The most valuable description of India’s prosperity and wealth by Yuan Chuang combined with that of Bana and the epigraphic and numismatic evidences give us a detailed account of economic life of the people during the seventh century AD. With the dawn of this epoch-making century a new era of peace and order was inaugurated by Harsha after the political anarchy that existed for more than one hundred years.
By the political reunification of almost the whole of Northern India after disintegration following the downfall of the Imperial Guptas, Harsha inferred an inestimable boon upon the people. Under his strong and well-organized administration we find a remarkable growth and development of agriculture, industry, trade and commerce.
Agrarian Economy during Harsha’s Rule:
Agriculture is rightly said to have been one of the chief means of livelihood of the bulk of the people throughout the ages. It has contributed considerably to the economic prosperity and richness of India. Yuan Chuang gives us the minutest details of agricultural and natural products of various parts of India. He says, “As the districts vary in their natural qualities they differ also in their natural products.”
At Lampa the country produced “upland rice” and sugarcane and it had much Wood and little fruit. At Nagar, grain and fruits were produced in abundance and the country of Gandhara was famous for its “luxuriant crops of cereals and a profusion of fruits and flowers.” There, we are told, much sugar-cane and sugar- candy was produced. Kashmir was famous for its saffron and abundant fruits and flowers. The toil of Takshasila and Simhapura was fertile and produced good crops, with flowing streams and luxuriant vegetation.
After visiting the north-west region the pilgrim comes to the Indo-Gangetic plain and describes the agricultural products of the region. The people of Jalandhara produced rice and other grain and fruits and flowers were in abundance. Around Mathura the soil was very fertile and the agriculture was the chief business. This region also produced a fine stripped cotton.”
The soil of Sthanisvara and Srughna was rich and fertile and the crops were abundant; but “the majority pursued trade and few were given the farming.” The soil of Matipur and Govisana yielded grain, fruits and flowers. The country of Ahichchhatra was mainly an agricultural one. The pilgrim, while describing about Kanyakubja, tells us that “the inhabitants were well off and there were families with great wealth; fruit and flowers were abundant and sowing and reaping had their seasons.”
The country of Ayodhya “yielded good crops” and fruits and flowers were in abundance. The land about Prayaga and Kausambi was also very fertile and the main occupation of the people was cultivation. We do not find detailed description of crops that were produced at Prayaga; but the land about Kausambi “yielded much upland rice and sugar-cane.”
As the pilgrim marched further “the grain crops of the country were very plentiful” and “fruits and flowers were abounded.” The regions between Sravasti and Kusinara were also very fertile and had good crops. The soil of Kapilavastu was “fertile and farming operations were regular.”
From the description of the pilgrim it seems that the country of Kapilavastu was not very prosperous. We are informed that in such a small country more than ten cities were utterly deserted and ruined. The pilgrim records that the people of Varanasi had boundless wealth. There “the harvests were abundant; fruits and other trees grew densely and there was a luxuriant vegetation.”
The country of Magadha was also rich in soil and yielded “luxuriant crops.” The pilgrim informs us that “a kind of rice with large grain of extraordinary savour and fragrance called by the people ‘the rice for grandees,’ was produced at Magadha.”
In Bengal (Pundravardhana, Karnasuvarna etc.) the land was moist and “crops were abundant; the Jack-fruit was plentiful”; the population was dense and the “farming operations were regular.” The country of Kamarupa was also “low and moist” and the “crops were regular.” The famous products were the Jack-fruit and Cocoa. These products were abundant and people took much interest in their farming.
In his general survey the pilgrim recollects that the fruits of the amra (mango), the amla (tamarind), the Madhuk (Bassia latifolia), the badara (jujube), the Kapittha (wood-apple), the amala (myrobalan), the tinduka (diospyros), the udumbara (Ficus glomerata), the mocha (plantain), the narikela (cocoanut) and the panasa (Jack-fruit) were produced in various parts of India. He summarises his description of fruits with the following words- “It is impossible to enumerate all the kinds of fruits and one can only mention in a summary way those which arc held in esteem among the inhabitants.”
