Sanskrit Literature and Drama Preface IT is doubtless more important to change history than to write it, just as it would be better to do something about the weather rather than merely talk about it. In a free parliamentary democracy every citizen is supposed to feel that he, personally is making history when he elects representatives to do the talking and to tax him for the privilege.
Some have now begun to suspect that this may not suffice, that all history may terminate abruptly with the atomic age unless a bit more is done soon. Much that has been talked about India’s glorious past, unhampered by fact or common sense, is even more free than Indian elections. Discussion eddies around obscure dates and deservedly obscure biographies of kings and prophets. It seems to me that some something more might be achieved in the way of charting the main currents of Indian history, notwithstanding the lack of the kind of source material which, in other countries, would be considered essential by the historian.
That, at any rate, is what this book attempts to do, with the minimum of scholarly display. I am especially grateful to Mr. John Irwin for special advice in making the book fit its avowed purpose, in choice of illustrations, and in seeing the work through the press. To him and to Professor A. L. Basham, my gratitude is also due for initiative in finding an English publisher. Mr. Sunil Janah was kind enough to permit the inclusion of a few of his brilliant photographs of Indian tribal and rural life, My thanks are due also to Miss Margaret Hall for her painstaking revision of maps and drawings; and to Mr.
Semyon Tyulaev for tracing and photographing illustrative material in the USSR. Any claim this book may have to originality rests on fieldwork done as a free agent. To those friends and pupils who have shown faith in my methods and supported them with heart warming enthusiasm, I owe more than can be expressed in a few lines. House 803, Poona 4, India, July 31, 1964. D. D. KOSAMBI CHAPTER ONE The Historical Perspective 1. 1. The Indian Scene A DISPASSIONATE observer who looks at India with detachment and penetration would be struck by two mutually contradictory features: diversity and unity at the same time.
The endless variety is striking, often incongruous. Costume, speech, the physical appearance of the people, customs, standards of living, food, climate, geographical features all offer the greatest possible differences. Richer Indians may be dressed in full European style, or in costumes that show Muslim influence, or in flowing and costly robes of many different colourful Indian types. At the lower end of the social scale are other Indians in rags, almost naked but for a small loincloth. There is no national language or alphabet; a dozen languages and scripts appear on the ten-rupee currency note.
There is no Indian race. People with white skins and blue eyes are as unmistakably Indian as others with black skins and dark eyes. In between we find every other intermediate type, though the hair is generally black. There is no typical Indian diet, but more rice, vegetables, and spices are eaten than in Europe. The north Indian finds southern food unpalatable, and conversely. Some people will not touch meat, fish, or eggs; many would and do starve to death rather than eat beef, while others observe no such restrictions.
These dietary conventions are not matters of taste but of religion. In climate also the country offers the full range. Perpetual snows in the Himalayas, north European weather in Kasmir, hot deserts in Rajasthan, basalt ridges and granite mountains on the peninsula, tropical heat at the southern tip, dense forests in laterite soil along the western scarp. A 2,000-mile-long coastline, the great Gangetic river system in a wide and fertile alluvial basin, other great rivers of lesser complexity, a few considerable lakes, the swamps of Cutch and Orissa, complete the sub-continental picture.
Cultural differences between Indians even in the same province, district, or city are as wide as the physical differences between the various parts of the country. Modern India produced an outstanding figure of world literature in Tagore. Within easy reach of Tagore’s final residence may be found Santals and other illiterate primitive peoples still unaware of Tagore’s existence. Some of them are hardly out of the food-gathering stage. An imposing modern city building such as a bank, government office, factory, or scientific institute may have been designed by some European architect or by his Indian pupil.
The wretched workmen who actually built it generally use the crudest tools. Their payment might be made in a lump sum to a foreman who happens to be the chief of their small guild and the head of their clan at the same time. Certainly these workmen can rarely grasp the nature of the work done by the people for whom the structures were erected. Finance, bureaucratic administration, complicated machine production in a factory, and die very idea of science are beyond the mental reach of human beings who have lived in misery on the margin of over cultivated lands or in the forest.
Most of them have been driven by famine conditions in the jungle to become the cheapest form of drudge labour in the city. Yet in spite of this apparent diversity, there is a double unity. At die top there are certain common features due to the ruling class. The class is the Indian bourgeoisie, divided by language, regional history, and so on, but nevertheless grouped by similarity of interests into two sections. Finance and mechanised factory production are in the hands of the real capitalist bourgeoisie.
Distribution of the product is dominated primarily by the petty-bourgeois class of shopkeepers, formidable by reason of their large number. Food production is overwhelmingly on small plots. The necessity of paying cash for taxes and factory goods forces the peasant into a reluctant and rather backward wing of the petty-bourgeoisie. The normal agrarian surplus is also in the hands of middlemen and moneylenders who do not generally rise into the big bourgeoisie. The division between the richest peasants and moneylenders is not sharp.
There are cash crops like tea, coffee, cotton, tobacco, jute, cashew, peanuts, sugarcane, coconuts and others tied to the international market or to factory production. These are sometimes cultivated by modern capitalist owners by mechanised techniques on large plots of land. High finance, often foreign, determines their prices and skims off the main profit. On the other hand, a considerable volume of consumer goods, especially utensils and textiles, is still produced by handicraft methods and has survived competition with factory production.
The political scene is dominated entirely by these two sections of the bourgeoisie, with a class of professional (lawyers, etc. ) and clerical workers as the connecting link with the legislatures and the machinery of administration. We must note that, for historical reasons, the government is also the greatest single entrepreneur in India. Its assets as a large capitalist equal those of all private Indian capitalists together, though concentrated in particular types of investments. Railways, air services, posts and telegraphs, radio and telephone, some banks, life insurance, and defence ndustries are entirely in the hands of the state, as to some extent are the production of electricity and coal. Oil wells are state owned. The major oil refineries are still in the hands of foreign companies, though state refineries will soon be in full production. Steel was mostly in private ownership, but the state has begun its own large-scale iron and steel production. On the other hand, the state does not produce food. When scarcities (often artificially created by shopkeepers or middlemen) threaten to drive cheap labour out of the cities the state distributes imported grain by rationing in the major industrial centres.
This satisfies both the large and the petty bourgeoisie without interfering with the profits of either. The obvious cure and stabiliser for the uncertain food situation would be to collect agricultural taxes in kind, with storage and distribution of food effectively in the hands of the government. Though suggested often enough–and indeed the practice in ancient India nothing has been clone in this direction. The imported grain is neither unloaded by efficient suction pumps nor stored in modern grain elevators, nor even mechanically cleaned. The production of consumer goods is in private hands.
State interference is necessary even here for two reasons. First, without it the economy would be shattered by unrestricted greed and uncontrolled production, particularly as many raw materials and almost all machinery have to be imported against very scarce foreign exchange. Secondly, the bourgeoisie came to power with full knowledge of the economics of scarcity, of restrained production and the black market, learned during the shortages caused by the two great world wars; in fact, these wars and shortages were the cause of capital accumulation and ultimately of the transfer of power from British to Indian hands.
The state, for example, is now being forced to become a large-scale monopolist producer of antibiotics and drugs, a field where private enterprise showed its greed and contempt for human welfare in the deadliest fashion. The government, by exercising its regulating functions and by planning future development, seems to stand above all classes. The administration and top bureaucracy inherited from British rule always behaved and regarded itself as above anything Indian. Of course, the government in the final analysis is manned exclusively by members of one class.
Thus what and how the government controls depends also upon who controls the government. Recent border incidents with China enabled the central state authority to assume extraordinary dictatorial powers which could bring socialism or any other goal rapidly within sight. If, then, the country finds itself as far away as ever from socialism, there may be some ground for the sarcasm that the road is not being travelled in the right direction. Nevertheless, the most carping of critics must admit that there has been progress since independence, no matter how much more could and should have been achieved.
The needless man-made famines which killed millions in Bengal and Orissa during the last years of British rule seem as unreal now as any other evil nightmare of colonial misrule. 1. 2. The Modern Ruling Class The most noticeable feature of the Indian city bourgeoisie is the stamp of the foreigner. Fourteen years after independence English still remains the official language of administration, big business, and higher education in India. No significant attempts have been made to change over, beyond pious resolutions in shiftless committees.
The intellectual apes the latest British fashions not only in clothing but even more in literature and the arts. The Indian novel and short story, even in the Indian languages, are modern creations based upon foreign models or foreign inspiration. The Indian drama is more than two thousand years old, but the literate Indian stage today, and overwhelmingly the Indian cinema, is patterned after the theatre and movies in other countries. Indian poetry has, however, resisted the change somewhat better, though foreign influence is demonstrable in choice of themes and freer metres.
The magnificent treasure of European (continental) literary and cultural tradition is generally ignored by this intelligentsia, except at third hand through badly chosen English books. The fact is that the entire bourgeois mode in India is a forced extraneous growth. The country had an immense feudal and pre-feudal accumulation of wealth which did not turn directly into modern capital. A great deal was expropriated by the British in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Only when it reached England did it bring about the great industrial revolution in that country and become converted into modern capital in the strict sense of the terra by being tied to mechanised production. The change increased the drain upon India’s resources because the administration and military establishment steadily became heavier. The money disbursed as pensions, dividends, and interest went mostly to England Moreover, India’s raw materials were paid for at the conqueror’s price. Indigo, jute, tea, tobacco, cotton were planted so extensively as to transform the economies of whole districts.
Control remained in the hands of the foreigner, especially as the processing was done in England. A part of the finished product was sold at very favourable prices in the vast Indian market. The profits were pocketed by the financiers of London and the manufacturers of Birmingham and Manchester. There was inevitably a secondary growth of finance in the new cities of Bombay, Madras, and Calcutta. The discovery was made in the second half of the nineteenth century that Indian labour could be trained to work cheaply on machines.
The textile mills of Bombay and the jute mills of Calcutta were the result of this discovery and of the taxes that had to be imposed upon British cloth to pay for suppression of the 1657 revolt. A class of mechanical workers was also needed for the railways. The first Indian colleges and universities were due to the still earlier discovery that it was decidedly cheaper to train Indian clerical workers for administration and the counting houses than to import clerks from abroad. The Indians not only learned quickly but worked honestly and efficiently for a third to a tenth of the salary of a foreigner.
Of course, all higher posts were reserved for the ruling class of conquerors. Eventually, the Indian intermediaries saw that they could start their own mills. The first in the field were the Parsis of Bombay, many of whom had made considerable fortunes as trade associates of the East India Company – especially in the opium trade thrust upon China. From 1880, Indian nationalism of a new type and Indian political figures formally inspired by Edmund Burke and John Stuart Mill became increasingly prominent along with the great Indian financiers and mill-owners.
Though this bourgeoisie began as compradors for the foreign traders, it was formed out of more than one class, from a much older Indian society which already had its class divisions. A good deal of modern Indian capital is, in fact, transformed primitive feudal and moneylender’s accumulation. In recent times even India’s feudal princes have had to turn their crude hoarded wealth into shares and stocks or sink into poverty. The feudal, money lending, and trading families, especially their womenfolk, never lost the outward forms of their religious superstition.
The intellectuals and professionals derive from other groups which belonged to neither of the two. They felt the strong need to foster patriotism and national pride during the struggle for shaking off British colonial rule. This led the new | intelligentsia to discover its country’s past, sometimes to invent a glorious past where none was known. (The same problem never arose in Japan, also an oriental country recently modernised. The Japanese national tradition was always strong and well documented. Japan’s change to industrialisation took place under a national, indigenous bourgeoisie without foreign occupation.
