CLEARING THE FORESTS

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.

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