The present work is an attempt at depicting the economic fabric of Mithila from 600 B.C. to 1097 A.D. The country of Mithila during this period was bounded on the north by the Himalaya, on the south the Ganga, on the east the Kosi, and on the west the Gandak. It consisted of the modern districts of Darbhanga, Muzaffarpur, Champaran, Saharsa, Purnea, north Monghyr, and north Bhagalpur, as well as the tarai under Nepal lying between the district and lower ranges of the Himalaya.
There is no denying the fact that the contribution of ancient Mithila to Indian civilization is considerably more remarkable than that of other parts of the country. It has a glorious past of which any civilised nation and country may justly be proud. The relics of its glorious past can yet be seen in its ancient cities. It was the scene of the work of the two most venerated names in the religious history of the world – Gautama Buddha and Vardhamana Mahavira – and one of the world’s great rulers, Emperor Asoka.
There are remains of once splendid cities and monasteries, temples, shrines and places hallowed by the memory of the thinkers and preachers. Its fertile plains, rippling with bouncing harvests and teeming with multi- tudinous population, have witnessed the majestic and interminable drama of the movement and migration of peoples. It was the earliest Aryan settlement in Eastern India and from here the wave of Aryanism spread over other parts of the country. Being surrounded on three sides by the three great rivers, Mithila has had the geographical advantage of seclusion where learning and culture could flourish. The Ramayana immortalizes the name of Mithila. The greatness of Mithila also lies in the fact that it was an important ancient seat of learning in India which attracted students from different part of the country. King Janak was an eminent philosopher king. All the learning and philosophy of ancient India was the product of her solitary hermitages in the forests. The ideal which has inspired the men of Bihar from age to age is that of Janak, and the women of this province have kept up the glorious tradition of Sita whose love of her husband, chastity and fortitude is still unparalleled in the history of the world.
During the period under review, Mithila formed the part of Vijjian republic and subsequently passed under the domination of outside powers till the rise of the Karnats in 1097 AD. Naturally, one would expect repercussions on various aspects of economic life of this region. Our discussion in the following pages would, therefore, be confined only to the economic life of Mithila. Though, there are considerable scholarly works on economic history of ancient India, viz., Social and Rural Economy of Northern India by A.N. Bose; Social organization in North East India in Budhdha’s Time by Fick; Economic Condition of Ancient India by Pran Nath; Commerce between the Roman Empire and India by Warmington; Economic Life and Progress of Ancient India, Vol.I by Bandyopadhyaya; The Economic Life of Northern India by Lallanji Gopal; Corporate Life in Ancient India by Majumdar and others, none of these works, however, enlightens us on the economic condition of ancient Mithila. Similarly, some good works on the political history of Mithila of this and other periods, have been written but it is surprising that upto this time no work dealing exclusively with the economic history of Mithila has been written in any language.
We have stray references and a few chapters scattered here and there in some historical journals and works, but those lack scientific treatment in the context of the economic development of the region. However, within the limitations, an attempt has been made in the present work to utilize all possible sources available. In the field of literature both indigenous and foreign, religious, legal and secular have been taken into account. Among the indigenous literary sources we have utilized the Brahmanical works in order to trace the origin and development of certain economic institutions and practices. The Grhya-sutra and the Dharmasutras have been used as corroborative evidence. The Arthasastra of Kautilya and Patanjali’s Mahabhasya have been utilized, for both the works provide us with sufficient materialon various economic aspects. The Buddhist and Jaina works have been utilized to the fullest. The Jatakas furnish us valuable information about some aspects of the economic condition of the period. Thus the Mahapanada Jatak, the Gandhara Jatak, the Nimi Jatak, the Mahajanak Jatak, and the Suruci Jatak, etc. reflect the everyday life of the commonman, his art and craftmanship, trade and commerce. Several other Buddhist texts, viz., the Milindapanho, the Divyavavadana, the Mahavastu, the Mahaniddesa, the Lalitavistara, and the Jaina text Acaranga Sutra have supplied us with considerable information, particularly about trade and industry, and hence have been utilized in this work. The Epics and Puranas are also of great value from the point of view of the economic history. The narrative parts of the Epics supply us with important material on some points in our accounts. We have also the law books and commentaries of Manu, Visnu, Narada, Brhaspati, and Katyayana, which are very important. The commentaries have been fully utilized so far as the principles and regulations of the economic institutions are concerned. The smrtis of Brhaspati, Yajnavalkya, and Narada are also indispensable for us. The Kamasutra of Vatsyana, which throws some light on the everyday life of the people, are occasionally used. Among the Niti works, the Kamandakiya-Nitisara and Sukra-Nitisara have been taken into consideration. The work of Kalidasa, like Malavikagnimitra, Raghuvamsa, and Kumarasambhav, contain useful references to the economic life of the time. The Mudraraksasa of Visakhadatta supplements our knowledge by depicting the general condition of society.
Coming to the archaeological sources, we find that very few objects of art can,with any degree of certitude, be ascribed to Mithila. A few terracotta and stone sculptures have been discovered in the excavations conducted at Basarh and other places. The numismatic data are equally limited. In spite of its limited scope, a few hoards of coins belonging to pre-Mauryan and Mauryan period, the Kusanas, the Guptas, and the Palas etc., have been found from various parts of Mithila.
The sources are thus numerous and varied, but none of these gives us a complete and comprehensive account regarding the economic structure of Mithila during the period under review. Nevertheless, basing on these sources we have attempted to portray as complete a picture as possible of the economic life of Mithila. To have a clear idea of our subject we have divided it into seven convenient chapters. The first chapter deals with the geographical position and sources of work. Chapter II offers a brief survey of political condition during the period under review. Chapter III treats of land system, existence of feudal elements, revenue system, agriculture, crops and irrigation. Chapter IV surveys slavery its origin in Mithila and its different forms in later periods. Chapter V gives an account of the corporate life, guilds, – its kinds and functions, and its contribution to the material development of the people. Chapter VI discusses the history of trade and industry in Mithila, inland and foreign trade, land and sea-routes, credit and banking medium of exchange and coinage system. The closing chapter (VII) gives a brief estimate of the general economic life in the period and its importance in the economic history of the country.
(Introductory chapter from Dr. Mohammad Aquique’s book “Economic History of Mithila (600 BCE-1097 CE)” Abhinav Publications, New Delhi, 1974. Price: US$ 8.00 ISBN 81-7017-004-4)
About the Author: Dr. Md. Aquique received higher education in the University of Patna, from where he obtained his M.A. and B.L. degrees. He also served as Research Scholar in the Post-Graduate Department of Ancient Indian and Asian Studies, Magadh University, Bodh-Gaya for three years, and took Ph.D. degree in 1971. He is now working as a Lecturer in the Post-Graduate Department of Ancient Indian and Asian Studies, Magadh University, Bodh-Gaya. At present he is also doing post-doctoral research on the “Economic History of Ancient India (from the earliest times upto 650 A.D.)”.