Nevertheless, the Japanese intelligentsia also took vigorously to the study and copying of Western culture in their Meiji era. This shows that such cultural changes have deep underlying causes. Military occupation or the attractiveness of copying new fashions will not explain the phenomenon. ) The very same Indian bourgeoisie, however, drove out the powerful British rulers of India after a bitter and protracted struggle. The expulsion would not have been possible unless a great segment of the Indian people had accepted the leadership of the advanced wing of this bourgeoisie. The struggle was not armed on the Indian side.
The methods and ideology of Mahatma Gandhi, who conducted the liberation movement, as also of many predecessors like Tilak, seem peculiarly Indian, despite the clear line that connects Gandhi to Tolstoy and so to Silvio Pellico. Without such methods, it is doubtful whether the leadership would have been as effective under the specific conditions prevailing in India from the beginning of this century. So the very fact that Western culture has increased its appeal for the Indian middle class in spite of and immediately after this conflict has special significance and some deep-rooted cause.
The basis of cultural change has to be looked for outside the formal manifestations which are generally taken as the essence of culture. The new Indian bourgeoisie was technically backward compared with that of Japan, let alone of Germany or England. No new mechanical device or significant inventions lie to its credit. The machinery for modern industrial production, the financial system, and even the political theories were imported bodily from England. Because there was already a large class of poor, landless, Indian workers, the new bourgeoisie developed much more rapidly than the Indian mechanised proletariat.
The real problems of industrialisation were faced only after liberation. India has shown more advance in this direction during the last fifteen years than under the whole period of British rule. The rest of the story lies in the future. Let us turn back to the more remote past, with which the Indian bourgeoisie had nothing to do, though it sometimes influences their mental imagery profoundly, while never interfering with the desire for quick profit without hard work or mastery of technique. 1. 3. The Difficulties Facing the Historian What has been said so far might lend colour to the theory sometimes xpressed that India was never a nation, that Indian culture and civilisation is a by-product of foreign conquest, whether Muslim or British. If this were so, the only Indian history worth writing would be the history of and by the conquerors. The textbooks that the foreigner has left behind him naturally heighten this impression. But when Alexander of Macedon was drawn to the East by the fabulous wealth and magic name of India, England and France were barely coming into the Iron Age. The discovery of America was due to the search for new trade routes to India; a reminder of this is seen in the name ‘Indians’ given to the American aborigines.
The Arabs, when they were intellectually the most progressive and active people in the world, took their treatises on medicine and a good deal of their mathematics from Indian sources. Asian culture and civilisation have China and India as their two primary sources. Cotton textiles (even words like ‘calico’, Chintz’, ‘dungaree’, ‘pyjamas’, ‘sash’ and ‘gingham’ are of Indian origin) and sugar are India’s specific contribution to everyday life, just as paper, tea, porcelain, silk are China’s. The mere variety that India offers is not enough to characterise the ancient civilisation of the country.
Africa or the single province of Yunnan in China offer as much diversity. But the great African culture of Egypt has not the continuity that we find in India over the last three thousand years or more. Egyptian and Mesopotamian culture as we trace them back from today does not go beyond the Arabic. Also there is no Yunnanese civilisation as such. China’s development amounts to the predominance of the Han people over the rest with an early, stable imperial system. The many other nationalities of China did not make comparable contributions of their own. The Incas and Aztecs vanished soon after the Spanish Conquest.
The culture of Mexico, Peru, and Latin America in general is European, not indigenous. The Romans left their mark on world culture through direct conquest of the Mediterranean basin. The continuity was preserved mainly in those areas where the Latin language and culture was carried forward by the Catholic Church. In contrast, Indian religious philosophy was welcomed in Japan and China without the force of Indian arms, even though almost no Indians visited or traded with those lands. Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, Burma, Ceylon certainly owe a great deal of their cultural history to Indian influence without Indian occupation.
The continuity of Indian culture in its own country is perhaps its most important feature. How Indian culture influenced other countries is a matter for other books. Our task here is to trace its origins and the main character of its development in India. At the very outset we are faced with what appears to be an insuperable difficulty. India has virtually no historical records worth the name. Chinese imperial annals, county records, the work of early historians like Ssu-ma Chien, inscriptions on graves and oracle-bones enable the history of China to be traced with some certainty from about 1400 B.
C. Rome and Greece offer lets antiquity, but far better historical literature. Even the Egyptian, Babylonian, Assyrian, and Sumerian records have been read. In India there is only vague popular tradition, with very little documentation above the level of myth and legend. We cannot reconstruct anything like a complete list of kings. Sometimes whole dynasties have been forgotten. What little is left is so nebulous that virtually no dates can be determined for any Indian personality till the Muslim period. It is very difficult to say over how much territory a great king actually ruled.
There are no court annals in existence, with a partial exception for Kasmir and Cambi. Similarly for great names in Indian literature. The works survive, but the author’s date is rarely known. With luck, it may be possible to determine roughly die century to which the writing belonged; often it can only be said that the writer existed. Sometimes even that is doubtful; many a work known by a particular author’s name could not possibly have been written by any one person. This has led otherwise intelligent scholars to state that India has no history.
Certainly, no ancient Indian history is possible with the detailed accuracy of a history of Rome or Greece. But what is history? If history means only the succession of outstanding megalomaniac names and imposing battles, Indian history would be difficult to write. If, however, it is more important to know whether a given people had the plough or not than to know the name of their king, then India has a history. For this work, I shall adopt the following definition: History is the presentation in chronological order of successive changes in the means and relations of production.
This definition has the advantage that history can be written as distinct from a series of historical episodes. Culture must then be understood also in the sense of the ethnographer, to describe the essential ways of life of the whole people. Let us examine these definitions more closely. Some people regard culture as purely a matter of intellectual and spiritual values, in the sense of religion, philosophy, legal systems, literature, art, music, and the like. Sometimes this is extended to include refinements in the manners of the ruling class.
History, according to these intellectuals, is based upon and should deal only with such “culture”; nothing else matters. There are difficulties in taking this type of culture as the mainspring of history. Three of the greatest such formal cultures combined in Central Asia: Indian, Chinese, and Greek; supplemented with two great religions, Buddhism and Christianity. The region had a central position in trade with high political importance under the Kushana empire. The archaeologist still digs up beautiful relics in Central Asia.
But the original contribution of this well-developed Central Asia to human culture and to the history of mankind remains small. The Arabs coming from a decidedly less ‘cultured’ environments did much more to preserve, develop, and transmit to posterity the great discoveries of Greek and Indian science. Even the occasional Central Asian such as Al-Biruni who participated in the process wrote in Arabic as a member of an Islamic culture, not of the Central Asian. The ‘uncultured’ Mongol conquest which destroyed the efflorescence of Central Asia beyond recovery had no such effect upon Chinese culture, which was only stimulated to further advance.
Man does not live by bread alone, but we have not yet developed a human breed that can live without bread, or at least some form of food. Strictly speaking, unleavened bread is a late neolithic discovery, a considerable advance in the preparation and preservation of food. ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ still forms part of the Christian’s daily prayer, though Christian theology places the world of the spirit above all material considerations. The basis of any formal culture must lie in the availability of a food supply beyond that needed to support the actual food-producer.
To build the imposing ziggurat temples of Mesopotamia, the Great Wall of China, the pyramids of Egypt, or modern skyscrapers, there must have been a correspondingly imposing surplus of food at the time. Surplus production depends upon the technique and instruments used – ‘the means of production’, to adopt a convenient though badly abused term. The method by which surplus – not only surplus food but all other produce passes into the hands of the ultimate user is determined by – and in turn determines -the form of society, the ‘relations of production’.
The negligible surplus of primitive food-gatherers is often divided and shared out by the women of the gathering group. With further development, the apportioning is the function of the patriarch, tribal chief, head of the clan; often through family units. When the surplus is large and concentrated, a great temple or the Pharaoh may decide upon its gathering and distribution, through priestly guilds or the nobility. Production and exchange in a slave society remain in the hands of those who own the slaves, but this class may again have developed out of former priests, nobles, or clan chiefs now performing new functions.
The feudal baron controlling serfs is the main agent under feudalism. His counterpart, the trader and financier, must deal also with the craftsmen’s guilds. The trader class may transform itself through manufacture to usher in the capitalist age in which man’s labour becomes a commodity, too, while his person remains free. In all this, form and content may differ. Britain has the complete range of feudal nobility, lords and knights though no serfs now remain as primary producers. For all that, English society is fully bourgeois, the first and most important development of the full modern bourgeoisie.
Edward VII may have been crowned on the wooden chair of Edward the Confessor in the latter’s Abbey; but the England over which these two kings reigned had meanwhile changed beyond all recognition. The last great modern bourgeoisies, namely those of Germany and Japan, even strengthened certain feudal forms while demolishing feudalism under cover of absolute loyalty to the emperor. Our position has also to be very far from a mechanical determinism, particularly in dealing with India, where form is given the utmost importance while content is ignored.
Economic determinism will not do. It is not inevitable, nor even true, that a given amount of wealth will lead to a given type of development. The complete historical process through which the social form has been reached is also of prime importance. The gold and silver of the Americas which had kept the Amerinds in savagery only strengthened feudal and religious reaction in Spanish hands. A fraction of the same wealth pirated by Drake and other English sea-captains was of immense help in lifting England out of the feudal into the mercantile and bourgeois era.
At every stage the survival of previous forms and the ideology of the top classes exert tremendous force – whether by tradition or revolt against tradition – upon any social movement. Language itself was formed out of the process of exchange, new goods, fresh ideas, and corresponding new words all going together. Any important advance in the means of production immediately leads to a great increase in population, which necessarily means different relations of production. The chief who can regulate single-handed the affairs of a hundred people could not do this for a hundred thousand people without assistance.
This would imply the creation of a nobility or a council of elders. The district with only two primitive hamlets needs no government; the same district with 20,000 large villages must have one and can support it. So, we have a peculiar zigzag process, particularly in India. A new stage of production manifests itself in formal change of some sort; when the production is primitive, the change is often religious. The new form, if it does increase production, is acclaimed and becomes set. However, this must also lead to a decided increase of population. If the superstructure cannot be adjusted during growth, then there is eventual conflict.
Sometimes the old form is broken by a revolution in the guise of a reformation. Sometimes the class that gains by preserving the older form wins, in which case there is stagnation, degeneracy, or atrophy. The early maturity and peculiar helplessness of Indian society against later foreign invasions bears testimony to this general scheme. How is a history of India to be written when so little documentation is available? For that matter, how was the history of a vanished civilisation like that of Rome written in modern times? The documents existed, but many words had no meaning to modern people.
This meaning was acquired by the comparative study of surviving antiquities. That certain individuals really existed was taken as proved by their coins, statues, tombstones, monuments, and inscriptions. The confirmation in turn gave weight to the documentary record. Archaeologists dug up many buried remnants of the past. Literary sources are now regarded as trustworthy only to the extent that they can be substantiated by archaeological methods. Finally, archaeology helps documents to tell us how the people of a vanished age actually lived, though the meaning of certain key words has changed. Digging up he past and the scientific study of primitive people in other parts of the world also makes possible the reconstruction of a culture that existed before any written records. This is labelled prehistory. All these methods can still be employed in India, though they will not suffice. Indian archaeology is not advanced enough to solve the really important questions, nor even to ask some of them. Nevertheless the country has one tremendous advantage that was not utilised till recently by the historian: they survival within different social layers of many forms that allow the reconstruction of totally diverse earlier stages.
