shelter in their shops. Saddälaputta is mentioned as a well-known potter of Poläsapura who owned five hundred shops outside the city, shops where a number of servants were employed.672 Hälähalä was another rich potter woman of Árävastï in whose shop Goáäla stayed.673

The usual way of making wares was this : lumps of clay (maûûiyä) were kneaded with water and mixed with ashes (chära) and dung (karisa); the mixture was placed on a wheel (chakka) which was rotated in order to mould the mixture into various vessels. The wet vessels were then dried and baked. Besides the vessels, various types of toys were also produced.674 This is also confirmed from the finds of terracotta figures of various objects from the archaeological excavations at several sites.


From the Jaina and Buddhist sources, it is known that dyeing was the profession of Rajaka, both washerman and dyer, who dyed clothes after properly washing them. The Vinayapiûaka informs us that dyed clothes – blue, light yellow, crimson, brown, black, brownish yellow and dark yellow – were prohibited for the monks.675 This suggests that clothes of these colours were used by the laity. The Jätakas mention garments, rugs, and curtains as dyed scarlet, orange, yellow, and red,676 and umbrellas as red.677 They also mention various colours such as white (seta), dark-blue (Nila), brown (Piõgala), yellow (Halidda), golden (suvaîîa), silvery (rajatamaya), red (Ratta Indagopa), black (käli), madder-like (Mañjeûûha),678 etc. It can be presumed that these colours were utilised for dyeing clothes.

The practice of dyeing clothes presupposes the existence of the industry of dye-making. Dyes were prepared from roots, trunks and barks of trees, leaves, flowers, and fruits.679 Dyes were first boiled in order to give a fast colour to clothes.680 Apart from dyeing clothes, dyes were needed for ladies who often painted their hands and feet.681

Gums, Drugs and Chemicals

There were small industries of gums, drugs, and chemicals, all in a flourishing condition. The Mahävagga mentions seven kinds of gums – Hiõgu, Hiõgulaka, Sipätika, Taka, Takapatti, Takapaîîi, and Sajjulasa.682 Drugs and chemicals were made of various roots,683 leaves,684 and fruits.685 For the mineral industry, acids were also produced.

Hunters, Fishermen and Fowlers

From Jaina and Buddhist literatures, it is known that people earned their livelihood as sheep-butchers, pork-butchers, fowlers, hunters, and fishermen. This indicates that eating flesh was common in those days. This is further confirmed by the discovery of a large number of bones from different archaeological sites.

Hunting (miyavaha) is referred to in the Bhagavatï,686 there were regular hunters (migaluddhaya) whose occupation was to capture or kill the animals and earn their living by selling them. Hunting with hounds is also mentioned.687 Such hunters were called soîiya (áaunika), others who captured animals with the help of snares were known as Vägurika.688 Hunters were differentiated according to the animals or birds they used to catch or kill.689

The fowlers (sauîiya) are noticed with bow and arrow aiming at partridges, ducks, quails, pigeons, monkeys, and francoline partridges (kapiñjala).690 Birds were caught with hawks (viâaãsiya), trapped in nets (jäla), and captured with the help of bird-lime (leppa).691

Fishermen known as Machchhaghätakas and Kevaûas caught fish with hooks (jäla) and in bow-net (maggarajäla) and then cleaned and killed.692 There were colonies693 of fishermen who caught fish from rivers and sold them in the market.

Leather Work

Leather industry seems to have been in a fairly advanced condition. The cobbler, known as Chammakära or Padakära manufactured various types of leather goods, but shoemaking was his most important occupation. Shoes were made with skins of lion, tiger, panther, otter, cat, squirrel, and owl.694 Shoes and slippers could be blue, yellow, red, brown, black, orange, or yellowish.695 Sometimes they were set with gold696 and wrought with various threads.697 Besides shoes, the cobbler also made leather socks,698 shields of hundred layers,699 and leather parachutes.700 He also seems to have been making ropes, sheaths and traps.701

Liquor Distilling

The profession of a rasaväîijja or of a dealer in wine is also mentioned. The Jaina literature refers to the following varieties of wine : chandraprabhä, manisiläkä, varasïdhu, varaväruîï, äsava, madhu, meraka, rishûäbhä or jambuphalakalikä, dugdhajäti, prasannä, tallaka (variant nellaka or mellaga), sutäu, kharjürasära, môidvikäsära, käpiáyana, supakva and ikshurasa.702 Most of the these wines were named after their colour and prepared from various fruits, flowers, and grains. Drinking wine seems to have been common in those days, and there were also wine-shops in the market.

Trade and Commerce

Trade and commerce prospered greatly during this period owing mainly to plentiful production. Numerous crafs and industries sprang up for preparing manufactured goods. Facilities for transport and communication led to their proper distribution and utilisation. The beginning of coinage provided facilities for the exchange of goods.

In every village and town, there were markets with several shops (äpaîa). Arrows and carriages and articles for sale were displayed in the äpaîa703 or fixed shop or, it might be, stored within the antaräpaîa.704 Textile fabrics,705 groceries and oil,706 green groceries,707 grain,708 perfumes and flowers,709 articles of gold and jewellery710 were among the items sold in the bazars. For the sale of liquors, there were taverns (pänägäraäpaîa).711 Trade in strong drinks, poisons, flesh, daggers, and slaves was disapproved for those who cared for morals.712 The prices of goods were settled between the producer and merchant by haggling, competition, and custom.713 There were hawkers714 who earned their livelihood by retail trading. Local products were consumed in the villages and towns and the surplus, if any, was despatched to trade-centres in different parts of the country.

Trade and Industrial Centres

Many trade and industrial centres of this period are known. Champä was an important industrial centre in those days. The Näyädhammakahä715 describes the sea-faring merchants of Champä, who loaded their waggons with various goods and proceeded to deep sea-harbours. Jiîapäliya, Jiîarakkhiya,716 Pälita,717 and Dhana718 were famous merchants who dealt both in inland and foreign trade. Räjagôiha, Vaiáälï, and Banaras were rich, happy and thriving commercial centres where wealthy merchants resided.

Ujjeîï was another great centre of trade. During the reign of king Pradyota, nine great stores or emporiums are mentioned in Ujjeîï, where all sorts of goods, including diamonds, were available.719 Dhanavasu, a merchant of this place who left for Champä with a caravan, was attacked by robbers.720 Ayala of this place loaded his boats with goods and journeyed to Pärasaula; he earned plenty of wealth there and anchored at Beîîäyaâa.721

Mathurä was another business centre. People lived here on trade, and there was, curiously enough, no cultivation of land in this town.722 The merchants from Mathura used to go to the south on business.723 Sopäraya is described as another emporium of trade, a centre which was inhabited by five hundred tradesmen.724 Then there was Suraûûha725 which was joined with Päîâu Mathurä by sea.726 We hear of horse merchants arriving in Bäravai for trade.727 Vasantapura was another emporium whence traders used to journey ot Champä.728 We hear of a merchant going from Khilpaûûhiya to Vasantapura.729 Hattisisa was a commercial centre where a number of merchants resided. From here they journeyed to Käliyadïva where there were rich mines of gold, jewels, and diamonds and which was also noted for horses.730 A merchant named Pälita of Champä went on business to the town of Pihuîâa or Pithuîâa a sea-coast town.731

Commodities of Inland Trade

With regard to inland trade, all we know is that there were several commodities that were exchanged. The sea-faring merchants of Champä loaded their carts with four kinds of goods, viz., that which could be counted (gaîima) such as betelnuts etc., balanced (dharima) such as sugar etc., measured (meya) such as ghee, rice, etc., and scrutinized (parichchhejja) such as cloth, jewel, etc.732 Gold and ivory were carried from Uttaräpatha to Dakshiîäpatha for sale. Cloth seems to be an important exchangeable commodity. Mathurä and Vidiáä are mentioned as textile centres.733 The country of Ganda was famous for silken garments.734 Textile fabrics coming from the east to the country of Läûa were sold at a higher price.735 Tämalitti,736 Malaya,737 Käka,738 Tosali,739 Sindhu,740 and Dakshiîäpatha741 were famous for various kinds of textile materials. Nepal was noted for fluffy blankets.742 Woollen blankets were sold at a high price in Mahäräsûra.743

The Näyädhammakahä refers to various kinds of textile fabrics which were loaded in waggons and carried for sale.744 There was another important commodity that was exchanged in those days. Käliyapïva was known for beautiful horses, and it had mines of silver, gold, jewels, and diamonds.745 Another name celebrated for horses746 is Kamboja. Uttaräpatha was famous for thorough-bred horses.747 Dïlaväliyä was noted for mules.748 Puîâra was known for black cows,749 Bheraîâa for sugarcane,750 and Mahähimavanta for gosïsa sandal.

Trade Routes and Transport

There was a network of routes not only connecting the important cities and towns through roads and water-ways within the country but also leading to foreign lands. Räjagôha, Vaiáälï, Árävastï, Väräîasï, and Champä were the important towns of Eastern India. From the account of the journeys made by Mahävïra and the Buddha, we know about the routes connecting these towns. These cities had trade transactions through land routes with distant lands like Gandhära, Kamboja, Sind and Kashmir. Not only merchants but also warriors and saints traversed these routes.

There were several minor routes in Eastern India connecting towns and cities. As Räjagôha was the capital of Magadha at this time, it was connected with Kapilavastu, Árävastï, Mithilä, Champä, and Kaliõga by separate routes as is apparent from Buddhist literature. From the itinerary of Mahävïra also, it seems that Räjagôha was linked separately with Kuîâagräma, Älabhivä, Árävastï, Vaiáälï, and Champä.751 Besides, there were three distant routes which started from Räjagôha to far off places.

Räjagôha-Pushkalävatï route or the Uttaräpatha

This route connected Räjagôha with Takshasilä and Pushkalävatï which were great trade centres of North-west India. Takshaáilä became an international trade centre because it is through this place that India established trade relations with the West. This route has been referred to as Uttaräpatha by Päîini752 and was known to the Greeks as ‘Northern Route’. It seems to have passed through Päûaliputra, Väräîasï, Kauáämbï, Mathurä, Indraprastha, and Säkala. From Pushkalävatï, it probably branched off to Kashmir to the North-East and to Bactria to the North-West. It is only by this route that students from various parts of Eastern India, such as Räjagôiha,753 Vaiáälï, Mithila,754 and Väräîasï, used to go to Takshaáilä, the famous seat of learning.

Räjagôiha-Pratishûhäna Route

According to Päîini, this route was known as Käntärapatha755 because it passed through a forest region. It is the same as the above route (Käjagôiha-Pushkalävatï) up to Kauáämbï, from where it passed through Vansahvaya, Vedisa, Gonaddha, Ujjeni, Mahissati, and then Patiûûhäna.756 Caravans going to Bharukachchha passed through this route up to Mähishmatï from where they had to branch off to Bharukachchha.

Räjagôiha-Sindhu Region Route

This route led westward to Sind, the home of horses and asses, and to Sauvïra and its ports, with its capital called Roruka. Upto Mathurä, this western route was the same as the Räjagôha-Pushkalävatï route, but there it branched off to the Sindhu region. It passed through the desert of Rajasthan.

Means of Conveyance

For inland trade through roads, the chief modes of conveyance were carts drawn by oxen, horse carriages, litters and sedan chairs. The merchant Änanda had five fundred carts for distant traffic and the same number for local use. While the rich rode on elephants, the ordinary people employed camels, horses, and asses.

The Caravans

Keeping in view the difficulties met with by the traveller on these land routes, merchants used to travel in a caravan. After loading their carts and animals with goods, these merchants started their long journey with their captain called Setthaväha, who gave them directions regarding halts, inns, routes, fords, and danger-spots. The Jätakas757 inform us that the caravan had to face five major difficulties and dangers – robbers, wild beasts, draught, demons, and famine. The Sattavähas had to have ample and proper equipment for a safe journey. The journey through the desert was hard as well as interesting. The guide, who led the caravan through the desert, was known as the Thalaniyämaka758 (desert pilot). Equipped with his knowledge of the stars, he led the caravan in the right  direction. The Ävaáyakachürîi759 gives an account of how a caravan suffered in passing through the desert due to scarcity of water. The Vinaya texts also refer to caravan going from Räjagôiha to the west.760

River Transport

Besides land routes, there were also river routes. The great rivers, such as Gaõgä, Yamunä, Sarayü, Áoîa, Gaîâakï, Kosi, and others, served the purpose of communication and transport. The famous riverports Champä, Päûalïputra, Väräîasï, and Koáämbï were connected by waterways. These waterports were connected with trade centres on the land. Sometimes, the river routes were more convenient and less costly, and safer and quicker than roads. Because of these river routes, there must have been brisk inland trade. Ships, big boats, and small sailing boats were used for the purpose of navigation. Sometimes heavy objects such as pillars and logs were transported from one place to another.

Oversea Trade

From the literary sources of this period, it is clear that Indians were carrying on brisk oversea trade. The Theragäthä speaks of merchants sailing on sea with the hope of earning wealth.761 The Jätaka stories tell us of several shipwrecks,762 specious ships763 ship-building activities,764 and of seafarers sailing to different countries for trade. The Näyädhmmakahä gives a beautiful description of a sea voyage. Arhannaga and other merchants of Champä loaded their boats with merchandise and proceeded on their journey. There is a description of a shipwreck caused by a terrible cyclone.765 The Baudhäyana-Dharmasütra766 shows that navigation was peculiar to Brähmaîas of the North. The mention of various terms associated with navigation leaves no doubt about the practice of travelling far and wide during this period.767

The Jätakas inform us that traders from the river-ports on the Gaõga went to the eastern lands across the sea. The Saõkha Jätaka describes the journey of the Brähmaîa Sa kha from Väräîasï to Suvarîabhümi (Purma and portions of Indo-Chinese Peninsula).768 There are references to voyages from Champä to Suvarîabhümi. Prince Mahäjanaka is said to have travelled in a ship with approximately 350 men and reached there.769 Traders from Vaiáälï also seem to have been going to Suvarîabhümi and other places for trade. The Välahassa Jätaka speaks of trade between Väräîasï and Tämbapaînidïpa.770 It seems that these traders of Väräîasï, Champä, and Vaiáälï sailed to eastern lands with their ships carrying locally manufactured goods. Though only Suvarîabhümi and Tämbapaîîidïpa are mentioned, it can be assumed that trade was carried on with many other islands of the East Indies. The Mahäniddesa tells us that India's trade to the East existed with Kälamukha, Suvaîîabhümi, Vesuõga, Veräpatha, Takkola, Tämali, Tämbapaîîi, and Jävä. The first two of these places can be identified with Arakan coast and lower Burma. The next two correspond to Ptolemy's Besyngeitai, Barbai, and Takkala.771 Tämali has been identified by Sylvain Levi with Tämraliõga in the Malaya Peninsula. The Apadäna states that traders from Malaya and China visited India.772

There is archaeological and literary evidence for a maritime trade between India and the western countries during this period. A beam of Indian cedar in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar (604-562 B.C.) at Birs Nimrud has been found. In the second storey of the temple of the Moon-god at Ur, rebuilt by Nebuchadnezzar and Nabonidus, Taylor found two rough logs of wood, apparently teak imported into Babylonia from India.773 The Baveru-Jätaka774 relates the adventures of certain Indian merchants who took the first peacock by sea to Babylon. J. Kennedy,775 who worked on this subject concluded that maritime commerce between India and Babylon flourished in the seventh and sixth centuries B.C., especially in the 6th century B.C. Writing on India's ancient trade, Jackson has observed that the Buddhist Jätakas and some of the Sanskrit law-books too tell us that ships from Bhroach and Sopärä traded with Babylon from the eighth to the sixth century B.C.776

The Suppäraka Jätaka777 says that a band of travellers sailed from the port of Bharukachchha and passed through six seas, under the leadership of a skilled mariner. The seas, thus mentioned, are Khutamäla, Aggimäla, Dadhimäla, Nïlakusamäla, Nalamäla, and Balabhämukha. These seas have been identified with the Persian gulf, the Arabian coast, Nubia on the North-East corner of Africa, the canal joining the Red sea and the Mediterranean, the Mediterranean and some portion of the Mediterranean. If this identification is correct it can be established that Indians possessed the knowledge of a sea-route from the West coast to the Mediterranean.778

In the Dïgha Nikäya, there is an explicit reference to ships sailing out of sight of land. Certain Indian commodities, e.g. rice, peacocks and sandal-wood, were known to the Greeks and others with their Indian names in the fifth century B.C. It follows that they were imported from the west coast of India into Babylon directly by sea.779

India's trade relations with Persia during this period are known. Ayala is said to have loaded his boats (Vähaîa) with goods and journeyed from Ujjeîï to Pärasaula (Persia); he earned plenty of wealth there and anchored at Beînäyaâa. Persia was used to export various commodities, such as Áaõkha, phopphala, chandana, agaru, mañjiûûha silver, gold, jems, pearls, and corals.780 Trade relations between India and Persia were normal because Gandhära (Northern Punjab) became a part of the dominions of the Persian emperors in the sixth or fifth century B.C., and the Indians paid tribute in gold to them. Herodotus also refers to the Indian contingent of Xerxes' army clad in cotton garments and armed with cane bows and iron-tipped cane arrows.

