Sunday, September 25, 2011


Administration, Economics, Health-care and Justice promoted by the Vedic Culture

Discourse by N.R. Srinivasan


The accepted belief in the Indo-Aryan immigration from Central Asia depends on the interpretations of the geographical allusions in Rigveda and Yajurveda, by the Western Historians based on their under- standing of the Vedic language.
If we want to understand an ancient religion, we must first try to understand the ancient language and then grasp the meanings of the expressions used there and understand why various Vedas and Upanishads exist. It is not the rays of the sun, the showers of the sky, the waters of the river, or the fire of the hearth, that the Vedic Aaryas (not Aryans) worshipped as given in the history, but the Intelligent Energy underlying them as instrument, the Super-human power in which they have their Being.
For various reasons either Western or Western educated observer cannot be expected to see things, and revolve thoughts under exactly the same angle of vision and in the same light as are the birth-right or instinct of the Vedic scholars. The study of the Braahmanas, Aranyakas and Upanishads is essential for understanding the Vedic mantras. The Rigveda has its Upanishads in its latter portion of Atreya Aaranyaka. Both the mantra and its interpretation have been preserved, treasured up in the minds of men in an unbroken tradition, and transmitted with meaning by oral repetition through a succession of teachers, from generation to generation and the entire literature must have required some centuries before they reached the Samhita and Braahmana form. There is also prejudice in some quarters that even Braahmanas are no genuine interpreters of the Vedic texts. Therefore, there is need for bringing out the truths buried in the abstruse mantras of Rik Samhita whose language is archaic and expressions symbolic, by the expert Indian Scholarship.
Vedic Rishis and deities are different from Puranic Rishis and gods. The average priests of Rigveda Samhita did not believe in gods and demons as in the Puranic period. Neither the deities worshipped according to the Puranas nor the Puranic stories thereof find mention in the Vedas at all. The ideas of Vedic truths are all practical and expressed in symbolic language. Indra and Agni are said to have killed enemies called Dasyus in Maadhyandina-Savana. If Devas and Vrittra are symbolic as we learn from Rigveda, Rigveda Samhita and Yajurveda, why then the word Dasyus appearing in the same texts, meaning enemy, should be interpreted as Dravidians who are killed by Indra and Agni (identified with Aryans) which promotes the theory of racism and Aryan-Dravidian conflict? We cannot thrust inconsistent Puranic ideas in the interpretation of the symbolic Vedic words such as Vrittra as an Asura and Soma as plant, and base them for fixing the history of ancient India.
Hitherto most historians of ancient India have written history as if the South did not exist before the arrival of the so called Aryans. Almost all the Indian historians have also towed the line of Western historians for long, for lack of adequate archeological support in the past. Tradition as recorded in the ancient Tamil literature indicates that from very early times, before the establishment of the Indus Valley Civilization, wealthy cities existed in the South and many of the refinements and luxuries of life were in common use. They had mirrors, combs, many kinds of beauty aids and even lipsticks. Historians think the literature concerned with this earlier culture, which is called Dravidian Culture, is too fragmentary, defective and contradictory. The later culture based on the migrants who settled in the Ganges basin came to be called Vedic culture or Aryan Culture.
Ancient History of India, as recorded by Western Historians, reveals that Aryan tribes who occupied the land between Yamuna and Ganges set up small kingdoms. Aryans were divided into a number of tribes. Each tribe set up its own government. The head of the government was usually a "Raajan" or king. King held positions in a hereditary manner. They wielded wide powers. But their powers were also limited: In the first place by many customs that had developed and embraced; in the second place they listened to their elders of the tribe. Sometimes the kings were elected by the elders. It is of interest to note that some tribes did not have kings at all. This is also revealed by Bhishma in his narration to Yudhishtira in Mahabharata lying on the bed of arrows. On the other hand they had set up small "Republics". That is to say, they were not ruled by one hereditary king but by a group of their leaders.
The Ganges Basin settlers, when they first came in contact with the people that lived there earlier to them, found them as very highly civilized people. They absorbed them into their Vedic Society accepting many of their religious customs, regulations, skills and habits. The worship of Shiva, Pasupati, Ganesha, Skanda, Hanuman and the worship of Goddess were all adopted by the settlers from the then prevailing customs and beliefs.
Indian History taught in schools today says: "More than five thousand years ago the Dravidians built a big kingdom in the Indus Valley as revealed by the Harappa-Mohenjo-Daro excavations. In this kingdom there were many towns and forts, double storied houses, underground drainage system, public baths etc. Aryans destroyed their great cities as the Dravidians grew weak and lazy, put an end to the then existed greatest civilization. Dravidians used stone tools, knew the use of metals, and built villages, towns and forests, long before Aryans. They knew the art of writing. Dravidian merchants carried on trade with many foreign countries. They were all over India before the Aryans started their Ganges basin civilization. The people of Neolithic age who existed earlier to them got mixed up with them losing their identity. Today we have no traces of Neolithic people except in some tribes of Santhals and Kols. Dravidians built towns and cities, lived in peace, cultivating their lands, sailing in boats and trading with the countries of West Asia".
It is rather unfortunate that nobody in recent times has dared to revise the Indian History taught in schools based on foreign invasion and racist theories even after the archeological findings of Harappa Mohenjo-Daro, due to conflicting interests. These new archeological evidences show that the so called Vedic culture centered not on the Indus but on the banks of the river Saraswati of Vedic fame and quoted repeatedly in the Vedas. The culture should be therefore called Saraswati Valley Culture. This is the one and only Hindu culture that underwent changes with the influx of times. Its language was also related to Sanskrit. The ancient Saraswati River dried up around 1900 B.C. Hence history must pre-date the Vedic period based on the Vedic Texts which speak so eloquently on this river. The racial types found in the so called Indus Valley Civilization are the same as those now found generally in India and there is no evidence of any significant intrusive population coming into India in the Indus or Post-Indus Era. The primary races are three namely, Caucasian, Mongolian or the Negroid. Both the Aryan and Dravidian races talked about by historians are related branches of the Caucasian race generally placed in the sub-branch. The color differences are due to climatic conditions where they live, like those who live nearer to the sea coasts are generally dark. Caucasians can be of any color from pure white to almost black, black haired, brown eyed, dark skinned Mediterranean type. The predominant Caucasian type found in the world is not the blond-blue-eyes northern Europe type but the black hair, brown eyed darker skinned Mediterranean type that we find from the southern Europe to north India. Mongolian Race is also not yellow as some people think. Many Chinese are as white as any so called White race. Caucasians are not White race for there is no such race as White race. It is wrong to define a race or caste by color.
Based on the history taught in schools dividing Aryans and Dravidians as two distinct races, modern Indian politicians have conveniently used this division to promote their own ambitions, though it is harmful to the country, and have not allowed the revision of Indian History taught in schools to date back to 5000 B.C. and beyond with the established archeological evidences. Dravidians predate Aryans by 30000 years and are related to Australoids/Australian Aborigines as per PBS. The wrong concept that North Indians are Aryans and South Indians are Dravidians is strongly promoted based on the writings of Western Historians of the 19th century, and many modern Indian Historians who have all had Western system of education, the only taught in schools in the country. During the troubled period of India, it is the South Indians that preserved the Vedic culture against the onslaught of invaders, and the spiritual teachings promoted by Vedic culture are more vigorously followed in the South than in the North. Swami Vivekananda says: "In the beginning, in Satya Yuga, there were only Brahmins as everyone studied Vedas and belonged to the one and only educated group. Then practicing different occupations they went on dividing themselves as castes". They were addressed by a respectable term "Arya" similar to the "Sir" in English language used for the Lords. In the holy Vedas good people were called Aryas. German scholars distorted the word Arya to Aryan. Max Muller and some other 19th century scholars had stated that Aryan is not a racial term but their views on this were largely ignored to promote the racist theory. Some people conveniently interpret this as "Aryan religion is a Brahmin religion" to promote class hatred and division.
The Vedas speak of a battle between light and darkness. Shiva is not prominent in the Rigveda, the oldest Vedic text where deities Indra, Agni and Soma are more prevalent than Rudra (the Vedic form of Shiva). However Rudra-Shiva is dominant in the Yajur and Atharva Vedas, as well as their Braahmanas, which are also old Vedic texts. Vedic gods like Indra and Agni are often identified with Rudra and have many similar characteristics. For example Indra is depicted as the dancer, the destroyer of cities and the Lord of power. Some Vedic texts, like the Aitreya Brahmana or Manu Samhita, have looked at the Dravidians (Dasa or Dasyus) as some people outside of the Vedic culture. Dasyu means enemy. Those who were antagonistic to Vedic Dharma were considered as enemies to the Society though they belonged to the same race as those who faithfully followed Vedic Dharma. They did not look at them as indigenous or different racial people but as fallen decedents of Vedic Kings notably Viswamitra, even though such people were of Indo European language group like the Vedic people. The same texts look upon some people of north India, including some groups of Bengal as also outside Vedic culture, even though such people belonged to the Indo-European language group.