To find these strata one has to move from the cities into the countryside. The influence of reduction, recent political developments, the cinema, radio, and trade dominated by production in the cities have at times to be discounted. Many changes have been brought about by new forms of rapid transport over great distances; namely, the railways in the second half of the nineteenth century and motor transport on roads since 1925. It is not difficult to allow for all these, particularly in the more distant rural parts of the vast land.
There are local differences of detail. Some parts of the country skipped a stage or two; sometimes the changes came in the wrong order. However, the main outline remains the same, so far as the really important basic developments go. India is still a country of peasants. Agrarian development is extensive, though still with primitive technique. Most of the land is overgrazed and over farmed after two thousand years of cultivation. The yield per acre is abysmally low because the methods are primitive and holdings too small to be economic.
From the air, a main feature of the land is the lack of transport. The tight network of roads and railways that one sees in western Europe or the U. S. A. is lacking. This means that a significant part of the production is local and locally consumed. It is precisely this backward, inefficient and local nature of production that has allowed so many older tribal groups to survive, albeit upon the verge of extinction. The whole rural economy is dominated by the seasonal rain, the monsoon. This causes from 20 to 200 inches of yearly precipitation in various parts of India.
Anything less means a famine area, or irrigation. The rainfall is mostly compressed into four months, June-September. But the onset of the monsoon is later in the north than in the south. On the east coast the final monsoon comes in two separate waves. These differences generate a somewhat different annual cycle for each locality. In spite of the heavy rains, most of the country bears (from the air) the semblance of a desert as compared to the green fields of Holland or England. The grass has vanished; the water flows off rapidly, leaving the top soil eroded.
This is a modern feature; deforestation became serious at the end of the last century. For the older period with which we are concerned it must be realised that the problems caused by the seasonal rains were different in different parts of the country. Desert or near-desert conditions prevailed in the lower Panjab, Sind, and most of Rajasthan; but the soil is alluvial and so fertile that irrigation or a little rain gives rich harvests. In the Gangetic basin the soil is also alluvial and most fertile but there (as to a lesser extent in the upper Panjab) the rainfall is heavier.
This meant heavy forest and swamp in older days, particularly in the eastern United Province (now Uttar Pradesh), Bihar, and Bengal. Along die western coastal mountains and the hills of Assam the forest still exists in spite of heavy cutting. In the flat coastal area, now denuded of forest, three crops a year are possible; but the dense population is unable to subsist merely by consuming the local production; the economy hinges on cash crops like the coconut. Mineral resources are only now being developed in the forests of central India and some wild areas of the peninsula to something like their proper extent.
Here the tribal people still form the object of study for ethnographers (e. g. Bhil, Todas in the Nilgiris, Santal, Oraon, etc. ). The peninsular (Deccan) plateau has not and never had the cover of dense forest, being broken up by bare hills: basalt in the western portion, granite farther to south-east. The average soil here is not so fertile; though the black soil in its localised areas is excellent for many crops, particularly cotton, it needs the heavy plough to bring it under regular cultivation. Gujarat has its own peculiar loess soil.
Such differences are reflected in the historical development of these regions, which followed a different course in each case. This varied topography and the generally warm climate has allowed an extraordinary inner differentiation – due to different local history – among the peasantry. The main feature of Indian society, seen at its strongest in the rural part, is caste. This means the division of society into many groups which live side by side, but often do not seem to live together. Members of different castes cannot intermarry by religion, though the law now permits complete freedom in this respect.
This great advance is due to the bourgeois mode, because of which caste has begun to disappear in the cities, except for political or economic cliques. Most peasants will not take cooked food or water from the hands of persons of a lower caste. That is, caste has a rough hierarchy. In practice, the number of such caste groups goes into the thousands. In theory, there are only four castes: The brahmin (brahmana) or priest caste; the kshatriya – warrior; vaisya trader and husbandman; and sudra, the lowest caste, which corresponds in general to the working class.
This theoretical system is roughly that of classes, whereas the observed castes and sub-castes derive clearly from tribal groups of different ethnic origin. Their very names show this. The relative status of the small local castes depends always upon the extent of, and the caste’s economic position in, the common market. A Joulaha of Bihar suddenly transported to some village of Agris in Maharashtra would have no definite status automatically assigned to him. But in Bihar his preliminary status is decided by that of his caste within the range of villages with whom he is in normal contact.
This goes roughly by the relative economic power of the various castes. The same caste may have different positions in the hierarchy for two different regions. If this differentiation persists for some time, the separate branches may often regard themselves as different castes, no longer intermarrying. The lower one goes in the economic scale, the lower the caste in the social scale on the whole. At the lowest end we still have purely tribal groups, many of whom are in a food-gathering stage. The surrounding general society is now food-producing.
So food-gathering for these very low castes generally turns into begging and stealing. Such nethermost groups were accurately labelled the ‘criminal tribes’ by the British in India, because they refused as a rule to acknowledge law and order outside the tribe. This stratification of Indian society reflects and explains a great deal of Indian history, if studied in the field without prejudice. It can easily be shown that many castes owe their lower social and economic status to their present or former refusal to take to food production and plough agriculture.
The lowest castes often preserve tribal rites, usages, and myths. A little higher up we see these religious observances and legends in transition, often by assimilation to other parallel traditions. Another step above, they have been rewritten by brahmins to suit themselves, and to give the brahmin caste predominance in the priesthood, which in the lower castes is generally not in the hands of brahmins. Still higher we come to what is called “Hindu” culture, the literate traditions that often go back to much older times. But even these stories of gods and demons are basically much the same in the lower groups.
The main work of brahminism has been to gather the myths together, to display them as unified cycles of stories, and to set them in a better-developed social framework. Either many originally different gods and cults are identified (syncretism) or several deities made into a family, or into a royal court of the gods. At the very top come the philosophical developments formulated by the great religious leaders of Indian history. These last were, in general, a considerable advance for Indian society when the particular doctrine was first propounded.
The same doctrine would later contribute heavily to India’s being kept backward when society had gone farther ahead, because leaders of the crystallised religious sects refused to budge from what they proclaimed to be the founder’s position. The religions themselves do not constitute history, but their rise and change of function is excellent historical material. Indian society seemed to develop more by successive religious transformation than by violence; it failed to develop further for much the same reasons, even when considerable violence was superimposed later on.
Most of the surviving ancient Indian documents are overwhelmingly religious and ritualistic. The writers were not concerned with history or with reality. Trying to extract history from them without some previous knowledge of the actual structure of Indian society at the time of writing gives either no results or the ludicrous conclusions that may be read in most ‘histories’ of India. 1. 5 The Villages Not only caste but the emphasis upon religion and the total lack of historical sense have to be explained. The last is rather simple and is bound up with rural production and ‘the idiocy of village life’.
The succession of seasons is all-important, while there is little cumulative change to be noted in the village from year to year. This gives the general feeling of *the Timeless East’ to foreign observers. The bullock-cart and village huts seen, in Bharhut sculptures of about 150 B. C.. or the plough and ploughman in Kushana relief’s of A. D. 200 would cause no comment if they appeared suddenly in some modern Indian village. This makes it easy to forget that the very formation of a village economy with the plough used on fixed plots of land implies a tremendous advance in the means of production.
The relations of production had to become correspondingly more involved than at the food-gathering stage. The modern Indian village gives an unspeakable impression of the grimmest poverty and helplessness. There is rarely a shop except in villages that serve many others as a market centre; no public building apart perhaps from a small temple which may be an outdoor shrine open to the elements. Consumer goods are purchased from the rare itinerant vendors or at the weekly market day at a few key villages. Sale of village produce is mostly in the hands of middlemen who are at the same time moneylenders.
Their grip on the rural economy and the resulting indebtedness of the peasantry is a problem still untouched by any agency, government or private, except for the usual empty schemes on paper. Once the monsoon season is over, most villages experience a progressive scarcity of water; good drinking water is scarce at all seasons. Hunger and disease are the massive concomitants of this India. The lack of medical attention and hygiene brings out most sharply the traditional apathy of the village -always a basic factor in the political economy of the country and a secure foundation for despotism.
The surplus taken away from people who live in such misery and degradation nevertheless provided and still provides the material foundation for Indian culture and civilisation. The uniform appearance of passive village distress hides a considerable differentiation. The bulk of the producers are peasants with small holdings. A few are self-sufficient. Some may rise to be powerful in the sense of a Kulak class, which is, in fact, being strengthened by current land legislation. Mostly, the richer holdings are possessed by people who are not peasants and do not labour on the land.
The great landlords are generally absentees; their titles to land derive as a rule from the feudal period. Many of them shook off feudal obligations to become bourgeois landholders with the advent of the British. However, the British registered all land titles and fixed taxes in cash. This means that no village can today be self-contained. Even the most secluded must sell something, not only to buy the little cloth and household goods required but to pay some tax or rent. Even otherwise, the village could not be completely self-sufficient.
In most of India clothing is not a physical necessity, though it has become a social need. Salt, however, has always been indispensable; metals in some quantity had to be available before regular agriculture could be practised. These two necessities are not produced in most villages, but have to be acquired from the outside. In spite of its timeless appearance, the village too, is tied to commodity production, now in the framework of a bourgeois economy. Nevertheless, it does remain true that the Indian village is nearly selfcontained.
Only when overpopulation forces people from the Konkan or Malabar to labour in distant big cities and to send money back home does the urban control make itself directly felt. Otherwise, the contact is FIG. 1. Ploughing, breaking up clods, sowing and trampling grain into the furrows. The cereal is probably wheat. From a nineteenth-century Persian MS in the Indian Office Library (Oriental Volume No. 71). The locality is Kaimur, but operations in other parts of India will differ primarily in costume of the peasants. rimarily through touring officials, who rarely trouble themselves about the village except when taxes are in arrears. Nowadays, the vote-catching politicians come once every five years, just before elections. This economy has clearly very low commodity production per inhabitant. A commodity is an article or object of use which passes into the hands of the ultimate consumer by exchange. Whatever a man produces for himself or his family or other kinship group and is then consumed within the small group or is taken away without payment by landlord or overlord is not a commodity.
Some production requires specialised technical knowledge. Though the Indian village uses very little metal, the villager does need FIG. 2. Rice cultivations. Note the seed-beds from which rice seedlings are transplanted into prepared plots ankle-deep in mud. The irrigation ditches are also shown. The ploughing is done before the land is flooded, or Indian water-buffaloes have to be harnessed in place of oxen. The roots of the seedlings would normally be dipped in some fertiliser before transplanting. The empty seed-beds are then planted to beans, automatically rotating the crops.
From the same source as Fig. 1. pots, usually of earthenware. This means that a potter must be available. Similarly, a blacksmith to repair tools and forge ploughshares, a carpenter for building houses and making the simple ploughs, etc. The priest must serve whatever ritual needs the village feels. He is generally a brahmin, though that is not obligatory for certain lower cults. Certain occupations such as that of barber, or skinner of dead beasts, are low; yet the barber’s tasks and leather goods are essential.
This necessitates the presence in the village of a barber and a leather worker; of different castes, naturally. Normally, each such profession forms a caste, the Indian substitute for the medieval guild. The great problem of the apparently self-contained FIG. 3. Market gardening, or kitchen gardening. The man dips water out of a pit well with a. shadduf, counterweighted beam on which a pot is hung; the woman sees to it that the carrots and other vegetables are properly watered by the trenches. From the same source as Fig. 1.
