A large number of historians in the past had unquestioningly accepted two
assumptions in their studies of ancient Indian society. Firstly, they assumed
that the ancient Indian society remained in a more or less static state
throughout the period, registering only a marginal change. Secondly, they
took the varna system to be an actual description of the social functioning
and having a rigidly structured society based on a hierarchy of status as one
of its essentials. But both these assumptions have now been questioned. A
reexamination of the evidence suggests periods, of economic change which
influenced social institutions as well as other aspects of life.
    Certain broad phases of economic change in ancient India can be
    • The earliest Vedic literature comes from a background of pastoralism
        giving way gradually to agricultural settlements.
    • Early Buddhist literature suggests a more settled agrarian economy
        and an emergent commercial urban economy.
    • The post-Maurya period witnessed a series of small kingdoms ruling
        in various parts of the subcontinent and at the same time a tremendous
        expansion in both internal and external trade.
    • The Gupta and post-Gupta periods witnessed the beginning of a major
        change in the agrarian system with the assignment of land grants and
        revenue grants to both religious and secular assignees resulting in a
        new politico-economic structure in many parts of the subcontinent.
    The changing character of the economic structure inhibits any attempt at
uniform generalisation about society for the entire period of early India.
    While the causes which arise from within a society and which provide a