This is similar to what happened to Hindu society later. Those who opposed the then established spiritual practices, customs and habits were thrown out of the main stream of the society and were called "Pariahs" and foreigners who opposed Sanatana Dharma were called "Mlecchas". Western Society also calls those who do not believe in Christianity as "Heathens". Such opposition to Vedic religion existed even in the Vedic period side by side as evidenced by Charvaka Philosophy and Buddhism which is silent on God like the Sankhya philosophy. Sankara tackled the situation with all dexterity and saved Sanatana dharma by promoting his famous Advaita philosophy.
British rulers promoted religious, ethnic and cultural divisions among their colonies to keep them under control. They therefore designed the Indian History hiring historians who could interpret Vedic texts to suit the policies of the British rulers. This resulted in one idea that India is a land of two races before the foreign invasion—the lighter skinned Aryans and dark skinned Dravidians. Later Vedic culture of Ganges Basin absorbed people belonging to others races when they decided to settle down in India under the discipline of Vedic society. They also promoted the idea that Dravidians were the original inhabitants of India whom the invading Aryans conquered and dominated. From this came the additional idea that much of what we call Hindu culture was in fact was Dravidian and later borrowed by Aryans, who, however, never gave the Dravidians proper credit for it. This idea has been vigorously used to turn the people of South India against the people of the North India, as if Southerners were of different race. This went further--even among South Indians, Brahmins were considered as people belonging to Aryan Race and so a different group that exploited the Dravidians.


Vedas proclaim "Vasudeiva Kutumbakam" meaning the whole world is one family. Vedic prayers invariably conclude with the statements: "sarvejanaah sukhinoe bhavantu"—may all people live happily; "Om viswaani deva savitur duritaani paraasuva| yad bhadram tanna aa suva"—O Lord Creator of the Universe and dispenser of true happiness! remove all our miseries, vices and sorrows and give whatever is good; " Om sarveshu swasti bhavatu| sarveshu shaanti bhavatu| sarveshaam poornam bhavatu| sarveshaam mangalam bhavatu||-- May all round well being prevail on all; may peace prevail on all; may contentment prevail on all; May auspiciousness prevail on all. Vedic prayers even seek divine help in preservation of world order, environmental protection and safeguard against natural calamities. These prayers show how concerned was the Vedic Society about all things in life even though its main focus had been on individual spiritual evolution and liberation through tapas (penance), Yajna (sacrifice), Yoga and meditation. As a consequence they provided elaborate guidelines for a sound system of State Administration, Economics and Justice for bringing good things to everybody's life. A series of Neetisaastras (science of ethics) were continuously evolved as supplementary to the scriptures pioneered by none other than Brahma himself. The wholesome economic policies of the State as well as the industriousness of the people had their basis in the philosophy of four Purushaarthas (ends or goals of human life) oft quoted in the Vedas, Upanishads and the great epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata including the Bhagavadgita.
The fear of death which equally worried Vedic Rishis like the normal human beings, as expressed in the famous mantra "asatoe maa sadgamaya| tamasoe maa jyotirgamaya | mrityormaa amritam gamaya"—Lead me from the Unreal to the Real; Lead from darkness to Light: lead me from Death to Immortality", made them to think of a sound mind in a sound body which ultimately depended on a sound State and Economy.
In all pursuits of security and pleasure one has to choose the means and therefore Dharma is given the first place in the four Purushaarthas (goals of human life)--Dharma (ethics, righteousness), Artha (security, wealth), Kaama (pleasure) and Moksha (liberation). These are not totally programmed in human beings as in the case of living organisms and man has the option to choose these pursuits as he wishes for his security and well being. Moksha or Liberation is given the last place. Artha (material well being) and Kaama (pleasure) regulated by Dharma (ethics) makes a person fully mature and complete with which he can aspire for liberation through the process of spiritual evolution.
The word Dharma in Sanskrit is derived from its root "dhri" meaning to hold. Dharma stands for that which holds up the existence of a thing. Everything in the universe has its dharma, because it must rely on something for existence. Man has an essential nature what upholds his existence as something distinct from rest of creation. And this must be dharma of man, that is, Maanava Dharma. The word Dharma has no equivalent in English language. It is therefore translated in many ways suiting the context. In all religious texts it is generally translated as righteousness. Dharma may be defined as the eternal law governing, upholding, and supporting the creation and the world order. It is the eternal relationship between the creator and the creatures. It also means a way of life, duty, righteousness, ideal conduct, virtue, nature, quality, moral principles, religion, and spiritual truth.
"Earlier there was not even a king or a kingdom and not even the word king existed. Everything worked on Dharma" says Bhishma in his narration to Yudhishtira lying on the bed of arrows. "But soon lust took over. Desire grew. People started disobeying elders. They did not like to study Vedas. They stopped performing Yajnas". This worried devas (gods) and rishis. They sought the advice and help the creator. Brahma came out with his Neetisaastra, the forerunner of all Neetisaastras. "Trai chaanvikshikee chaiva Bharatarshabha | Dandaneetischa vipulaa vidyaastatranirdesitah||--(Mahabharata, Shaantiparva, 59:33). "Dharmaschaarthaascha kaamaascha moekshhascha atra anuvarnita" (Mahabharata, Shaantiparva59:72)--"The new scripture is called Neetisaastra. It includes the directive regarding Vedatrai (three Vedas) and has Jnaanakaanda, Karmakaanda, agriculture and commerce and the rules of laws of punishment. It includes the four percepts, Dharma, Artha, Kaama and Moksha". The work originally consisted of one hundred thousand chapters dealing with Dharma, and Kaama. Seeing the lifespan of human beings reduced considerably in each succeeding Yuga, Shiva reduced the work to ten thousand chapters called "Vaisaalaaksha saastra". Indra further condensed the work to five thousand chapters known as "Baahudaantaka". Later Brihaspati abridged the work to three thousand chapters known as "Braahaspatya Saastra". Finally Usaasana reduced the work to one thousand chapters called "Ausaasana Saastra".
None of the above mentioned books are now available, but all of them are quoted in the Mahabharata and other Puranas. Some of their teachings have been incorporated in Mahabharata, as Viduraneeti and Bhishma-Yudhishtira samvaada (dialogue). Most of the slokas (verses) were rewritten by Sukracharya and Vidura. They are known as Sukraneeti and Viduraneeti.
Sukraneeti, which is now available, is divided into the following: 1) Raajyakriti Adhikaara (Ruling authority) 2) Yuvaraaja Lakshana (Qualifications for a prince 3) Nripa-Raashtra Lakshana (Ruler-state relationship 4) Suhrida Nirupana (Welfare measures) 5) Kosha Nirupana(creation of treasury) 6) Vidyaa and Kalaa nirupana (Education and arts infra-structure) 7) Lokadharma Nirupana (Public laws) 8) Raajadharma Nirupana (Rulers's duties) 9) Durga Nirupana (Creation of forts for protection) 10) Senaa Nirupana (building up of the army).
The discipline that deals with sound and healthy administration is called Arthasaastra (state-craft). Artha not only means material well being of an individual but also collectively means acquiring territory and protecting it through administration. It also means economic infra-structure wherein an individual has the right and opportunity to earn and protect his or her wealth. It also includes Dandaneeti, rules of justice and penal code and Raajaneeti, kingly duties and conduct besides structure of political administration. Both Ramayana and Mahabharata, which includes Vidurneeti, speak about Raajaneeti (duties of a king) as conveyed to Bharata by Rama, Bhishma to Yudhishtira and Vidura to Dhritarashtra. Manu and Yajnavalkya Smritis also deal with the same subject matter under the topic of Kshatriya Dharma.
The authoritative well defined work on Arthasaastra is attributed to Chanakya who is also known as Kautilya and Vishnugupta. He is the mentor of Chandragupta Maurya whose time is traced back to 4th century B.C. by scholars. The Science of Ethics (Neetisaastra) by Chanakya has important significance in the Vedic Society and Hindu way of life. He evolved politics with rare distinction, clarity and judiciousness. In diplomacy, formation of policies, and rules by most of the governments of the world to-day, we can see the reflections of his ancient Sutras. He is the most popular and most widely read person among the ancient Indian political science writers.