Indian rural economy was to obtain the services of such indispensable artisans for every village even though they were separated from the bulk of the peasant villagers and from each other by caste. The normal villager could not work at these various trades, while the workers could not intermarry except within the same caste profession. One artisan household of each type was the most that an average village could afford. At the same time transport was difficult and the density of commodity production (i. e. commodity production per head) was low.
A settlement of carpenters or blacksmiths as commodity producers serving many other villages was impossible except at certain brief periods of early Indian history. Regular payment for the artisans was therefore a problem that could not be solved by a barter economy merely on the basis of exchange for value produced, with an irregular demand. How were the artisans to be induced to serve the villages? The solution of this problem, clever in its own way, was the backbone of the sluggish Indian village economy, particularly in the feudal period.
The remnants of the system arc still to be seen in the countryside, though cash payment steadily displaces the old method. Transport is easier, so that a journey man barber or blacksmith is common. Tins and metal pots have reduced the number of potters, who work oftener than not on the basis of production for sale against cash. However, the potter carries out certain ritual tasks which may date from prehistoric urn burial and have been augmented to make him virtually the priest to certain lower castes.
The invention of the clayplaster in bone-setting is due to the Indian potter, just as plastic surgery to restore noses mutilated in war or by disease was a discovery of the rather despised barber. Both were practised extensively in the eighteenth century; the low caste status of the practitioners and contempt for science on the part of their betters prevented full development as in the West. The differentiation within the village is by caste, even beyond that between artisan and peasant or priest.
When there are forests close by one may still see people like the Kathkaris of the W’estern Ghats, or the Mundas and Oraons of Bihar who are barely out of the food-gathering stage. Such marginal tribesmen are dying out because of disease, drunkenness, the disappearance of forests, the advance of civilisation and of moneylenders. If these people practice cultivation, it is often mere slash-and-burn on shifting plots. If they provide irregular labour at harvest-time, along with the poorest of the peasants who have regular landholdings, they are paid less and generally in kind.
As a rule they have also the right of gleaning after the harvest whether they have helped in the work or not. Some hunting, eating insects, rats and mice, snakes, and even monkeys (which horrifies most other Indiana), the chaff and leavings of peasant cultivation supplement their diet. They still practice witchcraft on a deadlier level than the peasants; at least, Indian newspapers announce every few years the arrest and trial of tribal men and women in a group, on suspicion of ritual murder (human sacrifice). Their primitive tribal gods have something in common with the lower village gods.
Often they pay worship to the gods of a village and the village recognises their deities, too. The country festivals that draw many villagers from a distance can often be traced back to a primitive tribal origin, though the actual tribe may have vanished. The names of local village cults also prove such primitive beginning. Often a peasant caste bears the same name as some aboriginal tribe in the same region. The two groups no longer intermarry, for the peasant has become a superior being; in fact, the difference in food supply, ampler and more egular diet, changes the physique and even facial index in a few generations. Nevertheless, some traces of common origin remain and are admitted; sometimes by a common annual worship, particularly of mother goddesses with peculiar names not known in other villages. The peasant, however, also worships other higher gods which look primitive enough but go a step above the local gods. There may be a ‘guardian of the fields’, generally a cobra with a relief image who has divine status. The ‘Elders’ are commemorated by a slab with a human couple in relief.
They are normally worshipped in a corner of the plot when the land has been held for generations by farmers in the direct line descended from that couple. The Buffalo Demon (Mhasoba) is a farmers’ god common to whole regions, though duplicated by each farmer. Other small deities have to be propitiated at ploughing, sowing, harvest, threshing. Vetal is a cacodemon, prince of goblins, but also a god. Still higher come the brahmin gods Siva, Vishnu, the incarnations of Vishnu such as Rama and Krishna, and their consort goddesses.
Sometimes the primitive local god or goddess is identified with one of the deities found in brahmin literature. The older gods were not smashed, but adopted or adjusted. Brahminism thus gave some unity to what would have been social fragments without a common bond. The process was of crucial importance in the history of India, first in developing the country from tribe to society and then holding it back, bogged down in the filthy swamp of superstition. The difficulty in studying Indian history through village tradition is the lack of a chronology.
Events that happened fifty years ago and traditions formed 1,500 years ago are on much the same level to the villager, because he lives from season to season. The four yugas, periodic ages of mankind that remain in Indian myth, reflect the four major changes of season accurately. They are supposed to end with a universal deluge, after which the cycle begins again. This is roughly what happens in the countryside after every monsoon. Every year is much the same as the others, the difference being that some have a good harvest, others famine or pestilence. Records are not kept, the peasant being almost entirely illiterate.
Even when he has had some schooling, the way of life is such that literacy is of no use to the villager, who slowly lapses into ignorance. No books, newspapers, or any such reading matter penetrates the average village. Special care has thus to be used in separating the elements of a village tradition. On the other hand, it shows how very ancient observances can survive with little change of outward form to this day. Often the feudal baron or the brahmin priest himself took over these local customs as his own, perhaps giving them a little surface varnish.
History as we have defined it is to be seen displayed in full detail in the villages of India – provided one has the vision and insight required to read that history. 1. 6. Recapitulation The foregoing says first that the dominant class in India and India’s urban life bears the stamp of the foreigner who imposed the bourgeois mode production. Secondly the countryside at large and Indian religious institutions carry the indelible mark of their primitive origins because primitive modes of life have been and are still possible in many parts of India.
The first of these two statements is generally admitted, though patriotism leads many to depreciate the role of foreign invaders in modern Indian history. The second statement infuriates most Indians of the middle class, who feel their country ridiculed or their own dignity insulted. Primitive cultures are neither ridiculous nor undignified till debased by contact with vicious by-products of the feudal or bourgeois mode. India’s development was in its own way more ‘civilised” than in other countries. The older cults and forms were not demolished by force but assimilated.
Superstition reduced the need, for violence. Much more brutality would have been necessary had Indian history developed along the same lines as that of Europe or the Americas. This shows that the course of Indian history presents some highly distinctive features. It will be necessary to examine these in outline, just to prevent later misunderstanding. So far as annals, king lists, chronicles, dates of important battles, biographies of rulers and cultural figures go, there is no Indian history worth reading.
Any work where the casual reader may find such detailed personal or episodic history for ancient India should be enjoyed as romantic fiction (like some Indian railway time-tables! ), but not believed. At the other extreme there is also the possibility of some misunderstanding. It is understood that human society offered the following modes of production in order: primitive communism, the patriarchal mode (Abraham in the Old Testament) and/or the Asiatic mode (undefined), the slave society of classical Greece and Rome, feudalism, the bourgeois mode; and for some countries socialism.
Indian history does not fit precisely into this rigid framework either. First, as has been pointed out, not all parts of the country were simultaneously in the same stage. At every stage, in almost every part of the country, a great deal of the superstructure survived, along with the productive and formal mechanism of several previous stages; there always remained some people who could and did cling stubbornly to the older mode. However, we need concentrate only upon each particular mode as it became dominant to the extent that it was bound to prevail over most of the country.
Secondly, it is impossible to find slavery in the classical European sense in India at any period. Some Indians were not free, from the earliest times till the middle of the present century; a report publicised as these lines were written maintains that certain tribal people are still being sold in the open market like beasts in Kerala. But the importance of chattel slavery in the relations of production and as a supply of labour for production was negligible. The place of the slave whose surplus product could be expropriated was taken by the members of the lowest or sudra caste in older days.
During the feudal period, purchased or kidnapped slaves became more important as enabling the ruler or baron to become less dependent upon his followers. This was hardly classical slavery, seeing that royal slaves were always regarded by the barons as dangerous to feudal rule. Moreover, any slave of this sort could own unlimited property and soar as high as any other person in feudal society. For example, the ablest and best of the earlier emperors of Delhi and the capable founder of the Bahamani dynasty of Ahmadnagar all rose from slavery.
Indian feudalism, too, has therefore its own peculiar features (but then feudalism in England differed from that in Rumania). Penal servitude, house slaves, purchased entertainers of all sorts, and harem slaves were known before, during, and after feudalism; but the treatment of all except at times the first group was better than that of paid workers, as they had cost money. This situation provides a strong contrast with classical European slavery, as with European feudalism under which slavery withered away. Slavery in Brazil did not precede feudalism. Slavery came in the U. S.
A. without any feudalism at all, with the bourgeoisie for the development of cotton plantations; it was abolished a hundred years ago after a bloody civil war which still echoes in the southern states of the most advanced capitalist democracy in the world. This brief sketch of Indian cultural history has no doctrinaire purpose. I had to adopt a certain definition and procedure because the futility of any other was proved by rather painful experience. The chapters that follow have necessarily an intimate connection with the present state of Indian society, not only with the past. The function of the historian is neither to love the past nor to emancipate himself from the past, but to master and understand it as the key to the understanding of the present. Great history is written precisely when the historian’s vision of the past is illuminated by insight into the problems of the present . . . Learning from history is never simply a one-way process. To learn about the present in the light of the past also means to learn about the past in the light of the present.
The function of history is to promote a profounder understanding of both past and present through the interrelation between them. ” The technical capacity of the present author may not be adequate to the task of writing such a history. The reader may find the result unsatisfactory for some other reason, but at least he knows what to expect. In the main this brief work will consider the following developments: Primitive society and tribal life. The civilisation of the Indus Valley. The Aryan invasion that put an end to this civilisation, but made eastern settlement possible.
The opening; up of the Gangetic basin with the aid of the caste system, iron implements, and the plough. The rise of Magadha and of Buddhism. The Mauryan conquest of the whole country, with an imperial state based on food production in agrarian villages. The collapse of empire, the development of kingdoms in the Deccan and settlement of the coastal strip. The long process of emergent feudalism and the decline of Buddhism. This brings us into the Muslim period and the Indian Middle Ages, to the end of what may reasonably be called ancient Indian culture.
CHAPTER TWO Primitive Life and Prehistory 2. 1. The Golden Age LEGENDS of man’s fall from a pristine state of perfection are found in the myths of many different lands and people. So also in India. Modern Hindus speak of the present as the Dark Age (kaliyuga) of mankind. It was supposedly preceded by three nobler periods. The first and best was the golden ‘Age of Truth’ (satyayuga or kritayuga). Men knew neither illness nor want. They toiled not, neither did they spin, for this good earth bore in plenty of her own accord.
Peaceful, innocent, simple, virtuous, each man lived for thousands of years. Then human greed developed; men began to accumulate private property, to hoard acquisitions. These sinful activities led successfully to the treta, dvapara and kali ages, each worse than the preceding. Life spans became shorter: war, disease, poverty, and hunger afflicted mankind because of its lapse from purity. The Buddhist and Jain religious books contain similar versions. The brahmin record, being the most recent, branched out with a further theory of endless cycles (manvantara).
The present dark (kali) age is to end in a universal deluge. After the total destruction of all life by the flood, the earth will emerge from the waters and a new golden age begin again, followed in time by the three other ages of progressive decay, to end in another flood. Thus it was in the past, so shall it be in future cycles. This depressing view of pointless historical repetition is simply a projection of the dull seasonal life of the Indian village, as said before. The October harvest is followed by cool weather with a season of health and plenty.
Then comes progressive scarcity, ending in a period when bitter toil under bad conditions is needed just to prepare the parched fields for sowing. Finally, the terrific monsoon rain floods all the land; after which the seasonal cycle repeats itself for another year of the same type. In spite of the widespread myth, there was no original golden age of mankind outside the imagination of later poets and priests. We know this first by interpreting historical records directly where they exist, say from 2500 B. C. , in a few places outside India. Beyond that archaeology has to help decipher the past.
