Kondapur: Of economic and political significance of Satavahanas

A unique insight into the material culture of early India

By Nikisha Uddagiri  Published on  18 March 2023 5:52 AM GMT
Kondapur: Of economic and political significance of Satavahanas

Kondapur archaeological museum 

Hyderabad: Kondapur village situated in the Sangareddy district of Telangana is a remarkable archaeological site that provides a unique insight into the material culture of early India.

Dating back to Satavahana rule in the Deccan region from 200 BCE to the 1st century CE, this fortified city houses Buddhist and royal structures along with a rich collection of artefacts such as coins, coin moulds, clay beads and ornaments, precious and semi-precious stones besides various types of pottery that illustrate the advanced lifestyle of an urban centre.

Historical significance of Kondapur

Located approximately 70 km west-north-west of Hyderabad, Kondapur is an early historical city in the Telangana region. It was excavated by Ghulam Yazadani in 1941. He noted that only the surface layer had been excavated and the lower strata still needed to be for a complete understanding of the site.

Since then, no fresh excavations have been conducted by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). However, the State Department of Archaeology and Museums has conducted fruitful excavations at several early historical sites, particularly in the Karimnagar region of Telangana.

Dr. Aloka Parasher Sen, a renowned historian with expertise in early Indian history during a Pleach Talk conducted by Pleach India Foundation said, “Kondapur was likely under the influences generated by the formation of the Satavahana state over a large part of central and western Deccan, as well as the economic forces of change and prosperity emanating out of the trade and commerce that flourished all over the Deccan during the early centuries A.D. It is often argued that because of Kondapur's location in the centre, connecting the Buddhist centres on the east coast with those on the west, it grew up as an important junction.”

Archaeologists defined early historical sites as urban if they were with Buddhist establishments and if there were evidence of fortification walls, with the argument that political stability, economic prosperity, and peace contributed to the rise of these townships.

Kondapur qualified as an urban site because it had Buddhist establishments, though its buildings were not architecturally very imposing. However, there are different views on granting Kondapur an urban status, and its material remains have not been viewed as part of an organic whole.

Material evidence reveals Kondapur's urban character and skilled architecture

During the session on Kondapur: An Early Historic City in Telangana, Dr Aloka said: “Three types of material evidence from Kondapur can help us gain an integrated picture of it as an urban habitation site. These are its structural remains, the diverse nature of the artefacts connected with crafts and technology, particularly the evidence for the existence of a firm metallurgical industry, and the numismatic evidence found here.” She added that the structures unearthed here could be divided into four categories based on the evidence they reveal.

1. There are remnants of religious structures like Stupas, Chaityas, and parts of Vihara complexes

2. Plain houses built either of brick or rubble

3. Shops, areas with evidence of furnaces, and large earthen basins

4. Some perfunctory indications of old walls.

The remains of Kondapur's architecture suggest that the builders prioritized efficiency and skill over grandiosity and beauty. The size and shape of the bricks used varied depending on the type of building being constructed, with wedge-shaped bricks being used for circular structures like Stupas and Chaltyas. A group of bricklayers, masons, carpenters, and other technicians were involved in the construction process.

Excavations at Kondapur reveal the industrial and religious significance

During excavations, certain structures were identified as industrial buildings, including furnaces, workmen's floors and pavements, and depositories for storing valuable objects. The discovery of these structures sheds light on Kondapur's status as an urban centre. Among the iron objects found were sickles, chisels, nails, knives, spearheads, hoes, forks, and various agricultural implements. The area where trial pits were dug up was littered with broken stones, potsherds, pieces of brick, and iron slag in significant quantities.

Experts suggest that the heaps of iron slag found during excavation contain a high content of iron oxide and some reduced metal. This indicates that the metalworking process may have been partially successful due to a lack of understanding of the role of carbon in reductions. The pressure of slag particles suggests that it would have been challenging to maintain a temperature of 1180°C for an extended period, as the metal would have reached a liquid state and the slag would have drained away.

Quantifiably, the maximum information is on the religious buildings, ascribable to the Hinayana sect of the Buddhists, located substantially in the southwestern and western parts of the mound. The existence of these Buddhist monuments entails the most obvious conclusion that these and the body of monks they housed were financially and otherwise supported by a population who were followers of the faith. The plan of the other buildings is not discernable but these were in all probability the residences of the inhabitants of Kondapur.

“There are several indications to show that these housed people coming from different social strata. An indication of the economic disparity of the people that inhabited this city is that certain houses, which Yazadani calls shops, had underground chambers. Of six such chambers, three were with double rooms. These could have been warehouses where valuable goods were stored, such as the bead industry that was present in Kondapur,” Dr. Aloka said.

Kondapur's historical significance lies in its early history as an urban site with Buddhist establishments and evidence of fortification walls. The site has been excavated, and its material remains have been studied to gain an integrated picture.

The economic and political significance of the Satavahanas

During the early centuries of the Christian era, Kondapur was a significant settlement with a definite population involved in various craft productions and a Buddhist religious establishment.

A historian who has done extensive studies on the Kondapur Archaeological site, said: “The excavation revealed an unusually substantial quantity of coins of different types, including punch-marked coins, Satavahana coins, and a gold coin of emperor Augustus. The discovery of nearly 2,000 (1835 to be exact) Satavahana coins, along with their coin moulds, was of great importance, and they were divided into three varieties by Yazadani. These coins' variety and quantity led to the conclusion that Kondapur was the site of an important Andhra town where coins were minted.”

Similarly, mid-Godavari sites like Kotalingala and Peddabankur have also revealed several Satavahana and pre-Satavahana coins, some of which were found in a stratified context. The discovery of Chimukha's coins at Kotalingala has raised the possibility of Telangana being the early nucleus of the Satavahana empire. The simplicity of the material found at Kondapur and the absence of large public buildings reflected the ecological constraints of the region. However, it was still an important urban centre in the Deccan during this period.

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