The description in the Ceylonese chronicles781 of prince Vijaya's voyage to Ceylon from Bengal with his 700 followers presupposes a regular sea trade and commercial intercourse. We read of traders coasting round India from Bharukachchha on the west to Suvarîabhümi and touching on the way at a port in Ceylon.782 It is said that the sea-going merchants halted at Simhala dïva (Ceylon) in the middle of their journey.783

The head of the mariners (Niyämakas) was known as Niyämakajeûhaka. He was probably the captain, the owner of the ship, and the leader of travellers voyaging with him. It was his great responsibility to pilot the ship efficiently and unerringly.

The merchants, who returned to their country with valuables, sometimes practised fraud in order to avoid payment of royal taxes. The Räyapaseîiya refers to those who traded in aõka jewel, conch-shells or ivory, and to those who, instead of taking the regular highway, always chose the most difficult routes in order to evade taxes.784 We hear of the king of Beîîäyaâa who detected the trick of a deceitful merchant and had him arrested.785

The chief articles of export from India were spices, perfumes, medicinal herbs, pigments, pearls, precious stones like diamond, sapphire, turquoise, and lapis lazuli, iron, steel, copper, sandalwood, animal skins, cotton cloth, silk yarn, muslin, indigo, ivory, procelain, and tortoise-shell. The principal imports were cloth, linen, perfumes, medicinal herbs, glass, tin, lead, pigments, precious stones, and coral.

Progress in the sphere of trade and commerce is reflected in the general economic condition of the people. We have several references to very rich merchant-millionaires of those days in literature. One of them, Anäthapiîâika, is said to have purchased the Jetavana park for the Buddha by covering the whole surface of it with gold coins. Änanda from Väîijagräma, Kämadeva from Champä, Süradeva from Banaras, Sardalaputra from Poläsapura, and Mahasataka from Räjagôiha were famous wealthy of the middle merchants who became followers of Mahävïra. The wealth of the middle classes appears from their dress, ornaments, houses, and furniture. There is no reference to extreme poverty or to paupers as a class. On the whole, people lived happily in peace and prosperity.

Organization of Trade and Industries

The most remarkable feature of the economic life during this period was that trade and industries were organized for the first time into guilds known as Áreîis. These Áreîis were the corporation of the people belonging to the same or different castes but following the same trade and industry. These guilds were autonomous bodies and their members managed their own affairs. There was little interference by the state in the affairs of the guild.

The Brahmanical, Buddhist, and Jaina sources make references to guilds. The Gautama Dharma Sütra786 mentions the guilds of cultivators, traders, herdsmen, and artisans. The Jätakas787 refer to eighteen guilds which, though a conventional number, show the extensive character of the organisation. There are various branches of trade and industry which, together, considerably exceed the number eighteen. The guilds of woodworkers, the smiths, the leather-dressers, and the painters are specifically mentioned.788 In Jaina literary works, the guilds of goldsmiths,789 painters,790 and washermen791 are mentioned, and about the rest, we do not know much.

Organization and Constitution

The Jätakas throw some light on the organization and constitution of these guilds. These guilds were, to begin with, well organized under their respective chiefs called Pamukha or Jeûûhaka, an officer who was something like an alderman or a president. Among such craft-guild chiefs, the names of Baââakijeûûhaka,792 Mäläkärajeûûhaka,793 and Kumärajeûûhaka794 are important. These chiefs might be important Ministers in attendance upon and in favour with the king. In the Süchi Jätaka,795 there is a description of Kumärajeûûhaka, a favourite of the king's.

There were also merchant-guilds under the chiefs called Seûûhis. Because of wealth, they got special status in society. They visited the royal court as representatives of the business community. One such chief was Anäthapiîâika, who was the Mahäseûûhï, the president of a commercial federation, with numerous Anuseûûhïs under him.796 Different guilds also federated under a common president, called Bhäîâägärika, to check their internal disunion. Such a Bhäîâägärika was acting in the city of Banaras.797 He was expected to be conversant with the affairs of trade and business and with the working of the guilds.

These guilds were gradually converted into hereditary castes on the basis of occupation. In ordinary times, the sons pursued their paternal occupation. Besides, these guilds became localized in particular areas. They gave impetus to specialization and efficiency of labour. Villages inhabited almost exclusively by one type of craftsmen came into existence. There are references to the villages of smiths, potters, carpenters, saltmakers, etc. Even in towns, there was provision for separate quarters and suburbs for the members of each guild.

The guilds were autonomous bodies having their own laws. The corporate existence of guild was recognized by the state.798 Guilds exercised considerable control over the members.799 Probably the settlement of disputes among its members and the solution of the problems of trade and business fell under the jurisdiction of the guild. It could also settle the disputes between wives and husbands.800 That guild organizations were well-disciplined and maintained solidarity is suggested by a Jätaka story which describes the shifting of 100 families of carpenters overnight.801

A guild worked for the welfare of its members, and it had a right to approach the king and demand justice. A painter was ordered to be executed by prince Malladinna; the guild of the painters visited the king, explained the matter, and requested him to quash the sentence passed against the member of its union. The king was pleased to commute the sentence into banishment.802 Then we hear of a washermen's guild approching the king in order to demand justice.803

Some of the guilds probably carried on banking business too. In cities like Räjagôiha, Árävastï, Vaiáälï and others, where brisk trade and business were carried on, the guilds of Áreshûhins might have been functioning as banking institutions. They accepted money from others on interest and invested it in trade or lent it on interest to smaller tradesmen.

Some of these guilds might have issued coins. The earliest coins known as the punchmarked coins started in about the seventh or sixth century B.C. It is probable that some of them might have been issued by these guilds even in the sixth century B.C., because it seems, there was no state monopoly of manufacturing and of issuing coins. That Takshaáilä merchant guilds minted coins is almost certain in the light of the evidence yielded by Negama coins.804

The members of these guilds sometimes carried on their business in partnership. Some Jätakas, such as Küûavaîika Jätaka,805 Bäveru Jätaka,806 and Mahävaîija Jätaka,807 describe business partnership of merchants. This enabled the smaller traders to transact business on a fairly large scale. Such an undertaking was much useful for the land-trader (Sätthavähas) transacting business under a Jeûûhaka.808 The traders of Sävatthi became partners and went to the west with a large caravan. Similar may have been the case with traders of Räjagôha, Vaiáälï, Päûalïputra, and other centres of trade. The partners divided their earnings either equally or in proportion to their investments, or as agreed upon among themselves.

The exact nature of the relations between the guilds and the state is not known. The king used to recognise the guild laws and also consulted with the guilds on matters of mutual interest. There was probably a permanent representative of the guild at the royal court or in the Ministry. The Uruga Jätaka809 tells as that two of the guild leaders were included among the Kosala Mahämätras. A blacksmith is called Räjaballabha in one of the Jätakas, which suggests his close association with the royal court. In some of the stories, kings are described as summoning all the guilds (Sabbaseîiya) on certain occasions. Probably the Seûûhi visited the royal court as a representative of the business community, and the same may have been the case with the heads of the guilds.


The most remarkable feature of this period is the introduction of regular coins in business transaction. The ancient system of barter and of reckoning values by cows or by grains was gradually replaced by coinage. Before the beginning of the regular currency, there were ingots of gold and other metals of calculated weight. We find transition from this stage to that of the coin proper, i.e., a piece of metal of recognized weight and fineness guaranteed by the stamp of authority.

The coins in use during this period are known as puchmarked coins and cast coins. The punchmarked coins were punched by a number of symbols successive by different punches. Sometimes the symbols overlapped one another and sometimes they were but partly accommodated on the flan. Insofar as the cast coins were concerned, the symbols were already carefully arranged and engraved on the die before they were struck on the bank.

Punchmarked coins were known at the time of their issue as Kärshäpaîas – a term by which they are referred to in the Tripiûaka, the Jätaka, and the Ashûädhyäyï of Päîini, some of the Dharmasütras810 and Jaina canonical literature.811

Several hoards of punchmarked coins have been found throughout India, some of them containing even pre-Mauryan currency. The larger Bhir Mound812 hoard of punchmarked coins at Taxila found in the second stratum contained two coins of Alexander the great and one of Philip Ariadeus which were in the mint condition, besides 1055 silver punch-marked coins. The stratification of this hoard and the mint condition of the coins of the two Greek rulers show that the hoard was buried not much later than 317 B.C. As some of these punchmarked coins of this hoard were old, blurred and indistinct, it may be assumed that they were used at least about two centuries earlier. The Paila hoard813 contained about 1245 coins. These coins belong to very early times. They were probably the currency of Pañchäla before the rise of the Mauryan empire. The Golakhpur814 hoard of 108 coins and the Ramna hoard815 of 48 coins have been assigned to the pre-Mauryan age by G.H.C. Walsh. 709 out of 2873 coins of the Patraha hoard816 and about one-third of the Machhuatoli hoard817 fall under the category of pre-Mauryan currency. Early punchmarked coins have been found at Räjagôiha.818

An analysis of the punchmarked coins found in different hoards helps us in postulating some rough tests to determine the chronology of some of these coins. It may be presumed that the larger and thinner punchmarked coins belong as a general rule to an earlier date than the smaller and thicker ones. D.D. Kosambi has shown that generally the number of reverse marks on the early coins increases with their age while their weight decreases correspondingly.

A six-armed symbol with three arrow heads and three ovals was found on the coins in the Golakhpur hoard. It has therefore been suggested with great probability that this particular variety of the six-armed symbol belongs to the pre-Mauryan age. On the coins of the Bhir Mound hoard, we find the symbols of the Sun, the six arms, a hill above a tank with two fish, and a peculiar symbol surrounded with five taurineess. The coins with these symbols were current just before the foundation of the Mauryan empire. Coins having a hare on a hill and a bull on a hill were widely current in northern India on the eve of the Mauryan empire, and may have been issued by the kings of the time of Bimbisära and some by the rulers of the Nanda dynasty.

The number of symbols on the obverse is generally five. On some coins, there is a sixth symbol, but it probably represents an authentication mark punched later; 19 coins in the Bhir Mound hoard (1924) had a sixth mark. One coin in the Paträha hoard had also a sixth mark. There are also some coins having four symbols. Such for instance is the case with the coins of the Paila hoard. The bent bar coins have only two symbols along with a third one which may have been added later. The obverve symbols on ardha-Kärshäpaîas and päda-Kärshäpaîas were naturally fewer. The tiny mäshaka pieces could with difficulty accommodate only one symbol.

The reverse side, which was originally blank, began to be punched haphazardly at different times with a number of symbols. On the coins of the later period, their number is reduced to one or two, and they seem to have been impressed on a definite plan and probably at one time. The symbols on the reverse are generally smaller in size than those on the obverse. Some of them are square, some rectangular, some oblong, some polygonal, some elliptical, and some circular. Some coins have become cupshaped owing to the punching of a number of symbols on their thin flans. Some are of the shape of a bent bar.

The punchmarked coins are usually found in silver and copper. Silver pieces are more numerous than the copper ones. Gold Kärshäpaîas may also have been issued like the silver and copper ones. Their non-discovery is not a decisive argument against their existence.

The vast majority of the silver punchmarked coins follow the standard of 16 mäshakas of 32 ratis. The average weight of well-preserved punchmarked coins is approximately 56 grains. In ancient Koáala, we have found a number of punchmarked coins weighing only about 42 to 43 grains. It is, therefore, clear that ancient Koáala was following lighter-weight standard of 12 mäshakas or about 42 grains. The province of Gandhära was issuing silver punchmarked coins known at present as Bent-bar coins and probably called Äyatäkära Kärshäpaîas in ancient times. The largest denomination coins of this series weigh about 175 grains. This weight is equal to that of 100 ratis or double sigloi of the Achaemenian standard.

Dvi-Kärshäpaîas of this weight standard are also found. Large Koáala coins, which weigh about 79 or 80 grains, are most probably dvi-kärshäpaîa pieces of the 12 mäshaka standard. Ardha-Kärshäpaîas are frequently referred to in the Tripiûakas, the Jätakas, and in the grammatical works. Quarter Kärshäpaîas were often known as pädas. The chaturmäshaka, Trimäshaka, Dvi-mäshaka, Eka-mäshaka, Ardha-mäshaka, and Käkaîika were also known. To carry on daily transactions, currency of small denominations was also issued.

The Symbols on the Punchmarked Coins

The reverse marks on the earlier coins occur haphazardly. Usually, the more worn out a coin is the larger is the number of its reverse marks. The principal marks on the obverse appeared not haphazardly, but they had a definite significance. The most common symbols are the Sun and six arms. It is quite possible that this Sun symbol had a mythological significance. Solar dynasties were ruling at Ayodhyä and in Videha. It is, therefore, not improbable that the Sun symbol was originally intended to denote the Solar origin of the dynasty of the issuer, and when once it had become popular, it may have been mechanically copied on the coinage of other dynasties as well. This is also the tone of the coins bearing an elephant and a bull as symbols.

The symbols had probably some conventional, local or religious significance. The bull may denote Vatsa dynasty of Koáämbï. The hill and tank marks in their different varieties may be different places or region marks.

On most of the punchmarked coins, there are five symbols on the obverse which have occasioned a number of conjectures to explain them. Two of these symbols, the Sun and six-armed symbol, are constant and do not carry much significance. Durga Prasad had suggested that the third symbol probably changed with the king, the fourth with the year, and the fifth with the locality. According to D.D. Kosambi, they may refer to the names of the ruling king, his father, and his grandfather. It is equally possible that one of the symbols may have stood for the Governor, the other for the mint master and the third for the place or province of issue.

D.D. Kosambi has also suggested that the symbol of the hill may denote descent. Thus the peacock and the elephant on the hill would denote descent of the dynasty of the issuer from the peacock or elephant or gods, having them as their mounts. G.H.C. Walsh has suggested that all coins having elephants upon them may be taken to have been issued by kings as distinguished from those issued by Saãghas. Elephants are almost universally associated with royalty.


In early Buddhist literature, we find the prices of every vendible commodity mentioned, prices of a dead mouse too as well as fees, pensions, fines, loans, stored treasures and incomes stated in figures of a certain coin or its fractions.819 In most cases, prices given are fantastic and fabulous. Only a few references may be regarded as mentioning the actual market-price of certain commodities. It appears that articles of food were cheap. According to the Vinaya texts, a small quantity of ghee or oil could be bought for a Kahäpaîa only.820 Meat for a chameleon could be bought for a Käkiîï or an Addha-Mäsaka,821 and a fish cost only seven Mäshakas.822 A jar of liquor was available for one Mäshaka.823 It is further said that a Mäshaka was sufficient for an ordinary wage-earner to buy a garland, perfume, and some strong drink.824

Animals of interior quality were cheap while those of superior quality were costly. A thoroughbred horse cost 1,000 Kahäpaîas825 a donkey only eight Kahäpaîas826 a pair of oxen 24 Kahäpaîas,827 a nice plump dog on Kahäpaîa, and a cloak828 and a dead mouse only one Käkiîï.829 As far as the price of land is concerned, a monastic cell (vihära) could be purchased for 500 Kahäpaîas.830 A play-hall for 600 boys constructed by voluntary labour is estimated to have cost 1,000 Kahäpaîas.831 We are told that a partridge could be bought for one Kähävaîa832 and a cow for fifty coins;833 the price of a blanket varied from 18 rüpakas to a hundred thousand rüpakas.834

There are numerous references that show how prices were determined by haggling.835 The act of exchange between the producer and dealer during this period was a free bargain, a transaction unregulated by any system of statute-fixed prices.836 There was no authority which could fix prices and force the traders to sell at the rate fixed. No doubt, there was an official of the state known as the court-valuer (Agghakäraka, Agghäpanaka, Agghäpanika)837 whose duty was to fix prices of the articles bought for the royal household, but he was not concerned with the whole society.