When the archaeologist digs in a spot where the earth has not been disturbed seriously in recent times, he finds a deposit in uneven layers (strata) clearly separated from each other. The older strata are the lower ones, so that the order in time is clear. Many of these strata contain evidence of human activity. This evidence may be in the form of bodily remains such as bones, a skull, or even a single tooth which can tell a great deal about the type of human being who grew it. The bones of the animals man hunted are often found with his own; so also of the animals he tamed: dog, cattle, sheep, horse.
It is possible by comparing the layers to say that the dog was tamed long before the horse; cattle and sheep at some intermediate period. Pottery, tools of stone, metal objects arc all in the class of things made by man, which are therefore called artifacts. If the climate is dry, as in Egypt, wooden implements, bones and ivory weapons, basketwork, fibres such as wool and linen woven into cloth, cereal grains, pictures or writing on papyrus are preserved, so that we can tell approximately the order in which man learned to produce these various things.
Cultivated grains – though not classed as artifacts–are as much a product of human activity as potter). All of them were developed over thousands of years by careful selection and repeated sowing of the fattest natural grass seeds. If human activity ceased, all cultivated varieties would vanish or be replaced by the hardier wild prototypes in a few plant generations. The stratified record is a historical sequence; any later disturbance such as a pit dug through the upper layers can be recognised and set aside by the trained expert.
Comparison of finds in various places tells us how far a given type of tool, pottery, cereal, etc. , was spread. Finally, modern technique allows a fairly good system of dates to be assigned by measurement of fluorine content, radioactivity of charcoal and bone, geomagnetic observations, seasonal variations in the growth of tree rings (dendrochronology), and the like. The past thus reconstructed goes back (with many gaps) for several hundred years till we reach barely human types such as Java man, Peking man, and the pre-human African Proconsul skull.
This takes us from archaeology into geology; from a study of history to that of the evolution of mammals, vertebrates, and other forms of life. But throughout all this, nowhere is any evidence found of a lost golden age a state of pristine glory. Man did not progress uniformly or steadily; but he did progress on the whole, from a fairly inefficient animal to a toolmaking and tool-using creature who dominated the whole planet by his numbers arid by the varied forms of his activity, and has now only to learn to control himself.
Human bones dug up after several tens of thousands of years show that it was a spectacular achievement for any Old Stone Age man to reach as much as forty years of age; far from being healthier, he suffered even more than we do from parasites and crippling illness that shortened his life. The golden age, if any, lies in the future, not in the past. 2. 2. Prehistory and Primitive Life The archaeologist’s finds do not tell by themselves how the men of some particular period actually lived.
To reconstruct that way of life (the whole ‘culture’) needs comparative study of many different primitive tribes still surviving in out-of-the-way places of this world. Then it gradually becomes clear how a given set of tools was made and used, how the people who made them in the remote past must have lived. Something can even be said of the social organisation -when social organisation came into being- but with less certainty. The very fact that a primitive tribe in Australia or the interior of Brazil can be studied means that the tribesmen have had some contact with the outside world and eventually with civilisation.
This has to be allowed for, because there is no contact without change. Secondly, no human group can remain in a fixed state for long. Either they evolve to some more efficient form or decay by atrophy. The prehistoric people we want to study have vanished from the face of the earth. Some groups left descendants who advanced to modern civilisation, others just disappeared. The few that remain in the remote corners have developed some ideas, mental attitudes, superstitions, ritual customs, observances that prevent them from trying newer forms of life.
Most contemporary savage groups have a social structure which is rigid enough to discourage any innovation, though it is not the same social structure for all. No materialist can afford to neglect the effect of ideas upon social development. The archaeological record over such parts of the world as have been extensively dug up shows roughly the following sequence: Lowest, hence earliest are crude bits of chipped stone. These were used as tools, along with pieces of wood and bone that have generally perished. This Old Stone
Age (Palaeolithic) made several very slow advances over a hundred thousand years or more in the technique of stone-tool chipping. It was ultimately succeeded by the age of polished stone tools (Neolithic). In between the two came what was called the Mesolithic Age, a term not now in fashion; its extent and duration are indeterminate. These underlying strata, bearing tools only of stone (and presumably of bone, wood, and horn) were covered in time by other layers with remains of metal tools and metal weapons.
The first widely used metal was copper, which can be reduced from its ores by a kiln not more efficient than that needed for pottery; pottery is to be found along with stone tools in the Late Stone Age. Copper is too soft to be useful without working, and then too brittle unless properly alloyed with some metal such as tin, which gives bronze. Since tin is not widespread, the Bronze Age implies considerable exploration. Trade over long distances was in full swing by 3000 B. C. or even earlier. Bronze was at best rather rare and remained in the possession of a few.
This meant differentiation of society into classes. The Bronze Age saw considerable fighting and raids over large distances for control of metal ores and of good sources of water. In the second millennium B. C. (2000-1000 B. C. ) there were numerous tribes on the move, with an ample but mobile food supply (usually cattle), who wandered the Kurasian continent. The older river-valley agrarian cultures of Egypt and Mesopotamia had developed city-states, monarchies, temple priesthoods and warfare a good thousand years earlier. Such development was local and exceptional.
The present age is archaeologically that of iron, the metal which is cheap enough and widespread enough to make agriculture a universal possibility. Some agriculture did emerge in the Late Stone Age, so that we can speak of a ‘neolithic revolution’ in the means of production. But this was restricted to certain favoured places where it was not necessary to clear away heavy forests: Mesopotamia (Iraq), Egypt, the Indus valley, highland plains in Iran, Turkey, and Palestine, and parts of the Danube valley loess corridor; perhaps some loess areas in China.
Iron, though softer than bronze when first prepared, did enable forests to be cleared and the plough to be used in heavier soils. It was the first metal that was available to many, not the monopoly of a tight warrior class. The first farmers who could build towns go back to 7000-8000 B. C. at Catal Huyuk (Turkey) and Jericho (Palestine); but their technique of producing food could not be widely applied to the neighbouring terrain. Their farming, unlike that in Egypt and Iraq, remained a supplement to food-gathering and herding till iron became available in quantity towards the end of the second millennium B.
C. The first good processes of iron manufacture seem to have been a closely guarded monopoly of the Hittites in what is now Turkey. Iron was so rare even in 1350 B. C. that the Pharaoh Tutankhamen was buried in a solid gold coffin, in a tomb full of copper, gold, bronze, ivory, and other precious objects, but with an iron amulet bound below his skull. The discovery of cheap iron did not mean happiness for the majority. The small isolated farming communities of Asia Minor had often been swept away even in the Bronze Age by raiders.
Only when abundant manpower (often slaves or helots bound to the soil) was available did the use of iron mean more food – with more oppression. There remained (almost to this day) a few isolated tribal people, away from trade routes, who stubbornly persisted in Stone Age techniques of food-gathering rather than change to production. They dropped out of the advance to civilisation. The casual use of stone continued from prehistory well into history. Many Saxons of King Harold’s army were armed with stone axes at the battle of Hastings in A. D. 066, though England had entered the Iron Age long before Julius Caesar’s invasion of the island in 54 B. C. It is not easy to characterise food-gathering society as a whole. The modern romanticist school believed that primitive man must be a noble savage, a child of nature uncorrupted by civilisation, free from vices and cupidity. This fiction of a ‘natural’ earthly paradise began with a letter of Christopher Columbus to Queen Isabella of Castille. The explorer, having failed to reach the golden cities of India, was anxious to show that he had at any rate discovered something extraordinary – Caribbean man in the natural state.
European imagination thus stirred up found something not in the Bible (after the Garden of Eden) nor the Utopias of the Greek-Latin classics rediscovered by the Renaissance. The social theories of Rousseau and the devastating satire of Voltaire against the society of his day gained strength from this discovery of Natural Man. Some people even now talk of primitive communism as if it were an ideal state of society in which all shared alike and satisfied their simple needs by co-operation. Carried to its extremes, this is again the legend of the ‘Golden Age’ in pinkish modern garb.
Early food-gathering society was severely restricted. Its special character was determined in each locality and period by the scanty and uncertain food supply. A careful archaeologist like Grahame Clark estimates the Upper Palaeolithic population of England and Wales as perhaps 250 human beings in ten small bands; in the Mesolithic, 4500 for Great Britain as a whole, 20,000 in the Neolithic at any one time, and less than double this number in the second millennium B. C. , when the Bronze Age and food production were well under way.
It is not possible to give corresponding estimates for India, so poor is the necessary archaeological evidence at present. However, it would be surprising if the Stone Age population exceeded one per ten square miles over any extensive region of the Indian sub-continent. Even where nature is kind, it is not uniformly bountiful at all seasons; there may be several consecutive years of scarcity. A large total population and fixed settlements are out of the question without some form of food storage. The preservation of food comes comparatively late in food-gathering life.
It needs salt obtained from some distance for meat and dried fish; also containers such as baskets, leather bags, pottery. Not all food can be preserved. The best forms for storage are nuts, grain, and some roots. Most of these are not digestible without cooking, which implies control of fire and some pottery or utensils. Long before advancing to this stage man had already developed particular ways of social life, because he had already lived as a tool-using animal for many thousands of years. Two features are obvious. If food cannot be preserved, it must be eaten fairly soon.
This means sharing any surplus, or most humans would starve; but many animal groups also share their surplus. In primitive human groups which go beyond the stage of utter scarcity the sharing eventually became a social obligation, say the need to give feasts on special occasions. It does not mean that every person had equal right to the share of all food gathered. Secondly, food-gatherers rarely collect or kill more than they can use; there is no greedy accumulation or slaughter of game for pure sport, letting the meat rot. To this extent the legend of the ‘Golden Age’ has some truth.
However, most of primitive man’s energies were absorbed in the search for food. The largest food-sharing unit, always limited in size by the environment, tended to concentrate upon some one type of food, say an animal, fish, bird, insect, fruit, or tuber. This meant not just specialisation but overspecialisation. The human unit regarded itself not only as a kinship group but as of the same substance as its principal or favoured food. Other human groups specialising in some other food object were not in the kinship and at first not even considered as human.
We may call this special food the totem, though at a much later stage inanimate objects or parts of an animal could be group-classifying totems also. The particular aptitude for gathering the totem food was associated with special ritual. Sacrifice of some sort (including human sacrifice) and other ceremonies were meant, however blindly, to secure the increase of the (special) food supply, hence of the particular semi-parasitic human group that ate it. These ceremonies are important to us because they contain the seeds of modern human cultural activities.
The dance, perhaps with some people imitating the animal, others the hunters, was ritual as well as practice for work in the field, a drill in the technique of the hunt, as it were. The ballet and the drama would develop from this after many millennia. Pictures of wild animals drawn with remarkable faithfulness in the Ice Age (French and Spanish caves) now count as masterpieces of art. Nevertheless, the original pictures could not have had art as their main purpose. They were drawn with the aid of dim tallow lamps or torches in pitch-dark subterranean caverns where daylight never penetrated.
The pictures often overlap and spoil each other. Excellent animal sculpture was used for ritual target practice, as shown by the holes made by spears and arrows; these sculptures are also underground, in the very womb of Mother Earth. Pairs of coupling animals carved or moulded on the cave walls show that all such artistic expressions were part of what are called fertility rites, the exclusive secret of the particular group. Animals, too, may form exclusive communities within the same species because of restricted food supply. For example, gopher groups in the U. S.
