Ancient Indian Economy

The economy of Ancient India was mainly dependent on agriculture. Agriculture was the chief occupation of the ancient Indian people. More and more people engaged themselves in agricultural enterprises. As a result not only the existing agricultural lands, forest and west lands too were cultivated. People were encouraged to do this job and even the Dharma-Shastra of Manu supported this contention by stating categorically that the land belonged to him who first cultivated the same.

The introduction of iron and wide spreading of iron implements facilitated the settlement and cultivation of the Ganges valley. In some areas two and even three annual harvests were taken in. Ancient Indians grew rice, wheat and barley. Rice was especially widely grown in Magadha. In southern areas, where climate was more arid and soils less fertile, millet was extensively sown. Much work on the construction and maintenance of irrigation systems was done by the state.

In the second half of the 1st millennium B.C. urban centers of crafts and trade began to develop in the Ganges valley. The urban handicrafts, especially weaving, metal-working, jewelry-making were highly advanced. We were astonished with the skill of fifth century Indians who made the iron column, seven meters high and weighing more than seven tons. The said column erected in Meharauli near Delhi during the Gupta era had not been corroded despite the humid climate. Ancient Indian iron and steel products were of very high quality and widely exported.

With the emergence of feudalism during the post-Gupta era the cultivator and the king became the worst sufferers. They suffered from the diversion of income into the hands of the intermediaries. Whereas in previous centuries the revenue paid to the central authority was in part used to maintain public works such as roads, irrigation etc. under the feudal system separate taxes distinct from the land tax were levied. The temple authorities also levied additional dues. Land grants to Brahmans were tax free. So the loss of revenue from these lands had to be made good from other sources. Goods produced by the craftsmen were also taxed and they were liable to pay series of taxes. In course of time even the common lands of the villages such as waste lands and the pastures were appropriated and the peasants and cultivators were reduced to condition of poverty and hopelessness.

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