Some of the common fruits were pears, plums, peaches, apricots and grapes which were planted “here and there”; but pomegranates and sweet oranges were grown in all the parts of the country. So far as the farming was concerned the people prepared the soil well.
Sowing, planting and reaping were carried on their seasons according to the industry. From the survey of the Chinese visitor it seems that all the cultivators were not hard-working and alert. Some were lazy and legged behind in their profession. The main agricultural products were rice, wheat, ginger, mustard, melons, pumpkins and kunda.
This is “a long but admittedly incomplete list of principal food-grains and fruits.” But from this description of the pilgrim it is almost definite that the whole of Northern India was fully cultivated and was very prosperous with its agricultural and natural products. The entire tract of the Ganga Valley and the Ganga- Brahmaputra delta were great fertile areas.
Like Yuan Chuang, Bana also gives a detailed description of “the excellences of the good soil,” of the Srikantha Janapada of which Sthanisvara was a part. There were “the unbroken lines of Pundra sugar-cane” and its “marches were packed with corn heaps,” The entire land is said to have been adorned with rice crops “extending beyond their fields” and the wheat crops were abounded. Bana’s accounts also include the graphic description of pot-herbs, plantains, vine-arbours, pomegranate, orchards, arbours, Pilu sprays, citron leaves and saffron filaments.
Strangely enough, Bana also mentions that “the woodrangers tasted the cocoa-nut juice” and that the travelling folk plundered the date-trees. These days the products of the north, generally speaking, do not include the cocoanuts and the date-trees; but it is quite likely that the people of Sthanaisvara might have grown cocoanuts and date-trees during the period under review. From Bana’s description it appears that the people were also familiar with the advanced technique of irrigation system. He informs us that the farms were “watered by the pots of the Persian Wheel.”
Ownership of Land and Property during Harsha’s Rule:
From the grants of Harsha it appears almost certain that the ultimate owner of the land was the sovereign who could grant the land or the whole village to any one he liked. The farmers were his tenants and paid one sixth of the produce as rent. The complete ownership of the land or the village was enjoyed on the strength of a royal grant (Sasana) by any individual.
Sometimes people also tried to enjoy such ownership of the strength of some forged Sasanas. Dr. Buhler points out that such forgeries existed during the age of Harsha. The village of Soma Kundika had formerly been enjoyed on the strength of such a forged document by one Vamarathya from whom it was taken after destroying the old plate. But there is nothing unusual or uncommon if we find such an example during the period under review. Today there is hardly any village in India where we do not find quarrels for land.
That the forged ownership was detected by the Government and the guilty was brought to books and the land was allotted to the real owner speaks of Harsha’s efficient system of administration. When a tract of land or a village was donated to someone the entire revenue was given to the done. Thus we find that the ultimate ownership of the land was vested with the sovereign, the latter also owned the royal land. It was divided into four divisions; the income from one part was used for the “expenses of Government”; one for the “endowment of great public servants”, the third part was reserved for rewarding “high intellectual eminence” and the rest was distributed to the various sects for gaining “religious merit.”
The tenants, we are told, were required to pay the one sixth of the produce to the king or to the person to whom the land was donated. As the taxation was not heavy, the people kept to their hereditary occupation and attended to their patrimony. Light duties were imposed upon the tradesmen which were exacted at ferries and barrier stations.
Development of Various Industries during Harsha’s Rule:
Although India was primarily an agricultural country, the industry was not legging behind. Both Yuan Chuang and Bana supply us with full information regarding the industrial development during the age of Harsha. From the references to the different varieties of clothes, it is evident the textile industry was exceedingly advanced in the seventh century AD. The evidence at our disposal proves that the Metal Industry was also highly advanced during the period under review. Some of the household utensils were made of brass and copper.