Midwestern prairies do not tolerate a strange gopher in their territory, but live at peace among themselves. They have a peculiar ‘rite’, the ‘kiss’ which serves for recognition within the group. The human groups we are considering must have had similar reserved though shifting territories. Each group communicated its limited ideas by means of a special set of sounds, which could hardly be classified in modern linguistic varieties, as far as we can collect any evidence on primitive life. Because underlying causes later discovered by scientific analysis were still hidden, primitive man dared not deviate from accepted ritual.
The great step of bringing the groups nearer to each other was literally in the relations of production, namely by exchange. Free barter is not known to primitive societies in their earlier stages, such as (for example) could be found at the turn of the nineteenth-twentieth centuries in the Trobriand Islands. Outside the sharing kinship group, barter appears as an exchange of gifts. The gift is not made to just anyone, but to persons with specific relationship, often called ‘trade friends’. The gift cannot be asked for or refused, nor paid by haggling about the equivalent.
But such a gift does oblige the recipient to give something of his own back at some later time when he has a surplus No accounts are kept, yet there is a general sense of equivalence over a period of time. He who does not eventually return what is tacitly recognised by both sides as an equivalent loses his social standing in some way. According to the accepted reconstruction, the first exchanges between totem groups led also to the exchange of persons, i. e. to some form of ‘marriage’ relationship. It also led to a better diet, a wider range of food, and improved techniques of tool-making or tool-using and pottery.
Finally, the language of the combined groups was enriched. All known primitive languages have a needlessly complicated grammar, a feature also shared by Sanskrit, Greek, and Finnish. General concepts are less common than special terms; ‘animal’, ‘tree’, etc. , as general categories are absent, but there is a word for every particular species and type of animal and plant. The word ‘colour’, as is known, originally means ‘red’, the colour of blood. Language itself thus develops from communication and exchange. Man is then on his way not only to the control and then the production of food but also to becoming a thinking animal.
There is a genetic advantage in marriage-exchange. Small human groups often become inbred and physically stunted or mentally retarded. Intermarriage (‘hybridisation’) increases the vigour of the offspring to a level above that of both parents. The sudden appearance of the superbly built CroMagnon man in Late Ice Age Europe could have been due to such crossbreeding between stunted inbred parent stocks. It should be understood that race is not a valid concept at this stage of human development. The use of the word ‘race’ in common parlance is rarely valid at any stage.
The extant races developed later from large populations that grew out of pools of common groups; the development of language was sharper. The advantages were not the result of experiment, planning, or reasoned action. Those groups that adopted the new scheme of exchange increased in numbers and efficiency; the rest were driven to extinction. The first step, a dialectical inversion, was the banning (tabu) for each group of its special food, the totem. The tabu would be broken only at special seasonal ceremonies or in connection with the cult of the dead. With the tabu on totem food came a tabu on sexual intercourse within the totem.
Thus tribes were formed out of several totemic clans. No member of a clan was normally permitted to partake of the clan-totem food or to cohabit within the totem clan; nor could he ‘marry’ outside the tribe. Often, he could not accept food prepared by individuals not of his own tribe. Members of the clan retained special cults from which all other clans were excluded. There were also similar cults common to the whole tribe, as was the tribal language. Once formed, this tribal organisation beyond the small clan provided a model that has left its mark on most human societies. 2. 3.
Prehistoric Man in India So far the statements have been general. The picture has been restored from conjecture and reasoning based upon reports of observations all over the world. Nothing specific has been said about India, simply because the data are much too meagre. There is no reason to believe that early developments in India took any course materially different from the foregoing. If prehistoric changes occurred as suggested above, many features of rural and tribal Indian society as well as old Sanskrit texts would be logically explained; if not there would be no reasonable explanation.
Two special characteristics of Indian prehistory must be noted. The last Ice Age was neither so hard nor so extensive over the Indian sub-continent as over Europe. Hereafter, India is taken as a geographical unit also including Pakistan with a part of Afghanistan and at times of Burma. No political claims or motives should be imputed to this extension. Whereas there was an Ice Age in the north, the south and south-east escaped altogether. There is every likelihood that the eastern parts of India proper were penetrated by prehistoric people from Yunnan and Burma.
The movement may even have continued well into historic times. The stone tools of this eastern region show common materials and technique. Secondly, foodgathering apart from hunting or fishing remained much easier over most of India and had a far greater range than in Europe or elsewhere on the Eurasian continent. Where half a dozen cereals, peas and beans make up almost the entire variety of European staple foods, even a region of average fertility like Maharashtra has over forty kinds of indigenous staples, most of which are cultivated but can also be found wild* All are suitable for storing.
These include rice and wheat, millets, sorghum, barley; with a considerable variety of vegetable proteins, and seeds like sesamum that produce edible oil. Pepper and spices give good taste as well as vitamins. A balanced diet is possible without killing any living creatures, especially as milk, butter, curds and cheese, fruit and vegetables can be had without taking animal life. This simple fact was later to revolutionise Indian theology and religion with the doctrine of non-killing (ahimsa). At the same time, it makes the historian’s task more difficult than elsewhere.
People could and did survive in the food-gathering stage when their immediate neighbours had become food-producers centuries earlier. Peasants and tribal people, especially in out-of-the-way places in the jungle, normally know over a hundred other natural products beyond the staples, which may be gathered without cultivation: fruits, nuts, roots, tubers, honey, mushrooms, leaf vegetables, etc. With the older mode there would always remain older beliefs and ways of life. India is a country of tremendous survivals for this very reason. It becomes difficult to say precisely when a given stage passed and another took over.
The process of acculturation was mutual. Not only did advanced immigrants influence aboriginals in every part of India but the newcomers (before the intolerant Muslims) generally took over some indigenous and even aboriginal beliefs and customs. To constitute a proper society, a set of human beings must be in some productive relationship which involves the creation and transfer of surplus. In India the formation of such a society and of its culture was because of the ease and survival of food-gathering- based to a considerable extent on religion and superstition.
This reduced the amount of violence (force) necessary, as compared with Europe or America. We have now two main tasks: To say whatever is known about prehistoric man in India; and to trace primitive survivals as the contribution of prehistory to modern Indian society. The great difficulty in tracing prehistoric man in India is the problem of dating. Prehistory survived late in the south when the north was already developing historical empires. The few Indian cave paintings discovered show battle scenes of feudal times in the top layers. How old the pictures underneath might be is anyone’s guess.
Prehistoric tool-making man in India as in the Soan valley (W. Pakistan) generally used the Levallois technique in flaking his stone tools. This is not the oldest method of tool manufacture, but roughly the second oldest. The date may be (at a rough guess) 50000 to 100000 B. C. Hand axes of this type can be traced over the whole Eurasian continent. Nothing can, so far, be said of any corresponding movement of human beings. By 7000 B. C. , however, large deposits of much smaller stone tools (microliths) are found from Europe to Palestine.
Their continuity through caves inhabited by prehistoric man in Iran and Afghanistan makes it likely that the Indian specimens are not much later. There is no reason to believe that such little stone tools originated in India to spread out into the rest of Eurasia. Microliths are first found with larger stone hand axes and scrapers, perhaps as waste products of manufacture. The Mesolithic Age showed a remarkable development in many parts of the world in that microliths are then found in considerable deposits without any larger tools at all (the age of polished stone tools, Neolithic or Late Stone Age came later).
This happens for example at Jericho, in the pre-pottery B layer. The absence of pottery is also significant. In India such purely microlithic pre-pottery ‘cultures’ have also been traced, as for example from the sand dunes (teri) of the south-east coast. These Teri cultures are roughly dated at 4000 B. C. or earlier. A thousand years is as close an approximation as can be made by known methods for such dating. No radiocarbon or other tests have so far been possible. These microlithic people left their deposits of beautiful little chalcedony flakes and cores along narrow tracks all through the western peninsula.
The most productive microlith sites are by minor streams with fishing-pools in ancient times, though the pools are now generally silted up because of modern deforestation and erosion. The same erosion of the soil exposes the stone-tool deposit on the banks while showing the absence of occupation strata. These users of microliths were not in the crudest stage of food-gathering. Their tools are too small to be used as we find them. From comparison with the practice of African Bushmen, it is obvious that the Indian pieces of chalcedony, beautifully faceted and sharpened by chipping or cutting fine teeth in the edge, were part of compound tools.
The chips were set in handles of wood, horn, or Fig. 4. Pre-pottery microliths from Deulgao, in Poona district. The site is on a tributary to the Bhima river by an ancient fishing-pool, still in use. The material for the flakes is almost exclusively chalcedony, and many of the pieces formed compound tools, set into wood, bone, or horn hafts for arrows, knives, sickles and the like. The finer pieces are awls for stitching leather or hide bags, for food storage in the absence of pottery. The date might be 4000 B. C. or earlier, at a rough guess.
Fig. 5. Highland microliths, found near Poona, mostly in association with megalithic rock-engravings and hillside terraces. Though of rougher fabric, these seem to be later than those in the preceding illustration; the hides on which they were used were thicker. The users were early cattle-raisers, of whom successive waves came into the territory. The male gods were definitely associated with the final waves. bone by means of tree-gum or some such adhesive. This is also proved by discoloration on some facets, away from the cutting edge.
Thus could be made javelins, barbed harpoons, arrows, knives, sickles, etc. Some types of small flints are known, in fact, to be sickle-teeth, which means that grain collection was already in progress, whether the grain was planted or natural grasses cut for their seed. These tools are ideally suited for skinning animals, ‘tanning’ their hides by scraping off the flesh and breaking the fibres under the skin; suited also for splitting basket-maker’s withes or preparing fish for the pot. A good number of narrow, sharp-pointed flakes are needles or awls for stitching the hides, presumably with sinew.
In other words, the first steps towards food storage in baskets and leather bags had already been taken long before pottery. Along with these purely microlithic people were others (perhaps branches of the same groups) who left large stone piles, the megaliths. In Karnatak, Andhra and granite-based country, these megaliths were found to belong to the Iron Age. In Maharashtra (based on Deccan trap), the megaliths seem to be much older, but later than the best microliths. Many of the rock piles in the western Deccan might be due primarily to nature; but prehistoric man left his mark upon them in the form of deep engravings.
The grooves were made entirely by rubbing, or at least finished by rubbing. The amount of labour expended is shown by the depth of grooves, which is at times as much as 4 centimetres. The stone is hard enough even to turn the edges of modern steel tools. In some cases, rocks weighing more than three tons have been shifted and placed upon others. It follows that the megalith people had enough time and enough regular food surplus to produce monuments that needed a great deal of hard and continued physical work.
There are so many thousands of these rock piles and rock engravings discovered so far that the work must have gone on year after year, century after century. The purpose is not clear. The grooves rarely make any special design beyond the simplest circles or ovals; never any recognisable human or animal figures or trees. Often they are just meandering grooves made by human agency, not by nature. It is a fair guess that these megalithic people had some cattle. The microliths found in their piles of boulders are decidedly thicker as a rule than those by the fishing-pools or camp sites.
There is often a clear demarcation line between the territory of the two types. Sometimes each type is found on one bank of the stream exclusively, with the megaliths always close to the rougher microliths. But this does not hold for the whole length of any known stream. The implication is that the rock engravers and megalith builders had to deal with thicker hides, hence possessed cattle. The ‘thin-microlith’ people could have processed only thin skins: deer, sheep, goats, hare, along with the dressing of fish and birds. What the relations were between those two human groups is not clear. There is no vidence of any early conflict The terrain does not permit stratified deposits except in a few unusual places. That is, the heaviest deposit of soil today is not only washed down from higher levels and levelled by ploughing but also lies in places where there must have been swamps and thick jungles in prehistory. These would generally be the localities where prehistoric man would find no exposed stone for tools nor sites favourable for camping. The older camp sites have now very little soil, owing not only to erosion but also to the original need for dry spots away from thick vegetation and dangerous wild life.
