HINDU SOCIAL POLITY
V. Nagarajan D.Litt
ISBN 81-901175- 6-4
C/o Sharada Nagarajan
501, Dipesh Enclave
Phone 022-21717590/ 8080138133
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Laxmi Nagar (West)
2 Social Classes-Vedic Times
3 Social Polity- Vedic Times
4 Tpwards Post-Vaivasvata Constitutions
5 Dharmarajya vis-à-vis Artharajya
6 Neo-Vedic Constitutions 7 Towards the Kautilyan State
8 Kautilya and the Dharmavijayi
9 Kautilya and the Four Bases of Arbitration
10 Kautilya and Rights of Free Citizens
11 State and Social Change
13 State and Confederation
14 Stages in the Evolution of the Hindu State
15 Dharmarajya cum Artharajya
Social Wefare State and Economic State
16 Rajarshi Constitution and Kautilyan Economic State
CONSTITUTION AND FEATURES
When in 1947 India became independent after seven centuries of Muslim despotism followed by three centuries of British colonial rule it opted for liberal democracy. While the subcontinent was being divided into India and Pakistan along communal lines, the members of the Indian constituent assembly opted to stay away from both theocracy and secularism.
The Preamble to the Constitution of India was amended in 1970’s to declare India a sovereign socialist secular democratic republic. This declaration was the result of the notion that secularism was correlated to socialism. Both modern socialism and capitalism uphold materialism and are opposed to religion and spiritualism.
This declaration was expected to please both the then rivals the communist bloc and the non-communist western powers. We have to acknowledge the reality that the main Islamic and Christian clergies and countries under their influence do not want any country to have a state religion other than Islam and Christianity. Some academicians have tried to keep the two concepts, theocratic state and control by an ecclesiastic order separate and as distinct ones. This is but a diversionary step. Both are antithetical to democracy. Hindu State has never been a theocratic state. For Hinduism is not a religion. It has no clergy with coercive power or charter to propagate a particular religion.
Hindu State which gained its format and unwritten constitution, by the end of the long Vedic era was not controlled by an ecclesiastical order nor did it patronize any such order either during the Vedic era or even later. It has always been a secular state but without disrespect for spiritualism or any religion or idolizing materialism.
The pattern of state that became the norm by the end of the long Vedic era and the model emulated by later states in India may be termed as the Hindu State. This expression is not to be used to denote only those states of the Indian subcontinent which did not submit to Muslim rule or even those states that were in existence before the conquest of India by Muslim generals and rulers from abroad.
The analysis of Indian history as Hindu period, Muslim period and British period is too simplistic to be academically sound. It is harmful to distinguish the pre-Muslim period as marked by conflict between Hinduism and Buddhism and the Muslim period by conflict between Hinduism and Islam and the British period by conflict between Hinduism and Christianity.
It is also wrong to posit that there was conflict between Brahmanism and Buddhism while denying the very existence of Hinduism at any stage of history even as it is wrong to posit that there were conflicts between the two races, Aryas and Dravidas. ‘Brahmanism’ is a cliché popularized by the scholars commissioned by colonialists and evangelists for weakening the Hindu population.
Hindu Dharma includes all the socio-cultural orientations and values upheld by the peoples of this country since the most ancient times. It includes the dharmas of the clans and natives communities, kulas and jatis which have survived since the most ancient times and are referred to as Adidharmas, the first set of approved values of life or the ancient set of values, Puratana Dharmas. It includes also the values advocated as Sanatana Dharma since the times of the first Manu, Svayambhuva and the ways and values legislated forever as Sasvata Dharma by the seventh Manu, Vaivasvata. None of these were concerned with deism or polytheism or pantheism. They did not promote the concept of God as the creator or protector or destroyer or as punisher or as an awarder of benefits.
Saivaism, Saktam, Ganapatyam, Kaumaram, Vaishnavaism and Sauryam are followed by sects honouring and worshipping Siva, Sakti, Ganapati, Kumara (Subrahmanya), Vishnu and Surya. Hindu Dharma includes these later sects also, besides Adidharmas, Sanatana Dharma and Sasvata Dharma. It includes also Buddhism and Jainism, Sikhism and other concepts and specific values promoted by highly revered teachers of the post-Vedic and modern periods. None of these sects were concerned with State though some of them had instituted and encouraged their own ecclesiastical orders.
Hindu State is both Dharmarajya and Artharajya, a state that recognizes the importance of both values of life, Dharma and Artha. Dharmarajya is a state that stands for liberalism, social welfare and social justice. It ensures that the weak are not kept under thrall by the mighty. Artharajya which gives primacy to economic determinism and egalitarian economy promises everyone economic security and progress. Both Dharmarajya and Artharajya as outlined by Dharmasastra and Arthasastra do not uphold any particular religious sect or promote the interests of the adherents of a sect to the exclusion of other sects and the interests of their adherents. Neither of these codes visualizes or calls for worship of ‘God’.
During the first half of the 20th century Indian academicians were debating on how far the socio-religious code, Dharmasastra should be defended against the onslaught by Arthasastra presumed to be a materialistic politico-economic code. The latter gave primacy to acquisition of wealth and claimed that Dharma (religion, in common parlance) and Kama (sexual desire) could not be pursued without wealth, Artha. These disputants kept away from dilating on the fourth value of life, Moksha, liberation from the bonds of life and the cycle of births and deaths.
Dharmasastra deals with social relations and cultural values and practices rather than with theology and spiritualism. It also deals in depth with state and government, laws pertaining to economic transactions and the institution of justice. Arthasastra emphasizes that polity is dependent on economy and that political power emanates from economic power. The simplicity and piety that Dharma urges is however not repugnant to those who admire the code of Artha and materialism. Neither code concerns itself with eroticism and hedonism, covered by the third value, Kama.
While a Social Welfare State, which Dharmarajya is, and which Dharmasastra advocates, calls for meeting the minimum needs of every member of the society, the Economic State, Artharajya that is outlined by Arthasastra attends to economic security and economic progress of all sections of the population. Both discount nihilism. Both the codes are concerned mainly with the mundane.
Dharma is not ‘religion’. ‘Religion’ calls for faith in an invisible but omnipotent God who if pleased would grant the prayers of his devotees. Dharmasastras, it needs to be recognised do not call for belief in the existence of such a God and faith in Him. They are codes dealing with social relations, regulation of economic activities and polity and public administration. Their emphases are (though but moderately) different from those of Arthasastra.
Dharmasastras give primacy to regulating social relations and ensuring social, economic and political justice while the Arthasastra claims that these endeavours would succeed only if economic progress is first set in motion. Economic determinism is neither immoral nor amoral. It has been operative everywhere and during all eras.
Manava Dharmasastra and Kautilyan Arthasastra were first composed during the decades immediately posterior to the famous Battle of Kurukshetra (c 3100 BC according to Hindu tradition). Neither is to be presented as post-Buddhist (as post 500 BC).
Bhrgu’s Manusmrti described at length Rajadharma, the structure and functions of the state and its sectors. This description is not based exclusively on the exposition of Bhishma to Yudhishtira on this subject, Rajadharma. Kautilyan Arthasastra dilates on Rajarshi constitution but its approach is different from that of Krshna in Bhagavad-Gita and from those of his predecessors as well as contemporaries.
The early Vedic era witnessed the weak being ruled by the mighty. The strongest among the latter forced the others among this class of rulers to accept him as their superior. They excelled in aggressiveness while the commoners were gentle, intelligent and docile or ignorant, imbecile and inert. Most of these rulers were feudal warlords.
The members of the ruling class who excelled in aggressiveness (rajas) were called rajanyas and their head was called rajan. The rajan had no charismatic legitimacy; he was not a chieftain or leader beloved by the masses or by his peers. He had no traditional legitimacy; he did not inherit his status as a ruler. He did not have rational legitimacy; he was not elected either by his elite peer group or by the masses. In the struggle for power the mightier prevails over the other mighty even as in the struggle for existence the strong prevail over the weak.
When the state proper came into existence after the warlords were convincingly defeated, this ruler had to accept the traditional nobility who owned all the lands and wealth as superior to him. Such rulers who had not totally subordinated the poor working class of commoners had to appeal to the nobles for economic aid to meet their needs. The commoners respected the nobles and had faith in them though they had to obey the rajanyas. The society had three classes, the poor and docile, the cruel and mighty and the liberal, rich and gentle.
The gentle and generous elite after expelling the cruel warlords from the ranks of rulers and from among the rajanyas formed themselves into an administrative body and house of nobles (sabha). The elderly and learned among the commonalty constituted themselves into an advisory body (samiti) functioning under the aegis of the former.
Rajan the chief of the electoral college of rajanyas was recognized as head of the state for purposes of ensuring law and order and protection against the external enemies. But he had no control over the two bodies which functioned as legislature and as the executive and their heads. He was warned that he would lose his position if he did not please (ranjana) the commoners.
The tasks of administration and protection including the task of meting out justice became the duties of these two bodies, sabha and samiti. But they did not have adequate coercive power. They could not control the mighty rajanyas and protect the weak commoners.
There was no system of governance until a group of eight members from among the thirty-three members of the house of nobles was constituted with to use coercive power and control the treasury to which the nobles were the main contributors. The scholars looked after meting out justice and the elders used persuasive powers over the commoners to keep them contented and peaceful.
At the next stage the commoners, especially those who were not very poor, were required to voluntarily contribute one-fourth of their earnings as sacrifice (yajna) to maintain the three non-economic sectors, nobles, sages and elders. The demand that each of these three non-economic sectors was eligible for one-fourth of the earnings of the commoners was a later aberration.
The head of the two bodies, sabha and samiti, who was also the eldest among the elderly was the chief of the people (prajapati) who convened the two bodies. The head of the house of nobles who was designated as Indra controlled the treasury and the army and also headed the committee of eight administrators. The civil judiciary of sixteen members was headed by an official designated as Agni who was also the head of the samiti, a council of sixteen scholars and sixteen elders. On most issues, the two bodies met together and were urged to arrive at unanimous decisions.
State was yet in the embryonic stage. The head of the state, rajan, was at the mercy of these two bodies and their heads and was subordinate to the chief of the people, prajapati. Neither civil law was then codified nor was there a constitution. There was no state with boundaries. The rajan (king, as interpreted by modern authors) was the head of the state but was not a sovereign and was not entitled to take part in the deliberations of the two bodies of legislature or control their administrative affairs.
Agro-pastoral areas peopled by the commoners and ruled by liberal nobles were insulated from the forests and mountains, which were occupied by persons engaged in industrial activities and governed by covetous plutocrats. The gentle scholars who like retired elders stood apart from the aristocrats and plutocrats and from the agro-pastoral commonalty and the industrial population of the parallel economy formed the middle class.
This middle class was not engaged in productive economic activities and was another leisure class which the gentle nobles, despotic chieftains and covetous plutocrats were. Its members stood aloof from the agro-pastoral proletariat of the core society and the industrial proletariat of the frontier society. Every member of this middle class was free to choose his way of life and activity.
The unwritten constitution of the early polity headed by the chief of the people, prajapati, may be termed Rshabha constitution. Like the bull that went ahead leading, guiding and cautioning the herd that followed, this chief headed the polity. Like that bull, he was equal to other bulls and cows but was the first of the equals. The King (rajan) who honoured this constitution was equal to the other chieftains (rajanyas) and yet was the first among the equals and the head of the state.
While the chief of the people (prajapati) was more solicitous than the other elders whom he headed, rajan, the head of the state was mightier than the other mighty chieftains. But, there was a lurking fear that all productive activities both economic and non-economic might be brought under state control by the Rshabha constitution. Security of the commoners engaged in economic activities was however assured by this benevolent despotism.
The king (Rajan) had jurisdiction only over the working class of commoners native to the region that was under his definite control. Those residing beyond it could be encouraged by the Prajapati to join that polity. They were assured that they would be able to pursue their activities without being required to submit to the king and without encroaching on the rights of the natives. The prajas were not subordinate to the rajan.
These new entrants were called prajas and they stood apart from the natives (jana). The prajapati and the rajan accepted that both the sectors of the enlarged commonalty, those born outside that territory but accepted the status of domiciles and the natives, prajas and jana, had equal rights and duties.
A chief who belonged to the natives and had to honour their views and follow their directions was called a Janaka. Where the natives, jana, could not direct their chief but were directed by him that chief was called Janadhipa. Both were however less influential than the Prajapati who had the right to determine who should be admitted to this broader polity and granted rights equal to the natives.
The Prajapati could however admit to the larger polity only those who shared the ethos of the native society, jana and placed their wealth at the disposal of the expanded polity. He was the head of the natives (sons of the soil) and the newly admitted members of the neighbouring areas. Both were granted the same rights and both were called prajas (loosely translated as subjects of the state or its citizens). In all these cases the head of the polity was not a despot. He did not interfere in the economic activities and cultural pursuits of his subjects.
The fear of despotism and totalitarianism that Rshabha constitution instilled evaporated under governance by the solicitous chiefs of the people. Faced with the code, Prajadharma, that defined the rights of the subjects, prajas, and their duties whether they were natives or new entrants, the king (rajan) was required to please (ranjana) his subjects rather than exercise coercive power over them.
Rajadharma got a new direction with the codification of Prajadharma, as recognized by Bhishma. While like the Janaka and Janadhipa, the jurisdiction of the king (rajan) was restricted to the commoners among the natives, a larger population came under the jurisdiction of the Prajapati. None of the four (janaka, janadhipa, rajan and prajapati) could extend his influence beyond the areas inhabited by the natives who accepted them and by the domiciles of the outskirts.
A Viraj (unlike the Prajapati confined himself to the areas inhabited by the natives and their immediate neighbourhood) had the right, might and acumen to penetrate into areas beyond this wider polity and bring them under his aegis assuring their population that their economic needs would be met and their cultural identities preserved.
The Viraj who was superior to the Prajapati (who ranked higher than the Rajan) was such a ruler. He was the head of a federal state, his and the four states around it. The constitution of this federal state, Virajam, provided for union despite diversity and assured the autonomy (svarajam) of its units.
The Viraj was later elected not by his peers noted for aggressiveness (rajanyas) but by a vast electoral body comprising the male heads (purushas) of the families in his jurisdiction and their consorts (stris). Often, as women could not but obey their husbands, instead of the wives, free women, spinsters (naris) were in some areas enrolled in the electorate. In either case the concept of universal adult franchise was absent. But he enjoyed both rational legitimacy and charismatic legitimacy.
The heads of the families voiced the will of their members. The concepts of individual will and common will as advanced by modern political grammarians and universal adult franchise were not urged upon as every family and clan had its needs and limitations and customs distinct from those of others. The system of patriarchy needs to be re-examined and the stereotypes that present it as anti-democratic and antiquated discarded.