All the implements of war such as spear, shield, sword, sabre, arrow, coat-of-mail etc. were made of iron. Bana also informs us that the swords were so finely polished that they could also be utilized as mirrors. Queen Yasomati is said to have seen her face in the sword’s blade. At Varanasi the pilgrim saw “a t’ushi (bell- metal?)” image of the Deva “nearly hundred feet high” and “which was life-like in its awe-inspiring majesty.” At Nalanda he noticed another copper image of the Buddha more than 80 feet high.
Several Fine and artistic works of metals, especially of gold and silver were also made for decoration and presentation. We are informed by Bana that at the time of marriage ceremony of Rajyasri, a number of gold-workers had been engaged in hammering gold which was used for making works of art.
Other industries also appear to have been flourished during the period under review. At the time of Rajyasri’s marriage several artists were invited who included among themselves the carpenters, leather-workers, designers, modelers, ivory-workers, painters, dyers etc. They are separately described to have been busy in their respective jobs.
The long list of different articles which were sent by Bhaskaravarman, the king of Assam, throws enough light on various industries. Among these articles were the famous ornaments, bright gold-leaves, pillows of Samuruka leather, cane stools, thick bamboo tubes containing mango sap and oil, bundles of woven silk, Gosirsa sandal, camphor, carved boxes of panels for painting, gold-painted bamboo cages, and rings of hippopotamous ivory.
The art of gem- cutting and jewellery was also highly developed. Among the companions of Bana, there was one hairikah who was expert in gemology. Different kinds of jewels are mentioned in Bana’s Works and the records of the pilgrim. They were used in making ornaments, and in decorating the thrones, beds, mirrors, and even the elephants were decked with pearls. Bana informs us in the Kadambari that Chandrapida was taught the science of examining gems, pearls and other precious stones.
Commerce and Trade during Harsha’s Rule:
From the development of various industries it can be easily inferred that trade and commerce must have been in the nourishing conditions. Moreover, we have the definite proofs that the trade in the seventh century AD was in highly advanced condition. Yuan Chuang throws sufficient light upon the progress of India’s trade and commerce. He informs us that the “tradesmen went to and fro bartering their merchandize.”
The government also encouraged trade by levying “light duties” which were paid by the tradesmen at different “ferries and barrier stations.” While giving a few particulars about the division of the people of India, he describes that the third order was “class of traders” (Vaisyas) who “bartered commodities and pursued gain far and near.”
From some of his indirect references, too, we find further support to our conclusion. He writes that rare arid precious substances of various kinds were bartered for merchandize from the sea-ports. The majority of the people of Sthanvisvara “pursued trade” and “varieties from other lands were collected in this country.”
He is corroborated by Bana who also informs us that Sthanvisvara was “the land of the philosopher’s stone for the seekers of wealth” and it was “the land of profit for the merchants.” The capital city of Kanyakubja was also famous for its rarities which were collected from strange lands.” The people of Ayodhya are said to have been devoted to “practical learning” which indicates their craftsmanship. At Varanasi the people “had boundless wealth” and their houses were full of rare valuables.” All these evidences throw light upon the progress of trade and commerce.
Commercial Relations with Foreign Countries during Harsha’s Rule:
The testimony of Yuan Chuang and Bana proves that international trade was carried on with China, Ceylon, Persia and other countries. Yuan Chuang informs us that the city of Charitapura (Che-li-ta-lo) was “a thoroughfare and resting place for sea-going traders and strangers from distant lands.” The post of Tamralipti was also a noted centre of sea-trade and the inhabitants of Surat utilized the sea and they were traders by profession. Bana informs us that the land of Srikantha Janapada was irrigated by the pots of the Persian wheel.
In the Kadambari we are informed that the famous horse Indrayudha was sent by the monarch of Persia. In the cavalry of Harta Bana saw the horses from Persia along with those of Vanayu, Kamboja, Aratta, Bharadwaja and Sindha. In the Harshacharita and Kadambari he tells us at more than one occasion that China silk (Chinansuka) was very famous during the age of Harsha.
From these evidences it can be safely concluded that the international trade was in flourishing conditions and that it was conducted mainly through the sea. India’s maritime activities extended in the eastern waters, as far as China and Japan. Mr. Kakasu Okakura informs us that “down to the days of the Mohammedan conquest the intrepid mariners of Bengal coast” founded their colonies in Ceylon, Java and Sumatra and Cathay (China), and there was mutual intercourse.
