Three processes coincided with one another in post-Vedic times. These were Aryanization, ironization, and urbanization. Aryanization meant the spread of the Indo-Aryan languages such as Sanskrit, Prakrit, and Pali.
It also meant the dominance of the upper orders and the subjugation of women. In the later Vedic texts, the term arya denoted the first three varnas, excluding the shudras and dasas.
Even in the Buddhist context, the arya was considered a noble.
In post-Vedic times, Aryanization meant the adaptation of the non-Aryan tribals to the brahmanical culture. Ironization meant the spread of tools and weapons made of low carbon steel. It revolutionized agriculture and crafts and multiplied settlements. This process also increased the military powers of the rulers who extended the boundaries of their states and supported the Varna system. Urbanization, or the growth of towns, helped the traders and artisans and also led to an increase in the income of the state treasury.
The use of iron tools for crafts and cultivation created conditions for the transformation of the comparatively egalitarian Vedic society into a caste-divided social order around the fifth century BC. In the earlier period, people were not very familiar with iron tools whose number was limited.
Now however the situation changed. Once the forested areas of the Gangetic plains were cleared with the aid of fire and the iron axe, one of the most fertile parts of the world was opened to settlement. From 500 BC onwards, numerous rural and urban settlements were established.
Large territorial states resulted in the formation of the Magadhan empire. All this was possible because, using the iron ploughshare, sickles, and other tools, peasants produced a good deal more than was needed for their bare subsistence. Peasants needed the support of artisans, who not only provided them with tools, clothing, and the like but also supplied weapons and luxury goods to the princes and priests. The new agricultural production techniques in post- Vedic times attained a much higher level than those in the Vedic age.
The new techniques and the use of force enabled some people to own large stretches of land which needed a substantial number of slaves and hired labourers to till it. In Vedic times, people cultivated their fields with the assistance of family members only; there is no word for wage-earner in Vedic literature.
However, slaves and wage-earners engaged in cultivation became a regular feature in the age of the Buddha. The Arthashastra of Kautilya shows that during the Maurya period they worked on large state farms. However, by and large, slaves in ancient India were meant to undertake domestic work. Generally the small peasant, occasionally aided by slaves and hired labourers, played the dominant role in production.
With the new techniques, peasants, artisans, hired laborers, and agricultural slaves produced much more than they needed for subsistence. A substantial part of this produce was collected from them by princes and priests. For regular collection, administrative and religious methods were devised.
The king appointed tax collectors to assess and collect taxes, but it was also important to convince people of the necessity of obeying the raja, paying him taxes, and offering gifts to the priests. For this purpose, the Varna system was devised. According to it, members of the three higher varnas or social orders were distinguished ritually from those of the fourth Varna.
The twice-born were entitled to Vedic studies and investiture with the sacred thread, and the fourth Varna or the shudras and women were excluded from them. The shudras were meant to serve the higher orders, and some lawgivers reserved slavery only for the shudras. Thus the twice- born can be called citizens and the shudras non-citizens. However, there developed distinctions between citizen and citizen in the ranks of the twice- born.
The brahmanas were not allowed to take to the plough and their contempt for manual work reached such limits that they developed a distaste and loathing for the hands that practised crafts, and began to regard some manual labourers as untouchables. The more a person withdrew from physical labour, the purer he was considered. The vaishyas, although members of the twice-born group, worked as peasants, herdsmen, and artisans, and later as traders.
What is more important, they were the principal taxpayers whose contributions maintained the kshatriyas and brahmanas. The Varna system authorized the Kshatriya to collect taxes from the peasants and tolls from traders and artisans, and thus enabled him to pay his priests and employees in cash and kind. The rate of payment and economic privileges differed according to the Varna to which a person belonged. Thus, a brahmana was required to pay 2 per cent interest on loans, a Kshatriya 3 per cent, a vaishya 4 per cent, and a shudra 5 per cent.
Shudra guests could be fed only if they had done some work at the house of the host. These Dharmashastras rules were prescriptive and may not have been strictly observed, but they indicate the norms set by the dominant social orders. As both priests and warriors lived on the taxes, tributes, tithes, and labour supplied by peasants and artisans, their relations were marked by occasional feuds over the sharing of social savings. The kshatriyas were also hurt by the vanity of the brahmanas, who claimed the highest status in society.
However, both composed their differences in the face of opposition from the vaishyas and shudras. Ancient texts emphasize that kshatriyas cannot prosper without the support of the brahmanas, and the brahmanas cannot prosper without the support of the kshatriyas. Both can thrive and rule the world only if they cooperate with each other.