The Arthasaastra as is available to-day contains fifteen chapters, covering the following subjects:
  1. Education and training of a prince to rule a kingdom
  2. Duties of various officers of State or Civil Administration.
  3. Civil, Criminal and Personal Law
  4. Duties of a minister
  5. Acquiring high rank in the State
  6. Seven constituents of an ideal State—King, Chief Minister, Land, Fortified Capital, Treasury, Army and Ally
  7. Six-fold diplomacy in dealing with other kingdoms
  8. Routines of a king and his possible improprieties
  9. Preparation and precautions to be taken for a war
  10. Description of war
  11. Politics towards oligarchies (Government by the few)
  12. Means of support for a weak king against a powerful one, when the former is threatened by the latter
  13. Capturing a fort
  14. Using occult techniques to eliminate enemies
  15. Methods of handling a subject matter
Ancient scholars and sages had the divine guidance of Lord Krishna in their task of establishing social order as assured by Him in the Bhagavadgita: "yadaa yadaa hi dharmasya glaanir-bhavati……..dharmasamsthaapanaarthaaya sambhavaami yuge yuge"—Whenever dharma declines, I will reincarnate time and again eon after eon. Since the Vedic Society was founded on system of Varna Dharma, protecting these dharmas was the foremost duty of the rulers. Chanakyas's Arthasaastra deals with the administrative measures at length for an ideal State as reflected in his works. It describes primary source of State income collected from taxes from agriculture, cattle tending, trade, mining and manufacturing industries. The priest (Purohita), minister (Mantri), commander-in-chief (Senaapati) and crown prince (Yuvaraja) held the foremost ranks in the order. Purohita was of prime importance next to the king. He advised king on all matters including battle. Later Purohit's function became more defined within religious sphere and the minister took over the secular task of the State. The chief of palace attendants and the chief of king's body-guards were considered next in the hierarchy. Among the administrative officers "Samaahartas" who dealt with State annual budget and general administration and "Samidhaatas" who handled all State revenues were considered next in importance. Scholarly Kings actively participated in discussions and even forced Brahmin scholars to acknowledge their superiority in spiritual matters, but remarkably they turned to them for instructions respecting them as Gurus.
Naagarikas looked after city administration, Sthaanikas (divisional officers) and Gopas (junior officers) looked after countryside administration. Their function was to provide records, collect revenues from cattle wealth, produce and income of the subjects. They were also in-charge of city administration and responsible for its hygiene and so on. Pradeshtaas, appointed at the head quarters of Gopas and Sthaanikas took care of crime and maintaining order. Antapaalas guarded the entry of men and goods into the country. There were also secret service to check the loyalty of the subjects and State affairs to keep check on misappropriation of the State Treasury and so on. There was also good spying system to secretly find out facts about the enemy as seen in Ramayana (Ravana sends his spies to Rama's camp under disguise to find out the strength of Rama's army.)
The king looked after the affairs of his subjects with good counseling. Dharmasthas, judges were also appointed at the frontiers, the fortified city and headquarters of groups of villages. Matters concerning temples, hermitages and learned Brahmins assumed greater importance. Affairs of minors, elderly and sick, land disputes, scuffles, perjury and crime were other areas which were taken care of by the administration of justice.
The State defense was based on fort and the army. Since the fort was a sort of shelter for the king and the subjects, it was always equipped with plenty of supplies and a select escape route was provided for use at the time of crisis. Kautilya's Arthasaastra dwells on relationship with other kingdoms at length employing the techniques of Saama (appeasement), Daana (gift in the form of land or girl in marriage), Bheda (weakening of the country's strength causing dissension) and Danda (punishing the enemy through attack and war).
Arthasaastra analyzed and prescribed details of administrative laws on justice and external affairs for preservation of Vedic Social Structure. Its views about corruption in State servants, its recommendation regarding secret service, analysis of crime and justice are topics of importance for all times and they never become obsolete.
In Vedic culture the entire State or the Society was more important than the individual. Hence, the individual good was even sacrificed sometimes for the benefit of the society in framing the administrative rules. Economic policies had to operate within the principles of Dharma, though it might not always be possible to follow all of them in totality.
It was obligatory on the part of the State to:
  1. Treat the subjects as its children and devise welfare schemes for them including health care.
  2. Help them in periods of crisis like war and natural calamities like famine, floods, earthquake, fire etc.
  3. Moderate the prices of commodities so that people are not exploited.
  4. Control the quality of goods.
  5. Help trade and commerce by providing means of transport, communication, security, tax concessions in foreign trade and so on.
  6. Protect agriculture in all aspects.
  7. Create job opportunities for the people.
The scheme thus implemented all aspects of the so called modern Welfare State.


Planning a properly managed budget was very important task of administration. The king personally supervised the revenue from various sources and its proper allocation. Daily checking of accounts was in vogue. Land revenue seemed to be the major source of income. Generally one sixth of the produce was collected in kind. Excellent irrigation system existed even as early as 325 B.C.--that is during Chandragupta Maurya'a s rule. Irrigation duty was therefore enforced as a means of revenue.
Income from trade, commerce, industry and mines helped the treasury. The rate of taxation was around one-tenth. Sometimes mines and industries were run by the state. Defense industries were directly controlled by State. Forest wealth was tapped by the State. Special cesses (duty) were also collected during emergencies like war or victory expeditions. Thus the concept of public sector undertakings was known to the Vedic Society. Though the State objective was to raise enough income, means and methods employed were fair and just. The level of taxation had to be bearable and not hurt the people too much.
Major part of the income was often appropriated to defense, sometimes as high as 50%, which included internal law and order. Ambitions of the rulers for conquests and unsettled conditions in the country due to frequent foreign invasions prompted them for such a high defense budget. Lot of money was spent in training, building of the four limbs of the armed forces (Ratha, gaja, turaga and padaati), the defense stores, secret services and armory, so on. A reserve fund for emergencies and privy-purse to the king for his expenses were also planned.
The other items of expenditure included general administration, department of justice, roads and bridges as also navigation, grants to local and self governments, religious and cultural institutions and programs, hospitals, maintenance of orphans and other helpless persons, similar to modern welfare State Programs. Banking and money lending was also well organized and the interest rate was as high as 15% or even more.
Both internal and external (foreign) trades were very flourishing even in the pre-Christian era. Several ports were built due to thriving trade by sea. Vijayanagara Empire itself had around 300 ports. Foreign trade was encouraged by lucrative tax concessions and other facilities. The passport visa system existed. Foreigners coming for trade were given sufficient protection.
There were trade guilds and trade organizations of several types: Sreni, Mahaanadu, Manimangala, Sangha, Pooga and Gana. They had their own constitution to control their professions in all aspects. They had their own independent existence. The rulers did not interfere in their working.
Arts and crafts flourished under the royal patronage and liberal State policies. Some of them are: weaving, laundry, black-smithy, tailoring, oil extraction, mat making, leather industry, pottery, carpentry, sculpting and so on. These crafts were generally assigned to and exclusively undertaken by the castes known for them, mostly family oriented. In bigger towns and cities there were separate streets or localities for each craft and products. Finished goods were examined by experts for quality and certifying seals were put on them for quality assurance. As and when necessary prices were also controlled. Appropriate rules and regulations regulated partnerships and the relations between capitalists and the work force.
Coins of metals existed even before 600 B.C. of gold, silver, copper and bronze side by side with barter system. Coins were known by different names—Hiranyapinda, Nishka, Suvarna, Satamaana, Paada, Puraana, Kaarsaapana and Pana. They were of various shapes—square, rectangular, circular. Certain signs and symbols were embossed on these coins, some of which resembled the Harappa-Mohenjo-Daro seals. Value tables of these coins can be found in literatures like the Lilavati of Bhaskara, 12th century. Units of measurements of length like angula, hasta, or yojana, of weights like gunja, pala and drona and of time like Nimisha, kshana or ghatika had also been developed. It is interesting to note that the scale shown by the sculpture of the image of Gomateshwara at Sravanabelgola is almost of the same as the French meter.
Vedic society thus had developed a well established and sound economic policy, well organized trade guilds, a good coinage system, sensible taxation laws building up reserve for emergencies, health care system both public and private, advanced scientific research in various fields including medicine, educational system etc., long before the dawn of many other civilizations that should instill right pride in the mind and heart of every Indian.


The art of healthcare in India can be traced back to nearly 3500 years. Sages and Kings took keen interest in developing sound system of healthcare and its administration. It was obligatory on the part of the State to provide health care. Ayurveda and Siddha systems of medicines and surgery were developed to a level baffling even the modern sciences. Ashoka had established hospitals not only for human beings but also for animals. He was the first to establish hundreds of well equipped veterinary hospitals managed by Saalihotriyas paid by the state. They were first ever hospitals for animals world over. Many schools for the healing arts were created. He attempted to give healthcare to all his citizens. India was the first country to give its citizens National Health Care. Nalanda University had well equipped veterinary hospitals besides general hospitals for human beings in its campus with experts in various fields. Veterinary hospitals treated all domesticated animals like cows, horses and elephants. There were experts well versed in Gavaayurveda, Hasti-ayurveda and Aswaayurveda.