There was no question of permanent occupation; no stratified deposit is possible in most of these situations. These two cultures are of special interest for their continuity into history. We shall show that the western Deccan developed agriculture very rapidly in the sixth century B. C. , with the local Iron Age; but not earlier. There was no Copper Age worth the mention in the Deccan. An occasional site with a bronze tool but long-interrupted occupation is found as at Mahesvar (early in the second millennium B. C. ).
There had been several waves of the megalithic people, perhaps moving slowly over long periods up and down the river valleys (Bhima, Krishna, Tungabhadra, Godavari), part from their short-term seasonal movements for better grazing and water. The seasonal oscillation is called ‘booly’ or ‘transhumance’, its total range being limited compared to the long-range migration. It is obvious that both the microlithic and the megalithic people had movements of both types. When the monsoon sets in, the constant damp will rot the hooves of sheep. Game will move down river, towards the drier east.
After the monsoon months, it is easier to move back where the grass and forest have been renewed after the rain. The westward movement would also bring primitive man nearer to the salt of the coast. A few prehistoric sites on the coast are known from excavations- presumably salt camps. The high Deccan scarp which rises sheer to 500 metres or more and lies only 50 kilometres or less from the coast is broken by a few passes. These passes were to tie down the later trade routes. On the coast, as on the plateau, an occasional stone ring is found which was used to weight digging sticks. This implies primitive agriculture f some kind, not so productive as cultivation with a plough, and probably the work of women only. Thus we have cattle, salt, access to the coast, stone tools, control of fire, with a maximum variety of natural products (game as well as vegetable) on the mountain range near the coast. The stage was set for history in the Deccan, which would begin when the aborigines learned to extract iron from ‘red earth’ by fire. That the ultimate stimulus and technique came from the north will be shown later. It is not known, however, whether the earliest cattlemen had something to do with the north as well.
Their tracks go across the peninsula, up and down the main river valleys of the south. The last waves re-used megalithic cult spots as their own, where the gods are still worshipped by modern villagers; but the pastoral (gavali) people who brought the present gods did not build the original megaliths, only re-used megalithic material with engraved rocks for their cults or burial cairns. Their male god, later become Mhasoba or some equivalent, had originally no consort and was for a while in conflict with the earlier mother goddess of the foodgatherers. The two groups soon fused, however, and the deities were accordingly married.
Sometimes, one can find the goddess crushing the buffalo-demon Mhasoba in some rude shrine while 400 metres away she is married to the same Mhasoba with slightly changed name. The brahminical reflection of this is Parvati as consort of Siva, but crushing Mahishasura; and on occasion she reverts to type by trampling upon Siva as well. It is significant that the three-faced prototype of Siva on an Indus valley seal wears buffalo horns as part of his head-dress. The prehistoric survivals which affect both the means of production and the religious superstructure have only been pointed out in recent years.
For no other country is the peculiar survival and expansion of prehistory even during the course of long historical development so clearly discernible. This is the special historical and social character of India. The course of evolution has left its clear, indelible mark upon the complex Indian society of today. 2. 4 Primitive Survivals in the Means of Production How is the development of prehistoric man into a civilised human being to be traced in India? One method tried is anthropometry, the measurement of physical character such as height, weight, size and shape of skull, length and breadth of nose, colour of skin, eyes, and hair, etc.
This method gives no results worth the mention. Prehistory yields only a few human bones. Anthropometric characters (including facial type) change in a few generations of decidedly better or decidedly worse way of life. All surviving primitive people in India seem at first to be slight and physically underdeveloped when allowance is made for admixture from the surrounding population. But they do not otherwise belong to one common physical type. There is even- reason to believe that such primitive types are generally unstable. Better diet and regular -work on the fields change stature and physique after some generations.
Statistical analysis of such Indian data as are known shows that the head measurements and face (nasal index) also change with the height. Linguistic research is even less fruitful for this stage. The dozen or so main languages and some 753 dialects of varying importance used in India are often grouped into three classes: (l) The Indo-Aryan group, in north and west: Panjabi, Hindi (including Rajasthan and Bihar varieties), Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi, Oriya; (2) Dravidian, in the south: Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, Kanarese, Tulu; (3) the ‘Austro-Asiatic’ group into which most primitive languages of India are quite arbitrarily thrust:
Mundari, Orion, Santali, etc. The theory was that these primitive people were pushed into odd corners of the jungle by Dravidians, whom the Aryans in turn drove southwards. The Aryan invasion is historic and well attested. The rest is extremely dubious conjecture. One skull of Dravidian type found in Soviet Central Asia, in strata of the third millennium B. C. , was rare in that environment. The Brahui language in the northwest is a solitary Dravidian ‘island’ among speakers of Aryan languages.
The Brahui-speaking group may have reached their place in historic times, for Dravidians in considerable number went northwards as late as the eleventh Century A. D. The linguistic analysis pays no attention to the influence of the way of livelihood upon language. All primitive Indian languages do not belong to a single group, as dispassionate research has -shown. In Assam, where every valley has several tribes with different speech, the number of languages or major dialects rises to over 175, mostly primitive tribal idioms which cannot be related to Mundari or indeed even to any one linguistic group.
Nor can the Assam people be regarded as having been pushed back by the Dravidians. This is generally ignore with the explanation that Assam is not India proper; primitive man in India (we are told) must have been thrust into the jungle by the Dravidians, who took over the fertile lands. As a matter of fact, this fertile land was obviously covered with dense forest or swamp before the Iron Age. Primitive man would live best in the thinner marginal jungle, not in territory now bearing the deeper, cultivated soil; that is, the best localities for the foodgatherers were approximately where they are found today.
The first cattle-breeders and food-producers had no need to push anyone back. Finally, though the Dravidians are on the whole darker than the Aryanspeaking people, there is no chance of correlating language and race; the Brahuis are not of Dravidian race, so far as I am aware of the results of modern anthropology. This leaves us simply the instrument and relations of production, of which the former can be compared with prehistoric finds. There are no tribesmen left in India who make stone arrowheads, hand axes, or microliths for general use which could then have been compared to the prehistoric.
Kithakari tribesmen of the Western Ghats do say that their ancestors some generations ago made stone arrowheads of the crudest sort. None of their modern descendants can make such arrowheads now, or show any that belonged to their ancestors. In the Andaman Islands, the aborigines in contact with the British began to strike flakes out of bottle glass because the glass sherds were sharper than any stone. Metal soon became the common tool material everywhere. I know of only one exceptional survival of the use of microliths.
The Dhangar (shepherd) caste in the Deccan and Central India still use freshly made chips of chalcedony for castrating rams and he-goats. These are microliths in the strict sense of the word, though very crude. The prehistoric technique was far more delicate, but prehistoric microliths are not recognised as artifacts or tools by modern Dhangars. The reason for this survival of flint knives is that the wounds made by freshly chipped stone are not readily infected, as would be those made with unsterilised metal knives. The stone fragment is discarded after a single operation. The Jews retained the use of flint knives for circumcision even when metal was in general use; the practical reason was presumably the lower incidence of infection. However, ritual tends always to be conservative; the ancient Romans retained stone axes and bronze knives for their sacrifices, when iron and steel were in common use. ) The Dhangars are mostly nomadic sheep-herders. The unit (vadi) of a dozen people and about 350 sheep moves constantly for the greater part of the year to come back to a temporary residence for the four rainy months.
If this place should be at a spot where the precipitation is still too heavy, they again move eastwards after the monsoon begins. The men tend and graze the sheep, while the women go directly with their few pots, fleece tents, and the children, loaded on pack ponies, to the next camp site. The Dhangars have now become an adjunct of fanning. Their main source of food is not the meat of the sheep or produce gathered from the jungle, but the grain (or money) given by the farmers on whose land they pen the sheep by agreement for two or three nights. The sheep droppings fertilise the land and increase the yield.
The route of the drover’s round, which may cover as much as 400 miles in the eight dry months, has obviously changed from the original pasturage booly track to farmland. The original Dhangar language, whatever it was, has also changed into that of the surrounding peasantry, Marathi or Hindi. The Dhangars supplement their livelihood by selling an occasional sheep and by sale of the wool clip. A few used to weave rough blankets from the wool. All these activities now relate them to the general society within which they move. Hence they have become a Hindu caste just below the peasant farmers.
It is possible to restore their original seasonal movements by studying the places most convenient for grazing and for rainy-season settlement. The remarkable fact then appears that the best of these older Dhangar tracks, roughly the left-bank margin of the Karha valley (which was never under dense forest), goes back into prehistory and is a firm base for the fine Deccan microlithic culture. In other words, the Dhangar way of life, has its roots in prehistory. They now cremate as well as bury their dead; burial was their former general custom – a normal course of development in India.
Two of their special gods (Biroba and Khandoba) can be traced back to well before the fourth century A. D. , though the principal worshippers of these gods are now other Hindu castes. One place (Vir) of special annual worship has clear relics of human sacrifice made to the god (and perhaps to the cult of the founder) when the settlement was founded, probably in the early centuries A. D. The peasants of the modern settlement are not Dhangars, having changed their caste with the transition to agriculture; but the main founder and principal devotee of the god was a Dhangar according to the strong, uncontested tradition.
We could as well have investigated castes or groups other than the Dhangars, say the Bhils. Originally a pre-Aryan people, presumably not Dravidians, they have now become semi-tribal peasants farming the poorest land, though still known as good archers, hunters, fishermen, and foodgatherers. They took at some intermediate stage to the pastoral life, their agriculture being a recent development. As a result, the Bhil language is now a dialect of Gujarati close to that of the Gujars from whom they learned -to keep cattle.
This is a normal phenomenon: when two cultures are in contact the stronger form of production often imposes its language upon the other. The Bhils are themselves supposed to have had a similar effect upon their dependants, the Nahal tribesmen who once had a distinct language of their own. The specially interesting feature of the tribal Bhils is that they would and did fight at need throughout historic times, though never regularly organised as warriors. Some seem to have become kings near Malava about the first century B. C. ; the royal house soon disappeared.
The Gond tribesmen are as a whole still in the primitive stage, but a few of these chiefs became Gond rajas under feudalism. These baronial Gonds still exist, regarding themselves as separate from and superior to the rest. The primitive Todas of the Nilgiris have become a sort of tourists’ and professional anthropologists’ attraction. Most primitive of all, the Chenchus have lost their original language (though still primarily gatherers) and now speak a form of Telugu, the language of the peasants who furnish the productive environment.
In other words, all such studyproves that primitive societies are heavily affected by contact with those whose means of production arc more efficient. The immediate problem of Nagaland lies in that some Nagas have acquired a modern bourgeois education while the bulk of their fellows refuse to become the passive substratum of helpless peasants that characterises India past and present. The Naga demand for a separate state (just granted) or complete independence was, based on the remnants of tribal unity that come from the (former) absence of plough agriculture and bourgeois property-holding; and upon a long tradition of rmed resistance to the encroachment of food-producing society. What most observers miss is the reciprocal influence of tribesmen on the Indian peasant and even on the upper classes. Tribal cultivation is generally a shifting affair. A limited area is burned out, or the bush chopped down and burnt. Some seed are scattered in the ashes. Occasionally, the seeds are put in holes made by a pointed digging-stick (dibbler; Marathi: thomba). The fertility of the soil is rapidly exhausted. After two years at most, new plots must be cleared and the old fallowed to grow new bushes and trees for six to ten years.