In the normative small state there were two legislative bodies, a thirty-three member house of nobles (sabha) headed by an official designated as Indra and a council (samiti) of sixteen scholars and sixteen elders, headed by an official designated as Agni. The two houses were convened by the chief of the people (prajapati), the eldest among the elders.
Indra controlled the treasury and the army and Agni headed the civil judiciary. An eight member executive headed by Indra and assisted by Agni looked after the administration of the essentially agro-pastoral state. Rajan, the head of the state who was elected by a small assertive and aggressive oligarchic group from its ranks and his peers as well had no role to play in administration (including law and order and meting out justice), in economy and in defence. He was not a protector of the people and their property.
In the ideal Viraj constitution, the head of the federal state oversaw all these fields while ensuring that the state did not become a leviathan and its head, Viraj, a despot. He enjoyed popular support and had rational legitimacy but would not become an autocrat or a despot. Neither the Rajan nor the Viraj claimed divine authority.
In the Viraj constitution, Aditi, an elderly lady, supervised the work of the eight members, Adityas, of the executive. She was in charge of ethics and had the right to pardon the penitent. The Viraj had no right to punish the guilty or pardon the penitent. Only Aditi had this right. The house of nobles and the judiciary (headed by Indra and Agni respectively) and even the Viraj head of the federal state could not pardon one who was found guilty.
In most areas coercive power was exercised by Indra and Agni, the head of the executive and the judiciary respectively while the Rajan, the head of the state, was powerless though deemed to be mighty. Indra guarded the interests of the ruling elite while Agni voiced the desires of the commoners. Many other areas had a diarchy where instead of Agni, an official designated as Brhaspati, spoke for the commoners. He was an economist rather than a legal luminary and moralist like Agni. The relations between Indra and Brhaspati were often strained. The Indra-Brhaspati diarchy ensured that the society would remain unarmed and honour the unwritten socio-political constitution, Brahma, as implicit in the Atharvaveda.
The end of the Vedic era witnessed the emergence of over fifty small viable integrated states with a common constitution and spread over the entire subcontinent. This move was initiated by Prajapati Mahadeva of the Rudra school of thought after wide consultations with different sections of the population and their spokesmen to arrive at a consensus. This constitution provided for four autonomous institutions, sabha, samiti, sena and sura, house of nobles, council of scholars and jurists, army and treasury, headed by officials designated as Indra, Agni, Aditya and Brhaspati.
The head of the state, Rajan continued to be elected by a body of aggressive chieftains (rajanyas) from among its members. Mahadeva constitution gave finis to the normative pattern of the Vedic state. The Prajapati, chief of the people was superior to all these five bodies and their chiefs for he represented the nation, rashtram and the functions (kshatram) of the state, administration of the country and protection of the people,
But the house of nobles, sabha, lost control over the army and the economy and remained only as one of the two houses of legislature with power of veto and as a court of appeal. The council of scholars and jurists (Brahmans) was not subordinate to any of the other bodies. The standing army of trained and born Kshatriyas was meant for defence and maintaining law and order within the state. Civil administration and economy were dominated by the bourgeoisie. The Mahadeva constitution framed with the consent of those who held the rank of Viraj, head of the federal setup did not continue that post.
The Viraj constitution had bypassed these two models. While the Prajapati looked after affairs temporal, Aditi looked after affairs ‘cultural, moral and spiritual’. The Viraj was expected to head the federal state and make intrusions into forests and mountains, areas in the periphery and open lands and organize their economy. This was however short of imperialism and distinct from colonialism. The Viraj was expected to bring together all the eight major social sectors without interfering with their cultural identities. Elected by a body of heads of families he was being groomed to become the leader, purusha, of the entire social polity.
The Viraj constitution retained the two houses of legislature, sabha and samiti headed by the officials designated as Indra and Agni. But the eight-member executive including these two functioned under Aditi rather than under Indra. Indra was however the most important among the members of the executive. There was a council of ministers who were special invitees with constitutional status equal to the one enjoyed by the two houses, sabha and samiti. While the two houses of the legislature were subordinate to the chief of the people, Prajapati, the eight-member executive of Adityas was under the supervision of Aditi. These three bodies, house of nobles, council of scholars and elders and the ministry, could not be disturbed by any dignitary.
While the Rajan had a short tenure of four to five years even as members of the executive did, the Viraj had tenure of ten to twelve years. A Viraj could be re-elected. If re-elected he got the status of a Purusha with life tenure of twenty to twenty-four years. He might continue in his post for even forty years or more to complete the task of expansion and integration of the society. Such a Purusha constitution which continued to follow the other provisions of the Viraj constitution was outlined only at the end of the Vedic era. The Purusha was more dynamic and purposeful than the Viraj. None of the posts, Purusha, Viraj, Rajan, Prajapati etc was a hereditary one.
But in the main constitutions of the Vedic era which dealt with small economically viable agro-pastoral states, there was no written constitution nor a higher judiciary and chief justice who could take to task any dignitary who violated it. The role of the chief justice, Brahma, was played by an official designated as Varuna who was also a member of the eight-member executive. He was assisted by Yama, head of a committee of thirteen magistrates, yamas and by the amicus curiae, Mitra who was essentially a friendly counsellor.
A constitution with a chief justice, Brahma, heading the constitution bench was envisaged only in the neo-Vedic (Vedanta, Upanishad) era. The sages, who deliberated on the constitution, were not agreed on who should head the nation-state. It might be an outstanding social leader, Purusha, who was popular and highly talented, or a benevolent charismatic leader, Isvara, or the chief justice, Brahma.
All the three dignitaries, Rajan, Viraj and Prajapati, were found wanting in the traits expected of this leader. The head of the polity should be one who had risen from the lowest stratum and got personal experience of the ways of life and orientations of every social sector and stratum. Such a person was termed Vaisvanara who was stoical, austere, free from attachment to any social group but yet sympathetic to every group, especially to the poor and weak. He deserved to become the chief justice, Brahma.
An ideal neo-Vedic constitution had Brahma, the chief justice, at its apex and the chief of the people, Prajapati, ranked next to him. While during the Vedic period, Indra, head of the house of nobles ranked marginally superior to Brhaspati, head of the civil administration, this constitution gave Brhaspati a rank higher than that of Indra, and next to Prajapati.
The (thirty-three) members of the house of nobles had a rank next to Indra. The eight (or ten or twelve or sixteen member) executive ranked next to this house in power and authority. This executive itself ranked higher than the vast body of new nobles who were born in the higher ranks of the commonalty (abhijana) of that region and were known as visvedevas.
The vast free middle class comprising gandharvas and other cadres ranked next to the nobles. Of this class, some were closer to the aristocracy and others to the commonalty. While the commoners were organized in clans and communities, the members of this middle class were free from social bonds. The free men of the middle class who were not closer to the elite were superior to these commoners.
The neo-Vedic era also witnessed the democratization of the elite. The thirty-three members of the house of nobles (devas) of every state were deputed by three electoral bodies, each comprising a hundred members and a head. These three bodies represented three larger bodies of a thousand members each and a head. These members (visvedevas) belonged to the upper stratum (abhijana) of the society and were drawn from the natives (jana) of the core agro-pastoral society, the other society (itara-jana) of the industrial sector resident in forests, mountains and moors, and the above privileged middle class (punya-jana).
While many welcomed the concept of ensuring rule of law by installing the chief justice (Brahma) as the head of the state instead of the chief of the people (Prajapati) or the head of a powerful and authoritarian oligarchy (rajan) the concept of diarchy in administration became prominent. It might be Indra-Agni or Indra-Brhaspati, Indra-Upendra, Mahendra-Upendra, Indra-Isvara or Purusha-Pracetas pattern. The intention was to avoid concentration of power in the hands of one official. One or the other of these forms of diarchy was in force in many of the fifty small nation-states.
Simultaneously, the concept of three social worlds (lokas), agrarian commoners, forest-based industrial society and city-based nobility (prthvi, antariksham and divam) that was prominent during the Vedic era was found to be inadequate. [It needs to be recognized that the western Indologists and their Indian adherents were wrong in interpreting the three as earth, intermediate region and sky inhabited by men, preternatural beings and supernatural beings).]
The concept of seven social worlds (lokas) of the integrated state was floated during the Vedic era. Above these three social worlds (bhu, bhuva, sva) ranked the house of legislators, the house of peoples’ representatives, the academy of researchers and the academy of jurists (maha, jana, tapa and satya lokas). The constitution bench and academy of jurisprudence (brahmaloka) envisaged during the neo-Vedic era ranked above them.
The neo-Vedic era saw erudite debates on the caliber needed in the jurists and members of the constitution bench, their roles and tenures, powers and privileges. But all these debates went in vain as the ideal social polity could not emerge in the face of the reality that there were several strata and sectors which had been neglected for a long period.
The commonalty (manushyas) of the agro-pastoral areas who were organized in clans and communities continued to be autonomous and self-reliant and could remain indifferent to what the elite did and how its members functioned. The free men (naras) who ranked above the commoners ran the rural bureaucracy and manned the army and police and the agencies providing intelligence. Commoners who were mainly workers and the members of the nobility did not have a place in these bodies of the essential state. There were many discrete individuals in the social periphery who were drop-outs from their organized sectors or were ex-servicemen (bhutas).
There were individuals (atmas, ‘souls’ in common parlance) who were members of social groups but were not interested in the outlooks or objectives of their groups. There were such individuals (jivatmas) in the lowest economic strata who were struggling for survival. There were some who were marginally better off than these and were playing essential useful roles (as pranatmas) building the ethos of the society. They contributed to determining who should be admitted to a given group or stratum, and who should be expelled from it and who would maintain social equity and balance, who would contribute to social and cultural progress, economic development and political expansion.
There were some discrete individuals in the social periphery who had earlier belonged to the organised social worlds and who were marginally superior to the above and were known as bhutatmas. But they did not contribute to the making of the ethos of the society. There were also individuals in the core society who were aware of the constant changes in their socio-physical environment. They were known as prajnatmas. In that society there were individuals who were held in esteem as sadatmas, gentlemen but did not belong to either the bourgeoisie or the aristocracy.
There were some who remaining aloof from social bondage, contributed to educational and cultural development. Upanishads discussed these factors. They also defined who would be treated as unattached individuals capable of functioning as legislators (mahatmas) by virtue of the respect that they had gained and some who stayed stoical (santatmas) and silenced the deviants and the dissatisfied. There were also individuals who were social guides and models to be emulated (paramatmas). The existence of such levels among unattached individuals with their personal identity intact (atmas) had to be taken into account.
[It may be noted that the framers of the present constitution of India who followed the constitutions of other countries have failed to grasp the significance of these strata among individuals who functioned apart from the social groups that they were in.]
SOCIAL CLASSES---VEDIC TIMES
Not many members of the larger society have the same traits and talents, aptitudes and orientations, experiences and expectations, beliefs and outlooks. There have always been diversities among the people of every region and among members of every group including a small well-knit family.
Equality of all has never been a fact and reality. It is unsound to claim that any specific group is totally different ethnically or racially from another, especially from one in the same region or in its neighbourhood though the two may have different orientations.
Studies in social and cultural anthropology have been vitiated to a marked extent by the injection in their propositions the element of ethnicity based on race. As the proposition of equality of all whether in the ancient times or the present one or in the distant future is ruled out as a myth or mirage, the reality of diversities in every group, small or big, has to be acknowledged.
Domination of the weak by the mighty has been present everywhere since the earliest times. But it is too simplistic to state that the larger society may be studied in terms of dichotomy,---mighty and weak, this group and that, alter and ego, this orientation and that, para and apara, paradharma and svadharma, rich and poor, master and servant, exploiter and exploited, educated and uneducated etc.
But such dichotomies may when taken as a conglomeration aid us to gain a near holistic picture of a social group, though not of a larger society. Ancient Indian scholars preferred to resort to trilateral analysis of social structure and traits rather than be satisfied with dichotomies and dualities---virtue and vice, good and evil, dharma and adharma, mobile and static (cara and acara), men and nobles (manushyas and devas).
Trilateral analysis like sattva, rajas and tamas, orthodox, heterodox and heretic, growth, stagnation and decline too was not adequate, they recognized.
The larger society, the Vedic sages noted, could be studied in terms of two large social sectors, a core society of the agro-pastoral plains and the frontier society of forests and mountains with the core society exhibiting an internal dichotomy---a small ruling class of nobles noted for conspicuous consumption and a large working class of commoners (devas and manushyas, divam and prthvi). Western Indologists and their Indian adherents translated these terms wrongly as heaven and earth inhabited by gods and men respectively.
Asura, Deva, Yaksha: Feudal Lord, Aristocrat, Plutocrat
Three Sectors of Ruling Class
While this dichotomous core society looked after agrarian and pastoral economies, the frontier society (antariksham, wrongly translated as intermediate space) was concerned with industrial economy (mostly of the shifting type). The industrial society was headed by plutocrats (yakshas) who were assisted by technocrats (nagas). Its mobile workers were called sarpas. The plutocrats employed guards (rakshas) to protect their lives and property. Those guards who violated the laws of the frontier society and were expelled were called rakshasas.
The ruling class of the agrarian society had two major sectors---liberal cultural aristocrats (devas) and cruel and aggressive feudal lords (asuras). The former chose to reside in cities and the latter in forts from where they could control the rural areas around them.
Most of the rulers of the earliest times were feudal lords. In a prolonged conflict with the nobles who were assisted by the commoners they were defeated convincingly and shunted to the social periphery, the region between the two societies, core and frontier. The exiled and isolated warlords (asuras) were assisted by the militants (rakshasas) who had been exiled from the frontier society by the plutocrats (yakshas). From that periphery they harassed the two societies, core and frontier and kept them apart from each other.
Devas, Asuras and Yakshas (Aristocrats, feudal warlords and plutocrats) were three sections of the ruling class of the larger society of the Vedic times. Legends described them as offspring of Kashyapa by his three wives, Aditi, Diti and Danu and called them Adityas, Daityas and Danavas. But Kashyapa treated them all as sections approved by Aditi.
Three Social Worlds (Lokas):
Divam, Prthvi, Antariksham
(Patriciate, Commonalty, Frontier Society)
In my earlier treatise, Evolution of Social Polity of Ancient India, I referred to the Triple Entente (Trisamdhi) discussed in the Atharvaveda. This alliance brought together the three social worlds (lokas), patriciate (divam), commonalty (prthvi) and frontier society (antariksham) against the feudal lords (asuras) and their mercenaries (dasyus) many of whom were rebel militants (rakshasas).
This army had three wings---the personal troops of the nobles, troops raised from among the commonalty and the industrial workers (sarpas) of the frontier society. This combined army was pitted against the incalcitrant warlords (vrtras) who had spurned the offer made by Indra, the head of the nobility, to reabsorb them in its fold, as contained in the blue-red policy. The rainbow (Indra's bow) with a blue interior and red exterior indicated a welcome arch to those brethren who ceased to fight against the ruling nobility and warning to those who were inimical.