Fees and Salaries

Like prices, we find generally exaggerated statements about fees and salaries, but a few references do appear to be authentic. Thus the Mahävagga tells us that a courtesan's fee for one night was 50 to 100 Kahäpaîas.838 A teacher's honorarium for the whole course was probably 1,000 silver Kahäpaîa.839 A labourer earned only 11/2 Mäshaka daily according to a Jätaka story.840 There are references to show that the earning of the labourer was not sufficient enough to ensure him a happy life, and that he lived in stark penury and misery.841

Loans and Interest

Loans and debts could be taken on interest. There was a money-lender Änanda of Väîijyagäma.842 Money lending was looked upon as an honest calling. Letters of credit as substitutes for money were known. It is noteworthy that the Gautamadharmasütra843 prescribes a limit to the interest chargeable by the creditor. The lawful limit is 11/4% per month or 15% per year. The interest cannot exceed the principal howsoever long the debt may remain unpaid.844

Weights and Measures

Because of the rapid progress in the sphere of trade and commerce, weights and measures were properly maintained. Päîinï845 mentions them as Äâhaka, Achita, Patra, Droîa, and Prastha. According to the Vasishûha Dharmasütra,846 right measurement is necessary and the king should arrange for it. False weights and measures were considered to be crimes. According to Äpastamba,847 if any one uses wrong measure, he should not be invited to a Áräddha. The Buddha says that if a person earns money by weighing less, he is a liar.848 In the Mahänärada Kassapajätaka,849 there is a reference to a Weighing House, Weights made of steatite and jasper of different denominations discovered in excavations at Eran, Vaiáälï and Chirand also prove that commodities were weighed and sold.

5.  Art and Architecture

It is somehow difficult to give a detailed account of art and architecture during the age of Tïrthaõkara Mahävïra,  primarily because no sufficient specimen are surviving. It is not unlikely that being made of perishable materials like wood, they have vanished. It is also likely that some of them might still be lying buried under the soil. The noteworthy feature of this period is the revival of urban life and coming into existence of a number of towns, the remains of some of which have been excavated. Along with the urban life, several new arts and crafts started. This period is noteworthy also for the introduction of a new fabric in pottery known as the North Black Polished Ware. Many a literary work throws abundant light on the art and architecture of this period.


1. Secular Architecture

(a) Town architecture

Even before Tïrthaõkara Mahävïra, there were towns and cities during the period of the Indus Valley civilization. The traces of such towns have been discovered at Mohenjodäro, Harappä, Rüpar, Älamgirpur, Sarasvatï Valley in Rajasthan, Lothal, and Raõgpur. Vedic literature offers evidence of the existence of such towns as Äsandïvant,850 Kämpïla,851 Ayodhyä,852 and Kaüáämbï.853 The word Pura denoting rampart, fort, or stronghold frequently occurs in Vedic literature.854 Deities like Indra and Agni are involved in destroying enemy's forts,855 many of which were wide and broad and had ramparts of mud or unbaked bricks, probably also a stone facing.856 The word Dehï, referring to defences or ramparts of hardened earth with palisades and a ditch, occurs in the Rigveda.857 A passage in the Áatapatha Brähmaîa shows that the moat or ditch was also known in the period of this Brähmaîa.858

Archaeological excavations reveal that in about 1025 B.C., Kauáämbï developed as a town fully equipped for its protection by the magnificent defences built on the Harappan pattern. The discovery of Harappan site at Älamgirpur (District Meerut, U.P.) has established definite evidence of the penetration of the Harappan culture into the Gaõgä-Yamunä Doab. Similarly the fortification of Kauáämbï built after the Harappan pattern is obvious. A rampart of mud with sloping sides revetted with a burnt brick wall, battered back to about 30° to 40°, of which the coarses are laid in the so-called English bond, leaving footings in succesive courses, reinforced by bastions and towers, square in plan, are elements of construction strongly reminiscent of the Harappan citadel. The defences, built on this model, continued for some time, and they also made use of a curved entrance, enclosing an underground passage built on corbelled arch. In about 885 B.C., the concept of defence was revolutionized by the construction of a most round the rampart, a feature not yet recorded from any Harappan city.859

Literary works of the days of Tïrthaõkara Mahävïra contain the names of the principal cities of India. Some Jaina canonical works860 refer to ten capital cities of India – Räyagiha, Champä, Mahurä, Väräîasï, Sävatthi, Säkeya, Kampilla, Koáämbï, Mihilä, and Hatthinäura. The Buddhist canon861 testifies to the existence in India of populous cities with large buildings long before the time of the Buddha. Päîini862 refers to some important towns of his time : Käpiáï, Takashaáilä, Hastinäpura, Áäãkäáya and Käáï. T.W. Rhys Davids gives a list of the principal cities existing in India in the seventh century B.C. : Ayojjha, Baranasi, (Benares), Champa, Kampilla, Kosambi, Madhura, Mithila, Rajagarha, Roruka, the capital of Sauvïra, Sagala, Saseva, Savatthi, Ujjeni, and Vesali.863

The existence of these cities shows progress in the art of town-planning (Nagara-mäpana) and architecture (Västuvidyä). From different literary sources of this period, it is known that a well laid-out city was equipped with a multitude of buildings, both for its defence and for the practical needs of residence and business. The fortification consisted of moat, parapet wall, and gateways, while the civil architecture had its residential buildings, business quarters (Äpaîa), interested by streets (Saãchara), royal store-houses (Koshûhägära and Bhäîâägära), king's council-hall (Räjasabhä), and a number of other buildings comprised under the general term Áälä, e.g., places of dramatic performance, dancing, music, concerts and sports.

It is known from Jaina canonical literature that the city of Champä was solidly built and hard to enter. Its moat (Phalihä) was broad on top and cut deep down; it had discs (Chakka), clubs (Gaya), maces (Musuîâhï), barriers (Graha), war-machines (Sayagghi), and double doors (Jamalakaväâa); it was surrounded by a wall (Pägära) bent in a curve like a bow, and decorated with cornices (Kavisïsa) arranged in circles; its bastions (Aûûälaya), rampat paths (Chariya), door-ways (Dära), gates (Gopura), and arches (Toraîa) were lofty, its high roads (Räyamagga) duly divided; its gate bars (Phaliha) and bolts (Indakïla) were strong and fashioned by skilful artificers.864

It is said that Mahägovinda planned the city of Räjagôiha and several other capitals of Northern India and that he also designed palaces.865 The city of Vaiáälï was surrounded by three walls at a distance of a Gävuta from one another, each provided with gates and watch towers.866 It was rich in a variety of buildings, chaityas, and palaces of its 7707 chiefs.867 There were beautiful parks, gardens, and lotus ponds. The city has also been described as ‘opulent, prosperous and populous.’868 It looked ‘like the loka of Áakra’ in the magnificence of its appearance and the happiness of its inmates who had continual festivities.869 The city comprised three districts.870 The first district had 7,000 houses with golden towers; the middle one had 14,000 houses with silver towers, and the last district possessed 21,000 houses with copper towers. These houses were under the possession of the upper, the middle and the lower classes, according to their positions.871 Jaina traditions inform us that Kshatriyas, Brähmaîas, and vaîiks occupied their respective Upanagaras in Vaiáälï.872

The existence of some of these cities in the sixth century B.C. is confirmed even by the archaeological evidence. The planning of the city of Girivraja873 or Räjagôiha874 in the sixth century B.C. was the work of a genius. It is surrounded on all sides by hills and its surviving city walls and fortification still show the architectural standard reached during that period. These city walls were built in cyclopaean fashion, of massive unheaven blocks of stone pierced by gateways, each flanked on either side by a semi-circular bastion, over which probably rose the watch-tower, an almost invariable feature of these fortress cities. The fortification hitherto believed to be built of rubble is supposed to have been founded by Ajätaáatru. Originally, there was a mud rampart. The top of this rampart was hardened by yellowish mud and brickbats. Associated with it was a moat, the full width and depth of which has not been so far determined. The original rubble fortification wall was strengthened gradually by brick wall in course of time.875

At Rajghat876 near Varanasi, an enormous clay rampart dating back to the first quarter of the first millennium B.C. has been discovered. Built directly over the natural soil and available to a height of about 10 metres, the rampart has a pronounced slope towards the river. It has been breached several times by heavy floods, but it was in existence in 600 B.C. That a large urban population existed at Mathura in the sixth century B.C. is proved by the vast Katra mound. Furthermore, an exploratory survey revealed the existence of two rings of mud-ramparts – the first elliptical in shape and the second quadrangular and comprised within, the first, as if signifying a citadel.877 From the excavations at Árävastï, it is clear that there was habitation in the sixth century B.C.878

At Eran,879 a moat and a mud-defence wall built in the late phase of the chalcolithic occupation have been discovered. They continued even during the sixth century B.C.

The excavations at Ujjain880 reveal a continuity of occupation on the site from a date prior to 600 B.C. The massive rampart with a moat can be traced back to the earliest period of occupation on the site, which coincides with the Pradyota period. This type of fortification was of mud and belonged to a citadel, but the humbler habitations were situated undefended in the outside area. The rampart enclosed an area approximately two kilometers with a basal width of a little over two hundred feet and a maximum extent height of forty-two feet. The contours of the area occupied by the rampart show several openings of varying dimensions, suggesting gateways. The rampart was built by the dumping of dug-up yellow and black clays to form a thick wall, with a gentle slope on the inner side and a less pronounced on the interior.

The rampart was surrounded on the west, and distantly on the north, by the river Siprä, while a moat on the eastern side, formed to be filled with greenish water-borne silt, added to it a line of defence in that direction, and presumably on the south side as well, completing the circuit of a water-barrier. The moat was found to have been at least eighty feet wide and twenty-two feet deep. The fortification on the riverside was breached by floods on at least three occasions during this period but it was repaired from time to time.

(b) Building Architecture

The actual remains of the buildings of this period are few because of the frail or perishable nature of the material used. In order to get information on the building activity during this period, we must depend upon literary works, both Jaina and Buddhist, some of which have preserved a record of traditional forms as current in memory and folk-lore. Sometimes the description given of these buildings in these literary works is exaggerated, but still after critical examination and sifting the evidence, we can infer some of the general features of art during this period. These literary works mention a number of architectural terms and various forms of particular structures which show the extensive development of this science in those days. The main types of building found in those days were royal buildings, lofty mansions for rich and well-to-do people, houses of the ordinary people, huts of the poor, and religious buildings.

The palaces were known as Päsäda and Vimäna to distinguish them from ordinary dwellings. In the Jaina Ägama literature, the most illustrative example of palace architecture occurs in the Räyapaseniya Sutta881 in an account of the Vimäna of Sürayäbha Deva. It was surrounded on all sides by a rampart, and embellished with beautiful cornices. There were gates with cupola opening on all sides. Gates, pillars and doors were decorated with various kinds of figures and motifs.

There is also a description of a big theatre hall (Pekkhäghara-maîâava) which was supported on many columns and was furnished with a terraced railing, gateways with architrave and Áälabhañjika figures. It was decorated with many other motifs and ornamental figures. At the centre of the theatre hall was a stage.882

In the Näyädhamma Kahä883 is a description of the bed-chamber of a queen which had an outer courtyard, an assembly hall polished and well set with pillars, endowed with statues (Áäla-bhañjiyä), latticed windows, moon-stone at the foot of the stairways, projecting ledges, and a room upon the roof called Chandra-áälikä. Its interior was lined with paintings; the floor was inlaid with semi-precious stones and the ceiling had a canopy painted with designs of lotus flowers and creepers.

In a description of the palace of the Chakravartï king Mahä-Sudassana, some details of palace architecture are found. Its height was equal to three Purusha measures, it had bricks of four kinds, pillars 84,000 in number, wooden planks of four colours, staircases, cross-bars, copings, rooms with beds of gold, silver, ivory and crystal; doors with palm trees on two sides, a double railing round the palace, a network of jingling bells and several lotus-ponds provided with staircases and platforms.884

A Jätaka885 gives a vivid account of the palace of the Mahä-Ummagga. It had big dimensions worthy of a royal palace. There were gateways in the palace wall, one of which opened towards the city. On both sides of the long corridor of the palace were one hundred niches for lamps closed and opened by mechanically operated shutters. It was provided with hundreds of rooms. In each room was laid a great couch overhung with a white parasol and a throne placed near the couch. The principal hall of this palace was decorated with ten motifs of divine character. There were also courtyards, one of which was known as the Assembly Hall. The pillars and walls were decorated with a number of painted motifs.

At Nälandä, Lepa who was a rich householder, had a beautiful bathing hall called Áeshadravyä containing many hundreds of pillars.885

From the description of different royal palaces in literary works, it is possible to form an idea of the general architectural features of these palaces. The royal palace was constructed at the centre of the capital town along with other royal buildings. The palace was divided into courts of which there were usually three in the early stages. The first court had a Dvärakoûûha leading to open grounds for stables for horses and elephants and also barracks for soldiers. In the second court on the ground floor was the great pillard hall which was used for public audience of the king.

The royal palace had two distinct parts, the ground floor and the upper floor. On the ground floor were located the palace garden, kitchen, bath-rooms with fountains of flowing water, wells, step-wells, lotus-ponds, temple, etc. The upper floor was meant for the members of the royal family. There were stairways going up into or coming down from a palace. The king's own chamber was known as Sirigabbha. A separate building was provided for the crownprince, and it was spoken of as Upaûhäna and located in a portion of the king's palace. The quarters meant for the queens, princesses and other ladies were collectively called Antepurikä, and they were properly guarded. The palace was surrounded by an outer wall (Präkära), having a main gate or perhaps four gates. The outer gate-house lay at some distance from the actual palace, and sometimes the guests were received at the outer gate. The pillars and walls of the palace were overlaid with many beautiful motifs.

The palace had one or more storeys, but a building of three storeys was more common. Sometimes each storey of the palace consisted of a number of rooms known as Küûägäras with a peaked top, usually a pavilion with a gabled end and vaulted room bearing small Stüpïs over it. The Küûägära room was provided with a latticed window or screen, and a ventilator. It could be closed from inside by drawing across the doorleaves, a transverse bar, and also from outside by locking.

Different kinds of palaces (Kokanäda Pushpaka etc.) are mentioned as having different forms. Some were constructed with only one pillar (Ekathunakam)887 and such buildings were of the shape of round towers'. Palaces with many columns were not unknown.888 In one Jätaka, there is a mention of a palace with a thousand columns.889 Palaces were surrounded by various kinds of wall having gateways. Verandah or porticoes were attached to buildings and were called Alindaka. The term Uparipäsädatala, or the upper storey of a palace with a roof surmounted by a pinnacle called Kannika is an indication of the development that took place in the science and art of architecture. Many-storeyed palaces with many pinnacles are also mentioned in some of the tales.

There were lofty mansions for rich and well-to-do people, costly buildings with a large number of rooms and halls. The walls and pillars were profusely decorated, and the houses were provided with all kinds of comfort and luxury.

The Vinaya Texts890 gives us an idea of the common dwelling houses, which were made of stone, brick or wood, and had roof of five kinds – brick, stone, cement, straw and leaves. The walls and roofs were plastered from within and without. The sleeping rooms were whitewashed, the floors were coloured in black, and the walls in red. They were overlaid with paintings and engravings such as human figures, and motifs such as wreaths and creepers. Provision was made for windows with shutters and curtains, elaborate doors with key-holes, verandahs covered terraces, inner verandahs and overhanging caves, dwelling rooms, retiring rooms, store-rooms, closets, and wells with lids under sheds made of hide-skin. Hygienic arrangements were kept in view while constructing privies. The house had sometimes two or more storeys, and it was fashionable to have veranadahs supported on pillars with capitals in the form of heads of animals.

