Though our knowledge of the exact functions of most of these tools at this stage is very imperfect, it is fair to assume that they served a variety of functions like hunting, butchering, digging of roots and tubers, processing of plants and making of wooden tools and weapons.
In this arrangement human dependence on forest resources is clearly visible. Moreover this dependence lasted for a considerably long time. The subsequent periods of cultural development do not match with this early stage in terms of the time span occupied by them. The man forest relationship based on a heavy sustenance of man on forest resources was the hallmark of this early phase.
The next important phase of human settlement in India is termed as Harappan civilisation. This civilisation emerged basically in the semi-arid regions of Northwestern India and in the absence of written records we have to depend solely on the archaeological information for this phase. In fairness to the efforts made by a galaxy of eminent archaeologists though, it must be said that material evidence unearthed for Harappa civilization provides significant clues to man forest relationship for this phase.
It is suggested that the size of Harappan urban settlements would have required wood that could only be supplied by a forested region not far from the sites. The requirement of wood as fuel to support the firing of bricks, a conspicuous building material of Harappa culture, is another supporting argument for the existence of forest and the dependence of the inhabitants of Harappan settlements on the forest resources.
The next significant period is the one occupied by the Vedic civilisation. Vedic sources portray a close relationship between man and forest. Malamoud suggests: “The forest lies on the village’s horizon and is, in a certain sense, integrated into village life.
Yet, this fusion of village and forest is so beautiful in the eyes of the Indian authors, and fundamentally (SO unrealistic, that they exclude it, at times, from the realm of the possible it our present age of iron, declaring that it can only be found in a distant past, in the wonderful age of the those inspired seers who received the Vedic revelations”.
However, there has been a problem with the presentation of this kind of harmonious relationship between man and forest. Indologists, working on a’ general conceptual level, have shown that the dichotomy of grama (village) and aranya (forest) is omnipresent in the Vedic literature. It is discussed as a duality between wilderness and civilization and has the basic, fundamental opposition.
According to this concept, forest always remains outside, distanced and more or less dethatched from the sphere of human praxis. Malamoud and Sprockhoff argue that there is evidence that the interpretation of vana and aranya as synonyms can be found only in the late Vedic and post-Vedic literature. Both draw attention to the etymological origins of vana and aranya and their usage in the earlier Vedic literature.
They come to the conclusion that both terms have different connotations. Aranya, translated as wilderness, desert, sometimes also as forest, is linked etymologically with alien, distant; it is the dangerous, the frightening space, inhabited by demons, wild animals, but also by brigands, it is the space which one tries to avoid, it is linked with death. Aranya and grama appear as reciprocally exclusive categories.
Malamoud and Sprockhoff take up another conceptual pair, namely that of vana (forest) and ksetra (fields, inhabited space), often vana and grama. Vana and ksetra interact with each other and this interaction is seen as positive.
Vana is the forest which supplies villagers with timber for house construction and tools; here herbs and wild plants are found, single trees may get special ritual significance as vanaspati. But the boundaries between vana and aranya are fluid; the same space, which was seen as aranya, as wilderness in previous times may become vana, utilizable forest, or land for cultivation.
The period from 500 BC to 300 AD saw large scale colonization of fertile forest lands both in the northern India and the river valley areas (for example Krishna, Godavari, Cauvery, Vaigai) in the peninsular India. Greater colonization meant greater availability of surplus.
Thus tribal chiefdoms started giving way to large states; Mauryas and Kushanas in northern India, the Chalukyas and Sangam Cholas in south India. The ground for further exploitation of forest resources was made ready in the logic of the empire building exercise. Of course trade was also coming up in a big way and the ships and boats had to be built out of the forest wood. Elephants assumed significance, and elephant forests started coming up.
The number of towns increased and the houses in towns began to use wood on a greater scale. Moreover, superior timber had to be used for construction of furniture, carts, chariots, wooden bridges etc.
During the Mauryan period, the concept of ‘hunting reserves’ also came up, as hunting became a recreational activity. Chanakya says that Brahmanas should be provided forests for plantations, for religious learning and for performance of penance.