Thriving Cities

Learning Goals:

A place where agriculture is not the main occupation is called a city. Many cities thrived in India about 2500 years ago, e.g., Pataliputra, Varanasi, Mathura, Ujjain, Madurai, Taxila, etc. A city was the hub of trade and other activities.


Around 2500 years ago, Mathura was an important city. It was at the junction of two major trade routes, i.e. from the northwest to the east and from north to south.

The city was fortified from all around. There were many shrines in the city. These shrines were used by people for gathering and for spending spare time. Food for the city dwellers came from farmers and herders from the adjoining areas. Mathura was also a centre of production of some fine sculpture.

Mathura was an important religious centre as well. It was an important centre of worship of Lord Krishna. Buddhist monasteries and Jain shrines were also present in Mathura.

The remains of gates and pillars reveal many inscriptions which give valuable information about the life in Mathura. The inscriptions usually show donations made by people. From these inscriptions, historians have come to know about various occupations during that time. Donations were made by kings and queens, officers, merchants, goldsmiths, blacksmiths, weavers, basket makers, garland makers, perfumers, etc.

Crafts and Crafts Persons

Different kinds of crafts were made in Mathura. This city was famous for very fine pottery; called the Northern Black Polished Ware. The pottery was black and had a fine gloss over it. Since such pottery was usually made in north India, hence it was called the Northern Black Polished Ware.

Many crafts may not have survived the vagaries of time. However, various texts from that period tell about them. Varanasi and Madurai were important centres of textiles production. Both men and women worked in the textiles industry.

The crafts persons and merchants formed associations. Such associations were called the shrenis. Following are various responsibilities of the shreni:

There was the shreni of merchants as well. It organized the trade. The shreni of merchants also worked as banks. Rich men and women could deposit their money in such banks. That money was invested in trade and the interest was returned to the depositor. The interest could also be used for supporting religious institutions such as monasteries.

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