Generally, the bulk of the people at this time lived in flimsy huts, often thatched with leaves and grass and having walls made of reed or wood. This does not mean that sturdier structures of wood, brick and stone were unknown. In order to assure greater stability, wood was used for constructing posts, walls, doors, and also for laying foundations of the huts. One Jätaka891 describes a Pannaáälä (a thatched hut) in which trunks of fig wood were used to construct, and obviously to strengthen, its foundation. Its walls, however, were made of interwoven reeds.

There were also cellars and big underground tunnels. The description of an Ummaga or an underground tunnel which a certain person, named Mahosadha, had constructed in order to elude the pursuit of his enemies is an instance which shows that underground structures were also not unknown in those days. The entrance of the great tunnel was provided with a door eighteen cubits high, fitted with a mechanical device so that it could be manipulated by pressing a peg. On either side, the tunnel was built up with bricks and worked with stucco; it was roofed over with planks, smeared with cement and whitened.892

There were different types of public building. The Svayaãara halls rested on hundred columns and were embellished with sportive Áälabhañjikä statues.893 We also come across references to Uvaûûhäîasäla894 (attendance hall), Posahasäla895 (Fasting hall), Küâägärasälä896 (pinnacled hall) and square tanks897 (Pokkhariîï). There were also Aûûaîasälä (hall for gymnastic exercises), Majjaîaghara (bathing house) and Nhäîamaîâapa898 (bathroom).899

2.       Religious Architecture

Some literary sources refer to Devakulikas or Chaityas, the worship of which was very popular during the time of Lord Mahävïra. A Chaitya or Devakulikä was some sort of sacred enclosure containing a garden, grove or park and a shrine. Mahävïra, Buddha and many other religious ascetics are represented as halting or resting in these shrines. From the Uväsaga-dasäo, it is known that Mahävïra visited the shrine of Pärîabhadra at Champä, the shrine called Dvipaläáa of Vaîijagräma, the Koshûhaka shrine of Bäraîasï, the garden called Saõkhavana of Älabhi, the garden called Sahasrämravana of Kämpilyapura, Sahasrämravana of Poläsapura, the shrine called Gunasila of Räjagôiha and the Koshûhaka shrine of Räjagôiha.

In the Mahäparinibbänasutta,900 Buddha spoke of the efficiency of erecting dhätu-chaityas, and he himself visited Chaityas like Udena, Gotama and Sattambaka of Vaiáälï while the Dighanikäya bears testimony to the fact that the Buddha lived at the Änanda-Chaitya in Bhojanagara. In the Äávaläyana Gôihya Sütra, we find for the first time the mention of a Chaitya sacrifice. Whether the reference to the Chaitya by Äávaläyana is a reference to the Vedic Chaitya or Yajñasthäna or to something else is, of course, a matter of dispute.

Some of these shrines had the form of a temple equipped with doors, hall, etc. We hear of a shrine (Deuliyä) about the size of a man's hand and built of one block of stone.901 The images were of wood. There was a hall (Sabhä) attached to the shrine which was besmeared with cow-dung. We hear of the Puîîabhadda shrine of Champä which was decorated with umbrella, standards, bells, flags, peacock-feather whisk and railing; the interior floor was coated with cow-dung and the walls white-washed; it bore palm impressions in red Gosïsa or Dardara sandal-wood; it was beautiful with Chandana kalaáas and on the doors were erected Toraîas with Chandanghaûa decorations. The floor was sprinkled with perfumed water and garlands were hung, and it was fragrant with flowers of five colours, Käläguru, Kundurukka and Turukka; it was haunted by actors, dancers, rope-walkers, wrestlers, boxers, jesters ballad-singers, story-tellers, pole-dancers, picture-showmen, pipers, flute-players and minstrels. Many people came to worship a this shrine.902

The evidence of early structures of stüpas is available in the archaeological remains discovered at some places. At a village Lauria Nandangarh in Champaran District of Bihar, three rows of earthen barrows or huge conical mounds of earth have been discovered. These were identified by A. Cunningham as sepulchral mounds, and they belonged too 600 B.C. or earlier. Their character as burial mounds, seems to be supported by the wooden post found in the centre of one of them known as lofty Chaitya-yüpa. Two of the mounds are formed of whitish clay. T. Bloch actually found a repousse gold plaque depicting the earth goddess in the characteristic pose of the ancient Mother-Goddess figurines, also depicted on ancient small rectangular metallic pieces from Rajgir.

The remains of a very early stüpa have been discovered at Piprahwa (District Basti) on the Nepal border, 16 km from Kapilavastu. The stüpa, 116 feet in diameter at the base and 21.5 feet in height at present, was built in brick (16"/11"/3") as a solid cupola, with excellent masonry, well and truly laid, containing a great sandstone coffer, made out of a huge monolith with a lid fixed by clamps having perfect edges which confirm a high standard of craftsmanship. According to an inscription, the stüpa was built by the Áäkyas, relatives of Buddha, to enshrine a part of his original relics. The stone box contained, in a casket, not only some scraps of bones as relics but several hundreds of other articles of high artistic value, e.g. ornamental forms, flowers and leaves wrought in various semi-precious stones as carnelion, amythist, topaz, garnet, coral, crystal, shell and metal and gold, all in exquisite designs. They included a square gold leaf stamped with a lion, gold leaf stars, dedicately carved miniature leaves of crystal and other substances, Tri-ratna gold leaf cross, a coil of fine silver wire, Svastika stamped on gold leaf, taurine symbols stamped on gold leaf, small pearls, beads of beryl; topaz etc. a small bird in red-carnellion carved with great skill, an elephant in gold leaf; a figure of the Earth-Goddess stamped on gold foil closely resembling Earth-Goddess from Lauriä Nandangarh; another standing female figure heavily draped, having an elaborate fan-like coiffure, marked by some auspicious symbols fixed in the hair. A remarkable decorative design is found on a large disc of gold leaf, consisting of rows of whorls with six wavy arms going round a centre, an intricate form of Ävarta, covering the whole field in a symmetrical way of forming an intricate Vyüha.

Amongst other relics are pots, covered bowls, round relic-caskets, including one made of cut and polished crystal with a lid beautified on the top of a fish-design, most minutely worked and highly polished, which gives an indication of the extremely fine workmanship of the lapidarists, who lived and worked in the sixth or fifth century B.C.

The Jaina stüpa of Mathurä is known to be the work of the gods, from the inscription of the second century A.D.903 It was probably, therefore, erected several centuries before the Christian era. Jinaprabhasüri, an author of the fourteenth century, has preserved the legend of the foundation and repair of the ‘stüpa built by the gods’ in his work Tïrthakalpa904 which is based on ancient materials. This account confirms the belief that the original stüpa, a small one, was a mound of earth which concealed a miniature stüpa of gold and gems. Later on, it was encased by larger stüpas of bricks and stones. Some scholars ascribe the original one to the third century B.C. while others go as far back as to the sixth century B.C. If the ascription of the original stüpa to the sixthcentury B.C. is right, it would be the oldest known specimen of religious architecture.


As very few structures of so early a period are surviving, a fair idea of the materials used may also be formed from these literary works. The material employed in constructing even ordinary dwelling houses was wood. References to bricks, both burnt and unburnt, are found. Rhys Davids is of opinion that in earlier times “the superstructure of all dwellings was either of wood-work or brick-work.”905 The Vinaya Piûaka, compiled not long after the Parinirväîa of Buddha, makes mention of Buddha's permission that his disciples might use bricks in the basement of their halls, stairs and roofings of palaces.906

The use of stone for architectural purpose during this period is a controversial matter. Scholars generally believe that stone was not used in Indian architecture before the third century B.C. as no definite archaeological evidence is now available in this connection. Rhys Davids907 notices that “in the books referring to this earlier period, there is no mention of stone except for pillars or staircases. A palace of stone is only once mentioned and that is in a fairy land. This palace of stone has been referred to in connection with Jätaka story”.908

This view does not seem to be reasonable. There are some literary references to a few stone buildings which may safely be accepted as reliable evidence of the fact that the ancient Indians knew how to use stone in architecture even in the sixth century B.C. Direct references to the use of stone may be found in the Jätakas also. We read of bases of pillars like mortars of stone,909 thrones of yellow marble,910 hill forts or Gïridurga,911 stone cutters and stone pillars.912 In the Vinaya rules, the Buddha allowed his disciples to make use of stone not only in the basements of their halls, stairs, flooring and walls but also in the roofing of their houses.913 This literary evidence proves the existence of stone buildings in the sixth century B.C. Jaräsandha-ki-Bäiûhaka at Räjagôiha, the approximate date of which was the sixth century B.C., if not earlier, and which was built wholly of blocks of stone nearly fitted together without mortar supplies an instructive archaeological proof. Structures of this kind must have been few and far between in the earliest times because wood was generally used for building purpose. This may account for the rarity of stone-building in that age.

During this period, there was a tendency to bid good bye to the age-old building materials like mud and mud-bricks, but a complete switch-over to the more durable material – i.e. burnt bricks, had not been made. It seems that the use of the kiln bricks was largely confined to the structures of public utility. The perplexing discovery of 250 ft. long wall at Rupar,914 probably an enclosure of a big edifice, a barn and chain from Hastinäpura and remains of tank and well at Ujjain testify to this fact. Structures made of mud and mud-bricks still persisted, and they are found at Nagada, Atranjikherä, Hastinäpura, Mathurä and Räjghäû. While at Ujjain and Awra, the use of dressed stones with mud for building purposes is also noticed. Small hearths of bamboo and reed have been discovered at Chandraketugarh915 and Mathura.916 The discovery of terracotta ring-wells, soakage jars at close intervals, brick and pottery drain917 in the habitual areas reflect, in a way, the high civic sense and sanitation arrangements.


We have no extant specimen of painting because walls, pillars and roofs made of wood and bricks used for purpose of decoration perished in course of time. But it is clear from both the earliest Jaina and Buddhist canonical literature that painting, both secular and religious, was considered an important form of artistic expression and was widely practised by the classes and masses alike. A number of motifs illustrating scenes from heavenly life, mythical beliefs and Nature are found mentioned.

The Saãyukta Nikäya refers to a method of preparing pigments, and the Chullavagga refers to a kind of plaster on which colours were to be painted. In the Chullavagga,918 Buddha is further said to have instructed his disciples on the rules of building and painting on their walls. In some Jaina literary works,919 the painters are mentioned along with brushes and colours; first they divided the wall surface and then prepared the surface. There were painters who were adepts in their profession. One painter is mentioned who could portray the complete figure of bipeds (duvaya), quadrupeds (Chauppaya) and objects without feet (Apaya) even if he saw a part of their body. Pictures were drawn on walls as well as on panels.

Portrait-painting was very much in vogue. According to the Vinaya Piûaka, Ämrapälï invited painters from various countries and asked them to paint on her walls the figures of kings, traders and merchants seen by them; and it was by seeing the portrait of Bimbisära so painted that she fell in love with him. We are told that a Parivväiyä painted the portrait of the princess Sujeûthä on a board and showed it to king Seîiya who fell in love with her. Similarly, prince Sagarachanda became enamoured of Kamalamälä when her portrait was shown to him.

The patronage given to painting by kings and wealthy persons during this period is clear from the mention of picture-galleries. The Vinaya Piûaka also makes several references to the pleasure-houses of king Prasenajit, containing Chittägäras or picture-halls or galleries. One such picture-gallery was built by a banker of Räjagôiha in the forest adjoining the city which was decorated with wooden (Kaûûhakamma), earthen (Pottakamma) and plaster decoration (Leppa), wreaths (ganthima), images (Vaâhima),  and dolls (purima) which were stuffed and made of cloth (Saõghäim).920 We are told that in the picture-gallery of prince Malladina, the pictures were imbued with coquettish sentiments and feelings (Hävabhäva), the play of the eyes (Viläsa) and amorous gestures (Bibboya).921 Jiyasattu is mentioned as another king who owned a picture-gallery. We are told that when the construction of this gallery was in progress, a painter's daughter formed the design of a peacock feather in the mosaic floor. The king, under a false impression of its being natural, was tempted to pick it up but in this attempt, the nails of his fingers scraped against the floor, and he hurt his hand.922 Dummuha is mentioned as still another king to have a picture-gallery.923

Besides portraiture and mural paintings, we also find mention of such widely-known practices as Lepya-chitras, Lekhya-chitras, Dhüli-chitras, etc. Lepya-chitras are nothing but continuous narratives in lines and colour on textiles, and partook of the nature of paûa-chitras of later tradition. Lekhya-chitras are probably line-drawings of a decorative nature like Älimpanas or Älpanäs of later tradition, while Dhüli-chitras are also of the same nature and character, but the material used is powdered rice, white or coloured.

Trees, mountains, rivers, seas, houses, creepers, full vessel and Sovatthiya etc. were painted. The Räyapasaniya Sutta924 describes that the Vimäna of Süryäbha Deva was decorated with many kinds of figures and motifs (Bhatti-chitra), e.g. fabulous animals hämiga), bulls (Usabha), horses (Turaya), Yakshas or Atlantes figures (Nara), crocodiles (Magara), birds (Vihaga), serpents or dragons (Välaga), Kinnaras (Centaurs), deer (Ruru), Sarabha (lion-like figures), Yak (Chamara), elephants (Kuñjara), wild creepers (Vanalayä) and lotus-creepers (Paumalayä). Some of these figures as listed in Jaina texts are almost the same as we find elsewhere, from the stone railings and gateways of Bharhut and Säñchï painting to pre-existing wooden prototypes.

An interesting list of motifs illustrating scenes from heavenly life and mythical beliefs on the walls of the Great Hall of the Mahä-Ummaga palace is also given :925

1. Sakka-Viläsa : Scenes of Indra enjoying dance and music with his heavenly nymphs in Sudharmä Assembly Hall.

2. Sineru-Paribhaîâa : The beautiful designs on the vertical faces of the terraces round the mountain Sumeru.

3. Sägara-Mahä-Sägara : Small and big ponds with lotus and other flowers and a number of watery birds and aquatic animals.

4. Chatu-Mahädvïpa : The four continents which faced the four cardinal points of Sumeru.

5. Himavanta : The great Himälaya mountain shown with its Kailäsa peak, especially Lake Mänasarovara or Anavatapta with the four great rivers flowing in the four directions.

6. Anotatta : This was the same as Mänasarovara, the ideal holy lake described in Jaina, Buddhist, and Brahmanical literatures, as the holy lake of Brahmä. The Saptarshis, gods and other divine beings, take their bath in the Anotatta in which the Buddha also is said to have taken his bath.

7. Mano-Silätala : The great throne made of red stone which was placed near a pond or in the main Assembly Hall of the palace for the king to sit and rest.

8. Chanda-SüRIYA : The motif of the Moon and the Sun who were drawn as gods in human form or in natural form.

9. Chätum-Mahäräjika : The four Mahäräjika Gods with their courtly attendants, viz., Vaiáravaîa, king of Yakshas in the north; Dhôiträshûra, king of Gandharvas in the east; Virüâhaka, king of the Kumbhäîâas in the south; and Virüpäksha, king of the Nägas in the West.

10. Chha-Käma-Sagga : i.e. the six heavens of sensuous pleasures, popularly conceived as abodes of happiness and longevity, same as Kämävachara Deva-loka.