The vrtras were liable to be exterminated if they continued fighting against the triple alliance and their mercenaries would not be given asylum by any one in the three organized worlds (lokas). Intellectuals including jurists (Brahmans) were warned against protecting the vrtras from being targeted by the combined troops.
Kashyapa was at home with the trilateral analysis, jana, native population of the agro-pastoral core society, itara-jana, the other people of the industrial frontier society and punya-jana, blessed people, the privileged cadres who had merits to their credit. He did not favour the classification, approved cadres, unapproved cadres and others, orthodox, heterodox and heretic, Adityas, Danavas and Daityas.
Four Approved Classes of the Core Society
Nobles, Sages, Elders, Commoners:
Devas, Rshis, Pitrs, Manushyas
The nobles (devas), the sages (rshis) and the elders (pitrs) were not engaged in productive economic activities. The commoners (manushyas) had to meet their needs through voluntary sacrifice (yajna).
There was no state that levied tax (kara) before Manu Vaivasvata introduced this system. When the system of yajna was introduced, the practice of a powerful ruler collecting levy (bali) through coercion from his subjects was disapproved by the three cadres which were represented in the two legislative bodies, sabha and samiti.
He could however collect tributes from his vassals. Prthu was the first king who followed the system of tax (kara).
The feudal lords (asuras) had been recognized as being senior (jyeshta) to the nobles (devas). The plutocrats (yakshas) who had consented to follow the socio-cultural (dharma) and politico-economic (artha) codes (sastras) similar to the ones approved by the nobles, the sages and the elders for the agro-pastoral core society were treated to be a highly respectable (sreshta) cadre.
They were granted the status of devatas, next only to the aristocrats (devas) at a conclave convened by Samkarshana at Kusasthali. But his brother, Krshna who disapproved both the feudal lords (asuras) and the plutocrats (yakshas) did not favour this step. Like Prthu, the ruler of the central region (Madhyadesa) Samkarshana was a champion of the agrarian economy.
Four sectors of the Core Society:
Devas, Asuras including Pitrs, Rshis, Manushyas
Many of the feudal lords (asuras) who were forced to give up violence and coercive methods and retire from politico-economic activities were absorbed in the cadre of elders (pitrs). The core society had initially four sectors, nobles (devas), feudal lords (asuras), sages (rshis) and commoners (manushyas).
With the liquidation of the feudal order after the efforts of the fifth Manu, Raivata and Kashyapa to bring an end to the rivalry between the aristocrats (devas) and the feudal lords (asuras), failed, the core society was recognized as being composed of the four sectors, nobles (devas), sages (rshis), retired elders (pitrs) and commoners (manushyas). The first three who were not engaged in productive economic operations had to be maintained by the commoners through voluntary sacrifice.
Exiled feudal lords control Social Periphery
The nobles (devas) controlled the sabha and the sages (rshis) and elders (pitrs) the samiti, the two houses of legislature of the Vedic times. But the feudal order was never totally exterminated. It got replenished by authoritarian elements from among the rajanyas and some of the exiled asuras returned to the core society to function as rajanyas. The latter were despots.
The exiled feudal lords entrenched themselves in the social periphery between the two societies, core and frontier, agro-pastoral and industrial, and harassed both of them.
Industrial Society, Itara Jana, The Other People
The plutocrats (yakshas) had their own guards (rakshas) and utilized the services of the technocrats (nagas) and the industrial proletariat (sarpas) who had to be constantly on the move in search of fresh natural resources and for economic operations.
The minstrels (kinnaras) entertained the plutocrats (yakshas) but visited the aristocrats (devas, nobles) and the commoners (manushyas) to entertain them and earn their livelihood. They were free men (nrs, naras) who were on the move enjoying a nomadic life as nrgas.
The suparnas stayed in thatched cottages and wore dress made of leaves. They were learned in many fields including medicinal herbs. They were wrongly presented as birds of good omen even as the kinnaras were later described as eunuchs and nrgas as gypsies. These cadres were used to gather information and convey instructions to others in the industrial sector and also to those outside it. They served the plutocrats (yakshas).
The Blessed People, Punya-Jana, Gandharva Sector
The cadres, gandharvas, apsarases, vidyadharas, charanas, vipras, chakshus, tapasas, siddhas, guhyakas etc. were intellectuals who had each their own orientations. They differed from the two major economic societies, agro-pastoral core and industrial frontier. They were dynamic and enterprising and were in search of new knowledge through new experiences but were not harmful to others. They were called punya-jana, blessed people. They constituted a social universe (jagat) of mobile population and had no politico-economic controllers.
The technocrats (nagas) and industrial workers (sarpas) too were constantly on the move but were not included, in the category of social universe (jagat) or recognized as punya-jana though later the members of both the economic societies allowed them special privileges and immunities to them similar to the ones that the gandharvas and other cadres had.
The organized social worlds (lokas), the patriciate (divam), commonalty (prthvi) and frontier society (antariksham) functioned under political and economic systems. But the gandharvas and other cadres who were guided by their teachers (jagatgurus) were free to move in all the three social worlds and mingle with their populations without merging among them. They would not lose their identities but their orientations would exercise a wholesome influence on the organized groups.
Most of these gandharva cadres were gentle as indicated by their comparison with blue lotus while some were assertive (red lotus) and did not tolerate intrusion into their privacy by the commoners. The gandharva cadres had no homes and no settlements. They had not developed the institutions of marriage and family or kept away from them. But they were not hedonistic or promiscuous. Some of them were anti-hedonistic.
The stereotype that gandharvas and apsarases were celestial musicians and danseuses who delighted the gods (devas) has to be given up. Only some of them were connected with fine arts.
Jana, Punya-Jana, Itara-Jana
The commoners (manushyas) who were engaged in agro-pastoral economy were organized as clans (kulas) and communities (jatis) and were referred to as the native population (jana) of the region. They were constituted into regional administrations (janapadas) which were autonomous rural bodies, distinct from the urban councils (pauras).
Gandharvas and other cadres which were non-economic were referred to as blessed people (punya-jana) enjoying immunities like not being taken to task by any administration for acts of omission and commission. They were exempt from taxes (kara), levy (bali) and earlier even from performance of sacrificial rites (yajna).
The technocrats (nagas) and the industrial workers (sarpas) who were financed by the plutocrats (yakshas) were called other people (itara-jana). They were natives of the frontier region of forests and mountains and were dreaded by the commonalty of the core society. They did not enjoy the immunities that had been extended to the gandharva cadres.
Bhutas and other cadres of the Social Periphery
The gandharva cadres were heterodox and non-conformist in their approaches and orientations. They were however distinct from the paisacas who were the counter-intelligentsia consigned to the social periphery and the rakshasas who were militants and rebels.
These cadres tried to hide their real identities in the other society (itara-jana) and were pushed into the social periphery which gave asylum to drop-outs and exiles from the commonalty of the plains (bhumi). These drop-outs, many of whom were ex-servicemen functioned as discrete individuals (bhutas). In the past they were members of the organized commonalty (bhu) but were now no longer part of any social group.
Bhutas and paisacas were not ghosts. They were not members of any social body. The former were engaged in economic activities pertaining to the land (bhumi) though not part of the commonalty. The paisacas were intellectuals who misguided others.
The bhutas tended to function as organized gangs (ganas) laying down their terms for rendering service on the land or as troops indented by the rulers of the commonalty or of the periphery in self-defence.
Their guides, budhas were associated with the cadre of vidyadharas who were enterprising youths and who held that, knowledge is power.
Modern Indian scholars who follow the interpretations given by western Indologists and even the medieval commentators whom they cite have failed to grasp the features of the Vedic social polity. They have translated bhutas and paisacas as ghosts and pitrs as manes or souls of the deceased ancestors.
These cadres were not preternatural beings. They too were living human beings. These scholars presented the nagas and sarpas as serpents. These were technocrats and industrial workers.
The Indologists wrongly presented devas and 'devatas as gods and demigods and asuras as demons They were aristocrats, elite of the frontier society and feudal lords respectively. The wrong stereotypes should be given up if we have to present a rational outline of the Vedic society.
Devas, yakshas and asuras were liberal aristocrats, greedy plutocrats and cruel feudal warlords who were three wings of the ruling elite, dominating the agro-pastoral core society, industrial frontier society and the social periphery, respectively. Asuras had earlier been controlling the core society. It is imperative that the interpretation and stereotype that the three social worlds (lokas), divam, prthvi and antariksham were heaven, earth and intermediate space inhabited by gods, men and preternatural beings is discarded. They were all parts of the human society and had only human beings as their members.
Gandharvas and Nagas, Artistes and Artisans
Nagas and sarpas too were human beings. They were not serpents. Fishermen, mariners, artisans, engineers, architects, manufacturers, operators of transport vehicles, wood-cutters, carpenters, divers, jewelers, smiths and even physicians who handled medicinal herbs were included in this sector.
Similarly, gandharvas and apsarases were human beings and not celestial beings. Some of them were intellectuals and some others, warriors. A few of them were engaged in fine arts and might have entertained the nobles (devas). Some artistes were working in collaboration with the artisans who belonged to the naga sector.
Gandharvas, Devas, Manushyas, Naras
The chitra groups of gandharvas were interested in fine arts like painting while the asva group which was closer to the commonalty was connected with the army (especially its cavalry) and the polity.
It worked in collaboration with the free men (naras) who were members of the infantry. The chitras who were closer to the nobles (devas) were interested in manufacturing decorated chariots which were used by the generals of the army who were however treated as belonging to the cadre of nagas. The asvas too came in contact with the nobles (svas) but had no personal property.
Those gandharvas who were closer to the nobles were called devagandharvas while the naras who were the lower ranks of the gandharvas were free men and were called manushyagandharvas. Both the classes belonged to the free middle class. Devagandharvas enjoyed less privileges than devas and manushyagandharvas more privileges and immunities than the manushyas. The owners of elephants and the generals who used them were called nagas. Hastis, the founders and rulers of Hastinapura were nagas, technocrats.
The term, apsaras, covered the comparatively free women who lived beside lakes, rivers and seas and were dependent, on river and maritime economy. The lower ranks of gandharvas and apsarases were known as naras and naris. They were not bound by the codes of clans (kulas) and communities (jatis) and were hence preferred to man the rural bureaucracy and the rural police. This recognition is crucial for a proper outlining of the Vedic and early post-Vedic social polities.
Urban-Rural Divide: Pura-Rashtra
In the Atharvan hymns Kashyapa, an ideologue-cum-activist (Brahmavadi) treats the nobles (devas) and commoners (manushyas) as the two major strata of the agro-pastoral core society. They were the ruling class and subjects, the leisure class and the working class respectively. The nobles controlled the city (pura) and the commoners constituted the population of the rural area (rashtram). Later the nobles were treated as paura and the commoners as members of the janapada.
Four janapadas formed a rashtra. To be precise, the rashtra covered the four adjoining janapadas in the four main directions and also the four intermediate regions. Rashtra is a demographic concept and not an ethnic or cultural one.
The typical Atharvan federal state was headed by a Viraj and was paid obeisance by the heads (who were designated as rajas) of the city (pura) and the four janapadas around it.
The city had an autonomous council which had to grant him approval and permit him to rule from there. Its head too was addressed as raja. The viraj was elected by a college of rajanyas.
The election of a viraj who had his seat in the capital of the four regions and the city was often preceded by violent conflicts among these rajanyas who were not necessarily independent sovereign rulers. They were dynamic and aggressive chieftains having the trait of rajas.
Some of these rajanyas were not different from the feudal lords (asuras). The feudal lords were present since the earliest times when anarchism yielded place to despotism with the law of fishes (matsya-nyaya) holding sway. These feudal lords were defeated convincingly by the forces of the nobles and the commoners and pushed out to the social periphery. They dominated the rural areas (rashtra) from their fortified capitals (durgas). They had to be expelled from there to protect the commoners and their property.
In the pura-rashtra pattern the aristocrats who controlled the city had political as well as economic control.
In the paura-janapada pattern, the bourgeoisie many of whom were admitted to the nobility and controlled the urban economy had a greater voice than the commoners and landlords who dominated the janapadas.
In the durga-rashtra pattern, the feudal lords whether they were approved rajanyas or not and were stationed in the forts dominated the economy to which the commoners of the rural areas were the main contributors.
In the durga-janapada pattern, the recognized king who was stationed in the fort and was no longer a member of the feudal order had greater responsibility than the administrators of the enlarged janapada which included the city and also the areas outside the villages.
Social Leaders: Devas, Devatas and Isvaras
The asuras who were shunted to the social periphery came in contact with its discrete individuals (bhutas) many of whom were ex-servicemen and the militants, rakshasas, who had been expelled from the frontier society by the plutocrats (yakshas).
The asuras came in contact with the counter-intelligentsia (paisacas) whom the sages (rshis) and the cadres of vipras, chakshus, tapasas, siddhas, vidyadharas and charanas despised. But some non-orthodox scholars (budhas), aided the feudal lords to get supporters among these cadres of the free intelligentsia who formed the middle class of the new core society.
Later some of these fort-based feudal lords (asuras) turned charismatic, benevolent chieftains and were admired by the commoners, especially of the social periphery, who were referred to as bhutas.
But most of them raided the rural areas and hindered free exchange of goods between the two societies, core and frontier. The asuras were denied access to the state treasury (sura), which was controlled first by the patriciate (devas) and later by the bourgeoisie, that is, by the upper crust of the commonalty.
Some of the charismatic chieftains were called Isas, Isanas or Isvaras. They were on par with the nobles (devas) of the core society and the ruling elite (devatas) of the frontier society.
The cadres like gandharvas and apsarases, vipras and tapasas, chakshus and siddhas, vidyadharas and charanas and guhyakas were free from political control by nobles (devas), feudal lords (asuras) and plutocrats (yakshas). Their orientations were closer to those of the core society comprising the four classes, nobles (devas), sages (rshis), elders (pitrs) and commoners (manushyas) than to those of the social periphery or to those of the frontier society.
They were intellectuals and had their own views and orientations regarding marriage and family and vocations and property. But these were not dysfunctional to the larger society, unlike those of the social periphery that had provided asylum to anti-social elements. Most of these cadres could accommodate and get accommodated by the sages (rshis). Some among them were politically oriented and some were warriors. They were closer to the ruling class of nobles and assertive chieftains (rajanyas).
Four Social Worlds (lokas) of the Larger Core Society
Devas, Asuras, Gandharvas, Manushyas
As a result the gandharvas and other mobile cadres who constituted a loose-knit social universe (jagat) rather than an organized, settled population (loka) and were not governed by the codes (mostly informal) of the three social worlds (lokas)---patriciate, commonalty and frontier society, divam, prthvi and antariksham---were accepted as a distinct social world (loka) of the larger core society.