It is interesting to note that a very strict code of conduct has been laid down for the medical doctors in the medical works, controlled by the administration—a) Doctors were obliged to treat patients to the best of their ability since patients trusted them for their lives. b) Doctor should refuse to treat morally deprived persons since they are scourge to the society. c) Doctors should not take up terminal cases where he is sure that death is imminent, as also refuse to treat persons suffering from incurable diseases. d) Once the doctor agrees to treat the patient he should provide him with proper medical and nursing facilities and also treat him kindly. e) Doctor should never attend to a woman patient in the absence of her husband or guardian. f) All professional information should be kept strictly confidential.
Private practicing by physicians was in vogue for providing healthcare at reasonable cost besides public run hospitals. Even Alexander preferred to employ the Hindu physicians to look after his army men. The Hindu physicians were greater experts than their contemporary Greek physicians.


Sabhas, consisting of good people, who were experts in the observance of Satya (truth) and Dharma (righteousness), are the judicial assemblies that existed even from the Vedic period. Four types of courts are described in ancient works: Pratishthitaa (one established in a place); Apraishthitaa (a mobile court); Mudritaa (a court of a judge appointed by the king who is authorized to use the royal seal) and Saasritaa (the court in which the king himself presided).
Arthasaastra of Kautilya is the oldest among the best organized works on secular code of law. It refers to more than 12 authors of the earlier period right from the Vedas up to Smritis, Dharmasaastras as well as various Nibhands (digests).
Vedic Society ruled that even the prince is equal to private citizen before law, because Dharma is considered supreme and invaluable. Unlike the West, Dharmasaastras ordained that the land did not belong to the king as he was only its trustee. However he could have a private property built up from the funds allotted to him in the management of the State. Judiciary was therefore independent of the executive branch. Generally Brahmins of learning and character were selected as judges though members of other castes also could be appointed if qualified. The qualifications prescribed were: self-control; reputation of the family for Satya (truth) and Dharma; impartiality; absence of excitement; steadfastness; and strength in

performance of duties.

The court generally comprised of a presiding judge and an odd number of juries (3, 5 or 7). Persons well versed in law were often invited to attend the Sabhaa (meeting) and were expected to speak when called upon to do so. There was however no public participation.
Though the king might be present he would not decide the cases directly. His council would include a Chief justice. He would of course see that the sentence, once pronounced, is carried out faithfully.
Full records of the proceedings were kept. Justice was administered openly. Earlier judgment were given due consideration before a new one was delivered.
The Praadvivaaka, Chief Justice and Dharmaadhikarana, Minister of Justice formed the core of judicial system and judicial administration. The Chief Justice presided over the Supreme Court situated in the Capital. The Minister of Justice prescribed the law and the procedure after consulting the jury.
All matters connected with the case Direct (pratyaksha), Inference (anumaana), and Analogy (upamaana) were gathered and thoroughly examined before deciding a case. Justice was meted out at different levels with a provision to appeal to the next higher authority:
  1. The Kula courts—they consisted of kinsmen only and were confined to personal and family laws and customs.
  2. The Sreni courts—representatives of traders and artisans belonging to different tribes practicing the same profession.
  3. The Pooga courts—assemblage of townsmen or meetings of persons belonging to various tribes and professions, but inhabiting the same place.
The decision of the Kula courts could be revised by the Sreni courts and the Sreni courts by the Pooga courts. The court of Praadvivaaka was the next higher authority, the Court of the Monarch or the Soverign being the highest. There were also Gana Courts, courts administering the laws of the Hindu Republics which have been praised highly by Greek writers on India. The laws framed by the courts were called Samaya (decision taken together in the assembly).
Vedic Society had established very elaborate judicial procedures to mete out justice. Civil action was started on receipt of the complaint received and alleged by Lekhaka, well versed in legal terms putting questions if necessary. The summons then issued were strictly enforced by legal sanctions called "Aasedha". Till the dispute was settled defendant was not allowed to go out of his place or house (Sthaana), undertake any journey (Pravaasa), and was obligated to present himself at the court on the day and time specified and was also obliged not to do certain actions connected with the dispute.
The plaintiff was required to repeat the Charges and the Lekhaka take down the charges. Any discrepancy between the earlier and later version could end up in dismissal of the case. Pleading had to be precise, comprehensive, univocal supported by proof. Defense answers should be unhesitating, clear and consistent and to the point in any one of the forms of confession, denial, special exception and pleas of an earlier judgment.
The judicial proceedings were in four stages normally: the plaint, the reply, the trial and the deliberation followed by the decree.
The plaintiff had the right to begin arguments, giving enough evidence in support of his case. Counter claims by the defendant were not entertained until the case was disposed off.
Generally three types of evidences were recognized—documentary, witness and conduct. Persons coming from respectable families, deeply religious by temperament, devoted to truth, and straight-forward were considered as reliable witnesses. Witness was not considered reliable if actions such as shifting the positions, licking the corner of one's lips, sweating on the fore-head and change of color in the countenance, faltering speech and contradicting statements were observed.
A typical judgment was expected to contain: a) summary of proceedings; b) evidence of all the concerned parties; c) the law applicable in the case, and d) the judgment with the royal seal.
Equality of law before the law of the land was not only stressed but vigorously followed. Even the king was not exempted. In fact, for the same offence, persons with higher social status were given severe punishment. The principle was greater the position and authority, greater were the responsibilities and the standard of behavior expected. Punishment meted out was of various kinds and types: public censure and rebuke; fines and confiscation of property; banishment; corporeal punishment including branding or severing limbs or even death. The primary object of punishment was always the protection of law abiding people. If the evil-doers were kept under check by the fear of punishment, the chances of social security and order would be much more.
Many provisions of the Hindu Judicial System right from Vedas up to Smriti, and Dharmasaastras, and various digests (Nibhands) are found equally in the modern judicial systems. Kautilya's Arthasaastra is the oldest among the best organized works on secular code of law and throws lot of light on jury's prudence of Hindus.


Democratic political system was in operation even in ancient and medieval India. In Vedic age kings were actually social leaders elected by the people. The office of the king as a hereditary institution was a later development. Whenever the system got threatened or disturbed the elders restored the order as it happened in Raghu and Kuru dynasties. Various public institutions as the Graama-panchaayats, Sabhaass and Samithis, Parishads and Mahaanaadus practiced democracy fairly extensively. Detailed instructions for elections to such institutions are found in some of works of stone edicts. The central government never interfered in the local affairs. The local customs and traditions were honored. The system of census of not only people but also domesticated animals existed. This was needed for proper collection of taxes. All efforts were made to maintain peace in the society since it was conducive to the development of culture and protecting Varna Dharma. Temples and places of worship were looked upon with respect and jealously guarded. Learned Brahmins were highly honored, protected and their advice was sought after whenever guidance was needed in the implementation of Neetisaaatras (Ethical codes). Political, administrative, judicial and healthcare systems in India were far superior compared to others in the civilized world then.
Lack of internal unity among the various kings to meet the external aggression was the main cause of Hindus' political downfall. The mercenary attitude of the hired soldiers who were only logical to the rulers, were not conducive to their people and their country. Application of the principles of general ethical rules (Saamaanya Dharma) instead of those of emergency measures (Aapaddharma) against the wily and barbaric invaders who had nothing but disdain for values of life, proved to be a disaster. The response should have been very severe retaliation as Lord Krishna had taught in the Karnaparva 90.1 to 14, of Mahabharata, paying in their own coin. Criminal neglect of the masses especially by the ruthless application of the caste distinctions and barriers that led to their poverty and alienation automatically loosened the social bonds and cohesion striking at the very base of the principles of Vedic Society founded on sound principles and later developed up to the medieval times and practiced by kingdoms of Ashoka, Vijayanagara (founded by Vidyaranya) and Manuuneethi Chola etc. The three great Acharyas, several Gurus as well as leaders like Vivekannanda and Mahatma Gandhi tried to retrieve the situation but it was short lived. Some of the Hindus are leaving the country in search of greener pastures seeking Artha and Kaama to the utter neglect of Dharma, but are caught in the whirlpool of troubles and are unhappy. Even the United Nations established some time back following the noble goals set by the Vedic wisdom, "Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam" has not proved effective to restore order, peace and happiness in the World, because their constituents have focused their attention on Artha and Kaama only, to the exclusion of Dharma.
"So long as people forget the past, the Hindu Nation remains in a state of stupor, and as soon as they begin to look into the past (of the glorious Vedic heritage), there is on every side a fresh manifestation of life. It is out of their past the future has to be molded, the past will become future. The more, therefore Hindus study the past and practice the more glorious will be there future, and whosoever tries to bring the past to the door of everyone, is a great benefactor of his nation", says Vivekananda. This is true for us too in an adopted nation.
