VIJAY KUMAR THAKUR
Urban Decay, Ecological Imbalance and the Brhatsamhita**
The constructed paradigm of the post-Kusana urban decline in India^ has been challenged on two counts—its alleged universal application and its trade-centred causal analysis. The point of departure in the dissenting views mainly, stems from the realisation that ecological changes had a crucial role to play in determining the process of transition from the ancient to the feudal mode of production.^ Such an analysis, in order to seek answers for the new set of questions that it raises, needs to look beyond the conventional literary sources and to contextualise the data available therein. It is with this perspective that the present paper analyses the famous astrological text of Varahamihira, the Brhatsamhita, in the context of the paradigm of urban decline and the bearing of ecological factors on it during the Gupta period.
The astrological texts of Varahamihira contain an impressive body of data on the contemporary towns. While in the Brhajjatakam, he refers only twice to towns (puray and once each to the residents of a town,^ the custodian of cities^ and the city magistrate, in the Brhatsamhita he becomes both specific and effusive on this issue. Referring to a town celebrating the return of its victorious army, he says that it 'should be decorated with beautiful flags, triumphal arches and leafy garlands, have happy and gay people, the thorough-fares kept neat and tidy, as well as purified, and filled with gaily dressed courtesans, possess shops that are sanctified, be resounding with the loud chanting of the Punyaha and other Vedic hymns, and have the junctions of roads filled with actors, dancers and songsters.'^ This portrayal of a vivacious urban centre notwithstanding, Varahamihira makes numerous references to afflicted urban settlements.^ All references to Kasi underline the sad future of the town. The settlement will fall on evil days, its residents shall be in trouble*™ and its king
'^Department of History, Patna University, Patna
""""Paper presented to the Xth World Sanskrit Conference held at Bangalore, 3-9 Jan.
Social Scientist, Vol. 25, Nos. 5-6, May-June 1997