Notes on the Early History of the Growth of Population in India

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The first census was taken in India in 1871, and thereafter once every ten years. It is, therefore, possible to study changes in population size, structure, characteristics, etc., during the last 113 years.

The estimates of population size in India during the ancient, medieval and the early modern periods (that is, from the beginning of the Christian era to 1871) have been derived by Kingsley Davis from a careful examination of archaeological evidence, relevant literature and historical records left behind by scholars of history.

The ensuing discussion on the growth of population in India from the ancient times up to 1900 draws heavily on the scholarly work of Kingsley Davis. 1

Population Growth up to 1600 A.D.: Since the ancient times, India has had the legacy of a thickly settled population.

The excavations at Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro reveal that, as far as the third and fourth millennium B.C., India had a highly developed civilisation, and large and densely populated cities.

It appears that even three to seven thousand years ago, India possessed adequate technological knowledge to support a dense population.

The available records for the first truly Indian empire, under the rule of Chandragupta Maurya almost three centuries before Christ, reveal that this empire could maintain a standing army of about 700,000 men.

It may well be presumed from this that a substantial population must have been required to maintain such a large army. Putting together all the available evidence, Davis asserts, "Before the Christian Era, India had a substantial population, first because of its advanced technology and second because of the fertile environment for the application of this technology."

Forming the estimates of Davis, Pran Nath estimates that, around 300 B.C., the population of Ancient India was between 100 million and 140 million. 3

Estimates made by Moreland, the well known historian, reveal that, in 1600 A.D., the population of India was around 100 million. It therefore, appears that from 300 B.C., to 1600 A.D., a period of over two thousand years, India's population was almost stationary.

The underlying reason for this near static growth of population was the same as that which checked the growth of world population in the pre-industrial period.

There were some fluctuations in population size, but the decisive factor in population growth was the death rate.

During this period, death rates were high and fluctuating, while birth rates, though also high, were more or less stable. This stage can be termed as the stage of high potential growth.

Population Growth from 1600 to 1870: It is unfortunate that very little documentary evidence is available on the basis of which estimates of population size for the period 1600-1870 may be made.

Heavy reliance has, therefore, to be placed on the impressions of the Europeans who, during this period, visited India or stayed in India for differing periods of time for either trade or military purposes.

Davis, while attempting to reconstruct the growth of population in India during the period 1660 to 1870 on the basis of all available evidence, has finally arrived at the conclusion that "there is little use trying to puzzle out India's growth rate prior to the census period.

The best policy is to revise Moreland's figure for 1600 upward to 125 million, and to assume that the population remained at this point for one and a half centuries more, after which a gradual enhancement of growth began, accelerating as 1870 approached."


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