Our maritime activity was also “equally manifest towards the West.” We are told that the ships of India and China “could be seen constantly” at Hira on the Euphrates as early as the fifth century AD. There seems to be a constant, traffic across the sea between India and China in the seventh century AD Various representations of ships and boats in the Ajanta paintings are “rightly interpreted” by Griffiths as only a vivid testimony to the ancient foreign trade of India.
Although the rare and precious commodities of various kinds were “bartered for merchandize, the trade and commerce of the country was conducted through definite media of exchange.” The pilgrim informs us that gold and silver coins, cowries and small pearls were the media of exchange. In Nepal copper coins were the medium of exchange.
Coinage under Harsha’s Rule:
Dr. John Allan, writing in 1914, opined that “the right of coinage has never been the jealously exercised symbol of sovereignty among Hindus that it was amongst Muhammadans.” He continues further, “some of the greatest of Hindu sovereigns, e.g. Harshavardhana, do not appear to have struck corins at all.”
At the very outset we must say that Allan was wrong. It is unthinkable that Harsha, the emperor ruling over almost whole of Northern India, could have ruled for more than four decades without issuing coins. The Chinese pilgrim who visited India for nearly fifteen years, and who writes his accounts on the basis of his personal and on-the-spot study, says “in the commerce of the country gold and silver coins, cowries, and small pearls are the media of exchange.” This description makes it abundantly clear that Harsha’s regime was not without coins.
It can be argued that Harsha did not issue his own coins and allowed the use of the coins of his predecessors and those of his brother-in-law, Grahavarman and his predecessors. But this can only be accepted in case of a ruler ruling for a short period and over a small kingdom. Harsha, as we know, ruled for more than forty years and his frontiers covered the land from Kashmira to Narmada and from Gujrat-Kathiawar to Kamarupa.
His times also saw the tremendous growth of trade and commerce and no one can believe that it could be possible for Harsha to rule over it without the use of coins, a definite and standard medium of exchange. It also appears that an article on “Some-Coins of the Maukharis and the Thanesvara Line” by R. Burn did not receive Allan’s attention. This is clear from the fact that Burn’s article appeared in 1906 whereas Allan published his book in 1914. Had he seen Burn’s article he must have referred to it and, would not have made such an outright remark that Harsha did not issue the coins.
These coins were found in 1904 by a labour at Bhitaura in Amsin Paragana of Faizabad District. They include one gold, 522 silver and eight copper coins. According to Burn one of these coins may be attributed to Harsha (not Harsa), 9 to Pratapasila (king Prabhakarvardhana), and 284 to Siladitya (Harsha). Of the remaining coins 9 are attributed to Isanavarman, 6 to Sarvavarman, and 19 to Avantivarman.
The scholars did not agree with Burn and the view of the latter was challenged by some of them. Hoernle tells us that “the correct attribution of these coins is not so simple as it may appear at first sight.” Referring to Burn’s readings he says, “Mr. Burn is disposed to attribute them to Harshavardhana. To myself that attribution is very doubtful. The title Siladitya was not uncommonly assumed by, or given to rulers of that period. Hiuen Tsang gives the title principally to Harshavardhana, but he mentions other rulers also, who also bore it.”
The learned scholar supported the theory put forward by Mr. Burn. Dr. Banerjee told that in support of Mr. Burn’s contention it may be said that the coins are attributed to the Maukharis and the Puspabhutis and that the Maukharis were closely related to the Thanesvara king Harsha, being brother-in-law to Grahavarman.
It is well-known that after the assassination of Grahavarman the sovereignty passed from the Maukharis to the Thanesvara king. It is, therefore, possible that ‘Pratapasila’ and ‘Siladitya’ coins were struck by Harsha. But it seems better to adopt Mr. Bum’s attribution to Prabhakarvardhana and Harsha. The crescent which appears on all these coins, accordingly to Dr. Banerjee, seems to have been derived from the coins of the white Hunas who copied it from the Sassanian series.