Some paintings of this period seem to have been preserved in rock shelters discovered at Mahadeo Hills round Pachmarhi, Singhanpur and Kabra Pahar, Bhim Baiûhaka, near Bhopal, Mori in District Mandsor, Likhunia, Kohbar, Mehraria. Bhaldaria and Bijaigarh in Mirzapur area, and Manikpur in Banda District. The paintings both of prehistoric and historic periods have been found. During the historic period, the cultural scene changed from that of primitive hunters to that of well-armed warriors and mounted horsemen in the battlefield where archers and swordmen are engaged in fierce action. Armed cattle raiders are also seen. Besides, the home life of the people is also depicted, e.g. a man playing on a harp; a woman pounding roots and grinding grain; huts with women inside; men and women dancing in groups and pairs; men playing drums and a double pipe, entertained by a performing monkey and a dancing bear. Cattle and birds of various kinds, including geese and peacocks and also pigs and dogs, are represented – virtually a cross-section of the life of the people. In Mahadeo Hills, near Pachmarhi, we find bun hair-dressing, loin-cloth ending in a tail between the legs, bows and quivers, straight swords, leaf-shaped daggers and round shields. There are a few mythological figures as well – a heroic personage in a vimäna or sky-chariot and a giant leading a tiger with a rope as if he were a pet dog. Another subject shows a male person resisting a lion or tiger on one side and a wild bull on the other while the cattle thus protected are moving below. Cave paintings at Manikpur show mounted archers and a person seated in a wheelless bullock cart. The Mori rock paintings depict animals, dancing human figures, and pastoral scenes.


Even before the time of Tïrthankar Mahävïra, there were traces of image-worship. The Indus-valley civilization revealed innumerable sculptures in terracotta, stone, and bronze. Image-worship must have existed in the Vedic period among the lower stratum of society, even if not among the followers of the Vedas. The custom of image-worship was definitely in vogue in India in the later Vedic period.926 The Maiträyaîi-Samhitä, while referring to the names of several gods and goddesses, also describes the iconographic features of some of them. Thus the names Karaûa Hastimukha and Chaturmukha Padmäsana of Gaîeáa and Brahmä respectively indicate the iconography of those deities. Similarly, the Taittiriya Äraîyaka refers to the traits of some of the gods such as Vakratuîdadanti i.e. Gaîeáa), Mahäsena Shaîmukha (Kärttikeya), Suvarîapaksha Garuâa. Vajranakha-Tïkshîadaãshûra-Narasiãha. The Mahänäräyaîa Upanishad927 further elaborates iconography of some of these gods who were, according to J.N. Banerjee, mostly folk-gods absorbed in the Vedic society. The iconographic traits of the folk-gods, such as Yakshas, also arose in the later Vedic age.

The earliest materials for constructing images seem to have been wood. The Vyavahära Bhäshya refers to the sage Värattaka whose wooden figure was built and worshipped by his son.928 We also hear of images made of plaster, ivory, and stone.929 During the time of Mahävïra, the worship of Yakshas was popular. Both Mahävïra and the Buddha are known to have stayed in these Yaksha temples.

The images of these Yakshas were made of wood. Jaina traditions tell us that Pradyota, the king of Ujjain, installed the Jivanta Svämï (life-time) images of Mahävïra at Ujjain, Daáapura, and Vidiáä.930 The Jätakas stories refer to the status of Indra (Sakka).931 One Jätaka932 story refers to a boy “as lovely as Brahmä” which indicates the beauty of the image of Brahmä of that period. The Siri-kälakanni Jätaka933 offers a description of the goddess Kälakanni which may be regarded as containing the iconographic features of a prototype of the goddess Käli in her dreadful form.

In the Sütra period, we find definite references to icons. The iconographic features of many gods seem to have been fixed in this period. The Baudhäyana Gôihyasütra refers to Jyeshûhä; the Äpastamba to Ïáäna Mïâhuÿï, Jayanta; the Päraskara to Ïáäna, Mïâhuÿï, Jayanta, Árï., Dhanapati, Bhadrakälï, Kshetrapäla, etc. Päîini's Grammar also contains reference to images.934 The Äávaläyana Gôihyasütra Pariáishûa935 describes the inconography of many Vedic and Puranic gods.


The art of terracottas known as clay-figurines outlived the art of sculptures. The earliest female figures, all hand-modelled and belonging to the Indus-Valley civilization (2500 B.C.), are (1) female figures and (2) animal figures. The female figurines, though rudimentary as specimens of art, are marked by bold expression. The animal figurines, on the other hand, both of faience and clay, are much more finished and realistic. In the figurines of a bull and a tiger, the vigour and charm of animal life are seen at their best. The terracotta objects of the Chalcolithic period are human and animal figures, pottery discs, wheels, etc. Among the animal figures, those of bulls are in large number.

About the terracotta figurines during the time of Mahävïra, we get some knowledge both from literary and archaeological sources. In the Bhaddasäla Jätaka, reference is found to princes receiving presents of elephants, horses, and other toys from their mother's father.936 We come across a mechanical image (Jantapadimä) of a human being which could walk, open and shut its eyes.937 Another specimen of fine workmanship in mechanical toy is supplied by the mechanical elephant (Jantamayahatthi) manufactured by king Pradyota to capture Udayana of Kauáämbï.938

The terracotta figurines belonging to this period like those of the preceding cultures are hand-made, but they are important for their modelling, surface treatment, details and continuity of the tradition in a developed form. The figurines are better modelled than the specimens of the preceding cultures. Production of human and animal models in grey, N.B.P. and red ware is evident in the period. The occurrence of human models is comparatively more than the preceding post-Harappan chalcolithic cultures. The use of a pedestal for the figurine disappears.

The terracotta figurines of this age are obtained from such sites as Hastinäpura, Mathurä, Ahichchhatra, Rajghat, Prahladpur, Sarai Mohana, Masaon, Árävastï, Sonepur, Päûalïputra, Chiranda, Kayatha, Burar, Sugh, and Noh.939 They are decorated by incision, circles, and stamping. The circlets became common in this period for expressing, along with the old technique, anatomical details and decoration on the body. It was probably a development over ‘applique’ and pinch technique. It introduced a new trend in the tradition which involved less time, lively execution, and, lastly quick production of the figurines. This idea of punching the circlets on the figurines was probably borrowed from punchmarked coins. The stamping of the figurines with Chakra and leaf symbol seems to have been a later development in the period.

From the specimens discovered at Räjghät, it is clear that there is closer similarity in the slip, polish, and painting with the black slipped and N.B.P. ware pottery. This clearly indicates that the artist modeller was inspired by the potter's technique. The figurines discovered from Päûalïputra are important in exhibiting the composite technique. In the figurines, the eyes, breasts, and genitals are clearly shown by punched circlets, while hair and fingers are indicated by incision. The use of the composite technique for modelling can be further attested by the Näga figurines for modelling can be further attested by the Näga figurines discovered at Sonepur; the breasts and eyes of the specimens are shown by the applique method while other details are depicted by punched circlets and incision. The animal figurines discovered at Mathurä and Masaon are stamped with Chakra and leaf. Similar symbols along with circlets have also been noticed on the elephant figurines at Hastinäpura. Painted terracottas have been discovered at Noh and Buxar (Charitravan).


That this period witnessed a great boom in the ceramic activities is clear both from literary and archaeological evidences. From the Uväsagadasäo940, it is learnt that Saddälaputta, a Árävaka of Mahävïra, owned, outside the town of Poläsapura, five hundred pottery shops where people prepared a large number of bowls, pots, and pitchers and jars of different sizes. At Rajagôiha, there was a Magadhan potter, Bhagava, in whose workshop the Buddha spent a night.941 Maõkhali Goáäla also had his headquarters at Sävatthi in the workshop of the potter woman, Hälähalä.942 The archaeological excavations conducted at different sites give us an idea of the ceramics used by the people. This period was noteworthy for the introduction of some new fabrics, the most important of which was the North Black Polished Ware. Black slipped Ware, Red and Black Wares, Grey Ware and Red Ware were the associate potteries of this age which met the increasing demand of the people.

Smoothness and lustre are the characteristics of the North Black Polished Ware. We may describe it as the prince of Indian potteries. As it was a costly ware and used by aristocrats, it was praised as a ware de luxe. It is made of well levigated clay and fired under very high temperature. It is of various shades and colours, such as golden, silvery, pinkish, gold-blue, brown-black, and steel-blue. The chief earthenware vessels produced by this pottery include dishes with incurved sides, bowls with straight convex, corrougated or tapering sides, lids, and rimless carinated handiwork.

This Northern Black Polished Ware seems to have originated in Magadha in the seventh century B.C., and became very popular in the Gangetic valley in the sixth century B.C. This ware has been obtained from several sites in Bihar such as Bodha-Gaya, Vaiáälï, Rajgir, Chirand and Sonpur. At Sarnath, Kauáämbï, Rajghat and Árävastï, large quantities of this ware in various shades and in fine fabric have been found, though not as frequently as that found in Bihar. At Taxila, Rupar, Atrañjikheda, Hastinäpura, Tamluk, Áiáupälagarh, and Amaravati, it has been found in a small quantity, and that also in one or two sherds only. Ujjain was a separate centre of this pottery, but here it was of a poorer quality. The political expansion of Magadha is responsible for the spread of this ware in different parts of the country, but commerce and religion are also no less important factors.

Metal Objects

Different kinds of metal objects recovered from early historical sites in the excavations give an idea of the state of art during this period. Some objects were used for ornaments, while others served domestic and other purposes. Such ornaments as ear-lobes, torques of different shapes, necklaces, bangles, pendants and rings made of different materials like terracotta, precious stones, glass, ivory, bone, and copper began to be used by women for adornment. Those who could not afford to have precious ornaments made of stone or copper, contended themselves with earthen beads, bangles, and ear-studs, while on the other hand, the rich section adorned themselves with ornaments of precious stones like shell, agate, carnelian, amethyst, soapstone, and glass.

Beads of different shapes, sizes and designs, have been obtained from Ujjain, Nagda, Maheávara, Avra, Eran, Bharoch, Sonpur, etc. They are of different shapes barrel-like, spherical, and triangular. These are made of agate, carnelian, faience, steatite, terracotta, shell, glass, paste, etc. Nagda and Sonpur have offered pendants made of ivory and crystal respectively. The finding of unfinished beads at Avra and Ujjain proves the existence of local industries for their manufacture.

The toiletry included antimony rods of copper, hair-pins of bone, combs of ivory, terracotta flesh rubber, and nailparer.

The extensive use of iron during this period bears testimony to the advancement made in the technical knowledge of smelting and forging iron implements. The excavations at Ujjain serve as evidence of it. The manufacture of weapons like lances, spears, javelines, arrow-heads and daggers proves that people were better equipped for war purposes than before. For both war and domestic purposes, pans, lamps, nails, knife blades, clamps, etc. began to be prepared from iron. Futher, the use of iron implements brought momentum into the field of agriculture, as a result of which ploughing and harvesting became easy with iron plough, sickle, and hoe. Tools, such as drills, adze, and chisel which boosted the wood-craft of the period, began to be manufactured.

While the use of iron increased, that of copper became limited. It was now used in the production of punchmarked and cast coins and also for manufacturing antimony rods, toys, rings, and beads. The use of silver is also attested by the discovery of silver punchmarked coins.

Bone and Stone Objects

A large number of bone objects have been unearthed from different archaeological sites. These are points, styluses, arrow heads, etc. Perhaps bone points and arrow heads were used in hunting small birds. Some polished stone celts have been discovered from Sonpur, Chirand, Vaiáälï, and Oriup in Bihar, Jaugada and Áiáupälagarh in Orissa and Taxila in the North West. These were employed to cut down forests and bring wider areas under cultivation and settlement in the neighbourhood of urban centres.

Symbols on Coins

Punchmarked coins in the sixth century B.C., such as Kärshäpaîas, have a number of symbols punched upon them by different punches one after another. These symbols are important from the artistic point of view. They are known to us from the coins of Bihar mound hoard of Taxila, Paila hoard, Ahaura hoard, and Golakpur hoard. The Sun, the six-armed symbol, a hill above a tank with two fish, a peculiar symbol surrounded with five taurines, a hare and a bull on a hill – these were the current symbols on the punchmarked coins in the sixth and fifth century B.C. Ths Sun is represented as a rayed figure with a circle in the centre having a point or pellet within it. The rays are both thick and thin, straight and curved. The six-armed symbol consists of six spokes crossing at the centre, the six arms being tipped with ovals, globes, tridents, taurines, arrow-heads, triangles, balls, heartshaped signs, dumbles, etc.

Miscellaneous Objects

There are some miscellaneous objects also which give an idea of the art of this period. These include seals and sealings, potter's dabbers, potter's stamps, stone pestles and querns, stone discs, and dice made of terracotta and bone. Clay spundles prove that weaving was practised. Ring wells recovered from the excavations at Ujjain, Hastinäpura and Kauáämbï reveal that they were used for storing grain and other domestic purposes.


6. Education Literature and Sciences

The period of Tïrthaõkara Mahävïra can justly be regarded as the most creative epoch in the spheres of education, literature and the sciences. Education acquired greater complexity and exactitude, and produced specialists in the form of private teachers in different branches of learning. Another development was the art of writing, which proved to be instrumental in the advancement of learning and the diffusion of knowledge. Prakrits (Vernaculars) grew as literary languages. Different religious teachers contributed to the growth and development of literature of their respective sects. As a result, there was a prolific output of religious literature in which instruction was imparted through oral methods. The Sütra (a short rule) style was devised to memorise this type of literature, and it became a special feature of the age. This literature survived for considerable time in the form of oral traditions, and was codified in local dialects with habitual interpolations.


When there was neither any printing press nor an easy means of communication from one place to another, the religious teachers, who wandered from place to place propagating their doctrines, proved to be potential media of mass education. True education was not understood as comprising merely of reading books, but as self-culture and self-development. It was regarded as a process of illumination which brought about harmonious development of physical, intellectual and spiritual faculties of man. Education was understood as the acquisition of knowledge by which a person achieves an understanding of words and their meaning and thus finds his way in the forest of the fourfold Saãsära; like a needle with its thread, the soul possessing sacred knowledge will not be lost in the Saãsära. If one performs all prescribed actions relating to knowledge, discipline, austerities and conduct, and is well-versed in his own as well as heterodox creeds, he will become invincible.943

Aims and Ideals of Education

As this age is characterised by the rise of different religious sects and schools, it was natural that the infusion of piety and religiousness among students was regarded as the first and foremost aim of education. Different religious rituals, observances, prayers and festivals tended to foster piety and religiousness in the mind of young students. The formation of character by the proper cultivation of the moral feeling was the second aim of education. Character was considered to be more important than learning. He alone was learned who was righteous. During this period, students lived in hermitages (Äáramas) under the direct and personal supervision of their teacher who was not only responsible for their intellectual progress but also looked after their moral conduct.

The development of personality was the third aim of educational system. This was sought to be realised by eulogising the feeling of self-respect, by encouraging the sense of self-confidence, by inculcating the virtue of self-restraint and by fostering the powers of discrimination and judgement. The feeling of self-respect was developed among students by giving them honourable place in society. Self-confidence was fostered by emphasising self-reliance. For the attainment of self-restraint, simplicity in life and habits was insisted upon. The different branches of learning such as logic, law and philosophy, bristling with controversies, helped to develop the powers of discrimination and judgement.

The inculation of civic and social duties was the fourth aim of education. After finishing his studies, the student was not to lead a self-centred life but had to work for the good of the whole society. The promotion of social efficiency and happiness was the fifth aim of education. A large number of professions and industries came into existence during this period and the society accepted the theory of division of work. Each trade, guild and family trained its members in its own profession. Differentiation of functions and their hereditary specialisation in families naturally heightened the efficiency of trades and professions.

The preservation and transmission of cultural heritage was another important aim of education. It was incumbent on the religious teachers to commit their respective sacred books to memory in order to ensure their transmission to unborn generations. Members of the professions were also to train their children along their own lines. These religious and professional teachers were not only preserving the knowledge of the ancients in these branches, but constantly increasing its boundaries by their own contributions. For the preservation of cultural traditions, special methods were adopted. The theory of three debts was propounded. First of all, one owes a debt to gods, and one can liquidate it only by learning how to perform proper sacrifices and by regularly offering them. Religious traditions of the race were thus preserved. Secondly, one owes a debt to Rishis or savants of the bygone ages and one can discharge it only by studying their works and continuing their literary and professional traditions. The third debt was to ancestors, which could be rapid only by raising progeny and by imparting proper education to it. There were also practices of Svädhyäya and Ôÿitarpaîa; the former enjoined a daily recapitulation of at least a portion of what was learnt during student-life and the latter required a daily tribute of gratitude to be paid to the literary giants of the past at the time of daily prayers.