The nobles (devas), feudal lords (asuras), free intelligentsia (gandharvas) and commoners (manushyas) were its four new social classes, before the asuras were expelled from the core society.
The scheme of four socio-economic classes (varnas) and four stages of life (asramas) was on the anvil during the last decades of the long Vedic era. It was expected to be applied first to the agro-pastoral commonalty (prthvi) of the core society and then to its patriciate (divam) before it was extended to the industrial frontier society (antariksham) of the forests and mountains. It would later be extended to the unorganized cadres of the social universes (jagats) and at the end to the non-conformist social periphery. Such a move if it had succeeded would have submerged the identities of the Vedic cadres and classes totally.
Three Social Universes (Jagats):
Gandharvas, Kinnaras, Kimpurushas
Besides the gandharva cadres most of whom were intellectually oriented and were closer to the agro-pastoral core society, there were two other cadres which kept away from both agricultural and mining operations. One of them was known as kinnaras who were under the jurisdiction of the plutocrats (yakshas) but were entitled to come in contact with the agro-pastoral commonalty (manushyas). They would do so only when the latter were not engaged in agricultural operations. These minstrels and entertainers ranked lower than the gandharva cadres who were intellectuals.
The kinnaras too were a mobile population, a social universe (jagat). The nrgas of the core society played a similar role, singing and conveying messages. An overlord (sarvabhauma) who claimed sovereign right over all the lands (bhumi) had determined who were eligible to dig the earth for cultivation and who could dig it for roots and who could dig it for ores, minerals and diamonds. Those who were granted the charter were included in the cadres of agrarian proletariat (manushyas) or of industrial proletariat (sarpas, pannagas, urugas). The social leaders and free men of the forests, kimpurushas and vanaras, were kept out of these two economies and had to survive on fruits and leaves and reside in the open or in caves.
They could be artisans and be even educated and specialists. They were free to roam to earn their livelihood from what nature gave them. They were later contemptuously described as monkeys. This stereotype must be shed. Gandharvas, kimpurushas and kinnaras were three distinct social universes (jagats). They were all human beings.
The loyal servants (dasas) of the nobles (devas), the mercenaries (dasyus) of the feudal lords (asuras) and the retinue (kinnaras) of the plutocrats (yakshas) were not to be engaged by their masters in productive economic activities, especially in agriculture and mining operations which were reserved for manushyas and sarpas respectively.
The mobile groups of the forests and mountains who were denied access to these two economies were permitted to live on leaves and fruits of the trees even as the retired elders (pitaras) who had set up their abodes in the forests as vanaprastas did. Some free men (naras) who were not members of any clan (kula) or community (jati) were constrained to shift to the forests after carrying out their duties as members of the rural bureaucracy and police.
The rural administration had permitted them to earn their livelihood by plying a vocation that was not reserved for the commoners by their organized clans and communities.
The migrants to the forests and mountains mingled with the native population of the other society (itara-jana) like the kinnaras and became a social universe (jagat) without the right to dig the land for agriculture or mining or to construct houses. Later writers referred to them as vanaras and wrongly presented them as monkeys or as primitives.
Their dynamic leaders, kimpurushas, who had accomplished their socio-economic tasks successfully were often confused with the siddhas who had secured mastery in their respective fields like medicine or invention of instruments needed for different purposes.
The dynamic leaders, purushas, of the commonalty stayed in the core society while those of the frontier society opted to roam in areas as siddhas. The purushas were on the threshold of aristocracy but the kimpurushas like the kinnaras formed a separate social universe (jagat) making available to all their expertise in different fields including polity.
The commonalty (vis) of the Vedic agro-pastoral core society was composed mainly of manual labourers (manushyas) who were settled groups and were organized as clans (kulas) and native communities (jatis) plying their traditional vocations. Their orientations were crystallized as kuladharmas and jatidharmas. These social laws protected them when there was no state.
Assignment of Commoners and Gandharva cadres to
New Classes: Vaisyas, Shudras, Brahmans. Kshatriyas
As some among the commoners became rich and got property the two classes, haves and have-nots, Vaisyas and Shudras, were formed. The Shudras were mainly labourers and small farmers, kshudrakas. The Vaisyas owned the lands and the cattle. Some of them were traders. They could get educated while the Shudras remained poor and illiterate.
The lower ranks of the Vaisyas were known as Vaidehakas. They were not members of any socio-economic body. They were on par with kshudrakas who ranked above the common workers, Shudras.
The upper crust of the commonalty (vis) fused with the cadres of nobles (devas) especially with the Vasus and the class of Visvedevas, which was essentially bourgeoisie, emerged. Later nobles (devas) were promotees from the ranks of Visvedevas. The gandharva cadres were not connected with economic activities. They opted to be either intellectuals-cum-jurists (Brahmans) or warriors (kshatriyas,) or administrators-cum-rulers (rajanyas).
Some gandharvas were engaged in fine arts while the vidyadharas were interested in pursuit of knowledge and vipras in spread of knowledge and culture. Vidyadharas were against hedonism. Charanas, chakshus and tapasvis (meditators) constituted informal institutes which were later absorbed in the formal institution of spies, as scouts, observers and interpreters of social trends and assisted the state.
The class of Brahmans that was formed from the gandharva cadres was not connected with ecclesiastical affairs like prayers and performance of rites. Some of them were teachers but most of them were experts in the socio-political constitution, Brahma, and were jurists. Some gandharvas became administrators alleviating the pains of the people as kshatas or delighting (ranjana) them as rajans.
The first assignment of the members of the free middle class of gandharvas to the newly formed classes of Brahmans and Kshatriyas took place during the later Vedic period. The candidates were selected by qualified sages on the basis of their natural aptitudes and also the roles performed by their immediate ancestors both of the paternal lineage and the maternal.
The Four Classes: Devas, Rajanyas, Brahmans, Vis
Before the scheme of four classes (varnas), Brahmans, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas and Shudras was introduced, nobles (Devas), administrators (Rajanyas), jurists (Brahmans) and commonalty (Vis) were the four classes. The nobles influenced the other three.
The Rajanyas controlled the army and claimed to be superior to the jurists, Brahmans. The Vis looked after the economic activities of the core society and had two strata, Vaisyas and Shudras. When the nobles were asked to select the class that they wanted to join, they chose to be administrators or jurists, Rajanyas or Brahmans. The Upanishads were composed when the nobles (Devas) and the free middle class (Gandharvas) had chosen to be either rulers or jurists.
SOCIAL POLITY----VEDIC TIMES
Calling for a rigorous rational approach to the study of the social structure, cultural practices and polity of Ancient India, I have in my works insisted on discarding the baseless postulates and undesirable stereotypes floated by the western Indologists and adopted avidly and uncritically by their Indian admirers.
Even highly respected commentators on ancient Indian works who belonged to the medieval times were unable to present correctly the features of the social polities of the past---early Vedic, middle Vedic, later Vedic and early post-Vedic. This remark is not to be construed as wanton irreverence to the great traditions of India and to these early scholars or as impudence.
The scholars of the medieval times whose contributions to the protection, continuance and enrichment of the traditions of India cannot be ignored or underestimated were not unaware of the difficulties in recording and interpreting the dynamics of the social polity of the past from which they were separated by over two thousand years. Modern Indologists too have failed to present the medieval scholiasts in the proper light.
I have refrained from both idolatry and iconoclasm while interpreting the past and tracing the changes in it from time to time. I have kept away from metaphysics and theology and stuck to aspects of political sociology, to society, economy and polity. I have also kept away from issues that pertain to spiritual values. I have also not dealt with culture and civilization. I have not commented on the views of any modern author unless absolutely necessary as I do not fancy sparring and running down any one. A careful reader can find whose views I agree with and whose views I do not.
Vedic Polity: Pre-3100BC: Pre-Mahabharata
The Vedas have dealt with the social polity of the four centuries preceding the famous battle of Kurukshetra, which according to the Indian tradition took place in c3100BC. This traditional date should be followed unless it is convincingly proved to be wrong. The date c1400BC assigned to it by some western scholars and adopted by their Indian adherents is not backed by logic or evidences though it may appear to be reasonable.
So are the later dates assigned to different literary works and ancient Indian scholars, leaders and rulers not based on proofs.
There is a gap of nearly two millennia between the times of Parikshit who ruled Hastinapura soon after that battle of Kurukshetra and the times from which lineages of rulers of north India have been traced by chroniclers and historians.
This hiatus was because the industrial sector of plutocrats, technocrats and industrial workers (yakshas, nagas, and sarpas) that had been promoted by Parikshit's predecessors withdrew from limelight following the gruesome massacre of the industrial workers (sarpas) by Janamejaya and the Brahman jurists he had commissioned to avenge the murder of Parikshit, I have pointed out in my work, Hindu Social Dynamics. I have also discussed the causes and consequences of that withdrawal. It had blocked the industrial progress of ancient India.
It is wrong to interpret that devas and asuras were gods and demons. They were liberal aristocrats and cruel feudal warlords respectively. Both were members of the ruling elite of the agro-pastoral core society of the Vedic times. The sages accepted that the feudal warlords were the first to emerge and were senior (jyeshta) to the liberal nobles who should be treated as junior (kaneeniya) to them.
The sages traced social progress as one from the stage of despotism and tyranny to the stage of liberal governance and refused to hold that there was social decline from liberalism to tyranny. But the struggle between the two has continued down the ages.
Because the liberal nobles (devas) succeeded in scoring over the feudal lords (asuras) and securing the authority to utilize the funds from the stste treasury (sura) they were called suras and the feudal lords who were deprived of this authority were called asuras.
The two sectors of the ruling class were not ethnically different from each other. It is mischievous and absurd to suggest that the two sectors were ethnically related to the west Asian peoples and were hence called so. Devas and devatas were not gods and demigods. They were liberal aristocrats of the agro-pastoral plains and greedy plutocrats of the industrial society of the forests and mountains (antariksham) respectively. While the commoners (manushyas) most of whom were agricultural labourers held the nobles (devas) in esteem and made offering to them in sacrifices the residents of the forest including the vanaprasthas, that is, the elders of the core society who had retired to their forest abodes were required to respect the devatas and present offerings to them in sacrifices.
The yakshas were granted the status of devatas which was marginally lower to that of devas. The step to accommodate the plutocrats (yakshas) in the integrated ruling class as part of the move to build an integrated society was approved by Samkarshana, a guide of the agrarian masses. But it was questioned by his brother, Krshna. Krshna was against the feudal lords (asuras) as well as the plutocrats (yakshas).
Devas, asuras and yakshas were three wings of the ruling class and had been referred to as Adityas, Daityas and Danavas, the offspring of Aditi, Diti and Danu respectively.
The nobles (devas) resided in the urban areas of the core society, the feudal lords (asuras) in the forts in the social periphery adjoining the rural areas and the plutocrats (yakshas) in their fortified capitals located deep in the forests and mountains. Later some technocrats (nagas) were granted the status of devatas.
While examining the conflict between Janamejaya and his former protg, Takshaka, I brought out how the Astika (a believer in the existence of soul in all beings) who was a technocrat (naga) as well as a jurist (Brahman) prevailed on Indra, the head of the assembly (sabha) of nobles (devas) to grant Takshaka, a leader of wood-cutters and builders of palaces and towns, who was accused of killing King Parikshit, entry to the fold of nobles so that he might not be accused of treason and murder and sentenced to death.
In my essays on Dharmarajya, I have drawn attention to how Dushyanta, father of Bharata, headed a plutocratic state and how the rulers of Hastinapura were technocrats who built huge cities and large palaces. Janamejaya and Takshaka might have been associated with the construction of Takshaseela, a famous academic centre and outpost near Gandhara, a region dominated by gandharvas.
Janamejaya’s mother, Lakshi, was a daughter of Bhagiratha, an engineer and architect. She had married Dushyanta. Janamejaya was a step-brother of Bharata (son of Dushyanta by Sakuntala, a daughter of Visvamitra). Parikshit’s brother, Jahnu, was an engineer. He had assisted Bhagiratha in taming the waters of Ganga, a project begun by Sagara. Bhishma, son of Ganga, was another grandson of Bhagiratha, a great emperor of the Vedic times.
While Bhagiratha, Visvamitra, Bharata and Santanu (Bhishma’s father) belonged to the Vedic times, Bhishma and his nephews, Dhrtarashtra and Pandu (whose sons fought against each other in Kurukshetra) belonged to post-Vedic decades. Dhrtarashtra was a technocrat (naga). Dhrtarashtra and Takshaka were proteges of Kashyapa. Kashyapa headed the council of seven sages during the tenure of the seventh Manu, Vaivasvata. Vasishta, Visvamitra, Gautama, Atri, Bharadvaja and Jamadagni were the other six members of this council. Bharata was a grandson of Visvamitra while Bharadvaja was Bharata’s political guide.
Vasishta, Visvamitra, Bharadvaja, Vamadeva, Kanva, Agastya and Gautama were major contributors to the Rgvedic anthology. Bharata was the foster-son of Kanva, uncle of Dushyanta. Rama of Kosala was a student of Vasishta and Visvamitra and was trained by Bharadvaja and Agastya. Vamadeva was a prominent counsellor of Dasaratha.
The nobles (devas) who were respected by the native communities (jana) of the agro-pastoral core society and the new nobles (devatas) who were obeyed by the natives of the other society (itara-jana) too withdrew from positions of power soon after the feudal lords had been defeated and exiled to the social periphery.
This victory over the asuras was secured when Dasaratha was still ruler of Kosala. It may be noted here that Rama was junior to Parasurama (son of Jamadagni) among whose students were Balarama (brother of Krshna) and Karna (step-brother of Arjuna).
Some of the retired and reformed asuras were admitted to the cadre of pitrs, retired heads of families who were required to stay in their forest abodes. But the aristocrats (devas) and plutocrats (devatas) continued to enjoy the immunities they had earlier. By the end of the Vedic era they no longer took part in governance.
Diarchy (Dvairajyam) vis--vis anarchism (Vairajyam)
But they retained the right to approve the measures taken by the king and his executive or veto them. In the core society, the control over economy and civil administration had passed into the hands of the bourgeoisie, the upper crust of the commonalty (vis) whose spokesman was Brhaspati. Indra, the head of the house of nobles had to depend on him. But the nobles were respected. Brhaspati-Indra diarchy which was prominent during the Atharvan times continued to be in vogue even during the post-Vedic decades though it was losing its importance and usefulness slowly.
The early Vedic period was marked by the absence of an organized state. The informal laws of nature (Rta) based on the inevitability of the natural propensity of every individual and every being asserting itself were in force. Men despite the differences in their innate traits (gunas), gentleness (sattva), assertiveness (rajas) and inertness (tamas), desired to be free.
