The achievements of the Aryans in the realms of philosophy and metaphysics have been the subject matter of research by very many scholars and valuable light has been shed on these as a result of their labours. But as regards the social and economic conditions in which they lived there is not much authentic information and whatever is known had to be gleaned from such books as Mahabharata and Kautilya’s Arthasastra. The latter book gives us valuable information about the political, social, economic and military organization of Mauryas. The Jataka tales a collection of tales belonging to the pre-Buddhist period give us a revealing glimpse into a period when the fusion between the Aryan and the Dravidian races had been almost completed.
It gives us the periods of rule and genealogies of dynasties of kings. Originally the institution of kingship was elective but in the course of time the office became hereditary. The chief source of revenue for the government was from land. The political and economic structure was built up from the village communities. India was famous for her textile goods. There was a thriving metallurgical industry making implements of war.
Trade guilds controlled different trades. The merchant -guilds or associations were so powerful that the king himself could not take away any of their privileges. Another peculiar feature was that those who belonged to particular craft say carpentry were all concentrated in a single village. There was a flourishing trade not only within the country but also with other countries of the world. In the treatment of iron India had made remarkable progress even in ancient times. The iron pillar in Delhi stated to have been erected in the fourth to seventh century AD is a standing monument to this superior knowledge of metallurgy. The pillar has successfully withstood the ravages of time all these years.
Soon, by 600 B.C. a new grouping emerged in the Aryan community, whenever a community takes to agriculture, some agriculturists produce surpluses or accumulate capital. Such an activity naturally brings to the forefront a group of people dealing with trade and commerce. That is how vaishyas came into existence, since the emergence of this community is rooted in the surpluses generated by agriculture, the erstwhile Sudra community moved up to form this new grouping, while the non-Aryans and mixed-Aryan became Sudras. About this time the concept of pollution also figured. As a matter of fact, there are references to this idea in the Vedas too. It is definite that pollution was a known idea at this time because those who undertook unclean occupations like cleaning of carcasses, fishing and other occupations came into existence. It was this aspect of unclean occupations associated with pollution that later on grew into untouchability.
From sixth century B.C. onwards there is historical evidence to show that the Sudras were primarily drawn from non-Aryans and mixed-Aryans, as for example, Ashoka enslaving one and-half lakh people after the Kalinga war and bringing them to the Gangetic region to cut forests and cultivate land. The four-fold caste division based on occupations was as good as established by the time the Mauryan Empire was established. There are references in the inscriptions of Ashoka that bird-catchers, fishermen and butchers came to be treated as people beyond the pale of the then social structure.
Panini the great grammarian wrote his learned grammar of Sanskrit in the 7th century BC. Panini’s book is one of the splendid productions of the human mind. The ancient Indians were well versed in astronomy, medicine and surgery. They were mindful of the animals and had hospitals for them. In the field of mathematics their contribution was outstanding. They invented the zero and decimal place-value system. They could divide time into the minutest part. The ancient Indians had vast conception of time and space. There were centres of higher learning corresponding to the modern universities in places like Taxila. It is stated that the eminent grammarian Panini studied in that university. The position of women was honourable at home and in society.