This type of food production is actually practised by most tribes all over the country: Gavada on the west coast, Ho, Oraon, Santal, Kolta, etc. The land cannot support as many people as with regular agriculture, but then plough culture demands more labour: levelling the ground, terracing the hillside, removal of stones, clearing of forest and stumps, the regular use of manure for fertiliser. All this means the ownership of plough beasts and implements. It often means individual ownership of die land by division into fixed plots, which eventually leads to class differences when the population increases owing to the better food supply.
Nevertheless, even in many farming villages (say in Maharashtra, from which I take most of my examples because of familiarity) the peasant also supplements his plough culture with primitive slash-and-burn methods. These are naturally restricted to the village wastelands, usually high up on the hill, where terracing is not possible because of the hard basalt under bed and the steep slope. The seed-beds of rice (paddy, which has to be transplanted) are also prepared by a method that clearly derives from the slash-and-burn cultivation. In these beds are put leaves from the forest, with manure, earth, and chaff.
The cake is allowed to dry till the leaves will burn, dampened so that it will not burn too fast, and then ignited. It smoulders; the chemicals needed for the young seedlings are baked into the soil. The rice seeds are planted on this prepared bed in the first rain. When the transplantation takes place these beds are left empty. On that small plot of land the peasant then plants the legumes (pulses, beans) without which rice cannot furnish him a balanced diet. This procedure led very naturally to the discovery of crop rotation, so fundamental to efficient agriculture.
Some of the planting is still done by some Indian peasants and many tribesmen on the hillsides, with the thomba digging-sticks. This differs from the prehistoric in that no stone ring now weighs the digging-stick down. The modern stick is chest-high in place of the primitive ell-long tool; therefore heavier and thicker, with a steel point; but the primitive origins of the thomba are unmistakable. The seeds planted are of the lowest quality of staples such as nachani (Eleusine coracana), vari (Coix barbata), samva (Panicum frumentaceum), which are sometimes found wild.
No ploughing is necessary or even possible on the steep hillsides where this method is used, but such cultivation requires extensive fallowing for about eight out often years. On small but level plots the hoe or long-handled pick is used in place of the plough. Where the soil is poor the cultivation is done by women to supplement the men’s heavier agriculture. In the most primitive tribes the use of the digging-stick and hoc, i. e. all agriculture, is a monopoly of the women, as hunting is of the men. The fishermen have now become a set of specialised castes.
Nevertheless, tribesmen and many peasants fish without nets, driving the fish into shallows or towards specially constructed brush dams and scooping them up with bare hands. I have seen incredibly dense microlith deposits left by, their prehistoric ancestors on the banks of the same pools. Similarly for pottery. Though archaeology shows excellent pottery made on the fast wheel as long as five thousand years ago in the Indus region, prehistoric archaeology in the Deccan also shows cruder pottery made without the wheel.
Such pots of all sizes are being made today, by exactly the same methods, on the slow- turning disc (sevta) or without any disc at all. The remarkable feature is that this potter’s disc is to be handled only by the women. The men finish die rough pot by paddling it down, with a wooden paddle used on the outside while a fist-sized stone ‘anvil’ is held in the other hand inside the pot. The sides can thus be made thinner and firmer before baking and the pot looks much better afterwards as regards finish and shape. The ‘anvils’ are found in excavation of strata two to three thousand years old.
Potterymaking must have been the sole prerogative of the women, though the fast potter’s wheel is and apparently always has been a men’s apparatus. 2. 5. Primitive Survivals in the Superstructure If so much of primitive and prehistoric technique survived, it would be surprising to find no corresponding survival in form of social organisation, customs and beliefs, i. e. the relations of production. In fact, there are such survivals in plenty. For example richer Indian kitchens may use oil or, electricity for fuel, but they will also use (except in Andhra and the south-east) the saddle quern and muller, which is a Stone Age appliance.
There is a difference in shape; the modern kitchen quern is flat and wider than the muller. Its main use today is to grind or pulp coconut, spices, and soft condiments for the curry and vegetable dishes with which rice is eaten. Nothing harder than sea-salt is now ground on this type of quern. However, prehistory has left its imprint on the users. First, it is noticeable that the upper-class women who use it for cooking normally grip the muller stone on top, The lower-caste women generally grip it at the ends, which means less efficiency because the degree of rolling is restricted.
If, however, the quern is shaped as in prehistory, with the muller stone wider than the bed-plate and the bed-plate sloping upward away from the user, the shape and the end grip are both more suitable for grinding hard stuff such as grain than the top grip with a flat modern quern. This indicates that the lower castes are closer to the days when the quern was actually used for making flour out of grain. All castes now use the much more efficient rotary quern or machine milling for flour manufacture, but the difference in using the saddle quern signifies the later transition to food production of the lower castes.
Precisely these lower castes are now the workers and peasants, the primary food-producers. The class difference is also due to their later entrance on the stage of food production. This is clearly a very important historical and sociological phenomenon. The upper castes came from the north or were earlier influenced by northern food-producers, who first introduced real agriculture into the Deccan and had begun to use the rotary quern earlier. There is a second archaic heritage associated with the saddle quern, a peculiar ceremony not in the ‘Hindu’ (brahmin) books and indeed not reduced to writing at all.
It is attended only by the women, which betrays its primitive and prehistoric origin. On the tenth (sometimes sixth or twelfth) day after the birth of the child the hard, smooth, cylindrical muller stone is passed around the cradle by the senior lady present, and deposited in the cradle. This is supposed to ensure that the child will grow up as free of blemish and as enduring as the stone. The stone is dressed in an infant’s cape (kunci), but also with a necklace or garland like a mother goddess.
Some red and at times yellow pigment is put on the stone. The symbolism is never simple in such ceremonies. The stone represents at once the child and the mother goddess or good fairy which would bless the child. But the male priests remain unaware of the ceremony, which is practised by all castes, brahmins as well as the lower, and has undoubtedly been acquired from some portion of the primitive population, probably after the northern immigration. This is one example of reciprocal acculturation.
Modern field investigators are almost always men to whom the aboriginal or lower-caste women would not talk of their special rites, if indeed they talked at all to the queer strangers. Otherwise we should have learned much more about such customs. It would also have been possible in some cases to discover the earlier language of the tribal group, which survives in women’s parlance and ritual oftener than in those of the men. In general Indian women retain archaisms where the men show a cosmopolitan polish due to more frequent contact with people outside the tribe or caste group.
Better-known religious observances can also be traced back into the primitive or prehistoric past. The holi spring festival, an obscene and nowadays rather depraved saturnalia, has dancing around a great bonfire as its central feature. This may be followed by fire-walking by a select few on the embers, but is always followed the next day by a great deal of vociferous public obscenity; in out-of-the-way places by sexual licence and promiscuity as well. In prehistory the diet was poor, life hard, procreation none to easy. The obscenity was then necessary as a stimulus.
The depravity is a modern transformation due to better diet with heavier peasant labour, resulting in a totally changed sexual appetite and attitude to sex. Some features of the holi festival seem to go back to a pre-historic matriarchal stage. In some places one man (called the kolina) has to wear woman’s clothing and join the dancers about the holi fire. The chief participant at the great annual Karaga festival at Bangalore has to dress as a woman before officiating. So also the priest of the quail-snaring Pardhis in western India for the Pardhi fertility chants and ordeal by boiling oil.
These rites and festivals have been taken over by men, though originally a -women’s monopoly. Similarly, groves sacred to the mother goddess are mentioned in brahmin myth and legend. Such groves still exist in villages away from the road; but women are now generally forbidden entry except in the few cases where the priesthood has remained in primitive hands, not transferred to immigrant settled cultivators. Originally, the ban was on the entry of men. When society changed from matriarchal to patriarchal, the priesthood and ritual were correspondingly transformed.
The intelligent study of village gods can also tell us a great deal. Most of the deities are simple bits of stone coated with red pigment, red lead in oil, ochre, or cheaper scarlet colouring matter. The colour is a substitute for blood. Indeed, blood sacrifices are still made on a few particular occasions to most of these gods and goddesses. When the village becomes richer through agriculture and the brahmin priest enters, these worships are identified with a few standard cults such as of the monkey god Hanuman, the elephant-headed Ganesa, or Vetal, prince of goblins.
The deities are then represented by sculptured images which never completely shed their primitive features, but eventually rise in the scale to lose their red pigment and blood sacrifices. This progress of civilisation can easily be traced step by step. In some cases the prehistoric god (more often goddess) is still worshipped on or near the original cult spot, though there is usually no way of telling whether the name has survived unchanged. One striking exception is the Buddha’s birthplace, where the goddess has survived under the same name (Lummini-Rummini) for over 2,500 years.
At Junnar it can be said that the goddess Manmodi was present before the Buddhist caves were carved out at the beginning of the Christian era, and returned without change of name after Buddhism faded away a thousand years later. Many a time the god is identified, when worship becomes widespread and popular, with Siva or Vishnu; a goddess with Parvati, Lakshmi, or some such brahminised deity. The most interesting are the goddesses that have a strong, highly localised cult, but whose name has no known etymology: Mengai, Mandhrai, Songjai, Udalai, Kumbhalja, Jhanjhani, etc.
The termination ai means mother. Such names often represent some vanished tribe or clan group. The goddess Bolhai near Pernem is still worshipped at a prehistoric megalith (though the opulent feudal princely family of the Gaekwars built and endowed a fine temple a mile away, thereby wrecking a rich megalithic site). The name was old in the twelfth century A. D. and may perhaps be of Kanarese origin. There is no question, however of a universal mother goddess. If the local cult spreads, it is generally possible to trace this spread to migration.
Bolhai’s senior worshippers, now inhabiting a single village sixty kilometres away, all have the surname Vaji (‘horse’). The goddess is supposed to have gone with some brigands (cora), which is a sure indication that she had been the patroness of an untamed tribe for a long time. There have been so many movements and changes in the population of this region that her megalith need not have been in continuous worship since prehistory. The memory always remained that certain types of places and stones were associated with the supernatural, the gods or demons.
Both gods and demons are paid worship, for safety. The following often happens: Some peasant may have a dream in which a goddess (more rarely the Vetal demon god, or the ghost of a dead relative) appeared. If there is already a shrine to that particular spirit or deity, he generally offers some sacrifice (nowadays, a coconut or a fowl; in great need, a goat) to escape further nightmares. A ghost is further propitiated by a funerary stele. But sometimes a goddess appeals in the dream on some new spot.
If the crop is unusually good that year, a cult is founded on that spot and continued by the peasant’s family. The ‘image’ is often a simple stone (tandala -‘shaped like a grain of rice’) coated with red pigment. Or there may be installed a crude relief that looks five thousand years older than its date of fabrication. The family then maintains the new worship, which might spread to an entire hamlet if the deity ‘saves’ the whole community from disaster at some time of peril, famine, or epidemic.
Remarkably enough, such new cults lie oftener than not on the site of some prehistoric predecessor, with microliths or megalithic engravings. I recently pointed out a neglected megalith to some friends who worship Vetal in the scanty forest close to Poona. They immediately revived the lost cult in their own way with flowers and red pigment after more than twenty to thirty centuries of total oblivion. The modern name of the now flourishing cult is Nandi, from a fancied resemblance of the graven stone to Siva’s bull. It is easy to point out many more primitive survivals in Indian life. A woman in her