If Artha and Kaama are pursued to the total exclusion of Dharma and Moksha they will surely lead to disaster. The remedy lies in vigorously applying the principle of Dharma where-in self-control is all important. From the panoramic view of the cultural history of India, we learn about the glorious sublime heights to which our forefathers rose, mainly through their single minded and devoted pursuit of knowledge and culture which Upanishads call "Tapas" (Penance). Many things could be achieved if all men work jointly with good will in a quiescent mind like the organs in the body. A sacrifice is a sacred action for admiring the creation and the mysterious work of God in accordance with the laws of nature (Rita). It is the old sacrifices that developed Panchayat system or council of elders in a family, clan and villages, to regulate the petty disputes caused through ignorance ambition, but the judges should be selfless like the one who sacrifices in a sacrifice.

This lecture was prepared by N.R. Srinivasan for the Vedanta Class of Sri Ganesha Temple, Nashville, TN., by suitably extracting, abridging and editing texts from the following:
  1. Swami Harshananda, Introduction to Hindu Culture, Ramakrishna Math, Bangalore, India.
  2. Sunita Ramaswamy & Sundar Ramaswamy, Vedic Heritage Teaching Program, Sri Gangadhara-Eswar Trust, Rishikesh, India.
  3. Ramanand Prasad, Bhagavad Gita, American Gita Society, Fremont, CA, USA.
  4. Shrikant Prasoon, Indian Scriptures, Hindoology Books, Pustak Mahal, Delhi.
  5. Healthcare in Vedic Period, Wikipedia, Internet, Google
  6. Seshiengar, A, India through the Ages, Sri Ramachandra Book Depot, Mysore, India.
  7. Vincent A Smith, Oxford History of India, Oxford University Press, Delhi, India.
  8. David Frawley, The Aryan Dravidian Controversy, 2006
  9. Ramachandra Rao, S.K., Rigveda Darsana, Kalpatharu Research Academy, Bangalore 560004.

Democracy in Ancient India
Posted by The Editor | Feb 19, 2012 | IndiaDivine.Org 
Historians who are interested in democracy often insist it must be understood in context of a unique western tradition of political development beginning with the Greeks. The spread of democratic ideals and practice to other cultures, or their failure to spread, have many times been explained on the assumption that democracy or personal liberty are ideals foreign to the non-Western world — an assumption at least as old as Herodotus. But events since the late 1980s have shown that people both in “Western” and “non-Western” countries have a lively interest in democracy as something relevant to their own situation. The old assumption deserves to be re-examined.
In fact, the supposed differences between “Western” and “non-Western” cultures are in this case, as in so many others, more a matter of ideological faith than of cool, impartial judgment. If we are talking about the history of humanity as a whole, democracy is equally new or equally old everywhere. Fair and effective elections, under adult suffrage and in conditions that allow the free discussion of ideas, are a phenomenon of this century. The history of democracy, properly so called, is just beginning.
The “prehistory” of democracy, however, is scarcely restricted to Europe and Europeanized America and Australasia. A search of world history finds much worth studying. There are no perfect democracies waiting to be discovered, but there is something else: a long history of “government by discussion,” in which groups of people having common interests make decisions that affect their lives through debate, consultation, and voting. The vast majority of such groups, it may be objected, are more properly called oligarchies than democracies. But every democracy has been created by widening what was originally a very narrow franchise. The history of government by discussion, which may be called republicanism for brevity’s sake, has a claim to the interest of anyone who takes democracy seriously.[2]
This article will examine one important case of government by discussion — the republics of Ancient India. Although they are familiar to Indologists, these republics are hardly known to other historians. They deserve, however, a substantial place in world historiography. The experience of Ancient India with republicanism, if better known, would by itself make democracy seem less of a freakish development, and help dispel the common idea that the very concept of democracy is specifically “Western.”
The present article has two goals. First, it will summarize the history of the ancient Indian republics as it is currently known. This survey is restricted to North India and the period before about 400 A.D., when sovereign republics seem to have become extinct.
Second, the article will examine the historiographical evaluations of the Indian republican experience, and suggest that most of them have placed it in too narrow a context. Ancient Indian democratic experiments, it will be argued, are more important than they are usually granted to be. It is well known that the sources of ancient Indian history present considerable difficulties. All the indigenous ancient literature from the subcontinent has been preserved as part of a religious tradition, Brahmanical, Buddhist or Jaina. When the subject is political theory and its implementation, the preselected nature of sources is a distinct handicap to the researcher. The largest and most influential Indian literary tradition, the Brahmanical, is distinctly hostile to anything resembling democracy.
Brahmanical literature gives kingship a central place in political life, and seldom hints that anything else is possible. For moral philosophers and legislators such as Manu (reputed author of the Manu-Smrti between 200 B.C.-A.D. 200), the king was a key figure in a social order based on caste (varna). Caste divided society into functional classes: the Brahmans had magical powers and priestly duties, the Kshatriyas were the rulers and warriors, the Vaisyas cultivators, and the Sudras the lowest part of society, subservient to the other three. Moral law or dharma depended on the observance of these divisions, and the king was the guarantor of dharma, and in particular the privileges of the Brahmans. [3] Another tradition is best exemplified by the Arthasastra of Kautilya (c. 300 B.C.), which allotted the king a more independent role but likewise emphasized his responsibility for peace, justice and stability.[4]
Both Kautilya’s work and the Manu-Smrti are considered classic expressions of ancient Indian political and social theory. A reader of these or other Brahmanical treatises finds it very easy to visualize ancient Indian society as one where “monarchy was the normal form of the state.” [5]
Until the end of the last century, the only indication that this might not always have been the case came from Greek and Roman accounts of India, mostly histories of India during and just after Alexander the Great’s invasion of India in 327-324 B.C. These works spoke of numerous cities and even larger areas being governed as oligarchies and democracies, but they were not always believed by scholars.[6]  Yet research into the Buddhist Pali Canon during the nineteenth century confirmed this picture of widespread republicanism.
The Pali Canon is the earliest version of the Buddhist scriptures, and reached its final form between 400-300 B.C.[7] It contains the story of Buddha’s life and teaching and his rules for monastic communities. The rules and teachings are presented in the form of anecdotes, explaining the circumstances that called forth the Buddha’s authoritative pronouncement. Thus the Pali Canon provides us with many details of life in ancient India, and specifically of the sixth century (the Buddha’s lifetime) in the northeast.
In 1903, T.W. Rhys Davids, the leading Pali scholar, pointed out in his book Buddhist India [8] that the Canon (and the Jatakas, a series of Buddhist legends set in the same period but composed much later) depicted a country in which there were many clans, dominating extensive and populous territories, who made their public decisions in assemblies, moots, or parliaments.
Rhys Davids’ observation was not made in a vacuum. Throughout the nineteenth century, students of local government in India (many of them British bureaucrats) had been fascinated by popular elements in village life. [9] The analysis of village government was part of a continuous debate on the goals and methods of imperial policy, and the future of India as a self-governing country. Rhys-Davids’ book made the ancient institutions of India relevant to this debate. His reconstruction of a republican past for India was taken up by nationalistic Indian scholars of the 1910s.[10] Later generations of Indian scholars have been somewhat embarrassed by the enthusiasm of their elders for early republics and have sought to treat the republics in a more balanced and dispassionate manner.[11] Nevertheless, their work, like that of the pioneering nationalists, has been extremely productive. Not only the classical sources and the Pali Canon, but also Buddhist works in Sanskrit, Panini’s Sanskrit grammar (the Astadhyayi), the Mahabharata, the Jaina Canon, and even Kautilya’s Arthasastra have been combed for evidence and insights. Coins and inscriptions have documented the existence of republics and the workings of popular assemblies.
The work of twentieth century scholars has made possible a much different view of ancient political life in India. It has shown us a landscape with kings a-plenty, a culture where the terminology of rule is in the majority of sources relentlessly monarchical, but where, at the same time, the realities of politics are so complex that simply to call them “monarchical” is a grave distortion. Indeed, in ancient India, monarchical thinking was constantly battling with another vision, of self-rule by members of a guild, a village, or an extended kin-group, in other words, any group of equals with a common set of interests. This vision of cooperative self-government often produced republicanism and even democracy comparable to classical Greek democracy.
Though evidence for non-monarchical government goes back to the Vedas, [12] republican politics were most common and vigorous in the Buddhist period, 600 B.C.-A.D. 200. At this time, India was in the throes of urbanization. The Pali Canon gives a picturesque description of the city of Vesali in the fifth century B.C. as possessing 7,707 storied buildings, 7,707 pinnacled buildings, 7,707 parks and lotus ponds, and a multitude of people, including the famous courtesan Ambapali, whose beauty and artistic achievements contributed mightily to the city’s prosperity and reputation.