But this primal anarchism (vairajyam) did not last long. The mighty began to rule over the weak and coerce the latter to meet their needs and demands. Anarchism, society governing itself without the aid of systematic law and organized state and with every individual exerting to control himself and restrain his senses (indriyas) and determining what creative activity (krta) he could be engaged in, was replaced by despotism. Anarchism called for diffusion of power to the smallest of the social units and for compromises and consensus among them.
The society so governing itself had no abiding structure. It suffered from vairupa and experienced constant flux. It was a diffused society with a diffused state and absence of social and political structure (vairupa).
By the end of the early Vedic period, Vairupam and Vairajyam (which characterized mainly western India) yielded place to the small state which promised to save the people from anarchy (arajaka) into which anarchism was deteriorating.
To be precise, the western region continued to be under the grip of anarchism and anarchy when the battle of Kurukshetra took place. The efforts of Krshna and Samkarshana to make it a diarchy could not succeed. In my work on Hindu Economic State, I have dealt with Kautilya’s views on diffused state (vairajyam) and diarchy (dvairajyam). He was a junior contemporary of Bhishma.
During the Atharvan times, the aggressive chieftains of the clans who were marked by the predominance in them of the trait of aggressiveness (rajas) elected from among themselves one as the rajan (king). This election was often preceded by a period of anarchism and then by anarchy and violent conflicts and even civil war. But this rajan could not become a despot or found a dynasty. The aggressive chieftains and the sober sages and even the inert commoners preferred diarchy to monarchy.
In some areas diarchy (which the school of Baradvaja advocated) was found to be harmful (as Kautilya noted) because of the conflicts between the two powerful chieftains who tried to browbeat each other. The people would have benefited if only the two had competed with each other in helping them and they would have become popular. Failure of dyarchy (dvairajyam) and of anarchism (vairajyam) resulted in monarchy getting established as the preferred system of governance.
Monarchy that threatened to become autocracy could be averted only by oligarchy, three or more persons sharing power and each heading the state by rotation. Modern historians have overlooked this aspect. Often the head of the oligarchy had limited tenure and limited power. The implications of this system have not been grasped adequately by the western Indologists and the Indian historians who have toed their line.
Kautilya found that in the context of inter-state conflicts, oligarchies were the most difficult to be defeated. It is unfortunate that the chapter in Kautilyan Arthasastra dealing with the oligarchies has not yet been traced.
Rajanyas, Sabha and Samiti
The king (rajan) could not collect levies (bali) from his subjects (prajas), for not all of them were under his direct control. He could collect tributes only from the chieftains whom he had subdued. Kshatriya aggressiveness (rajas) was externalized with the liberal nobles (devas) protecting the commoners (manushyas). Of course, often the house (sabha) of nobles failed to exercise its authority and perform its duty and come up to the expectations of the commoners.
In the normative Vedic state, the nobles (devas) were members of the assembly (sabha) while the sages (rshis) and elders (pitrs), most of whom were retired heads of families and had been landlords or owners of cattle were members of the council (samiti). Devas were not gods or divine beings. And pitrs were not spirits of dead ancestors. They too were human beings like the sages.
The sabha seems to have been the first legislative body to have come into existence. It was then a large body of aggressive chieftains who were later described as asuras. These chieftains, rajanyas were granted the status of devatas if they were not cruel and exploitative like the feudal lords (asuras). The samiti emerged later to check the high-handedness of the members of the sabha, who were aggressive chieftains.
The treasury (sura, rajyalakshmi) was controlled by the house of nobles (sabha) while the samiti debated, legislated and implemented the civil laws. The aggressive among the elite had constituted themselves into an electoral college and elected one of their members as rajan, the head of the state.
The king had to seek the permission of the two bodies, sabha and samiti, to withdraw funds from the treasury for his purposes whether, personal or social or for his economic ventures or for conquests. Unless the two bodies examined his credentials and qualifications and recognized him as being eligible, as having the prescribed traits, (varcas), to withdraw funds from the treasury to which the liberal nobles (suras) had each contributed his mite, the king could not have access to them.
The approved sections of the elite were called suras. The aggressive feudal chieftains were not given that status though they were members of the ruling class from the very beginning and were senior (jyeshta) to the nobles.
The joint meeting of the two bodies was convened by the chief of the people (prajapati). It had to unanimously approve the king’s project and consent to release the necessary funds.
The king was not a regular member of the house of nobles (divam, sabha), the upper house of the legislature though he might be gentle and educated. He had to be a lone warrior (ekavira) and could not lead the state army (sena) unless the two bodies permitted.
The status of devata granted to the approved kings should not be interpreted as the king being given divine right to rule or making him exempt from accountability for his actions.
Cadres of Nobles (Devas)
The traditional assembly of nobles (divam) had four cadres---Rudras who wielded influence over the populations of the social periphery and the frontier society, Maruts who were storm-troopers controlling the moors and open areas, Vasus who were landlords and owners of cattle and had influence over the people of the agro-pastoral plains and Adityas who controlled the administration and the army on behalf of the patriciate.
When the order of Manu was instituted every incumbent to the post of Manu inducted, in consultation with his council of seven sages, new cadres as nobles. Manu Vaivasvata inducted Visvedevas (representatives of the bourgeoisie) and Asvins (representatives of the lower classes, Shudras and Dasas), in the assembly while retaining the four traditional groups.
Viraj-Head of the Federal Social Polity
The Viraj was the head of the federal polity---the city (pura) and the rural region (rashtra) around it in all the eight directions. Earlier he was elected by a college comprising the head of the city council and the heads of the four janapadas around it. The four main districts and the four intermediate regions together formed the rashtram. (It is advisable not to translate this term as nation. It was the janapada whose residents were born there that was nearer the definition of a nation.)
The virajam was culturally varied and its population was marked by unity in diversity while a janapada tended to be culturally cohesive. It is however not sound to describe janapada as an ethnic unit. It was a political unit.
Kashyapa and Eight Approved Sectors
Kashyapa who headed the council of seven sages during the tenure of Manu Vaivasvata identified eight distinct sectors in the larger society which he termed virajam. They were all approved sections. According to the Atharvaveda, this format was present since the earliest times.
The feudal lords (asuras), the liberal nobles (devas), the sages (rshis), the retired elders (pitrs) and the agro-pastoral commonalty (manushyas, jana, native population) were sectors of the core society.
The plutocrats (yakshas) and their guards and retinue belonged to the other society (itara-jana) of the frontier regions. The technocrats (nagas) and the organized mobile industrial workers (sarpas) too belonged to the other society. The cadres like gandharvas and apsarases who were a mobile population (jagat) were known as blessed people (punya-jana).
The election for the position of the Viraj was often preceded by wild conflicts and threat to peace and law and order.
During the interregnum marked by civil war, Agni, the head of the council (samiti) of sages and elders and of the civil judiciary, along with Varuna, the ombudsman, ensured that every member of the executive and every subject continued to perform his duties. The interregnum was not allowed to deteriorate into anarchy.
It may be noted here that the post of the chief judge, Agni, was held by a senior member of the bourgeoisie, while that of the ombudsman, Varuna, by a pitr (elder) who had been an authoritarian lord (asura) earlier and was in charge of river and maritime economy and also of galleys where offenders were kept chained and made to work until they discharged their debts or paid the ransom.
Later Viraj, the head of the federal polity comprising the city and the four janapadas around it was elected by a larger body comprising dynamic social leaders (purushas) who were heads of clans or larger families and their consorts (stris).
But as wives could not act on their own when their husbands were on the socio-political scene, the electoral college accommodated free women (naris) in their place. The naris would have been spinsters or elderly women who were widows or were living apart from their husbands and offspring.
The Viraj was an elected head of the state, whether he was elected by the smaller body of five regional heads (who had the status of rajans) of the pura-rashtra or by the larger body comprising dynamic social leaders (purushas) and free women (naris). This system was adapted by Yayati who recognized Puru as the head of the oligarchy of five brothers (Puru, Anu, Yadu, Drhyu and Turvasu) and by Yudhishtira who ruled with the aid of four brothers. Such setups were present in many areas of north India during the Vedic era.
The two bodies, Sabha and Samiti, were headed by officials designated as Indra and Agni respectively. Indra controlled the treasury and the army and headed the eight-member executive. Agni headed the civil judiciary and the council that debated the provisions of the social laws. This legislative body had sixteen jurists and sixteen elders. Law was then based on the principles of Truth (Satya). It did not preclude resort to ordeals to ascertain the truth and to enforce adherence to it.
Agni was later recognized as one of the eight karmadevas and granted a place in the executive next only to Indra. This exaltation of Agni took place only after Daksha, the powerful Prajapati, who controlled the magistracy was made to step down.
Purusha pattern and Viraj pattern
The eight members of the executive represented the eight distinct sectors of the federal polity, Virajam, which was a union without uniformity (virupa) and ensured the autonomy (svarajam) of its every unit. According to the Atharvaveda version of Purusha-sukta, this was the earliest form of polity. It held that the Purusha constitution evolved out of the Viraj pattern. According to the Rgvedic version, the Viraj pattern itself was an evolute of an earlier Purusha pattern. Purusha pattern proper evolved out of the Viraj pattern whether there was an earlier Purusha pattern or not. This enigma can be solved only if we trace the relation between the two statuses, Viraj and Purusha.
The two houses of the Vedic legislature, sabha and samiti, could be convened only by the chief of the people, Prajapati. When they transacted matters pertaining to law and order or peace and war or finance, the joint-meeting was presided over by Indra, the head of the house of nobles, sabha. When they dealt with issues pertaining to social laws, it was presided over by the Prajapati himself.
The needs of the commoners (vis) were brought to the attention of the nobles (devas) by Agni. Prajapati, Viraj, Indra and Agni were not gods, even as devas were not. They were prominent officials of the Vedic era. Indra ranked higher than Agni and Prajapati was superior to Indra. The Viraj as the head of the federal polity was superior to the Prajapati.
Some of the heads of administrative wings like Soma, Varuna and Kubera had the status of Raja and so too the heads of the urban council (paura) and the autonomous rural bodies (janapadas).
They were assertive and the residents of the areas under them did not dare to disobey them. Soma looked after the interests of the people of the forests and mountains, especially of the intellectuals stationed there.
Varuna controlled the river and maritime economy. He was also in charge of the wing of the judiciary that ensured that every one discharged his duties, especially of maintaining the non-economic sections of the society like the nobles, sages and elders. He was also the ombudsman. Varuna was feared even as the asuras were. Kubera headed the plutocrats, yakshas, and got the economic laws promulgated by them implemented by all in the larger society. In the Atharvan social polity, Soma (who belonged to the school of Rudra) was connected with the northern regions, Varuna with the western and Kubera (Vaisravana) with the southern. Indra (an Aditya) was associated with the eastern region. .
While a king (raja) had tenure of five years, the Viraj, head of the federal polity had tenure of ten to twelve years, even as the Manu had. (It is wrong to presume that a manvantra or period of Manu lasted several millennia. A viraj could be re-elected for a period of five or ten years. Neither a raja nor a viraj had life tenure. Neither was a hereditary post. Neither was a noble (deva).
Only a purusha was allowed life tenure of twenty to twenty-four years. He too was not a noble. He was only on the threshold of the aristocracy. He had risen from the ranks of the masses, prakrti. (The features of the purusha constitution are discussed separately.)
Tenure and Status of Prajapati
The chief of the people (prajapati) was elected by the elders (pitaras) who had retired from social and economic activities. In the Vedic set-up, he had tenure of twenty-four years and if so desired by the elders he could continue to be in that post for another twenty years. If no suitable candidate was found to fill in that post he could continue for more years.
The prajapati who was a highly charismatic figure represented the population of the predominantly agrarian region (rashtra) and had considerable influence over the administration and the army, that is, over the civil and military wings (kshatram) of the state, as the Mahadeva constitution indicates.
The Rgveda had recommended that the Prajapati would convene the meetings of the two legislative bodies, sabha and samiti, and preside over the joint-meeting when it deliberated the nuances of the social laws, but did not give him the authority to overrule the decisions of either body or those of the joint-meeting.
The Mahadeva constitution described in Atharvaveda Bk.XV however gave the Prajapati a very high position. He commanded the confidence and loyalty of the commonalty (vis). The king (rajan) and the electoral college of rajanyas had to honour him and wait on his instructions.
All the four state institutions, house of nobles (sabha), council of scholars (samiti), army (sena) and treasury (sura) headed by Indra, Agni, Aditya and Brhaspati respectively had to follow his instructions. Prajapati was superior to the king and the four chiefs of the essentially rural state.
Prajapati Mahadeva after assessing the views of the four major sections of the core society, the nobility (devas) the commonalty (vis, prthvi, manushyas), the administrators-cum-warriors (kshatras), the intelligentsia-cum-jurists (Brahmans) recommended that Indra would continue to head the nobility but would not be in charge of the army or the treasury.
The state army would be a separate institution headed by Aditya (Surya) who would be answerable to the charismatic chief of the people (Prajapati) and not to Indra, the head of the nobility or to the Rajan, the head of the ruling oligarchy. Neither the nobility nor the oligarchy was dissolved. Indra however continued to head the eight-member executive that took all political decisions including peace and war. But the nobles would no longer be eligible to retain their personal troops with the army instituted as part of the state apparatus headed by Aditya who could not function without the permission of the Prajapati, the highest authority.
Indra-Brhaspati Agreement: A critique
Indra-Brhaspati agreement which was a corollary to Trisamdhi, the agreement among the three social worlds, patriciate, commonalty, and the frontier society had placed the deployment of the army in the hands of Indra and had permitted Aditya to be in charge only of training the combined forces.
It however placed Brhaspati, the civilian authority in charge of the armoury and the treasury, thereby preventing Indra and Aditya from acting independent of the civil government. Indra would have his objectives frustrated if he ignored Brhaspati.
Indra-Brhaspati pattern promoted by the Atharvan ideologues-cum-activists (Brahmavadis) had visualized a civilian government supervised by Brhaspati as a check on the nobles who enjoyed several immunities and privileges. Indra could not enter into war or go on conquests, without the consent of the civilian authority Brhaspati.
If Brhaspati refused him access to the arms and funds Indra who was the head of the government and leader of the aristocrats of the core society could find his projects and ambitions frustrated forcing him to depend on plutocrats (yakshas) and technocrats (nagas) of the frontier society to rescue him from the feudal lords (asuras) who were his bitter enemies.
Prajapati Mahadeva who had circumambulated the entire country several times and studied in depth the needs of its varied populations at all levels did not want the civil government headed by Brhaspati to have more powers than what were necessary to meet the economic needs of the commonalty. He placed the treasury (sura) in the hands of the Brhaspati, but not the armoury or the army.
