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Bengal upto the Guptas

In the beginning of the historic period in Bengal, government seems to have been of a tribal nature. In the Ranchi region, for example, the iron smelting Asuras may have organized themselves into proto states. Their are remains of brick buildings, iron smelting, copper, iron, and stone implements, copper ornaments, gold coins, beads, tanks, urns, pottery and sculpture. The wheel made terracotta red pottery is of coarse fabric. Radio carbon dates places them in the few centuries around the begining of the common era. In 1981, only about 8000 Asuras, speaking a language of the Kherwari group, were in this region; and though they remember themselves as the iron smelters (with the aid of charcoal), few had maintained the practice actively. The relation of these people to the Asuras of the dominant Hindu mythology is unclear, as it is to iron-workers in other regions.

The mythology of the Mundas, the dominant tribe in this region, and who also speak a language of the Kherwari group, clearly recalls encounter with the iron-smelting Asuras, and there is some evidence of a conflict. There tradition has a Phanimukut Rai, 63 generations before now, was crowned the first Munda king in 93 AD; however, sedentary agriculture probably came much later to this region (there was probably a preference for root crops in this period). It is clear that the dravidian (e.g. kurukh) speaking Oraons (though many of them now speak muNDArI) came after the Mundas (their mythology claims this, their villages often recall the Munda names, and the Oraon bhuinhari land tenure is a clear development of Munda khuntkatti form), and they may ave started sedentary agriculture, but it is not even clear which millenium they came in!

However, presence of trade, kingdoms, cities and armies (siMhalese tradition of vijaYasiMha, son of siMhabAhu and sihasIbalI, son and daughter of a daughter of a king of vaGga and princess of kaliGga, going to sopArA and then to tambapaNNi to set up a siMhalese dynasty in 544 BC and the husband of the mother of siMhabAbu becoming king of vaGga; Gan(g/d)aridai state with capital at Gange (Parthalis according to Pliny) mentioned in late 4th cent BC by the Greeks along with Prasioi with capital at Palibothra; Periplus and Ptolemy's desciption of Gange on river Kamberikhon in about 150 AD; mention of pratApavAn chandrasena, son of samudrasena, king of vaGga in mahAbhArata; mention of pauNDraka vAsudeva, under emperor jarAsandha, as the king of puNDra, vaGga, and kirAta in the mahAbhArata; mention of karNa as the later emperor of kaliGga, aGga, sumha, puNDra, and vaGga in the mahAbhArata; mention of the king of the region around kaushikI river and of puNDra, of vaGga, of sumha, of tAmralipta, and of karvaTa, whom bhIma defeated in the mahAbhArata; mention of king of vaGga supporting duryyodhana in the mahAbhArata) shows some evidence of organized structure. A study of the Greek and Buddhist texts suggests that during the nanda period under Agrammes=Xandrammes=sons of ugrasena=mahApadmananda, the eastern Gangaridae were under the Prasioi=prAcya=magadha dominion; and, in fact, it has been suggested that though the nandas ruled from pATaliputra, they may have originated in the Bengal region. (The mythological king lists of this and the later maurya, zunga, kaNva, and the satvahana dynasties are available. These lists are mythistory, but the page points to historical lists as well.) During the maurya period (3rd-2nd cent BC), a mahAmAtra represented the mauryas and ruled from puDanagala; some layers of candraketugaDh.a and mahAsthAnagaDh.a (these sites also have prehistoric remains) may date back to this period; and those of Tilpi and Dhosa from the only slightly more recent zunga or kuzAna periods. Around the 1st/2nd century AD, extensive trade networks (Periplus, Ptolemy, milindapaJha, nAgArjunakoNDA) and Greek accounts of fine cotton products from Gange as well as gold mines in lower Bengal are evidence for existence of social organization. The satvahana Gautamiputra Satakarani of second century AD may have been the first to start grants of administrative rights over land, to Buddhist monks. The kuSANa (78–176 AD; The saka kings Maues, Azes, who may have started the Hindu religious era, and Azilises; the pahlava kings Vonones, Spalirises, Azes II, and Pacores; and the early kuSANa (the guishang branch of Yüeh-chih) kings Kujula and Vima Kadphises were all in Punjab or further west. kaniSka started a second kuSANa dynasty, and extended his kingdom much further into India, and may have started the era still followed in the Indian national, though not the bengali calendar. His successors were Vasishka, Kanishka II, Huvishka, Vashushka, and Vasudeva) coins from kaniSka's reign (78–96 AD) do not necessarily mean that Bengal was under their rule, though the Murandooi mentioned by Ptolemy in India Extra-Gangem may have connections with the term shaka-murundu found later in samudragupta's inscription.