The cities of Kapilavatthu and Kusavati were likewise full of traffic and noise. [13] Moving between these cities were great trading caravans of 500 or 1,000 carts — figures that convey no precise measurement, but give a true feeling of scale: caravans that stopped for more than four months in a single place, as they often did because of the rainy season, were described as villages.[14] Religion, too, was taking to the road. The hereditary Brahman who was also a householder, as in later Vedic tradition, saw his teachings, authority and perquisites threatened by wandering holy men and self-appointed teachers.[15]
There were warlord-kings who sought to control this fluid society, some with a measure of success. But the literature, Pali and Sanskrit, Buddhist and Brahmanical, shows that non-monarchical forms of government were omnipresent. There was a complex vocabulary to describe the different types of groups that ran their own affairs.[16] Some of these were obviously warrior bands; [17] others more peaceful groups with economic goals; some religious brotherhoods. Such an organization, of whatever type, could be designated, almost indifferently, as a gana or a sangha; and similar though less important bodies were labeled with the terms sreni, puga, or vrata. Gana and sangha, the most important of these terms, originally meant “multitude.” By the sixth century B.C., these words meant both a self-governing multitude, in which decisions were made by the members working in common, and the style of government characteristic of such groups. In the case of the strongest of such groups, which acted as sovereign governments, the words are best translated as “republic.”
That there were many sovereign republics in India is easily demonstrated from a number of sources. Perhaps it is best to begin with the Greek evidence, even though it is not the earliest, simply because the Greek writers spoke in a political language that is familiar.
Perhaps the most useful Greek account of India is Arrian’s Anabasis of Alexander, which describes the Macedonian conqueror’s campaigns in great detail. The Anabasis, which is derived from the eyewitness accounts of Alexander’s companions, [18] portrays him as meeting “free and independent” Indian communities at every turn. What “free and independent” meant is illustrated from the case of Nysa, a city on the border of modern Afghanistan and Pakistan that was ruled by a president named Aculphis and a council of 300. After surrendering to Alexander, Aculphis used the city’s supposed connection with the god Dionysus to seek lenient terms from the king:
“The Nysaeans beseech thee, O king out of respect for Dionysus, to allow them to remain free and independent; for when Dionysus had subjugated the nation of the Indians…he founded this city from the soldiers who had become unfit for military service …From that time we inhabit Nysa, a free city, and we ourselves are independent, conducting our government with constitutional order.” [19]
Nysa was in Greek terms an oligarchy, as further discussion between Alexander and Aculphis reveals, and a single-city state. There were other Indian states that were both larger in area and wider in franchise. It is clear from Arrian that the Mallian republic consisted of a number of cities.[20] Q. Curtius Rufus and Diodorus Siculus in their histories of Alexander mention a people called the Sabarcae or Sambastai among whom “the form of government was democratic and not regal.” [21] The Sabarcae/Sambastai, like the Mallians, had a large state. Their army consisted of 60,000 foot, 6000 cavalry, and 500 chariots. [22] Thus Indian republics of the late fourth century could be much larger than the contemporaneous Greek polis. And it seems that in the northwestern part of India, republicanism was the norm. Alexander’s historians mention a large number of republics, some named, some not, but only a handful of kings.[23] The prevalence of republicanism and its democratic form is explicitly stated by Diodorus Siculus. After describing the mythical monarchs who succeeded the god Dionysus as rulers of India, he says:
At last, however, after many years had gone, most of the cities adopted the democratic form of government, though some retained the kingly until the invasion of the country by Alexander.[24]
What makes this statement particularly interesting is that it seems to derive from a first-hand description of India by a Greek traveler named Megasthenes. Around 300 B.C., about two decades after Alexander’s invasion, Megasthenes served as ambassador of the Greek king Seleucus Nicator to the Indian emperor Chandragupta Maurya, and in the course of his duties crossed northern India to the eastern city of Patna, where he lived for a while.[25] If this statement is drawn from Megasthenes, then the picture of a northwestern India dominated by republics must be extended to the entire northern half of the subcontinent.[26]
If we turn to the Indian sources, we find that there is nothing far-fetched about this idea. The most useful sources for mapping north India are three: The Pali Canon, which shows us northeastern India between the Himalayas and the Ganges in the sixth and fifth centuries B.C.; the grammar of Panini, which discusses all of North India, with a focus on the northwest, during the fifth century; and Kautilya’s Arthasastra, which is a product of the fourth century, roughly contemporaneous with Megasthenes. All three sources enable us to identify numerous sanghas and ganas, some very minor, others large and powerful.[27]
What were these republican polities like? According to Panini, all the states and regions (janapadas) of Northern India during his time were based on the settlement or conquest of a given area by an identifiable warrior people who still dominated the political life of that area. Some of these peoples (in Panini’s terms janapadins) were subject to a king, who was at least in theory of their own blood and was perhaps dependent on their special support.[28] Elsewhere, the janapadins ran their affairs in a republican manner. Thus in both kinds of state, the government was dominated by people classified as Kshatriyas, or, as later ages would put it, members of the warrior caste.
But in many states, perhaps most, political participation was restricted to a subset of all the Kshatriyas. One needed to be not just a warrior, but a member of a specific royal clan, the Rajanya.[29] Evidence from a number of sources shows that the enfranchised members of many republics, including the Buddha’s own Sakyas and the Licchavis with whom he was very familiar, considered themselves to be of royal descent, even brother-kings. The term raja, which in a monarchy certainly meant king, in a state with gana or sangha constitution could designate someone who held a share in sovereignty. In such places, it seems likely that political power was restricted to the heads of a restricted number of “royal families” (rajakulas) among the ruling clans. The heads of these families were consecrated as kings, and thereafter took part in deliberations of state.
Our Indian republics are beginning to sound extremely undemocratic by our modern standards, with real power concentrated in the hands of a few patriarchs representing the leading lineages of one privileged section of the warrior caste. A reader who has formed this impression is not entirely mistaken. No doubt the rulers of most republics thought of their gana as a closed club — as did the citizens of Athens, who also defined themselves as a hereditarily privileged group. But, as in ancient Athens, there are other factors which modify the picture, and make it an interesting one for students of democracy.
First, the closed nature of the ruling class is easy to exaggerate. Republics where only descendants of certain families held power were common; but there was another type in which power was shared by all Kshatriya families.[31] This may not sound like much of a difference, since the restriction to the warrior caste seems to remain. But this is an anachronistic view of the social conditions of the time. The Varnas of pre-Christian-era India were not the castes of later periods, with their prohibitions on intermarriage and commensality with other groups.[32] Rather, they were the constructs of theorists, much like the division of three orders (priests, warriors and workers) beloved by European writers of the Early Middle Ages.[33] Such a classification was useful for debating purposes, but was not a fact of daily existence. Those republics that threw open the political process to all Kshatriyas were not extending the franchise from one clearly defined group to another, albeit a larger one, but to all those who could claim, and justify the claim, to be capable of ruling and fighting.
Other evidence suggests that in some states the enfranchised group was even wider. Such a development is hinted at in Kautilya: according to him, there were two kinds of Janapadas, Ayudhiya-praya, those made up mostly of soldiers, and Sreni-praya , those comprising guilds of craftsmen, traders, and agriculturalists.[34] The first were political entities where military tradition alone defined those worthy of power, while the second would seem to be communities where wealth derived from peaceful economic activity gave some access to the political process. This interpretation is supported by the fact that Sreni or guilds based on an economic interest were often both part of the armed force of a state and recognized as having jurisdiction over their own members.[35] In the Indian republics, as in the Greek poleis or the European cities of the High Middle Ages, economic expansion enabled new groups to take up arms and eventually demand a share in sovereignty.[36] If it was not granted, one could always form one’s own mini-state.