The nobility would be in charge of political policy regarding peace and war and also of providing the necessary weapons to the army. The army however would be raised, trained and headed not by Indra but by Aditya (Surya). It would be independent of the nobility as well as the commonalty.
Brhaspati was in reality, a spokesman of the rich bourgeoisie rather than of the commoners. Agni who headed the council of sages (rshis) and elders (pitrs) was retained in his post and continued to head the civil judiciary. In many areas, the samiti had been wound up and administration was run by Indra and Brhaspati, that is, by the aristocrats and the bourgeoisie.
This diarchy had resulted in constant friction between the privileged class of nobles and the civil administration which controlled the judiciary, the treasury and the armoury.
Indra-Brhaspati agreement had while permitting the bourgeoisie-controlled civil administration to have a stranglehold over the army enabled it to destroy the independence of the judiciary.
The jurists and intellectuals (Brahmans) could not have their say in matters pertaining to economic laws (vyavahara) or political policies (dandaniti). Prajapati Mahadeva ended this distortion. Of course he allowed economic affairs to be handled by those engaged in productive economy, that is, by the bourgeoisie, and not by the nobility or the intelligentsia.
Prajapati Mahadeva was a charismatic figure who had toured the country widely and come in contact with the people at all levels and in all regions and understood their needs, social and economic. He was entrusted with the task of socio-political reorganization by the masses (vis) rather than by any small electoral college or sectoral body. The reorganization resulted in the creation of small viable nation-states (rashtras) all over the country.
The three non-economic classes, nobles (devas), sages (rshis) and elders (pitrs) who were not engaged in productive economic occupations (varta) were kept away from the field of economy (varta), economic laws (vyavahara) and economic power (sura). These were placed in the hands of Brhaspati.
Indra-Agni diarchy which was highly influential even during the last decades of the long Vedic era and was recommended by Bharadvaja, counsellor of Bharata, had prevented conflicts between the leisure class of nobles (devas) and the working class of commoners (manushyas).
The council (samiti) comprising sages and elders ensured that the rule of law prevailed and protected the commonalty against exploitation by the powerful ruling class and against internal conflicts (between Vaisyas and Shudras). Agni who was selected from among the rich Vaisyas was later given the status of devata, a rank just below the nobles (devas). His place was next only to Indra.
Indra-Brhaspati pattern was followed by many rulers like Dasaratha of Ayodhya. It was in force in many states as Kautilya, a junior contemporary of Bhishma noticed. The two officials determined who would be the successor to the incumbent ruler and took him under their charge even when he was but a kid.
But Kautilya was not happy with power divided between the two officials, Sannidhata and Samaharta who represented the urban council (paura) and the rural areas (rashtra) respectively, even as Indra and Brhaspati did during the Atharvan epoch.
Kautilya’s king was not as powerless as the Atharvan king was (under both patterns Indra-Agni diarchy and Indra-Brhaspati diarchy).
The nation-state as proposed by Mahadeva who fused the above two patterns became the pattern adopted all over the country. It had no place for either Viraj, the head of the federal polity with five autonomous political units or Aditi the benevolent mother-figure who looked after the implementation of the ten rules of ethics (that were adopted by Manusmrti but made obligatory for only monks, sanyasis).
These rules were moderated by her ‘brother’, Soma, the head of the sober intelligentsia of the frontier society of forests and mountains.
The Viraj polity had required the eight members of the executive to function under the guidance of Aditi. They were hence known as Adityas though they were not all members of the Aditya cadre of nobles.
But Aditi herself had to function under the guidance of the chief of the people, Prajapati. Aditi functioned within the framework of duties outlined by Prajapati Kashyapa.
The Vedic hymns indicate that Prajapati Daksha who held sway during the decades preceding the installation of Manu Svayambhuva, was but one of the officials functioning under an earlier Aditi. Daksha controlled the department of magistracy (Yama) which enforced the prohibitory orders and punished the violators of yamas.
Kashyapa continued a pre-Svayambhuva tradition.
The normative pattern of the Vedic state provided for a Prajapati who convened the two houses of legislature, sabha and samiti. He treated the nobles (devas) to be superior to the sages (rshis) and the elders (pitrs). All the three cadres were superior to the king (rajan) the head of the oligarchy and of the state.
The rajan had no control over any state activity, legislative or military, political or economic though he was the head of the state. He had no role in settling disputes and rendering justice. He ranked below Prajapati, Indra and Agni.
But in many areas Indra-Brhaspati diarchy prevailed. Indra headed the army and the treasury and presided over the house of nobles (devas). Brhaspati, an economist and ideologue (Brahmavadi) was in charge of civil administration and economy. He could function effectively only when the state treasury was placed in his charge. He also took charge of the armoury in a move to establish a demilitarized society free of civil war and violence. This deprived Indra and other nobles of both political and economic power.
Brhaspati was thus next only to Prajapati and became superior to Indra. He was claimed to be the protector of the provisions of the Atharvan constitution, Brahma. In this pattern, Brhaspati who exercised considerable influence over the bourgeoisie and implemented the economic laws based on the principles of truth (satya), non-violence (ahimsa) and inviolability of personal property (asteya) crippled Indra. The latter had to curtail his campaigns against the feudal order though they were justified. The Atharvans were not against all feudal lords (asuras). They wanted only the intransigents (vrtras) to be exterminated as they were enemies of the entire social system.
State policy was determined by Brhaspati, successor to Angirasa, one of the two chief editors of Atharvaveda. (The other was called Atharvacharya.) Brhaspati was functioning on behalf of the commonalty (manushyas).
Indra-Brhaspati agreement was a corollary to the Triple Entente which brought together the three social worlds (lokas), divam, prthvi and antariksham, patriciate, commonalty and frontier society without adversely affecting their separate identities and exclusive privileges.
The frontier society was led by the plutocrats (yakshas) who consented to finance the campaigns of the combined forces against the intransigent (vrtras) among the feudal lords.
Indra prevailed on the nobles to place their personal troops at his disposal. The commoners too provided troops which formed the main body though they were not in the front.
The frontier society sent the sarpas, industrial workers, with their own troops. After the war was over, they returned to the forests with their troops while the troops of the commonalty were disbanded and the arms given to them were deposited in the armoury under their charge.
Brhaspati demanded that the nobles too should ask their troops to surrender their arms in the armoury. He was eager to ensure that the core society remained unarmed during peace. Dasas, manushyas and sarpas were the three sectors of the combined troops led by Indra but were trained by Aditya.
Indra-Brhaspati agreement warned the intellectuals, especially the jurists (Brahmans) not to attempt to save the vrtras from the action launched against the latter.
The Atharvan ideologues (Brahmavadis) who adopted Indra's blue-red policy signified by the rainbow did not entertain hatred against the feudal lords (asuras) or the discrete individuals (bhutas) who had been disenchanted with the commonalty (bhumi) and gone to the social periphery or distant areas. They were welcome to return if they upheld the concept of universal brotherhood signified by the blue interior of the bow. But if they resisted or threatened the predominantly agro-pastoral core society they would have to meet the might of the combined army of the three organized social worlds. The red exterior of the bow signified this warning to those who rejected the hand of friendship and fraternity.
Brhaspati, an economist who was a follower of Angirasa and Atharvacharya was against the ruling class of nobles (devas) compromising with the other sectors of the larger society on social, economic and political issues.
When he refused to hand over the weapons in the state armoury to Indra, the latter was constrained to seek the aid of Visvarupa, a technocrat (who claimed the status and privileges of an intellectual, Brahman) to make new weapons (named after Narayana). But Visvarupa gave the vrtra also similar weapons. Sakra Indra felt let down and killed Visvarupa which act was objected to by Brhaspati. Intellectuals enjoyed immunity against being awarded death sentence even as the nobles did.
Brhaspati was said to have locked the armoury and treasury and gone abroad to show his displeasure. The constant friction between the two authorities, Indra and Brhaspati could not be toned down as there was then no authority superior to them. Indra determined the policy favoured by the nobles. It was called daivam. Brhaspati moulded the policy to be adopted by the commonalty and the civil government. It was known as 'manushyam. It called for strenuous effort. The two policies occupied a crucial position in the functioning of the state of the core society of nobles and commoners.
Unless the commoners tuned their efforts and objectives to the ones that could best serve the needs of both the strata, they would fail. (This did not mean that men should follow god’s intents.)
In the Mahadeva constitution, both patterns, Indra-Agni and Indra-Brhaspati, became part of the new set-up. The consensus arrived at protected the status and privileges of the aristocracy. But it was no longer the ruling class. Its troops were merged in the state army most of whose ranks and file had been drawn from the gandharva cadres and commonalty respectively. While the leaders were trained warriors and had to be prevailed on to deem it as their duty to contribute their talents and risk their lives for a public cause, the bulk of the army was a collection of free men (naras) led by experienced captains (narapatis). The servants (dasas) of the nobles (devas) and the troops raised from among the commoners (manushyas) increased the numbers but not the efficacy of the army. The state army was trained by Aditya who had to obey the Prajapati, the chief of the people and not the king (Rajan), the ornamental head of the state or Indra, the head of the eight-member executive and of the nobility.
The Rajan and Indra, if they wanted to display their valour had to do so using their personal contingents and not the state army. Brhaspati would deny them even these contingents and they had to fight alone as ekaviras. Aditya had to consult the executive on how to deploy his troops and obtain the permission of the Prajapati to deploy them.
Indra became a state dignitary upholding the grandeur of his city and visiting the rural areas rarely or seen by the rural visitors to the city on festive occasions. This led to Aditya heading the executive and the army and being worshipped by the masses whose interests were protected by Brhaspati.
Brhaspati supervised the economy and was expected to settle all disputes on the basis of Truth (Satya). But this mechanism tended to give greater weight to the statements of the rich than to those of the poor though the latter were pious. Brhaspati required the officials (samahartas) of the janapadas to ensure economic equity and economic justice for their people.
Agni headed the samiti and Indra, the sabha, the two houses of the legislature. Agni continued to head the judiciary while the nobility retained the right to veto any step of the executive that in its opinion was undesirable. The nation-state had come into existence with the sages and elders along with the nobles determining the socio-cultural laws. The commoners had to meet the needs of these cadres through voluntary sacrifice. It was a small unit where the intermediate region was merged in one of the two neighbouring janapadas. The bhutas, the discrete individuals, of these intermediate regions became part of the jana, the native population of the janapada. The state could not extend its borders thereafter. Conquests were ruled out. The cultural aristocracy and the intelligentsia called for contentment and subordination to laws (niyamas and yamas). The Prajapati required the state to meet the minimum needs of all, including food.
The Vedic social order envisaged three social worlds, with their officials designated as Indra heading the nobility, Agni the commonalty and Soma the frontier society. The neo-Vedic social order placed the organized larger commonalty under Aditya and the frontier society under Soma. Those who did not come under their administrative control were placed under the chief of the civil judiciary, Agni. The open areas with dispersed population and non-settled population were supervised by the official designated as Vayu. Indra headed the administration of the capital and Isvara that of the rural areas and the social periphery.
These experiments and recommendations led to recognition of Indra as the head of the city-based liberal aristocracy, Soma as the head of the intellectual aristocracy comprising mainly retired senior citizens and technocrats, plutocrats and industrial proletariat stationed in forests and mountains away from cities and villages. While the task of regulating law and order in the core society and also in the distant areas was given to Agni, Brhaspati controlled the economy and civil administration and guarded the interests of the bourgeoisie. The interests of the lower classes was to be looked after by the liberal noble, Indra and the benevolent charismatic chief, Isvara. The sages did not expect the bourgeoisie to look after the interests of the commoners most of whom were workers.
An interesting experiment initiated by Pracetas Manu, author of an Arthasastra text, was to have a ruler of a large integrated and holistic state assisted by an executive of twelve officials, purushas, with outstanding leadership traits. This was a compromise between the eight-member executive headed by Indra of the normative Vedic state and an experienced sixteen-member meritocracy headed by Prajapati, the most senior among the elders. The latter was recommended by Brhaspati, a bourgeois economist in place of the twenty-four member leviathan of a feudal state championed by Usanas. [None of these practices found favour with Kautilya, advocate of the primacy of economy. He said that the size of the cabinet would depend on the size of the state.]
This experiment granted the status of Rajan to all the twelve members of the executive in charge of diverse sectors and purposeful unorthodox aspects of administration. With the King (Rajan) functioning as the official head of the state, Soma, the head of the intellectual aristocracy would be elevated as Maharaja, head of the executive and Mahabrahmana, head of the judiciary and the constitution bench. The head of the state and every member of his executive could be overruled by this ombudsman, senior executive and head of the judiciary.
Meanwhile the social order itself was undergoing a major change thanks to the constitution proposed by Manu Vaivasvata. It proposed that the city council, paura and the rural assembly, janapada, should be deliberative bodies discussing all aspects of every issue and that decisions should be arrived at by the ruler after winning the support of both groups, that of his supporters and that of others. [This system was more democratic than the modern parliamentary democracy and the ancient Greek system.]
It proposed the system of tax (one-sixth of the produce, irrespective of quantum) and abolished the practice of forcible extortion. Only those who paid the prescribed tax would be eligible for protection by the state. There would be no separate tax levied for protection of life and property. Vaivasvata constitution envisaged an integrated paura-janapada, urban-rural complex. The house of nobles was democratized by him.
This constitution recognized three social sectors, the leisure class of liberal cultural aristocrats, the free middle class and the working class of commoners. All the three would be governed by the same provisions in the civil law interpreted and implemented by Naciketas Agni who had experienced the lives of the peoples of all strata. With everyone required to be engaged in productive activity and made eligible for personal property, it aimed at abolishing both the strata, the idle aristocracy (devas) and the toiling proletariat (manushyas).
But this objective of building a society of independent self-reliant individuals with personal property with no class either of aristocracy or of proletariat was not incorporated in the Vaivasvata constitution or given effect to though equality before the eyes of law was given effect to.
Vaivasvata did not deem it feasible to go further towards abolishing socio-economic classes. While retaining the house of nobles that would be a court of appeal he inducted representatives of the bourgeoisie and the working class in it. The steps that he took for democratization of the state was taken note of by Kautilyan Arthasastra.
Towards Post-Vaivasvata Constitutions
The constitution that the agrarian king, Prthu was required to accept and function under, made every official including the king, account for his acts of omission and commission and answerable to the constitution bench. Its coercive power (Brahmadanda) was higher than that of the head of the state (Rajadanda). It is wrong to interpret that the ecclesiastical order was more powerful than the temporal authority.
The state, according to this constitution would be an executive but the policy to be followed by it would be determined by a group of ideologues following the Atharvan (Brahma) socio-political constitution. It was however agreed that the ideologues would no longer be political activists or function as a superior power-elite and that the state would not follow any policy other than what this group of ideologues determined. Transparency was insisted on.