Some Educational Principles and Postulates

The aim of the educational system was not to impart general education but to train experts in different branches of learning. It took particular care to train and develop memory. Education was available to all those who were qualified to receive it. The Upanayana ritual, which marked the beginning of religious and literary education, was made obligatory both for males and females. Teaching was considered to be a pious duty which was to be discharged without any consideration for fee. In order to bring education within the reach of the poorest, it not only permitted students to beg but elevated begging itself into the highest duty of student-life.

Education was a serious proposition. At the time of study, students had to lead a celibate life. Long, continued and laborious preparation was necessary to acquire real grounding and efficiency in a subject.

Both the rich and the poor had to submit to stern discipline in order to become learned. The fifth year and the eighth year were considered to be the proper time for the beginning of primary and secondary education respectively.

The Gurukula system was one of the most important features of the pattern of education during this period. The student began to live under the supervision of his teacher after his Upananyana. Direct, personal and continuous contact with a teacher produced a powerful effect on students. The general belief that Gurukulas (hermitages) were founded in forests, away from the din of city life, is only partly correct. In majority of cases, Gurukulas were located in villages or towns. The famous Gurukulas during this period, as known to us from Buddhist literature, were, situated at Räjagôiha, Champä, Vaiáälï, Nälandä, Árävastï, etc.

Teachers and Student

The teacher was held in high reverence in society. He was to lead the pupil from darkness of ignorance to the light of learning.944 He was considered to be a spiritual and intellectual father because he used to offer a new life, and no education was possible without his help and guidance.945 During this period, sacred learning was transmitted orally from one generation to another. Great importance was attached to proper accent and pronunciation in its recitation and it could be correctly learnt only from the speech of a properly qualified teacher. Spiritual salvation also depended upon the proper guidance by the teacher. Books being rare and costly, the student had generally to rely upon his teacher alone. In the case of professions, a good deal had to be learnt from the teacher.

There were different classes of teachers such as Ächarya, Pravaktä, Árotriya, Upädhyäya and Adhyäpaka. There was no course of teacher's training prescribed for these different categories of teachers. During the course of study, brilliant students acquired sufficient experience of teaching. They participated in debates, and discussions, and they were also provided opportunities for teaching.

The teacher was an ideal person of high character and was to treat his students impartially. He was well grounded in his own branch of knowledge and was to continue its study throughout his life. In the Sütrakôitäõga,946 the ideal teacher has been described as follows : “He is not to conceal or contradict the truth, not to show any pride and not to denounce teachers of other religions. He is to be a genuine scholar having complete knowledge of all other religions. His life is to be full of penances and his speech should be chaste.” Baudhäyana947 insists that the teacher should teach his student the sacred science with whole-hearted attention without witholding from him any part of the whole Law. The generosity and large-heartedness of teachers can be judged from the conduct and exclamation of Alära Kaläma, when the future Buddha had finished his education under him :

“Happy friends are we in that we look upon such a venerable one, such a fellow ascetic as you. The doctrine which I know, you too know, and the doctrine which you know, I too know. As I am, so you are, as you are, so am I. Pray, Sir, let us be joint wardens of this company”.948

The teacher was to adopt and love the pupil as his own son.949 Though it was the duty of the pupil to render services to the teacher to please him, the teacher must be careful to see that the pupil is not exploited for his own purposes to an extent detrimental to his studies. Such services were meant for the pupil's own moral improvement and not solely for the practical benefits of the teacher. In times of distress, however, the teacher was permitted to accept the assistance of his pupil.

The teacher had no fixed income. It consisted partly of offerings obtained by him on occasions of rituals and sacrifices and partly of voluntary gifts given by his students either during or after their course of study. The respectable status of a teacher depended not on his wealth but on his scholarship and character.

The relations between the teacher and the student were direct and not merely institutional. They were very cordially intimate, united, to quote the words of the Buddha, ‘by mutual reverence, confidence and communion of life.’950 A good pupil never disobeyed his teacher or behaved rudely with him; he never told a lie and always carried out his command like a thorough-bred horse. If he perceived the teacher in an angry mood, he pacified him by meekness, appeased him with folded hands and avowed not to do wrong again. It is stated that a pupil should not sit by the side of the teacher, not before him, nor behind him; he should never ask questions when sitting on a stool or his bed, but always rising from his seat and coming near, he should ask him with folded hands.951

There were bad pupils too. They received kicks and blows from their teachers. They were also beaten with sticks and addressed with harsh words.952 Bad students are compared with bad bullocks who break down through want of zeal. Such pupils, if sent on an errant, did not do what they were asked to do, but strolled about wherever they liked. Sometimes, teachers were tired of such pupils, left them to their fate, and retired to the forest.953

It does not mean, however, that the student was to follow blindly even his teacher's misconduct. Both Buddha and Äpastamba, who enjoin high reverence for the teacher, lay down that the student should draw his teacher's attention in private to his failings, dissuade him from wrong views if he happened to be inclined towards them; the duty of obedience comes to an end if the teacher transgresses the limits of Dharma. His commands were to be regarded as ultravires, if they were likely to jeopardise the student's life or were against the law of the land.

Private Teachers and Other Agencies

As education became more complex and exact during this periof, specialists started appearing in the form of private teachers. They were to be found scattered all over the country, but they used to congregate in large numbers in certain places on account of the facilities they received. Such places were usually capitals of kingdoms and famous holy places. Taxila and Banaras became well known educational centres where a number of famous scholars imparted education  in their individual capacity but did not as a rule combine to form any colleges. If the number of pupils under any teacher happened to be large, he would either engage an assistant teacher, or assign part of the work to brilliant advanced students.954

Besides these private teacers, the followers of different Vedas had formed their own Academies of learning called the Charaîas. These Charaîas were merely loose organisations based upon a fellowship of teachers and students working at different centres but promoting the study of particular Vedic Áäkhä. At different centres of learning, there were Councils of learned men known as Parishads which also worked as agencies of education. After completing their education, students were to present themselves for a test their knowledge.

Educational Centres

Taxila became a widely known seat of learning during this period. It had many famous teachers to whom hundreds of students flocked for higher education from distant places like Räjagôiha, Vaiáälï, Banaras, Ujjayini and Mithilä. These teachers were not members of any organized institution like college or University but every teacher, assisted by his advanced students, formed an institution by himself. One such institution under a world-renowned teacher had five hundred students under his charge.955 From the Sutasoma Jätaka, it is known that one of the archery schools at Taxila had on its roll 103 princes from different parts of India.956 Heir-apparents of Banaras came to this place for higher studies.957 King Prasenajit of Koáala, a contemporary of Mahävïra, was educated here. Prince Jïvaka, an illegitimate son of Bimbisära, spent seven years at Taxila in learning medicine and surgery. As Päîini hailed from Áalätura near Attock, he also must have been on the alumni of Taxila University.

Generally, students used to go to Taxila for higher studies at the age of sixteen. As a general rule, they stayed with their teachers. Those, who were rich like prince Juîha from Banaras, used to have separate special houses for their residence.958 The well-to-do students used to pay their lodging  and boarding expenses along with their fees, sometimes even at the beginning of their course. Poor students, who were unable to pay fees, used to work in their teacher's house by day, Special classes were held for them at night.

Next to Taxila, Banaras was an eminent seat of learning. In the earlier period, one of its kings, Ajätaáatru had been a great philosopher and a patron of learning. Many of the teachers of this place had been students of Taxila.959 It seems that Banaras, as a seat of learning, was largely the creation of the ex-students of Taxila. In the course of time, the teachers of Banaras began to attract scholars from far and wide. Kosiya and Tittiri Jätakas refer to the famous teachers of Banaras maintaining schools for the teaching of three Vedas and eighteen Sippas, and Akitta Jätaka describes how students used to flock to Banaras for higher education, when they were about 16 years of age. The son of a Brähmaîa magnate worth eighty crores was educated in Banaras.960 There were again certain subjects in the teaching of which Banaras seems to have specialized. There is a reference, for instance, to a school of Music presided over by an expert who was "the chief of his kind in all India."961 Buddha selected this place for the first promulgation of this gospel because it became the famous seat of learning in eastern India. It it stated that prince Agaâadatta of Saõkhapura went to Banaras for study. He stayed in the house of his teacher, and returned home after completing the course of study. Sävatthi962 is mentioned as another centre of education.963

Mahäli964 a native of Vaisäï, is known to have gone to Takshaáilä for learning Áilpa or arts. After the completion of his studies, when he came back home, he trained five hundred Lichchhavis. These five hundred again, after finishing their courses, instructed many in different parts of the country. Vaiáalï itself was a centre of learning.965 The Lichchhavïs were so much interested in high religious and philosophical discussion that they built a Küûägära Hall,6 where such discussion took place. The Buddha gave  many of his discourses at this place.

Hermitages as Centres of Learning

The educational system of this period produced men of affairs as well as those who renounced the world in the pursuit of Truth. The life of renunciation indeed claimed many an ex-student of both Taxila and Benaras. In the sylvan and solitary retreats away from the busy life of cities, the hermitages served as schools of higher philosophical speculation and religious training. These special schools of spiritual study are also referred to as being consisted of 500 ascetics gathering round the personality of an individual hermit of established reputation to impart instruction as his disciples.967 Such hermitages were generally established in the Himälayas.968 Sometimes, however, they were built near the centres of population in order to have facilities for attracting recruits.

Subjects of Study

In the Bhagavatisütra,969 eighteen subjects – six Vedas, six Vedäõgas and six Upäõgas have been mentioned for study. In the Uttarädhyayana Tïkä,970 we find the following fourteen subjects of study – 4 Vedas, 6 Vedäõgas, Mimäãsä, Nyäya, Puräîa, and Dharmmasattha. Seventy-two Kaläs are frequently mentioned in Jaina texts.The list contains the Sippas and also the list of traditional knowledge and sciences. These Kaläs may be classified under thirteen heads — 1. Reading and writing; 2. Poetry; 3. Sculpture; 4. Music; 5. Clay-modelling; 6. Gambling; sports and indoor games; 7. Personal hygiene, toilet and food; 8. Knowledge of various marks and signs; 9. The science of omens; 10 Astronomy; 11.Alchemy; 12. Architecture and 13. Art of fighting.971

The three Vedas, Grammar, Philosophy, Law and eighteen Sippas were the principal subjects selected for specialisation at Taxila. Among the latter were included Medicine, Surgery, Archery and allied military arts, Astronomy, Astrology, Divination, Accountancy, Commerce, Agriculture, Conveyancing, Magic, Snake charming, the art of finding treasurers, Music, Dancing and Painting. Jivaka had gone to this place for studying medicine and surgery and two youths from Banaras went there for studying Archery and Elephant Lore. Two Chaîâäla boys from Ujjayini in the disguise of young Brähmaîas visited Taxila for the study of law.972 There were no caste restrictions on the choice of subject; Kshatriyas used to study the Vedas along with Brähmaîas and the latter used to specialise in archery along with the Kshatriyas. A Brähmaîa royal priest of Banaras had once sent his son to Taxila not to learn the Vedas but to specialise in Archery.973 Similar subjects were also taught at Banaras and other educational centres.


A systematic list of holidays has been given in the Brahmanical literature.974 Interruptions of study were allowed for a variety of causes and circumstances. The principal cause of such interruption was the occurrence of certain natural phenomena – untimely clouds, thunder, heavy showers, frost, dust-storms etc. Secondly, the standing list of holidays included the following : four in the month at an interval of a week, the new and full moon days and the eighth day of each fortnight; certain other days were set apart for religious ceremonies and festival days. Thirdly, study was forbidden in the event of certain political or other incidents taking place, e.g. when the peace of the settlement was disturbed by an invasion or by incursions of robbers or cattlelifters, or when the king or a Brähmaîa had met with an accident or died. Arrival of distinguished guests led to the suspension of studies. Fourthly, study was to be stopped when certain sounds were heard, e.g. howling of jackals, barking of dogs, braying of donkeys, grunting of camels, cry of a wolf, screeching of an owl; the sound of an arrow, of a large or small drum; the noise of a chariot and the wail of a person in pain or weeping.

Organization and Duration of Courses

There was no clear-cut course of a definite duration in different subjects because education was mostly imparted by private teachers without any government control. The duration and contents of the course were therefore largely determined by the will, capacity and convenience of the student. Those, who were content with a superficial knowledge, used to return home in six or even three years. Persons desiring higher education had to spend about 15 or 16 years subsequent to the time of his Upanayana at the age of eight or nine. Usually one could finish education and become an expert in one particular subject at about the age of 24 which was regarded as the ideal age for marriage. Actuated by spiritual motives, some persons used to observe life-long celibacy and devote their time entirely to religion and education. They were known as Naishûhika Brahmachärins. Their primary motive was spiritual salvation, but they set out to achieve this not by penance or meditation, but by the dedication of a life of celibacy to the cause of the sacred lore.

Female Education

The permission granted by Mahävïra and the Buddha for the admission of women into their respective Orders, provided an impetus to the spread of education and philosophy among the ladies. Some of them distinguished themselves as teachers and preachers. They used to lead a life of celibacy, with the aim of understanding and following the eternal truths of religion and philosophy. Ajita Chandanä became the first disciple of Mahävïra under whom a large number of nuns practised the rules of right conduct and attained salvation.975 Another famous lady Jayantï, the sister of king Sayäîïya of Koáämbï, abandoned her royal robe and became a devout nun.976 Some of the nuns well-versed in the knowledge of the sacred texts became teachers of the junior nuns.

The ladies who entered the Buddhist order were known Theris, some of whom made themselves off. The most distinguished of them was Dhammadinnä who brought about her husband's spiritual salvation. She solved all difficult metaphysical problems with the ease of ‘one who severs the stalk of a lotus with the sword.’ Mahäprajäpati, the sister of the Buddha's mother, who entered the Order with a following of 500 other Áäkya ladies constituting the Order of Nuns, was hardly inferior to any of the monks in piety and learning. Kisä Gotamï was known for her progress in virtue and philosophical learning. Sukkä was such a successful speaker and preacher that, to hear her speak, people would flock out of the city and not feel tired of listening to her.977

When a large number of ladies were receiving higher education and were making their own contributions to the growth of knowledge, it is but natural to suppose that some of them must have followed the profession of teaching. Ächäryä978 and Upädhyäyä were the titles of female teachers. Päîini refers to female students as Chhätrï and their hostels Chhärïáälä.979 These hostels were probably under the superintendence of lady teachers, who had made teaching their profession.

Women students were divided into two classes – Sadyodvähas and Brahmavädinis. The Sadyodvähas used to prosecute their studies until their marriage at the age of 15 or 16. Girls could remain unmarried until the age of 16 and the Upanayana was as common in the case of girls as it was in the case of boys. During the eight or nine years, they used to learn religious hymns prescribed for daily and periodically prayers and for those rituals and sacraments in which they were to take active part after marriage. Like men, women used to offer their prayers regularly in the morning and in the evening. Brahmavädinïs aimed at high excellence in scholarship. They were lifelong students of Theology and Philosophy.

Art of Writing

The period of Tïrthaõkara Mahävïra is noteworthy for the evolution of the art of writing. G.H. Ojha,981 R.B. Pandey,982 and D.R. Bhandarkar983 are of the opinion that a system of writing was prevalent even earlier during the Vedic period. But, most of the indologists do not ascribe to this view. Since no positive evidence regarding writing has been found in Vedic literature, it is not possible to hazard any final conclusion.

The definite traces of writing hail from the sixth century B.C. The Päli Tripiûakas give numerous references to writing and the material used for it. Piûaka means ‘basket’ which implies something to hold or contain – a written document. References to writing occur in the Vinaya Piûaka at many places. The terms Lekhaka984 and Lekhäpeti985 are used for ‘writer’ and ‘caused to be written’ respectively. Further, a ‘letter-game’ known as Akkharikä clearly indicates that some sort of writing was known to the people. A prescribed thief is called Likhitaka chora which means literally ‘registered thief.’986 The word Akkhara occurs in the Aõguttara Nikäya,987 the Saãyutta Nikäya988 and the Dhammapada.989 The word Lekhanï (pen) is mentioned in the Aõguttara Nikäya.990 The prose Jätakas, which were admittedly compiled later, possess a number of references to writing, writing material and several kinds of written documents. All these Päli evidences prove that some sort of writing definitely existed during the sixth century B.C. or even earlier, but unfortunately we do not know its name or character.