It is very likely that the region of varendra was already under the gupta rule under shrIgupta in the late 3rd century AD, ghaTotkaca's father, candragupta I (320–330)'s grandfather and samudragupta (330–375)'s greatgrandfather; in fact, he may have had his original capital somewhere in mAladaha or murshidAbAda. In any case, puNDra, and likely all of Bengal except samataTa, was under the gupta rule from 300–550 AD. candraketugaDh.a, khana-mihir's dhibi, and bharata bhanya are some sites shich may have artifacts from the gupta period. Since the time of kumAragupta I (415–455), son of candragupta II vikramAditya (375–415), son of samudragupta (there may have been an extremely short reign of rAmagupta in between) till the middle of 6th cent AD, when the gupta empire fell, puNDravardhana remained a major city in the gupta empire. They were, however, pretty weak after skandagupta 455–467, purugupta 467–473, narasiMhagupta bAlAditya, kumAragupta II kramAditya 473–476, and budhagupta 477–495, though they continued (a confused tangle of names emerge: tathAgatagupta, kRSNagupta, harSagupta, jIvitagupta I, kumAragupta III, dAmodaragupta, mahAsenagupta, mAdhavagupta, devagupta II, Adityasena, devagupta III, and jIvagupta III) as kings of magadha till the 8th century, and isolated gupta kings are found as late as the 12th and 13th centuries. samudragupta mentions samataTa, dabAka, kAmarUpa, and nepAla as paying tribute to him. By 507 AD, samataTa was also under the gupta ruler vainyagupta, and possibly bhAnugupta.

The guptas ruled by dividing the kingdom into bhuktis, and further into viSaYa, maNDala, vIthi, and grAma. Bengal was divided mainly into puNDravardhana and varddhamAna bhukti; and the rulers of the bhuktis, called uparika-mahArAja were selected by the emperor. The lower posts like kumArAmAtya, Ayuktaka, and viSaYapati, were usually, though not always, appointed independently. As an example of the political structure in a viSaYa, we can note that in the copper plates found in current vAnagaD.a we find description of land deals in the koTivarSa adhikaraNa (i.e. administrative capital) in the viSaYa of the same name. This mentions, apart from the viSaYapati, the posts of nagarashreSThI (capitalist?), prathama sArthavAha (trader?), prathama kulika (artisan?), and prathama kAYastha (clerical government representative?). Land purchase involved a petition explaining the purpose of the purchase, and required a permit from the government; often the grant was announced to the mahattara (governing body?) and kuTumbi (common people?) of the village. But the nature of land grants was already changing from the brahmadeYa of kauTilya in that all sources of revenue from the land, including control over mines, were being transferred to the donee in perpetuity (‘till sun and moon remain in the heavens’)—the earliest land grants starting this trend probably date back to the grant to a chAndogya brahmin mentioned in the dhanAidaha copper-plates (432–3 AD) and the grants to brahmins mentioned in the two dAmodarapUra copper-plates (444–8 AD), both dating to the rule of kumAragupta I. Along with this, however, slowly came the resposibilities of tax collection, forced labour extraction, maintenance of law and order, irrigation, and so on; and the beginnings of a feudal system was therefore on the horizon.

However, not all of bengal during this entire period was under the gupta rule. In the 4th century A.D., a kingdom puSkaraNa and two kings, siMhavarmaNa and his son candravarmaNa, are known from rADh.a (possibly the pokharNa village near shushuniA near bÃkurA, and it might have extended up tp pharidapura), and the latter may have been the same candra defeated by samudragupta. It is not clear whether this is the candra who is mentioned in the iron pillar in Delhi as having defeated all the kings of bengal.

Up to history of the Ancient period of Bengal

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