The Prthu constitution required the state to be non-expansionist and stable (kutastha), governed by persons who had no personal economic interests (nirarthaka) and ensuring diversity in approaches, orientations and pursuits (nanatva). Prthu was guided by the Upanishadic sage, Sanatkomara, who called for creation of an affluent society by ensuring for everyone personal property, equal rights and self-determination (svarajam).
Everyone was free to choose his set of values (svadharma), his consort (svamithuna) and his vocation (svakarma) in tune with his aptitude determined by his nature (svabhava). Guided by Sanatkumara the Prthu constitution gave liberty to all and made everyone autonomous, answerable to his conscience and the society at large. It was an open society with an open state.
The neo-Vedic period was marked by discussions on how far a talented social leader who had functioned in several offices could be trusted to remain absolutely neutral and free from self-aggrandizement in order to function as the head of the polity. He should be able to represent the common will, needs and aspirations of the entire society and not that of any particular social body of which he is a member or his personal will and interests.
Such a Purusha should know the needs of individuals, who are at the bare survival level (jivatmas), individuals who characterize the basic ethos of the entire society (pranatmas), the different organized groups whether settled ones or not, free men and women with different calibers, individuals on the social periphery whether dropouts from organized groups or expelled ones and persons in the higher social strata.
Such an experienced socio-political leader could become the chief of the nation-state, Prajapati. But he would be answerable to the constitution and the constitution-bench headed by the chief justice, Brahma. The constitution at any given time had to be a continuation of the existing rules and regulations many of which were inviolable and non-amendable.
At the same time the member of the constitution bench had to be aware of the current needs and latent trends. Precedents alone are not to be honoured. They may help in ensuring stability and continuity but cannot aid in social, economic and cultural progress and development. Manu Svarochisha stood for a non-expansionist stable state while encouraging the educated youth (vipras) and the senior students to educate all and spread the best of culture and performance of personal duties.
The chief justice (brahma) and educationist-members of the constitution bench (vipras who spread knowledge and cultural practices among the people beyond the pale of the core society) tended to go by the unalterable rule (vidhi) which determined future career, rewards and sanctions. As it left every one of the strata and sectors the chief presided over in dilemma on what they should do and what not to, the verdicts of that Brahma (head of the four-member constitution bench) had to be subjected to periodical assessment by a higher council of veterans. Such a head of veterans was called Parabrahma if he was stoical, Parampurusha, if he was dynamic and Paramatma if he was highly altruistic, humane and forbearing.
Besides, it needed a higher executive to ensure that the considered verdict given by the chief justice would be accepted and executed by the highest executive (whether Virat or Samrat or Maharaja or Chakravarti) and those who were under him. Merely styling the Viraj or Purusha or Prajapati or even the chief justice, Brahma as the highest authority in the state is not enough. The chief justice, Brahma, even if he is fair and unbiased needs a superior group of veterans to ensure that his verdicts are honoured and implemented.
The Upanishads and the Brahmasutras discussed the traits, statuses and roles of the free individual (atma), the talented social leader (purusha), a benevolent charismatic chieftain (isvara), the free individual who could voice and uphold the needs of everyone in the larger society (vaisvanara) and the intellectual who could be installed as a stoical, unbiased jurist (Brahma) upholding the socio-political constitution. [But the recommendations of these works were too idealistic to be implemented and were later unnecessarily clouded in impenetrable mysticism and metaphysics.]
The early post-Vedic polity explored the possibilities of establishing viable medium-sized states that would uphold and spread cultural values (dharma) and also meet the economic needs (artha) of every member of that society. These two values have to be described in precise terms.
‘Dharma’ is not ‘religion’. It has nothing to do with rites and rituals or even faith in an almighty benevolent ‘god’. It has to be distinguished from ‘creed’. It was more than righteousness.
The merger of all the fifty states into a single mega-state was not advocated. The early Vedic society was characterized by the recognition that every individual seeks to survive in the struggle for existence but that only the fittest is able to survive as a self-reliant person. It was a period when the principle, ‘might is right’ held sway. At the same time as not all are born with the same traits everyone needed protection and freedom to pursue his or her pursuits. Despotism by the mighty and struggle for freedom of the individual were both accommodated in the laws of natural rhythm. The unwritten laws of the early Vedic era were described as following ‘rta’. This term is not to be equated with justice.
The permissive laws based on Rta were first supplemented and then superseded during the middle Vedic period by the puritanical laws based on the inviolability and invincibility of truth (satya). Every educated person who could comprehend what the obvious truth is was asked to take a pledge to always stand by truth. Those who were not educated were called upon to at least abjure perjury. Social, economic and state laws were given a new positive direction and cultural values that transcended individualism were spread by the sages.
Rta was not Satya and neither is to be equated with Dharma. Dharma was claimed by some Upanishads as identical with Satya. Rta, Satya and Dharma are distinct value systems. The laws based on Satya are not to be interpreted as negation of the value of individualism. While the early Vedic era conceded that might was right, the middle Vedic era saw attempts to liberate everyone from bondage and at ensuring that ‘right was mightier than might’. The social and state laws, Dharma, that gained respect during the later Vedic era was a compromise between the two socio-legal systems, Rta and Satya.
The practices of and values upheld by every clan or community or economic body or region had to be accepted by every individual member belonging to it. If the individual did not do so his relations with that social or economic group or polity or stratum would be strained and he stood the danger of being expelled from it. But no one was or could be expelled from a clan or community by persons not belonging to that group. These groups had each its informal but binding codes of conduct. They were called ‘dharma’.
Sanatana dharma which was outlined during the neo-Vedic era reorganized the society and distinguished between rules that prescribed what everyone should do (niyamas) and pronounced what none should do (yamas). It retained the aristocracy as the highest social stratum and constituted the free middle stratum into two classes, intellectuals and jurists (Brahmans), and administrators manning the higher state institutions (Kshatras). They were superior to all those of the commonalty (Vis) who were engaged in economic activities. This scheme was outlined by experienced sages who belonged to different social sectors. They were nominees of the first Manu, Svayambhuva. Later the commonalty got divided into two strata, those who had personal property and those who had no property and were workers.
Sasvata dharma which came into force after approval by the seventh Manu, Vaivasvata widened social options. The four-fold paradigm of prescription of a few imperatives that all would have to follow, permission for some other activities and values which were open to different sections and individuals, preference for certain permitted ways of life and conduct and proscription of some acts as anti-social was outlined and accommodated in this permanent code.
It was liberal without affecting the society adversely. A society and state that consented to follow this liberal code which assured that rights of individuals and different social groups would not be ignored or suppressed could develop for itself Dharmarajya. All the groups were assured that their respective systems of values, dharma, were acceptable.
Only those ways of life that were against wholesome holism would have to be put down by the state. The only values imperative for everyone to uphold are compassion and generosity. No one would be prevailed on to learn or pursue a particular vocation or defend the state and obey its directives.
Dharmarajya did not call for placing any religious order on a high pedestal. It had nothing to do with propagating any religion or even spreading spiritualism. It was against making the state a leviathan. To the extent the state functioned in the spirit of compassion, altruism, service and sacrifice it was to be granted the powers needed. There would be no coercion.
Dharmarajya refused to recognize the concept of sovereignty of the state and preferred to persuade and exhort the individuals and social groups to support it, that is, its officials. The state would have minimal powers needed for protection of its subjects and domiciles from external threat and internal unrest. It would not issue any edict that would infringe on the rights of individuals to hold their own faiths and practise their traditional customs and rites. It would not even recommend or promote any particular faith however noble it might be.
Dharmarajya was a liberal social welfare state headed by a stoical ruler who was educated and humble and unlike the Atharvan king (rajan) was characterized by gentleness (sattva) and not aggressiveness (rajas). Hence the issue how far he should be empowered to function as the head of the state to regulate and control the officials who assisted him and how much power they should be given to discharge their duties should be decided by such a ruler personally and not by others for him.
While in the Vedic polity the head of the state was an aggressive chieftain elected by a college of equally aggressive chieftains the Dharmaraja had to be one who was highly educated and trained in discharge of his duties impartially and gently. In the Vedic polity, the head of the state (rajan) was subordinate to the house of nobles and council of sages and elders and had no control over any of the four state wings, the two houses of legislature, the army and the civil administration including the treasury.
Rajan, the head of the Vedic state and the four institutions and their heads were required to follow the directives issued by the chief of the people (prajapati) who was the eldest among the elders who had retired from all politico-economic activities. This chief was the head of the nation-state and wielded immense influence and even coercive power.
The neo-Vedic constitutions envisaged that either a highly charismatic and talented social leader (purusha) who was trained in all posts or a benevolent charismatic chieftain (isvara) who could be also menacing (and who was later deemed to be a king, rajan, next to God) or the chief justice (brahma) who interpreted the constitution and could overrule all officials including the highly powerful and influential chief of the nation-state (prajapati) when necessary, could be the head of the nation-state.
The neo-Vedic polity discontinued the practice of a head of the state, rajan, elected by his peers. He was bypassed by the Prajapati, head of the nation-state and chief of the council of elders.
This council had in the interim period, retired and reformed feudal chieftains on it in addition to retired elders and was empowered to admit new individuals from the periphery free men, individuals from open areas etc as subjects of his state in addition to its natives.
The Prajapati convened the two houses of legislature (sabha and samiti) and supervised all the four state institutions and was assisted by a sixteen-member secretariat comprising the elders who were members of the council (samiti).
Agni, the chief of that council and head of the civil judiciary who had earlier jurisdiction only over the commonalty was replaced by one who had insight though not formal education, Naciketas Agni who had jurisdiction over the working class of commoners, the free middle class and the leisure class of nobles. The last ceased to be a court of appeal and with democratization setting in became but a higher stratum of the bourgeoisie.
By the end of the Vedic era, the class of nobility, cultural aristocracy, lost its identity and even the status of members of the upper house of legislature and court of appeal. No official including the king cared to seek its approval or even recognition. The sabha withered with aristocrats and plutocrats losing their separate identities and with its democratization. The aristocrats who had succeeded in keeping out cruel feudal lords consented to grant the plutocrats a place next to them.
Brahma, the chief of the academy of jurists and head of the four member constitution bench became superior to Prajapati, the head of the nation-state. He could overrule the provisions of the social constitution, Dharma, which were of course more liberal than the puritanical laws based on Satya and more rational than the permissive laws based on Rta. Dharma as principles of justice and the basic ethos of the society based on compassion and liberality was being guarded by the Prajapati (head of the nation-state) and Brhaspati (head of the civil administration and regulator of economy).
It was declared that the provisions of Dharmasastra as social laws would be valid only if they did not violate the provisions of the comprehensive socio-political constitution, Brahma. The code of social laws, Dharma, did not attempt to integrate the laws of discrete clans, communities, vocational groups and regions and states.
This lacuna was filled by the constitution, Brahma, which determined what an individual should do and what values his group might uphold as its own. Freedom of the individual and freedom of the social group, svadharma, were protected by the constitution, Brahma, against infringement by the state and its officials.
While it was almost impossible to identify one who could be elevated to the status of Brahma, chief justice and head of the academy of jurists, the constitution, Brahma, as agreed upon by the Upanishadic sages safeguarded all the then existing values and it became inviolable and non-amendable. Social laws framed under the principle of inviolability of precedents became rigid. The executive including the head of the state and all social and economic organizations and groups and all individuals had to acknowledge the constitution (though unwritten but was a compilation of valued precedents and public opinion as voiced by the respected elders) as the final word.
Every state was encouraged to have a Rajarshi. He would play the roles of Agni, civil judge and Dharma, director in charge of socio-cultural orientations and head the executive. He was however to be guided by Rajapurohita who had preferably been a Rajarashi earlier and would be a liaison between the head of the state and the house of nobles and would be in charge of assessing the trends in the society and economy and also of disaster control. He would be empowered to indict even a ruler who erred.
The provisions of the Rajarshi constitution detailed by Kautilya’s Arthasastra overrode the ones that preceded it and also the science detailing the principles of exercise of coercive power, Dandaniti.
This work by Usanas was preceded by Arthasastra texts attributed to Narada, Pracetas Manu, Visalaksha, Brhaspati an ideologue of the school of Angirasa (co-author of Atharvaveda), an Indra who was son of Bahudanti. They differed from one another in their emphasis. Visalaksha’s work reflected the views of the cultural aristocracy and so too that of Indra while Brhaspati’s those of the bourgeoisie and Narada’s of the free middle class. Bhishma who outlined Rajadharma discussed the positive features of all these works. His concept of Rajadharma was adapted by Manusmrti which like Bhishma gave importance to the recommendations of Pracetas. Pracetas and Narada were members of the editorial board of Manusmrti (Manava Dharmasastra) headed by Bhrgu. This board was constituted by the first Manu, Svayambhuva.
Manusmrti advocated the formation of an autonomous rural bureaucracy. The king stationed in the city rarely interfered in the work of this bureaucracy. His power was limited. He was but an ornamental head of the state. Only several centuries later, the king addressed as Rajan was vested with the powers of Isvara, aiding his worshippers and punishing his opponents. This does not mean that he was recognized as God or equal to God. Prthu, a protégé of Manu Vaivasvata was not a rajanya. He was an agriculturist (like Janaka of Videha). Prthu was designated as an Isvara and not as Rajan or as Janaka. Prthu’s state was the model that Manusmrti emulated.
Isvara was the charismatic benevolent chieftain of the people of the social periphery who were discrete individuals not living as social groups while the highest socio-political authority was Indra who was stationed in the capital. By the end of the Vedic era, the rural areas too came under the jurisdiction of Indra stationed in the capital. But with Isvara’s authority extended to the rural areas, Indra presided over only the rich urban council. The urban-rural dichotomy was recognized by the paura-janapadas and the Rajan stationed in the city and Isvara in the periphery lost their hold over the administrative machinery.
Pracetas, Narada, Manusmrti and Kautilya acknowledged the autonomy enjoyed by the rural areas since the reign of Prthu. [Kautilya outlined the Rajarshi constitution which eluded the other works.]
Prthu was advised to follow the Purusha-Pracetas model by which the head of the state would give priority to economic progress and entrepreneurship, conquest and settlement of new areas while Pracetas would look after internal security.
Prthu was asked to respect all dharmas (social codes detailing the approved practices and the disapproved ones) and bring them together. His was basically an agro-pastoral state. The amount of autonomy that the rural areas enjoyed under the Pracetas constitution may be determined by the recommendations of Manusmrti which model has survived for about four millennia.
The states were not large and had rules and regulations (laws) dealing with economy and social affairs which were liberal and almost uniform but were not inflexible. Local customs were respected. State control was minimal. Manusmrti was for social welfare states. Protection of life and property was their first concern.