The Ashûädhyäyi of Päîini contains the terms denoting the existence of the art of writing – Lipi991 and Libi (script), Lipikära992 (a writer or scribe), Yavanänï993 (Greek script), Grantha994 (a book) and Svarita995 (a mark in writing).

For the first time we meet two scripts, Brahmï and Kharoshûhï, in cursive and advanced forms of letters during third century B.C. in the Aáokan inscriptions. This fact also leads us to infer that writing had had a long history before the epigraphs of Aáoka were engraved.

Brähmï and Kharoshûhï are the two most important scripts mentioned in the Jaina and Buddhist texts. In the Jain sütras – the Pannavaîä, the Samaväyäõga (Ch. XVIII) and the Bhagavatï (Ch. V), the names of scripts are mentioned. The first two contain a list of eighteen scripts and the last one referes to only one – Brähmï.996 The Buddhist work Lalitavistara contains the names 64 scripts, both Indian and foreign, known to or imagined by the Indians during the period when these lists were compiled. Out of these, only two, the Brähmï and Kharoshûhï seem to have been current in the sixth or fifth century B.C. The Brähmï was written from left to right and it was popular in eastern India. G. Buhler997 had adopted the designation Brähmï for the characters in which the majority of the Aáoka edicts were written. He and his followers like W. Jones,998 A. Weber and Isaac Taylor999 advocated that Brähmï originated from a Semitic alphabet. The theory of the indigenous origin if Brähmï has been propounded by many modern scholars, mostly Indians. Some of them like R.B. Pandey1000 and D.C. Sïrcar1001 even think that Brähmï alphabet seems to have been derived from the pre-historic Indus Valley scripts.

The Kharoshûhï script was written from right to left. It was introduced in the extreme north-west of India in about the sixth or fifth century B.C. and was used locally in Gandhära. G. Buhler1002 suggested that it originated from the Aramic alphabet because there is resemblance of letters in these two scripts. During the Achaemenian rule, Aramic script was used for official and other purposes in India and adjacent countries. Kharoshûhï alphabet was the result of the intercourse between the offices or the Satraps and the natives. The Indians probably used at first the pure Aramic characters, and they introduced in the course of time the modifications observable in the Kharoshûhï alphabet. On the other hand, R.B. Pandey1003 does not agree with the theory of Aramic origin of the Kharoshûhï and has proved that it was invented by Indian genius.


The most remarkable feature of this age is that Sanskrit lost its position as the medium of expression and its place was soon taken by the Prakrits (Vernaculars) which also grew as literary languages. It is for this reason that both Mahävïra and Buddha propagated their faiths among the masses with the help of the Prakrits and not Sanskrit. It is probable, though not definitely proved, that both Mahävïra and Buddha preached their doctrines in old Ardha-Mägadhï dialect, but the extant canonical texts of their sects are written in a language which is quite different. The original scriptures are lost, but the language of the preserved Jaina canons has undergone considerable changes and shows a strong influence of the Mahäräshûrï Prakrit. As regards Buddhist canon, the best preserved is that of the Hïnayäna school (Theraväda) in Päli. The particular prakrit dialect from which päli was derived is a matter of dispute among scholars and no unanimous conclusion has yet been arrived at. While some derive it from the Prakrit dialect current in Magadha, others find a closer association between it and the dialects of Kauáämbï or Avanti i.e. the Midland or Madhyadeáa.

From the different Sütra works (600-400 B.C.) and Päîini's Ashûädhyäyï, we know about the contemporary position of Sanskrit Language. This language had now become widely differentiated from the Vedic idiom. These Sütras are written in a peculiarly terse style which may be traced to the prose of the Brähmaîas. They, however, employ long compounds and gerunds to economic the use of syllables. The language of the Sütras comes very close to the norm set up by Päîini. Occasionally, we find words and forms belonging to the Vedic period and also some Präkritisms and solecisms. The contact of the Aryans with the aboriginal tribes may have hastened to a certain extent the process of simplification of the older language. The language of these works was the spoken language as was current among the hieratic classes. Sanskrit language ceased to be the language of the masses and its use was restricted only to the highly educated class.


There was a general efflorescence of literary activity during this age. Because of the rise of different religions, religious and philosophical literature proliferated in context …………………………… one line missed …………………………………… was handed down by the religious teachers orally in the form of traditions and was not committed to writing. Even those preserved orally took literary form after considerable time and it underwent many changes in language and subject matter. Hence, it is not possible to offer a definite and true picture of literature. The achievements in some branches of technical literature also were of high order.

The Jaina Canon

Originally, there were two kinds of Jaina sacred books – the fourteen Pürvas and the eleven Aõgas. The fourteen Pürvas are said to be coming down from the time of Päráva, the illustrious predecessor of Mahävïra. Traditionally, the eleven Aõgas based on the teachings of Mahävïra are said to have been composed by his immediate disciples but actually they do not belong to one period. The fourteen Pürvas were reckoned to make up a twelfth Aõga called the Dôishûiväda. Mahävïra preached his religion in Ardha-Mägadhï which is said to be the language of the canon. The language of the available canon, however, shows a great influence of Mahäräshûrï Prakrit. Besides, the present canon has undergone considerable modifications and interpolations and at the same time, certain canons or parts of the canons have become totally obsolete. Different names are ascribed to one and the same canon and the number of canons varies considerably.

The Ägama or Canonical literature, according to the Ávetämbara Jains consists of the eleven Aõgas, twelve Upäõgas, ten Paiîîas (Prakirîas), six Chhedasütras, Nändï and Anuyogadvära and four mülasütras. The eleven Aõgas are the oldest part of the Canon. On the other hand, according to the Digambar tradition, not only the Drishûiväda but also eleven Aõgas were lost by degrees in course of time. They do not know of other works grouped as Upäõgas, Chhedasütras, etc., which are found in the present canon of the Ávetämbaras. A list of these texts according to the usual enumeration is as follows :-

1.             Eleven Aõgas : Ächära, Sütrakôita, Sthäna, Samaväya, Bhagavati, Jñätädharmakathäs, Upäsakadaáäs, Antakôiddaáäs, Anuttaraupapätikadaáäs, Praánavyäkaraîa Vipäka (Dôishti-väda, no longer extant).

2.             Twelve Upäõgas : Anupapätika, Räjapraániya, Jiväbhigama, Prañäpanä, Jambüdvïpaprajñapti, Chandraprajñapti, Süryaprajñapti, Nirayävali (or Kalpika), Kalpävataãsikä, Pushpikä, Pushpachütikä and Vôishîidaáäs.

3.             Ten Paiîîas (Prakïrîas) : Chatuêáaraîa, Saãstära, Äturapratyäkhyänam, Bhaktäparijñä, Taîâulavaiyälï, Chandavïja, Devendrastava, Gaîivïja, Mahäpratyäkhyäna, and Vïrastava.

4.             Six Chhedasütras : Niáitha, Mahäniáïtha, Vyavahära, Daáäárutaskandha, Bôihatkalpa and Pañchakalpa.

5.             Two Sütras without a common name : Nandi and Anuyogadvära.

6.             Four Mülasütras : Uttarädhyayana, Ävaáyaka, Daáavaikälika and Piîâaniryukti.1004

Among these different Aõgas, only the Ächäräõga, the Sütrakôitäõga and the Uttarädhyayana contain the oldest part of the canon from linguistic and literary points of view.1005 The same may be true to some extent of the Bhagavatï Sütra. The Sämäyika prayers, like the Buddhist formulae of confession, obviously formed the very beginning of the sacred writings, but unfortunately we do not have them in their authentic form. The older parts of the canon contain many archaic forms. The older prose works generally abound in endless repetitions but some contain systematic expositions. Of the twelve Upäõgas, only the first two perhaps contain some early material, the rest being ‘systematic’ and exaggerated dogmatic, scientific and mythological treatises. Of the first two Upäõgas the Räjaprániya, in particular, seems to be based on an old tradition, since the Päyäsisutta in the Dïghanikäya is either an adaptation of it or draws on the same source. The paiîîas, as their title indicates, are miscellaneous pieces and their list is in reality quite indefinite. Of the Chhedasütras, according to M. Winternitz, only the Bôihatkalpa, with its supplement – the Vauhära – and the Äyäradasäo, can be considered early.

The Buddhist Canon

It seems that Gautama Buddha, like Mahävïra, preached his doctrines in Old Ardha-Mägadhï, but he enjoined upon his disciples that his teachings should be studied by the people in their own dialects. We have definite evidence that Buddhist canon was redacted in Pali, Mägadhï and other dialects, of these, the Pälï version alone has survived in its entirety. Of the rest, only very small fragments have so far come to light.

The Päli canon consists of three piûakas (baskets) known as the Tripiûaka. These are Vinaya, Sutta and Abhidhamma Piûakas. There is yet another division of the canon into nine Aõgas. They are – sermons in prose only (Sütta), sermons in prose and verse (Gavya), explanations (Veyyäkaraîa), stanzas (Gäthä), epigrams (Udäna), short saying beginning with “Thus spoke the Buddha” (Itivuttaka), stories of previous incarnations (Jätaka), miracles (Abbhutadhamma), and teachings in the form of question and answer (Vedalla).

The Vinaya Piûaka comprises the following texts : Pätimokkha, Sutta Vibhaõga, Khandakas and Parivära. The Sutta Piûaka comprises the following five collections called Nikäyas : (1) Digha,  (2) Majjhima, (3) Saãyutta, (4) Aõguttara and (5) Khuddaka. The Abhidhamma comprises seven books commonly known as Sattapakaraîa which belong to a later date containing a more elaborate and classified exposition of the Dhamma than given in the Nikäyas.

Chronology of the Buddhist Canon

Like the Jaina canon, Buddhist canon too was not compiled at one particular time. The quotations from scriptures in Aáokan edicts, references to persons well-versed in sacred texts in inscriptions of the second century B.C. and scriptures, reliefs and inscriptions on the railings and gateways at Bhärhut and Sanchi, suggest that the works on Dharma and Vinaya were current before the rise of the Maurya dynasty. The Mahävagga and Chullavagga are evidently assignable to the period of Aáoka, as they are silent about the third Council. The Sutta Vibhaõga and the five Nikäyas which are referred to in the Chullavagga are certainly much older. There is no reference to the Abhidhamma, which is the latest of Piûakas. As the Nikäyas know no place in the east, south of Kaliõga, and no place in the west, south of the Godävarï, the Geography of the Nikäyas points to their age being much earlier than Aáoka. Therefore, it appears that the bulk of the Vinaya Piûaka and the first four Nikäyas of the Sutta Piûaka were compiled before 350 B.C.

After discussing the chronology of the Päli canonical texts from different points of view, B. C. Law places them in the following groups in their chronological order.1006

1. The simple statements of Buddhist doctrine now found in identical words in paragraphs or verses recurring in all the books;

2. Episodes found in identical words in two or more of the existing books;

3. The Sïlas, the Päräyaîa group of sixteen poems without the prologue, the Aûûhaka group of four or sixteen poems, the Sikkhäpadas;

4. Dïgha Vol. I, Majjhima, Saãyutta, Aõguttara and earlier Pätimokkha with 152 rules;

5. Dïgha Vol. II, III, Thera-Therï-gäthä, 500 Jätakas, Suttavibhaõga, Paûisambhidämagga, Puggalapaññatti and Vibhaõga;

6. Mahävagga, Chullavagga, Patimokkha with 227 rules, Vimänavatthu, Petavatthu, Dhammapada, Kathävatthu;

7. Chulla-and Maha–niddesa, Udäna, Itivuttaka, Sutta Nipäta, Dhätukathä, Yamaka, Paûûhäna;

8. Buddhavaãsa, Chariyäpiûaka, Apadäna;

9. Parivärapäûha;

10. Khuddakapäûha.

Vaõgïsa, a negative of Magadha, is known to have been the celebrated poet during the time of Buddha. He repeated many beautiful stanzas before the Buddha who praised him much.1007

The Ajivika Canon

That the Äjïvikas had a canon of sacred texts in which their doctrines were codified, is clear from the Päli and Prakrit texts of Buddhism and Jainism. The Äjïvika canon consisted of eight Mahänimittas and two Märgas, which are at least partially based upon the Pürvas coming down from the time of Päráva. B.M. Barua, on the other hand, interprets the word Pürva in the text not in the specialised Jaina sense, but merely as past traditions.1008 His view is strengthened by the fact that the eightfold Mahänimitta of the Äjïvikas bears no resemblance to the titles of the fourteen lost Pürvas of the Jaina tradition. In spite of this, it can be said that the scriptures of the Äjïvikas may have had something in common with the earliest scriptures of the Jainas.

In the Bhagavatisütra,1009 it is described that the six Disächäras “extracted the eight-fold Mahänimitta in the Puvvas with the Maggas making the total up to ten, after examining hundreds of opinions”, and that this was approved by Goáäla maõkhaliputta after brief consideration. The eight Aõgas of the Mahänimitta are as follows –

1. Divyam, “of the Divine”,

2. Autpätam, “of Portents”,

3. Äntariksham, “of the sky”,

4. Bhaumam, “of the earth”,

5. Äõgam, “of the body”,

6. Sväram, “of sound”,

7. Läkshaîam, “of characteristics”; and

8. Vyäñjanam, “of indications”.

The Mahänimittas are listed in the Sthänäõga Sütras,1010 with the variation Suviîe (dreams) for Divyam. The Uttarädhyayana Sütra1011 gives a similar list, and adds that the Jaina Bhikkhu should not live by such means. The two Maggas are described by the commentator Abhayadeva to have been those of song and dance. The Maggas may represent texts containing Äjïvika religious songs and directions for ritual dances respectively.

Vedäõga Literature

The Vedäõga literature composed during this period does not form part of the Vedic literature, but is in close association with it. It is not the Veda, a divine revelation, but the Vedäõga, “the limbs of the Veda”, constituting works of human authorship. These Vedäõgas include a number of exegetical sciences like Áikshä (phonetics), Kalpa (ritual), Vyäkaraîa (Grammer), Nirukta (etymology), Chhandas (metrics), and Jyotisha (astronomy). These six Vedäõgas refer to the six subjects that help the proper understanding, recitation, and the sacrificial use of the Vedas. As a whole, these have been written in Sütra style. A Sütra has come to mean a short rule, in as few words as possible, giving a clue to the learning of a particular topic. The voluminous increase of knowledge along with the oral system of instruction necessitated this peculiar fashion of Sütra style so that it might be easier to memorize. The intricacies of Vedic ritual, which were to be scrupulously observed in every small detail, contributed to a certain extent to the development of this form of literature.

In course of time, each of the original Vedic Aõgas gave rise to a number of allied sciences through its specialized and scientific study in special schools. The sacrificial ritual itself led to the growth of some of the sciences. Geometry and Algebra arose out of the elaborate rules for the construction of altars. Astronomy and Astrology grew out of the necessity of finding out the proper times and seasons for sacrifice and other purposes. The foundation of Anatomy was laid in the dissection of sacrificial animals. Grammar and Philology had their origin in the care to preserve the sacred texts from corruption and fix the methods of their proper pronunciation.

Classes of Sütra Works

The first branch of the Sütra literature is called Árauta. The Árauta Sütras deal with the rites and sacrifices which involve the services of a number of priests. The second branch is the Gôihya Sütras which are concerned with the numerous ceremonies applicable to the domestic life of a man and his family from birth to death. The third is the Dharma Sütras dealing with the customary law and practice. They enumerate the duties of the castes and stages in life (Äárama). They lay the foundation of civil and criminal law. The last is the Áulva Sütras giving minute details regarding the measurement and construction of the fire-altars and the place of sacrifice. They may thus be regarded as the oldest books of Indian geometry.