Panini’s picture of stable, long-established janapadas is certainly the illusion of a systematizing grammarian. As Panini’s most thorough modern student has put it, there was “a craze for constituting new republics” which “had reached its climax in the Vahika country and north-west India where clans constituting of as many as one hundred families only organized themselves as Ganas.”[37] Furthermore, power in some republics was vested in a large number of individuals. In a well-known Jataka tale we are told that in the Licchavi capital of Vesali, there were 7707 kings (rajas), 7707 viceroys, 7707 generals, and 7707 treasurers. [38] These figures, since they come from about half a millennium after the period they describe, have little evidentiary value, despite the ingenious efforts of scholars to find a core of hard fact. The tale does not give us the number of Licchavi ruling families (rajakulas), the size of the Licchavi assembly, or any real clues as to the population of Vesali.[39] Yet the Jataka does retain the memory of an undisputed feature of Indian republicanism: the rulers were many.[40] The same memory can be found in other sources, especially in those critical of republicanism. The Lalitavistara, in an obvious satirical jab, depicts Vesali as being full of Licchavi rajans, each one thinking, “I am king, I am king,” and thus a place where piety, age and rank were ignored.[41] The Santi Parva section of the Mahabharata shows the participation of too many people in the affairs of state as being a great flaw in the republican polity:
The gana leaders should be respected as the worldly affairs (of the ganas) depend to a great extent upon them…the spy (department) and the secrecy of counsel (should be left) to the chiefs, for it is not fit that the entire body of the gana should hear those secret matters. The chiefs of gana should carry out together, in secret, works leading to the prosperity of the gana, otherwise the wealth of the gana decays and it meets with danger.[42]
A Jaina work again criticizes ganas for being disorderly: the monks and nuns who frequent them will find themselves bullied, beaten, robbed, or accused of being spies.[43]
The numerous members of a sovereign gana or sangha interacted with each other as members of an assembly. Details of the working of such assemblies can be found both in Brahmanical and Buddhist literature. By the time of Panini (fifth century B.C.), there was a terminology for the process of corporate decision-making. Panini gives us the terms for vote, decisions reached by voting, and the completion of a quorum. Another cluster of words indicates that the division of assemblies into political parties was well known. Further, Panini and his commentators show that sometimes a smaller select group within a sangha had special functions — acting as an executive, or perhaps as a committees for defined purposes.[44]
The Pali Canon gives a much fuller, if somewhat indirect, depiction of democratic institutions in India, confirming and extending the picture found in Panini. This is found in three of the earliest and most revered parts of the canon, the Maha-parinibbana-suttanta, the Mahavagga, and the Kullavagga.[45] These works, taken together, preserve the Buddha’s instructions for the proper running of the Buddhist monastic brotherhood — the sangha — after his death. They are the best source for voting procedures in a corporate body in the earliest part of the Buddhist period. They also give some insight into the development of democratic ideology.
The rules for conducting the Buddhist sangha were, according to the first chapter of the Maha-parinibbana-suttanta, based in principle on those commonly found in political sanghas or ganas. In the case of the Buddhist sangha, the key organizational virtue was the full participation of all the monks in the ritual and disciplinary acts of their group. To assure that this would be remembered, detailed rules concerning the voting in monastic assemblies, their membership, and their quorums  were set down in the Mahavagga and the Kullavagga.
Business could only be transacted legitimately in a full assembly, by a vote of all the members. If, for example, a candidate wanted the upasampada ordination, the question (├▒atti) was put to the sangha by a learned and competent member, and the other members asked three times to indicate dissent. If there was none, the sangha was taken to be in agreement with the ├▒atti. The decision was finalized by the proclamation of the decision of the sangha.[46]
In many cases, as in the granting of upasampada ordination, unanimity of a full assembly was required.[47] Of course, unanimity was not always possible. The Kullavagga provides other techniques that were used in disputes especially dangerous to the unity of the sangha, those which concerned interpretation of the monastic rule itself. If such a dispute had degenerated into bitter and confused debate, it could be decided by majority vote, or referred to a jury or committee specially elected by the sangha to treat the matter at hand.[48]
It is here that we see a curious combination of well-developed democratic procedure and fear of democracy. The rules for taking votes sanctioned the disallowance by the vote-taker of results that threatened the essential law of the sangha or its unity.[49] Yet, if the voting procedure is less than free, the idea that only a free vote could decide contentious issues is strongly present. No decision could be made until some semblance of agreement had been reached.[50] Such manipulations of voting were introduced because Buddhist elders were very concerned about the survival of the religious enterprise: disunity of the membership was the great fear of all Indian republics and corporations.[51] Yet the idea of a free vote could not be repudiated. The Kullavagga illustrates a conflict within the Buddhist sangha during its earliest centuries between democratic principles and a philosophy that was willing in the name of unity to sacrifice them.
Since the rules of the Buddhist sangha are by far the best known from the period we have been discussing, it is tempting to identify them with the rules of political ganas, particularly those of the Licchavis (or Vajjians), since the Buddha made a clear connection between the principles applicable to the Licchavi polity and those of his sangha.[52] But from early on, scholars have recognized that the Buddhist constitution was not an exact imitation of any other: for instance, sovereign republics had a small, elected executive committee to manage the affairs of the gana when the whole membership of the gana was unable to be assembled.[53] But neither did the Buddha or his earliest followers invent their complex and carefully formulated parliamentary procedures out of whole cloth. R.C. Majumdar’s conclusion, first formulated in 1918, still seems valid: the techniques seen in the Buddhist sangha reflect a sophisticated and widespread political culture based on the popular assembly.[54]
Similarly, the value placed on full participation of members in the affairs of their sangha must reflect the ideology of those who believed in the sangha-gana form of government in the political sphere. The Buddha’s commitment to republicanism (or at least the ideal republican virtues) was a strong one, if we are to believe the Maha-parinibbana-suttanta, among the oldest of Buddhist texts.[55] As is common in the Buddhist scriptures, a precept is illustrated by a story. Here Ajatasastru, the King of Maghada, wishes to destroy the Vajjian confederacy (here = the Licchavis) [56] and sends a minister, Vassakara the Brahman, to the Buddha to ask his advice. Will his attack be a success? Rather than answer directly, the Buddha speaks to Ananda, his closest disciples:
“Have you heard, Ananda, that the Vajjians hold full and frequent public assemblies?”
“Lord, so I have heard,” replied he.
“So long, Ananda,” rejoined the Blessed One, “as the Vajjians hold these full and frequent public assemblies; so long may they be expected not to decline, but to prosper…
In a series of rhetorical questions to Ananda, the Buddha outlines other requirements for Vajjian prosperity:
“So long, Ananda, as the Vajjians meet together in concord, and rise in concord, and carry out their undertakings in concord…so long as they enact nothing not already established, abrogate nothing that has been already enacted, and act in accordance with the ancient institutions of the Vajjians as established in former days…so long as they honor and esteem and revere and support the Vajjian elders, and hold it a point of duty to hearken to their words…so long as no women or girls belonging to their clans are detained among them by force or abduction…so long as they honor and esteem and revere and support the Vajjian shrines in town or country, and allow not the proper offerings and rites, as formerly given and performed, to fall into desuetude…so long as the rightful protection, defense, and support shall be fully provided for the Arahats among them, so that Arahats from a distance may enter the realm, and the Arahats therein may live at ease — so long may the Vajjians be expected not to decline, but to prosper.”
Then the Blessed One addressed Vassakara the Brahman, and said, “When I was once staying, O Brahman, at Vesali at the Sarandada Temple, I taught the Vajjians these conditions of welfare; and so long as those conditions shall continue to exist among the Vajjians, so long as the Vajjians shall be well instructed in those conditions, so long may we expect them not to decline, but to prosper.”
The comment of the king’s ambassador underlines the point of this advice: “So, Gotama, the Vajjians cannot be overcome by the king of Magadha; that is, not in battle, without diplomacy or breaking up their alliance.”
The same story tells us that once the king’s envoy had departed, the Buddha and Ananda went to meet the assembly of monks. Buddha told the monks that they too must observe seven conditions if they were to prosper: Full and frequent assemblies, concord, preserving and not abrogating established institutions, honoring elders, falling “not under the influence of that craving which, springing up within them, would give rise to renewed existence,” delighting in a life of solitude, and training “their minds that good and holy men shall come to them, and those who have come shall dwell at ease.” [57] These precepts, and others that follow in sets of seven, were the main point for the monks who have transmitted the Maha-parinibbana-suttanta to us. We, however, may wish to emphasize another point: the Buddha saw the virtues necessary for a righteous and prosperous community, whether secular or monastic, as being much the same. Foremost among those virtues was the holding of “full and frequent assemblies.” In this, the Buddha spoke not only for himself, and not only out of his personal view of justice and virtue. He based himself on what may be called the democratic tradition in ancient Indian politics — democratic in that it argued for a wide rather than narrow distribution of political rights, and government by discussion rather than by command and submission.[58]
The Pali Canon gives us our earliest, and perhaps our best, detailed look at Indian republicanism, its workings, and its political philosophy. About no other republics do we know as much as we do about the Buddhist sangha and the Licchavis in the time of Buddha — even though we do know that republics survived and were a significant factor until perhaps the fourth century A.D., a period of over 800 years. Scattered inscriptions, a great number of coins, and the occasional notice in Greek sources, the Jatakas or other Indian literature give us a few facts. But any history of Indian republicanism is necessarily a rather schematic one.
