CLEARING THE FORESTS- Between 1000 and 500 bce iron tools and weapons provided the technological foundations for the expansion of agricultural communities over the entire basin of the Ganges. One important consequence of the replacement of copper and bronze implements by stronger iron weapons and tools was the greater ease in removing the forest cover from the banks of the Ganges, so
that these fertile lands could be planted. That much of the tree cover was also removed by burning is inferred from the ritual manual called the Satapatha Brahmana, thought to have been composed between 800 and 600 bce. In it, the god of fire, Agni, sets a path of sacrificial flames from the western valley of the Ganges to the east, thereby consecrating certain areas for occupation by Aryans. Reaching modern Bihar, Agni commanded the Aryan chief Videgha Mathava, who had followed his fiery trail, to carry him over the River Gandak (then called the Sadanira) in order to sanctify the far bank for Aryan occupa- tion as well; the newly consecrated land east of the Gandak was thereafter ruled by Videgha Mathava, now called Videha, and constituted one of the sixteen great chieftaincies (mahajanapada) of the age.
The supersession of bronze by iron and pastoralism by sedentary agricul- ture laid the foundation for a new period of political consolidation beginning around 1000 bce. Numerous small cities in the Gangetic valley reflect the twin processes of agricultural development and state formation. Out of these processes came a set of monarchies around the eighth to sixth centuries bce, and the first imperial regime, the Mauryans, around 320 bce. The opening of the vast, fertile Gangetic plain to agrarian exploitation can be glimpsed in the post-Harappan archaeological record, to which has been added the rich docu- mentation of the Sanskrit vedic corpus. From both come details of settlements by horsemen with iron weapons imposing their rule over other peoples, first in the Punjab and the western Gangetic plain and later over the whole of the plain to the Gangetic delta in Bengal. It has to have been a gradual change rather than the cataclysm implied by the oft-used term ‘Aryan invasion’. Archaeology and the vedic documents permit two simultaneous changes to be traced, one to a fully settled agrarian economy and the other from clans with a lineage-based society to the more complex social and political forms that have marked all subsequent developments in India and made it distinctive.