The City and the Country in Early India: A Study of Malwa is about the emergence of urban centres in the sixth century BCE, and analyses the processes and spatiality of urbanization, taking Malwa as its case study. Earlier research on urbanism has focused on either literary or archaeological sources. While literary sources tend to locate the agency for change exclusively in preachers and become nameless and faceless. The study of inscriptions from Malwa helps in restoring agency to common people.
The beginnings of urbanism are to be found in the pre-literate past, and, therefore, require an analysis of archaeological data. Using insights from anthropology and studies of early states, in the first half of the book an attempt has been made to look for new ways to account for urbanization.
The second half of the book tries to understand the process of urbanization by examining epigraphic and literary sources. The process of the emergence of urban centres created new forms of division of pace: urban were surrounded by villages which in turn were surrounded by wilderness. This book tries to recover the histories of their complex interrelations, Since caste and kinship are considered central to the world of Indian sociology, an attempt has also been made to understand the relationship between caste, kinship and urbanism. Changes in the attitude of the literati towards the city and the country have also been examined.
Dr P K Basant is Associate Professor of History at the Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.
Cities Have Challenged human imagination even since they came into existence. From the smallest to the largest, the earliest to the latest, cities have been the points of greatest concentration of men and women and their social relationships. As concrete expressions of the concentration of women and men, they have displayed the glories of urban art and architecture in temples, tombs and palaces. They have also been the scenes of violence, crime and the exploitation of urban masses (Southall 1998: 8-9). The city as system of life has been promoted and resisted by different communities. There have been urban religions and there have been religions which shunned the urban space. But once the city was invented, nobody could be indifferent to it. Indeed, the city penetrates the very structure of biological evolution. Alley cats and dogs are animal denizens of the city with an outlook as urban as those of their human counterparts (Martindale 1966: 10).
Social scientists increasingly regard urbanism as a dependent variable. It reflects the economic aspect of the broader range of changes taking place in a given society (Southall 1998: 7-8; Fischer 1975). However, one needs to remember that the city acts as a ‘container’, meaning that the concentration of rules and ruled, merchants and buyers, priests and devotees, in a small geographical area, makes for a qualitative change in the lived space. Urban centres shelter artists, architects, litterateurs and innovators of various kinds. A new landscape is created. In the city are concentrated the innovations and changes that occur in the larger society. In fact, the idea of concentration needs to be extended beyond mere population aggregation to include even greater concentrations of economy, political control capital. In other words, the city is the hub of power, the site of control. As Braudel said, the town stood above all for domination. When tries to define or rank it, the criterion is its capacity to command and the area it commanded (Braudel 1989: 181). The organizational ability and promote production and control distribution on a regional and intra-regional scale is possessed only by the institution of the estate. Unfettered by local kinship networks, rulers create networks of exchange with faraway lands. They are hungry, too, for various craft products. That is why scholars believe that the locus of transformation lay in the realm of social organization. To be able to understand urbanism, one needs to understand larger processes like the emergence of the state and civilization.
Urbanism represents a concentration of social praxis in a small geographical space. Our understanding of the beginnings of such seminal processes as the emergence of state and state and class seems to be moored to archeological remains of urban centers. Also, the theme of urbanization connect to the study of a process which happened in many part of the world across time and space. This means that one moves out of the insularity of history and effective learns from other of this kind requires understanding of their different kinds of sources of information. Since the beginnings of urbanism are linked to the pre-historic past, one needs to understand archaeology. On the other hand, the use of early epigraphs and art works requires the eye of an art historian. Literary works, the third kind of sources, need an understanding of literary conventions.
This study is broadly chronological in its structure. Urbanism is an evolutionary concept. It assumes the existence of less complex societies, some of whom developed into more complex societies that produced cities. Theorists no longer claim that a specific trajectory is inherent in socio-cultural evolution and controls human behaviour independent of his/her will. However if some societies developed urban centres it does mean that they followed a certain road to urbanism. It would be worthwhile discovering the path of this change. Works on urbanism have focussed on either literary or archeological sources. While literature tends to strengthen the impression that agency is a privilege of preachers and rulers alone, the actors in archaeology are nameless. The epigraphic material restores agency to common humans. So, I have drawn upon insights from all three disciplines.
The first two chapters deal with the theoretical issues relating to urbanization. While Chapter I assesses the state of the debate about urbanization in the Indian subcontinent, Chapter 2 tries to understand this debate in the broader context of urban theory.
Any society which has cities is, all aspects, an urban society, Rural refers to only a set of specialties of an urban society characterized by linkages to specific geographical spaces. With such an understanding, it is important to investigate the emergence of cities as a problem of spatial differentiation. Since insights provided by ‘Cultural Ecology’ have made urban studies more sensitive to understanding culture in its geographical setting, Chapter 3 deals with the historical geography of the Malwa region.
In Chapter 4 and 5, In try to handle the archaeological data relating to the process urbanization in Malwa. The validity of this exercise is self0-evident in the sense that the origins of urbanism are hissen in the ruins of the past.
In Chapters 6 and 7, I shift the focus of my study by having a close look at the monuments of Sanchi. The large body of its inscriptional material with its laconic one-liners has fascinated and defied historians. This unique blend of archeology and writing gives one an idea of the peoples and places of those times. The study of family and kinship is as important in the sociological/anthropological tradition as ‘Class’ in the historical tradition, These inscriptions give an idea of the kinship structures of those. Moreover, it restores agency to common people who created these monuments through collective endeavour. The friezes of Sanchi need to be understood not as duplications of reality but as constituents of the world view of those times. My study of ways of seeing provides me useful insights.
It is poets and writers who provide flesh and bone to the idea of a city and country as vibrant living spaces. In Chapter 8, I examine the process of the formation of institutions that resulted in the emergence of urban centres. In Chapter 9, I concentrate on the study of literature both to understand to process of the emergence of the city in Malwa and to create the image of the city as a lived space. The study of literary evidence indicates that many poets and writers did not regard the city and the country as two distinctive kinds of settlements. Rather, urban centres were perceived as being located at the top of a hierarchy of settlements. Cities represent the more visible aspects of the reality of urbanism. However, cities of light and darkness have so dazzled historians that they forgotten the larger world of the countryside. The traditional divide between the town and the country, while culturally distinguishing these units, tends to hide their unity. Considering that the village represents the even present reality of more than 70 per cent of Indians even today, is history needs to be recovered. This is an area that is largely untouched. Classical Sanskrit literature associates ideas of innocence and idiocy and a purer way of life with villages. History shows a range and variation in the idea of the village. Images of power and achievement associated which cities are themselves liked to domination over the countryside. The rulers of the town and the country were one and the same set people. I shall try to find the lost history of village by presenting a study of the image of the village in ancient Indian literature.
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