The dates of the principal Árauta Sütras and some of the Gôihya Sütras have been decided between 800 and 400 B.C. G. Buhler and J. Jolly have placed them between the sixth and fourth (or third) centuries B.C., though others assign to them a somewhat later date. Although none of the extant Dharma Sütra is older than 600 B.C., there is no doubt that there were works of this class belonging to an earlier period.1012

Philosophical Literature

In the sixth century B.C., there was a rise of new philosophical tenets often of a revolutionary character. Many of these philosophical dogmas had a merely temporary phase and gradually faded away but a few, however, came to stay. Besides Mahävïra and Buddha, the chief heterodox religious teachers of this age were Pürîa Kassapa, Pakudha Kachchäyana, Makkhali Goáäla, Ajita Keáakambalin and Sañjaya Belaûûhiputta. They were renowned philosophers of their times and propounded independent views on different philosophical subjects. Their works are not available, but we know about their views from the Buddhist and Jaina literature.

The six systems of Indian Philosophy are distinguished as orthodox systems from the heterodox systems of the Buddhists, Jainas and Chärväkas, because they are all somehow reconcilable with the Vedic system, though they mutually differ in their relations to the same. The six systems are known as (1) the Säãkhya of Kapila, (2) Yoga of Patañjali (3) Nyäya of Gautama, (4) Vaiáeshika of Kaîäda, (5) Pürva Mïmäãsä of Jaimini, and (6) Vedänta of Bädaräyaîa.

These systems of philosophy certainly had their beginning much earlier, earlier perhaps than even Lord Mahävïra, but the texts of the Sütras which embody their conclusions were composed later. There is a great controversy among scholars about the chronology of these Sütras. The proposed dates for the different Sütras vary over a wide range of more than a thousand years between the fifth century B.C. and fifth century A.D. Generally, Vaiáeshika and Nyäya Sütras are regarded as the earliest and Säõkhya as the latest.

It is to be noted that the philosophers to whom these systems are ascribed were not necessarily their originators. They gave the final form to the Sütras which themselves refer to older philosophers. Some of the Sütras refer to the opinions of other Sütras and their refutations which show that the different philosophical schools were already in existence before the final redaction of the Sütras took place. It may further be noted that the extant literary works in which the doctrines of the six systems are embodied are themselves much later in date than their original founders. It is possible that these systems of philosophy originated much earlier but they were composed in Sütra style much later.

Technical and Scientific Literature

Another noteworthy feature of this age is that separate schools of Kalpa, Vyäkaraîa, and Jyotisha apart from Vedic schools, came into existence. These subjects were not taught as auxiliary branches of the Vedic lore to the students of a common school, but each of these subjects was attaining independent development through treatment in a special school. Independent works were written on these branches of knowledge.

(A) Grammar

The earliest existing work, dealing with the Grammar of the contemporary spoken language is Päîini's Aáhiädhyäyi. The author refers to his predecessors like Áäkas---ma and Áaunaka but their works are not available. It indicates the existence of a long tradition of grammatical students before the days of Päîini. Päîini was the native of a village called Áälätura in N.W.F. Province. His work consists of some 4,000 Sütras divided, as the title suggests, into eight chapters. The date of Päîini is not definite, and he has been placed between the seventh and fourth centuries B.C. It is to be noted that the subject, as treated by Päîini, is no longer subservient to the needs of mere Veda-study but has an independent life and destiny of its own, though it does not exclude the Veda from its purview. It is no longer a mere handmaiden of the Vedavidyä. It is a distinct science laying down the laws applicable to the entire Sanskrit language, of which the typical form assumed is what we call classical Sanskrit.

(B) Metrics

 There are many scattered references to metre in the Brähmaîas, but it is in the Sütras (e.g. the Áäõkhäyana Árauta Sütra, the Ôigveda Prätiáäkhya and the Nidäna Sütra that an attempt is made to arrange the archiac metres systematically. The earliest existing work on Metrics is Piõgala's Chhandaáästra. He started the practice of measuring a metrical line with the help of the Tôikas or the eight groups of three letters each. From very old times, the Sanskrit metres in the Vedas were distinguished from each other by the number of letters contained in each line of a stanza. Piõgala's date is uncertain but he may be assigned to the first or second century B.C. Piõgala himself mentions earlier authorities like Räta, Mäîâavya, Käáyapa and others while defining the classical metres, which shows that the development of the classical metres had begun long before Piõgala.

(C) Science of Polity

It is only after the rise of the well organized states in the age of Mahävïra that the Science of Polity seems to have originated. Both the Mahäbhärata and the Arthaáästra give us information about the early writers of Hindu Polity and the theories propounded by them. These two works represent independent traditions and sources. Kauûilya refers to nineteen teachers who precede him – Manu, Bôihaspati, Paräáara, Uáanas, Bharadväja, Viáäläksha, Piáuna, Kauîapadanta, Vätavyädhi, etc. The Mahäbhärata mentions some common names besides five others.

Unfortunately, the works of these authors have been lost, but their opinions quoted in the Mahäbhärata and the Arthaáästra give us some idea of their contents. One of them named Uáanas went to the extent of advocating the extreme view that politics was the only science worth study. They believed in the monarchical form of government. They seem to have devoted considerable space to the discussion of the training of the prince and the qualifications of an ideal ruler. The relative importance that he should attach to the difficulties and calamities in connection with the treasury, forts and army were also exhausively discussed. The constitution and functions of the Ministry were described at length by most of them and they widely differed from one another about the number of the Ministers and their qualifications. Principles of foreign policy were also debated upon, Bhäradväja advocating submission to the strong when there is no alternative and Viáäläksha recommending a fight to finish, even if it meant annihilation. Vätavyädhi did not ascribe to the theory of Shäâguîya but advocated that of Dvaiguõya. The questions of the control over revenue and provincial officers were discussed. These early works contain important sections dealing with civil and criminal law and laid down a scheme of fines and punishments, theft, robbery, misappropriation, etc.1013

Thus, these different schools of political thought before Kauûilya definitely prove that they were not confined to a mechanical repetition of each other's views but they ceaselessly endeavoured to ascertain how far the end of the state could best be realized within the ambit of the ancient dharma.

Mathematics, Astronomy and Astrology

The early Jaina texts provide ample evidence of progress made in Mathematics, Astronomy and Astrology. It is said that Mahävïra was versed in Arithmetic and Astronomy.1014 Gaîita is also described as one of the four exposition of the principle (anuyoga) in the Jaina text.1015 The Ûhäîäõga mentions ten kinds of science of numbers, viz., parikamma (fundamental operation), vavahära (subject of treatment), rajju (“rope” meaning geometry) räsi (“heap” meaning measurement of solid bodies), Kaläsävanna (fractions), jävaãtävam (‘as many as’ meaning simple equations), vagga (“square” meaning quadratic equation), ghaîa (“cube” meaning cubic equation), vaggavagga (liquidratic equation) and vikappa (permutation and combination).1016

The Suriyapannatti and the Chandaannatti, the fifth and the seventh Upäõgas of the Jaina canon respectively deal with Astronomy. The Suriyapannatti deals with various astronomical views of the Jainas such as the orbits which the Sun circumscribes during the year, the rising and the setting of the Sun, the speed of the course of the Sun through each of its 184 cubits, the light of the Sun and moon, the measure of the shadow at various seasons of the year, the connection of the moon with luîar mansions (nakshatra), the waning and the crescent of the moon, the velocity of the five kinds of heavenly bodies (the Sun, the Moon, planets, nakshatras and täräs), the qualities of the moon-light, the number of Suns in Jambüdvïpa, etc.1017

The Joîipähuâa1018 and the Chüâämaîi1019 deal with astrology. Vivähapaâala was another work of astrology. The knowledge of astrology was considered necessary for fixing the time of religious ceremonies.

It seems that the eight Mahänimittas, the early scriptures of the Äjïvikas contained considerable sections on the subject of Astrology because the Äjïvika mendicant often acted as an astrologer or reader of omens.1020 The Jaina saint Kälaya or Kälaka is said to have learnt the Mahänimittas from the Äjïvikas.1021 That the Jainas, despite the veto of the Uttarädhyayana, also employed the eightfold Mahänimitta is shown by Kälaka's knowledge of it, and by an inscription at Áravaîa Belgolä, which states that the pontiff Bhadrabähu knowing the eightfold Mahänimitta, seeing past, present and future, foretold in Ujjayinï a calamity of twelve years' duration.1022

That the Brähmaîas also acted as the fortune-tellers by reading symbols of men and by interpreting the dreams and other omens is known by the evidence of the Jätakas.1023

Science of Medicines

The science of Medicine (tegichchhaya or Ayuvveya) is said to have been discovered by Dhannantari1024 (Dhanvantari). He was well versed in the medical science which comprises eight branches.1025 It is not possible to fix the date of Dhannantarï.

In the days of Mahävïra, the medical science was in the stage of advancement because Taxila was famous for the medical school which must have been the best of its kind in India. It is for this reason that prince Jïvaka spent seven years there, learning medicine and surgery.1026 The practical course in Medicine included a first hand study of the plants to find out the medicinal ones. The Jätakas also refer to the medical students at Taxila treating for cranial abscesses and intestinal displacement.

On his return to Magadha after completing education, Jïvaka was appointed the royal physician because he was successful in operating on the fistula of king Bimbisära. He had also to treat the Bhikshu patients suffering from leprosy, goitre, asthma, dry leprosy and apasmära. He cured the head trouble of the wife of a banker of Säketa, the skin disease of a banker of Banaras and jaundice of king Pradyota.1027 There was also another physician at Räjagôiha named Akäsagotta who operated on the fistula of a bhikkhu.1028

The Ächäräõga mentions the following sixteen diseases : boils (gaîâï), leprosy (kuûûha), consumption (räyaãsï), epilepsy (avamäriya), blindness (käîiya), stiffness (jhimiya), lameness (kuîiya), humpback (khujiya), dropsy (udari), dumbness (müya), swelling (süîiya), over-appetite (giläsaîi), trembling (vevai), disablement (piâhasappi), elephantiasis (silïvaya) and diabetes (madhumeha).1029

Hospitals (tigichchhayasälä) are freely mentioned. The Näyädhammakhä mentions that a hospital was built on hundred pillars where a number of physicians and surgeons were employed who treated various kinds of patients with various kinds of medicines and herbs.1030 There were state physicians and hospitals as well.1031 The physicians carried their bage of surgical instruments and gave various treatment according to the nature of the disease.

Science of Engineering

The science of Engineering seems to have become very popular and well-developed. The construction of cities, forts, palaces, buildings, tanks, canals, etc. would not have been possible without a proper study of the subject. Even the Bhikshus, who now-a-days are seen only having a life of ease and comfort and engaging themselves merely in religious and philosophical studies and meditations, were then enthusiastically concerned with the work of superintending the construction of fine buildings.1032


        1.      Rbi, p. 111.

        2.      Hibbert Lectures, p. 351

        3.      Sbe, II, pp. 191, 192.

        4.      Manual of Indian Buddhism.

        5.      Sbf, XXII, p. xxiv.

        6.      Psob. p. 317.

        7.      Sütra.

        8.      Sämañña; Digha. I. 47; Milinda, p. 4; W. Rockhill's Life of the Buddha, pp. 80. 96 foll.

        9.      Rbi, pp. 69-70.

     10.      Sütra, I. 1. 1. 18.

     11.      Bhpip, p. 279.

     12.      Sam, III, p. 69.

     13.      Ibid, V,  P. 69

     14.      Bgpip, pp. 278-279.

     15.      Psob, p. 345.

     16.      Aõgu, IV, p. 428.

     17.      Ibid,


     19.      Aõgu, III, pp. 383-84.

     20.      History and Doctrines of the Äjïvikas, p. 90.

     21.      Bhpip, p. 227.

     22.      Sumaõgala-Viläsinï, I, p. 144.

     23.      Digha, I, p. 57.

     24.      Dia, I, p. 74

     25.      Sütra, I, 1.1. 15-16.

     26.      Sütra, 11-2.

     27.      Sthänäõga, IV; Digha, 1.13-17.

     28.      Ibid, IV, 4.

     29.      Bhpip, pp. 284-285.

     30.      Sämäñña, (Digha, I. No. 2), 23.

     31.      Dial, B, II, 73-74.

     32.      Bhpip, p. 293.

     33.      Vedänta-sütra (Ed. by Cowell), p. 32.

     34.      Sbe, XLV, pp. 340-341; Dia. B, III, 358-361.

     35.      Ibid, p. 341.

     36.      Bhpip, p. 296.

     37.      Sütra, Ti, pp. 451-452.

     38.      Sämañña, 31.

     39.      Brahma, 37.

     40.      Bhpip, p. 327.

     41.      A.F.R. Hoernle suggests that Kisa and Nanda were probably Makkhali's contemporaries.

     42.      Bhag, XV. 1; Uvä, p.1.

     43.      Bhpip, p. 300.

     44.      Bhag, XV. 1.

     45.      Digha, I, p. 54; Majjh, 1, p. 31; Ja, V; p. 228.

     46.      Digha, I, 53.

     47.      Uvä, vi-vii.

     48.      Buddhacharita, IX. 47, 48, 52; Áïläõka's Sütra. Tïkä. p. 30; Sarvadaráanasaõgraha, p. 7.

     49.      Sumaõgala Viläsinï, I. 161.

     50.      Bhpip, p. 312.

     51.      Dïgha, I, 53; Aõgu, III, pp. 383-84.

                  Sumaõgala-Viläsinï, I, p. 162; Majjh, I, p. 36.

     52.      Dial, II, p. 72; Uvä, II. p. 24; Jä, IV, pp. 496-97.

     53.      Sthänä, 4. 2. 310.                

     54.      Aup, 41.

     55.      Ere, I, pp. 263-265.

     56.      Bhpip Jdl, II, pp. 12-13.

     57.      Ibid, pp. 317-318.

     58.      Bau, Dh. S, II, 10. 2-6; Sbe, XIV, 273.

     59.      Sbe, II, 153; XIV, 40, 46.

     60.      Äva, Nir, 463.

     61.      Äva, chü, p. 278.



     64.      Bhag. II. 9, 418; Aup, 38; Sütra, II, Vi, 52.

     65.      Äch chü, p. 169.

     66.      Bhag, II. 9.

     67.      Niryä. 3, pp. 39ff.

     68.      Äva, chü, p. 457.

     69.      The Rämäyaîa III, 11-13 mentions Mäîâakarîi, a hermit who lived on air.

     70.      Lalithavistara, p. 248.

     71.      Uttarä. Ûï, 10, 154.

     72.      Rbi, p. 161.

     73.      Bhpip, p. 350.

     74.      Vas. Dh. S. 11-6. 11.

     75.      Bhag, 2. 1.

     76.      Digha, I, 178; Majjh, I, 359, 481, 483, 489, 491, 501, 513; II-I, 22, 29, 40; III. 207. Aõgu, II. 30. 1; II. 185. 1; etc.

     77.      Digha, I, 87, 111, 127, 224, 234; Majjh, I. 16, 164. 175 etc.

     78.      Mv, I, 23. 1.

     79.      Ibid, 23, 2-10.

     80.      Aõgu, II, 29, 176.

     81.      Majjh, II, 22-29.

     82.      Jä, II, 72.

     83.      Anu, 20; Näyä Tï. 15.

     84.      Paîîa, Ti, II, 20 p. 405; also Ächä, p. 265.

     85.      The Digha, I, p. 166 also mentions such ascetics.

     86.      DPPN, I, 931; Udäna Aûûhakathä, 74.

     87.      Sbe, XIII, 118; Jä, VI, 219-20.

     88.      Mv, I, 15.

     89.      Sbe, XIII, p. 124.

     90.      Ibid, p. 130.

     91.      Gayä and Bodha-Gayä, Vol. I. p. 99.

     92.      Mv, I, 20, 17-24.

     93.      Saã; DPPN, II, 787.

     94.      Jä, VI, 286.

     95.      Sütra, I, 12-1.

     96.      Aõgu, III, p. 276.

     97.      Äva. Nir, 494.

     98.      Digha, I, 127.

     99.      Aõgu, IV, 41.

   100.      Saã, I, 76.

   101.      …………………………………