Prof. Bajpai opines the Silver coins of Harsha are of “Madhyadesa type of the Gupta silver coinage.” The learned professor has also drawn out attention to one gold coin of Harsha acquired by him from Farukhabad in Uttar Pradesh. Prof. Bajpai read the Brahmi legend on the obverse of the coin as follows- Parama bhattaraka Mahara Jadhiraja Parame-svara Sri Mahara (ja Ha) rsdeva.
Prof. Bajpai rightly “attributes this gold coin to Harsha”, the son and successor of King Prabhakaravardhana of the Puspabhuti dynasty of Thanesvara and Kanauj. The learned scholar has maintained that the titles assumed by Harsha in his coin are “compared with those assumed by him and known to us from his records and his seals.”
He also affirms that “the characters of the Brahmi legend on the coin leaves no doubt as to its date. They are similar to the Brahmi characters of the Madhuban and Banskhera records of Harsha.” Thus we can, quite safely, conclude that Harsha issued his own coins and they must have formed a standardised medium of exchange.
Urbanisation during Harsha’s Rule:
Thus enormous growth of industries and trade naturally led to a tremendous growth of city-life. There were many cities which “were the centres of prosperity.” The “prosperity and importance of Kanauj grew tremendously under Harsha and it became “the premier city of Northern India supplanting Pataliputra.” It was “very strongly defended” and had “lofty structures everywhere”.
The city was full of many beautiful parks and gardens and tanks of clear water. People of Kanauj were very fond of rarities which were collected from different countries. They were well-to-do and there were “families with great wealth.” Bana also gives the glimpses of the immense wealth and grandeur of city-life while giving the description of Ujjayini. Though the picture of this great city, as drawn by Bana is fantastically exaggerated, it indicates the wealth and prosperity that was accumulated in the big cities.
Taksasila, Jalandhara, Mathura, Sthanvisvara, Matipura, Mayura, Ahichchhatra, Kapitha, Ayodhya and Kausambi were some of the famous and prosperous cities of Northern India. Prayaga and Varanasi are highly praised by the pilgrim for their wealth and prosperity. They were densely populated arid “had boundless wealth” and possessed ‘”rare valuables.”
But on the other hand some of the famous and great Buddhist centres were losing their importance. Sravasti, Kapilvastu and Vaisali, which once had been very famous centres of Buddhism were in ruined condition. In the province of Kapilvastu there were more than ten deserted cities “all in utter ruin.” But Nalanda was at the height of its glory and progress. Champa and Rajamahal were famous towns of Bihar. Surat and Valabhi were important trade centres in Western India. Pundravardhana, Tamralipti, Samatata and Kamasuvarna were the renowned cities of Bengal. The capital of Kamarupa was also in flourishing condition and there were continuous streams and tanks in the towns. There were no big cities in Kamarupa. The pilgrim informs us that “the country was a series of hills and hillocks” and it was “without any principal city.”
We have no direct evidence of any commercial organization but in the literature of the period under review some sidelight is thrown on the nature and organization of the industrial and commercial guilds. Dharmasastras like those of Narada and Brihaspati represent that the progressive advancement of the guild organizations continued during this period. These works indicate, in a general way, that very great importance was attached to these organizations as an important factor in the society.
Both Yuan Chuang and Bana give us an identical account of the economic prosperity and a high standard of living among the rich classes at least. The people of Sthanvisvara and Ujjayini are picturesquely described by Bana for their wealth and luxury. Yuan Chuang, too, informs us that the greater part of the country enjoyed a good standard of living and high prosperity.
His description of various places such as Sthanvisvara, Kanyakubja, Varanasi, Pundravardhana, Tamralipti, Valabhi, Surat etc., undoubtedly reveals that the people were wealthy, luxurious, prosperous and happy. The people esteemed learning and observed a high standard of morality. They attached due importance to religious, spiritual, aesthetical and cultural aspects of life.