Role of Iron Technology as an agent of change in Ancient India

In the later Vedic period, the Yagya-dominated Vedic religion started spreading from its original Kuru-Panchal region towards the north-east. It was not merely the spread of religion, but the spread and development of a new technology of production.

It is clearly mentioned in the Shatapatha Brahmana that the Vedic people went ahead by burning the forest through the fire of Yagya. It is actually the process of making the land cultivable by burning forests and cutting down trees.

Clearing the forest was certainly a very difficult task. The use of iron played a historical role in this work. Iron (i.e. iron weapons) was first used in war, but later it was also used for agricultural implements. The use of this hard metal in both warfare and agriculture brought about some fundamental social changes.

An armed and powerful new Kshatriya class emerged, which could establish its ownership over the weaker people or classes and engage them in both warfare and farming.

On the other hand, revolutionary results started appearing in agriculture. Clearing the forest just got easier. Due to deep plowing from the iron plough, it was natural to have a higher yield. The ability to produce more with less labor increased. This historical event paved the way for massive social change.

Due to the new farming system based on iron technology, more production surplus started to be obtained. This proved to be very helpful in the emergence and existence of large settlements.

The new production technology made a revolutionary impact in the ancient tribal (tribal) way of life of North-East India. The tribal people of this region practiced hoe farming on high lands with sparse population and cultivated rice and small grain crops.

They reared animals only for meat consumption, not to obtain milk from them or to use them in agriculture. It is clear that their mode of production and way of life was very backward in comparison to the Vedic works.

In spite of developed agriculture in Kuru Panchal region, animal slaughter for meat consumption continued. Animal-slaughter was especially prevalent because of the tradition of the Yagya.

But in the new farming system, more and more animals were needed for agricultural work. People began to feel the need for the protection of animals. Animal-slaughter, whether in Vedic sacrifices or among the tribal people of the North-East, had now become an unnecessary custom.

The Vedic texts—particularly the Upanishads—condemned animal-slaughter and preached non-violence. But these teachings are not as strong as those found in Buddhist texts, in which animals are called the giver of happiness (Sukhda) and the giver of food (Annada).

Apart from the development of agriculture, due to the increasing use of iron tools, progress was also made in many crafts and industries. As a result, not only did adequate development of settlements take place, the epoch-making process of urbanization also started in North-East India.

From the Pali texts, the description of many cities developed in the Ganges valley during that time, ‘in which the names of Champa, Rajgriha, Vaishali, Varanasi, Kaushambi, Kushinagar, Shravasti and Pataliputra are particularly important. There is evidence of the existence of 60 cities across the country between 600 and 300 BC.

Most of the craftsmen and small and big traders naturally lived in the cities. During this period the traditional beliefs of Kawali life began to break due to the circulation of Mudra (Ahat- Mudras). The ruling class and merchants became very wealthy. The concept of private property started getting stronger and also got social recognition. The statement of Kosambi is correct that the existence of new classes in the Ganges valley is indisputable.

The Neo-Vedic herding class of Vaishyas was replaced by cultivators under the clan, for whom the clan did not exist. Rich merchants (shreshti and grihapati) were important in the society because of their wealth.

Animals are no longer the only unit of property. The accumulation of wealth could be in the form of trade, production or agriculture. It was natural that along with poverty also increased. According to Buddhist texts, poverty arises due to non-earning of wealth.

Poverty gives rise to theft, lies, violence, hatred, cruelty etc. To solve this, Buddha’s teaching was that farmers should be given seeds and other facilities, merchants should be given money and workers should be given suitable remuneration.

On examining the background of this material change, it is clear that many elements of Vedic culture prevalent in the Kuru-Panchal region had become meaningless as they were obstructing social development.

Similarly the ancient tribal life of Northeast India was no longer useful for the new social and economic structure. But due to the highly organized Vedic culture in the western Ganges valley, its roots were stronger. Vedic

Many elements of culture had reached earlier, such as the caste-system, sacrifice, the notion of the importance of priests, and Vedism. In the religious movement in North-East India, these elements were made their point of attack.

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