The theme that has most attracted the attention of scholars is the constant danger to republicanism, and its ultimate failure. Much of what we know about the sovereign ganas of India derives from stories of attacks upon them by various conquerors. Yet it is remarkable that for several centuries, the conspicuous successes of monarchs, even the greatest, had only a temporary effect on the sovereign republics and very little effect indeed on the corporate organization of guilds, religious bodies, and villages. The reason is, of course, that Indian kings have seldom been as mighty as they wished to be, or wished to be presented. Conquerors were not in a position to restructure society, to create states as we visualize them today. Rather they were usually content to gain the submission of their neighbors, whether they were other kings or republics.[59[ These defeated rivals were often left in control of their own affairs, merely required to pay tribute and provide troops for the conquerors next war. The great emperors of ancient India, including Chandragupta Maurya and Asoka, ran rather precarious realms. Once the center weakened, these unraveled very quickly, and society returned to its preceding complexity. Rival dynasties revived, as did defeated republics.[60]
As Altekar recognized, the mere existence of warlords was not fatal to the republican tradition of politics. Far more important was the slow abandonment of republican ideals by republicans themselves. We have seen that many republics were content even in the earliest days with a very exclusive definition of the political community. In some, ideas of wider participation gained currency and even implementation. But the contrary movement is easier to document. By the third and fourth centuries A.D., states known to be republics in earlier times were subject to hereditary executives. Eventually such republics became monarchies.[61]
An evolution away from republicanism is clearly seen in the literature of politics and religion. If we grant that the society depicted by the Pali Canon is the beginning of a new era, one with an economy and culture quite distinct from the Vedic period, it immediately becomes obvious that the most democratic ideals are the earliest. The Pali Canon, and to some extent the Jaina Canon, show us energetic movements that rejected the hierarchialism and caste ideology seen in the Vedas and brahmanas in favor of more egalitarian values. Buddhism and Jainism were scarcely exceptional: they are merely the most successful of many contemporary religious movements, and left us records. It is clear from Panini that egalitarianism was an important element in the fifth century B.C.: he preserves a special term for the gana where “there was no distinction between high and low.” [62]
Such Brahmanical classics as the Mahabharata, the writings of Kautilya and the Manu-Smrti, works that promoted hierarchy, are manifestations of a later movement (300 B.C.-200 A.D.) away from the degree of egalitarianism that had been achieved. Kautilya, who is traditionally identified with the chief minister of the Mauryan conqueror Chandragupta Maurya (fl. after 300 B.C.), is famous for his advice to monarchs on the best way to tame or destroy ganas through subterfuge; perhaps a more important part of his achievement was to formulate a political science in which royalty was normal, even though his own text shows that ganas were very important factors in the politics of his time.[63] Similarly, the accomplishment of the Manu-Smrti was to formulate a view of society where human equality was non-existent and unthinkable.
Members of ganas were encouraged to fit themselves into a hierarchical, monarchical framework by a number of factors. Kings were not the only enemies of the ganas. The relationships between competing ganas must have been a constant political problem. Ganas that claimed sovereignty over certain territory were always faced by the competing claims of other corporate groups.[64] How were these claims to be sorted out, other than by force? The king had an answer to this question: if he were acknowledged as “the only monarch [i.e. raja, chief executive] of all the corporations,” [65] he would commit himself to preserving the legitimate privileges of each of them, and even protect the lesser members of each gana from abuse of power by their leaders. It was a tempting offer, and since the alternative was constant battle, it was slowly accepted, sometimes freely, sometimes under compulsion. The end result was the acceptance of a social order in which many ganas and sanghas existed, but none were sovereign and none were committed to any general egalitarian view of society. They were committed instead to a hierarchy in which they were promised a secure place.[66] Such a notional hierarchy seems to have been constructed in North India by the fifth century A.D. Even the Buddhist sangha accommodated itself to it — which led eventually to the complete victory of the rival Brahmans.
This was not quite the end of republicanism, because “government by discussion” continued within many ganas and sanghas; but the idea of hierarchy and inequality, of caste, was increasingly dominant. The degree of corporate autonomy in later Indian society, which is considerable and in itself a very important fact, is in this sense a different topic that the one we have been following. A corporation that accepts itself as a subcaste in a great divine hierarchy is different from the more pugnacious ganas and sanghas of the Pali Canon, Kautilya or even the Jataka stories.
What have modern historians made of what we might call the golden age of Indian republicanism? We have already distinguished above between two eras of scholarship on the topic. In the first, patriotic enthusiasm and the simple thrill of discovery of unsuspected material characterized scholars’ reactions. The former attitude was especially seen in K.P. Jayaswal’s Hindu Polity. Published first in article form in 1911-1913, then as a book in 1924, Jayaswal’s work was avowedly aimed to show that his countrymen were worthy of independence from Britain. The history of “Hindu” institutions demonstrated an ancient talent for politics:
The test of a polity is its capacity to live and develop, and its contribution to the culture and happiness of humanity. Hindu polity judged by this test will come out very successfully…The Golden Age of [the Hindu’s] polity lies not in the Past but in the Future… Constitutional or social advancement is not a monopoly of any particular race.[67]
In Jayaswal’s book scholarship was sometimes subordinated to his argument. In his discussion of ancient republics (which was not his only subject), the evidence was pushed at least as far as it would go to portray the republics as inspiring examples of early democracy.[68] A similar, though quieter satisfaction can be seen in the contemporary discussions of R.C. Majumdar and D.R. Bhandarkar.[69]
In the second period of scholarship, in the years since independence, a more restrained attitude has been adopted by younger scholars who feel they have nothing to prove. Among these scholars the general tendency has been to emphasize that the republics were not real republics, in the modern usage that implies a universal adult suffrage. The clan-basis and the exclusiveness of the ruling class are much discussed. Sometimes writers have bent over backwards to divorce the Indian republican experience from the history of democracy: [70] thus A.K. Majumdar’s judgment that because in a gana-rajya “all inhabitants other than the members of the raja-kulas [had] no rights [and] were treated as inferior citizens,” people were actually better off in the monarchies, where “if not the general mass, at least the intellectuals and the commercial community enjoyed freedom in a monarchy, which seems to have been lacking in a gana-rajya.” [71] The contrast drawn here is not backed up by any real argument, and makes one wonder about the how the author defines “freedom.”
The reaction has perhaps gone too far.[72] One feels that modern scholars have still not come to grips with the existence of widespread republicanism in a region so long thought to be the home par excellence of “Oriental Despotism.” [73] Republicanism now has a place in every worthwhile book about ancient India, but it tends to be brushed aside so that one can get back to the main story, which is the development of the surviving Hindu tradition.[74] Historians, in India as elsewhere, seem to feel that anything which could be so thoroughly forgotten must have had grievous flaws to begin with.[75] Most historians still cannot discuss these republics without qualifying using the qualifiers “tribal” or “clan.”[76] Long ago Jayaswal rightly protested against the use of these terms: “The evidence does not warrant our calling [republics] ‘clans.’ Indian republics of the seventh [sic] and sixth centuries B.C…had long passed the tribal stage of society. They were states, Ganas and Samghas, though many of them likely had a national or tribal basis, as every state, ancient or modern, must necessarily have.” [77] He was equally correct when he pointed out that “Every state in ancient Rome and Greece was ‘tribal’ in the last analysis, but no constitutional historian would think of calling the republics of Rome and Greece mere tribal organizations.” [78]
Yet the phrases “clan-” and “tribal-republic” are still routinely used today in the Indian context, and it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that they are being used pejoratively. In both common and scholarly usage, to label a people’s institutions or culture as tribal is to dismiss them from serious consideration. “Tribespeople” are historical dead-ends, and their suppression or absorption by more advanced cultures (usually those ruled by centralizing governments) is taken for granted.[79] The terminology of even Indian historians demonstrates the survival of an ancient but inappropriate prejudice in the general evaluation of Indian republicanism.
Once that prejudice is overcome, Indian republicanism gains a strong claim on the attention of historians, especially those with an interest in comparative or world history.
It is especially remarkable that, during the near-millennium between 500 B.C. and 400 A.D., we find republics almost anywhere in India that our sources allow us to examine society in any detail. Unless those sources, not least our Greek sources, are extremely deceptive, the republics of India were very likely more extensive and populous than the poleis of the Greeks.[80] One cannot help wondering how in many other parts of Eurasia republican and democratic states may have co-existed with the royal dynasties that are a staple of both ancient and modern chronology and conceptualization. This may well be an unanswerable question, but so far no one has even tried to investigate it. If an investigation is made, we may discover things that are as surprising to us as the republics of India originally were.
The existence of Indian republicanism is a discovery of the twentieth century. The implications of this phenomenon have yet to be fully digested, because historians of the past century have been inordinately in love with the virtues of centralized authority and government by experts, and adhered to an evolutionary historicism that has little good to say about either direct or representative democracy. Perhaps the love affair is fading. If so, historians will find, in the Indian past as elsewhere, plenty of raw-material for a new history of the development of human government.