Manusmrti for the first time installed the judiciary as an independent institution. During the Vedic period, implementation of law and maintenance of order were in the realm of the Vedic officials designated as Varuna, Yama and Daksha. The laws based on truth (satya) which were inviolable as long as they were in force and truth was the touchstone, yielded place to Dharma which came to the fore during the final decades of the Vedic era.
And after the official designated as Brhaspati instead of Agni took over the task of outlining how to find out the truth, issues were decided after hearing both sides in disputes but judiciary gave more weight to the status of the litigant than it was done earlier. Truth did not always win. Naradasmrti was more elaborate than Manusmrti in codifying judicial procedure.
Neither the Vedic era with its prolonged battles against feudalism and the practice of yielding to the principle that might is right nor the neo-Vedic era with its concern for the underprivileged and for taking into account the views, needs and aspirations of all social groups and individuals from the lowest level to the highest, codified judicial procedure which was intimately connected with economic issues, marriage and family. These were dealt with by the social codes, dharmasastras and economic codes, arthasastras. These two codes were given shape during the early post-Vedic period. Of course there were other socio-cultural codes attributed to Gautama, Yajnavalkya, Apastambha etc.
By the end of the Vedic period the cultural aristocracy lost its distinct identity. Besides, the feudal elements that had been forced to take refuge in the social periphery re-emerged to take control of many of the states. The efforts to integrate the society suffered a major setback when the natives of every region resisted the move to settle the mobile and fluid populations in their midst. None of the socio-political constitutions of the Vedic and neo-Vedic eras could offer solutions.
Krshna’s recommendations were taken into account by Bhrgu, the chief editor of Manusmrti and so too those of Bhishma even as he opted to follow the Prthu model of democratic rural administration. In the rural areas social groups enjoyed self-determination and so too the bureaucrats who did not belong to any social group though they were natives of those regions. But in the urban areas most of the populace was functioning as individuals. Urban democracy promoted individualism while rural democracy strengthened the social groups and called upon the people to find security in the fold of the social groups.
Manusmrti accepted the model of a state with seven units, king and his associates and counselors, secretariat and bureaucracy, urban council, rural bureaucracy, central treasury, standing army and political ally in inter-state affairs. This model had been provided by earlier constitutions (but not by the Vedas and Upanishads) and was continued by Bhrgu’s Manusmrti and Kautilya’s Arthasastra and other works. The king might have inherited the kingdom or been a chieftain who had established his rule through superior prowess or been elected by the subjects most of whom were agriculturists.
In the absence of a higher authority, who the king would have to respect and obey, the interests of the subjects could be guarded only by decentralizing power and increasing the responsibilities of the rashtrapalas and parthivas, governors in charge of the rural areas. In the Vedic polity, there was an eight-member executive which was superior to the head of the state. Their jurisdictions were prescribed by the unwritten socio-political constitution, Brahma. Of course their designations and functions varied from region to region and from time to time.
Although Bhishma advocated a large council of ministers-cum-executives, he accepted the concept of eight-member ministry (with three looking after defence, internal security and external relations and the other five, economic affairs). Bhishma’s was a political state rather than an economic (artha) or social (dharma) state.
Manusmrti recommended that the eight-member executive along the Vedic models would be under the local governor. Its ruler (Rajan or Rajarshi or Isvara) was the head of the state and not of the executive. He could not be held accountable for the errors of omission and commission of a member of the executive.
Parthiva, who was essentially a pious, popular non-ambitious landlord and governor of the rural areas, would be guided by such an eight-member executive. The area under his governorship would have its own police and agencies to protect its people from external threat. He could exercise necessary coercive power to ensure that social (dharma) and economic (vyavahara) laws were obeyed by the people.
The king was not the head of the judiciary but he appointed the head of the four-member constitution bench. The other three members were co-opted by that head (designated as Brahma). This bench was also a court of appeal. The rural governors were asked to look after the task of solving all disputes. The King did not interfere in economic affairs directly or indirectly. The impression that the king meted out justice and hence was called Dharmaraja is unwarranted.
The Dharmarajya constitution envisaged a king who was interested in ensuring that his sovereign rights were not encroached on by any of the state organs including his own and was able to guard his status as an independent ruler by being powerful enough to deter his enemies, both internal and external. A stable independent rural bureaucracy assured him that no internal rival or external foe would be able to govern his subjects even if he was defeated. The people stood by the pious Parthiva who followed the spirit of Prthu’s constitution.
They could afford to be indifferent to who the head of the state was and how he became so for the civil judiciary had to follow the rules and regulations that governed pronouncement of verdicts and the quantum of penalty to be imposed on the person found guilty. Even if qualified judges were not available the rural governor, Parthiva and the chief of the free men, Nrpati who was a magistrate with powers to prosecute the offender were required to follow these rules impartially lest they should anger the people. They could declare that they were following intuition or their inner conscience only when there were no rules and no precedents. The rural bureaucracy including its civil judiciary was not controlled by the clergy. Even the king down the ages was not under the influence of the clergy (Brahman priests or Jain munis or Buddhist bhikkus).
Yet justice was meted out lest the people rose against the state whether central or rural. Dharmarajya ensured that justice was tempered by compassion and discouraged the call for revenge (blood for blood) and that the urge to stand on prestige and defence of the principle that though the fittest would survive in the struggle for life, property and power the mighty would not prevail over the righteous. Dharmarajya ensured that the society would be aware of its rights and duties and not become insentient and would not allow anomie to overcome it.
All the four values of life, dharma, artha, kama and moksha, were given importance by the proponents of Dharmasastras while Arthasastra gave primacy to pursuit of economic interests (artha) and argued that practice of just humanism (dharma) and pursuit of pleasure (kama) depended on artha. The social welfare state, Dharmarajya accepted the holistic socio-cultural code while the economic state, Artharajya was guided by Arthasastra.
Manusmrti outlined Rajadharma, duties of the king along lines similar to but not identical with those of Bhishma. While Bhishma recommended that the king, Rajan, should have a political guide, Rajapurohita and officials (Rtvigs) who oversaw the duties performed by the King and his other officials, Manusmrti did not give importance to the creation of these posts.
Manusmrti did not fall back on the Vedic system of bicameral legislature (sabha-samiti) though it fell back on the Vedic model while describing the eight-member ministry. It however silently adopted the Vedic model of the king being elected by his peers as the first among them. It did not envisage oligarchy or a triumvirate that would obviate the likelihood of the king becoming an autocrat. It expected decentralization characteristic of the Vedic concept of diffused system of governance (vairajyam) rather than governance of a given territory by two officials or kings (dvairajyam) to prevent rise of despotism. Kautilya did not agree with this choice.
Manusmrti did not propagate any creed or aid any sect. It kept social laws as not-justiciable and distinct from state laws that were justiciable (interpreted and ordered by an official court of justice to be implemented by the state executive). The latter were rules and regulations of administration while the former were concerned with social relations and cultural values that gave scope for differences in judgment and punishment and accepted that penance could exonerate one of his guilt. Only crimes against the state should be punishable by the state judiciary. This was however not religion or ceding powers to the ecclesiastical order.
Rajadharma expected the state not to interfere in the application of social laws which were left to the elders in families, clans and communities for judgment and implementation. The social laws fell back on precedents and customs rather than on ‘constitutional’ methods to assess the truth and punish one if guilty or acquit him if not proved so or had alleviating grounds. State stepped in only where the authority and capability of society ended.
As the local communities especially in rural areas had close relations with their administrators, selection of pious officials was enough to render justice. These officials were part of the community and were internal controllers rather than external controllers appointed by the state. The internal controllers may be weak and not as rigid as the latter but they were not necessarily unfair. Honesty and justice mattered whether the officials were weak or assertive. This spirit is called Rajadharma.
Kautilyan Arthasastra has two streams, the earlier one belonging to the decades immediately posterior to the Battle of Kurukshetra (c3100BC according to Hindu tradition and c1400BC according to the western Indologists) and the latter one immediately anterior to Mauryan rule (c300BC). Of course the latter has suffered amendments even as Manusmrti has been since the end of the 18th century A.D in an attempt to make it fall in line with British laws. The second stream as amended has however adhered to the approach of the extant (moderately) doctored version of Manusmrti.
Manava Dharmasastra is as secular as Kautilyan Arthasastra. The latter however does not claim to follow either Bhishma or Manusmrti. It emphasizes economic determinism but concedes that the objective should be fulfilling the objectives of all the three values, dharma, artha and kama so that one could become successful in attaining his final goal. Freedom from all bonds (moksha) or attaining endlessness (ananta) is said to be this goal. This approach met the expectations of the orthodox Brahmanas as well as those of the Sramanas (Jain monks) (who had come to the fore during the Mauryan rule).
Neither rejected the attention paid to the mundane, the politico-economic aspects. Manusmrti did not provide for either a prime minister or a cabinet to assist the king though it held the Vedic pattern of an eight-member executive useful. It expected the king to be shrewd and sagacious and have minimum duties to be performed. Decentralization of duties and powers resulted in the king being required to be satisfied with what his officials in the rural areas sent him as tributes. The Prthu and Vaivasvata system of one-sixth of the produce as tax was not provided for in Manusmrti leaving scope for despotism open.
The king had to depend on voluntary donations to his treasure-chest as the main source from which he could extend aid to the needy. He had to be economical and not profligate if he wanted to be popular among his subjects. He did not have a nobility to share his responsibility or come to his rescue when faced with a population dissatisfied. Manusmrti despite its emphasis on liberal social welfare measures did not build a strong government at the centre. The troops were few and untrained. This only helped the rise of ‘benevolent’ despotism as an undesirable alternative.
Kautilya was keenly aware of these shortcomings. He wanted the king to be both powerful and popular. The rural administration headed by an official designated as samaharta was in charge of collection of prescribed moderate tax and give the central government headed by a rajan or a svami its share. The central government was in the charge of an official designated as sannidhata. He looked after the task of supervising the work of the samaharta and ensuring that the taxes (along lines recommended by Manu Vaivasvata) due to the head of the state were collected.
This financial diarchy patterned on that of Indra-Brhaspati system of the Vedic era did not however deprive the head of the state of his authority and coercive power. The statutory army (dandabala) was directly under him. The sannidhata was treasurer and not the prime minister. He had less power than Pracetas (one with intimate knowledge about the socio-physical environment while functioning as counselor in charge of internal affairs of the state) of the Prthu (Purusha) constitution.
Sannidhata had direct access to the king but could not act on behalf of the king. But others had access to the king only through him. He often came in conflict with the samaharta who was in charge of rural areas and collection of revenue. The king could be popular even if these officers antagonized the people.
Trade with distant areas and other states came within the jurisdiction of the sannidhata. As the sannidhata and the samaharta had no access to the army the ruler could feel secure. Bureaucracy though well-trained and drawn from the higher ranks of the commonalty was not totally honest and sincere. Only if the king took timely steps to keep it function along the prescribed lines he could be secure and popular.
Kautilya’s four-tier set-up within the framework of the Rajarshi constitution needs attention. On important issues the king had to convene a meeting of cabinet ministers and the larger council of ministers. This council might have more than 24 members (allowed by Usanas) heading the different bureaus, the independent ones and those directly under the king. There was a four-tier set-up: small ad hoc cabinet committees; cabinet ministers who were not heads of bureaus; council of ministers including the amatyas who were heads of bureaus; and academy of scholars and experts. The King was the chief executive but the cabinet was not an executive body. It planned and counseled on what he should do and what he should not. The assembly of scholars and experts was convened to get general guidance, assess public response and expectations.
The council of ministers had to lay down policies and the king had to abide by the opinion of the majority of this council. It was like an assembly sanctioning budgets. But it could not introduce new laws. It was called in for deliberating on important issues like war, revolt and calamities. It could not however declare war.
Cabinet decisions had to be unanimous. It had experts who had divergent views. They were called in for crystallizing on important plans and for counsel on execution of these. The small ad hoc committees dealt with immediate issues and those on which there were no controversies. They were executives who could mould the policies of the state. The king had little leeway. He had to function within this framework. If he was overruled by the larger council of ministers he should either accept their verdict or step down. The king was the head of the state but had no right to overrule the ministry.
Both Bhrgu’s Manusmrti and Kautilya’s Arthasastra have suffered gross misinterpretation. The assumption made by the Indian scholars of the 19th and 20th centuries that Manusmrti emphasized ethics and morality and is essentially a socio-religious guide linked to spiritualism and is infallible while Arthasastra is unethical and promotes immorality and materialism is not correct. Neither was concerned with spiritualism and religion. Both dealt with mundane social, political and economic issues which are often treated as features of materialism. But Arthasastra is more pragmatic than Manusmrti.
Manusmrti explains how the system of four classes (varnas) came into existence and what the duties prescribed for each of them were and how a member going through one of the four stages of life (asramas) should conduct himself. It is not inflexible and permits freedom of choice and action. The four-fold paradigm of social options, prescription of some duties and ways of life, permission to follow some others, preference for a particular course among these and proscription of some undesirable immoral acts shows that Manusmrti was pragmatic. This system cannot be condemned as ‘fundamentalist’ or reactionary. It was liberal. State was not concerned with this scheme. Choice of one’s course of life was left to the individual.
But after having chosen and adopted a particular vocation under the rule of svadharma, personal rights and duties, privileges and responsibilities, the individual was warned against encroaching on those that others followed (paradharma). This warning and advice given by Krshna was taken into account by both Dharmasastra and Arthasastra. Krshna assured that the dharmas followed by every individual and every social group would be protected and so did these two codes.
When he declared so, he was engaged in reorganizing the society and the state in Janasthana (a province in the Vindhyas) which had been liberated by Vamana from its feudal lord, Bali and his counsellor, Usanas, a highly respected political grammarian. Vamana straightened the crooked rod of political authority. Neither Manusmrti nor Arthasastra favoured despotism in the name of providing a strong state and social security.
Krshna had undertaken the task of reformation after Vamana had left uncompleted this mission. Vamana demanded lifting of the ban imposed by Bali and Usanas on individuals and cadres of the middle class not engaged in productive economy from entering the territories of the natives engaged in them. But the claim that ownership of and access to lands whether agricultural or pastoral or with natural resources belonged to the ‘sons of the soil’ had to be honoured.
Modern scholars have failed to highlight many highly politically and socially significant episodes that have been dilated on by the epic, Mahabharata and the chronicle, Bhagavatam. For instance, Vamana’s confrontation with the feudal lord, Bali and his guide, Usanas, has hence been allowed to stand as a legend glorifying God Vishnu praising Him for in his incarnation as Vamana taking three steps to make Bali surrender his wealth and control over earth and heaven and submit to God’s authority. An indepth analysis of the episode in Bhagavatam brings out the purpose and significance of Vmana’s move.
We have to cease to interpret the terms, Deva, Devata and Isvara as implying ‘God’. These were social statuses. We have to cease to give credence to the view that these terms indicated that ancient Indian society was polytheistic and/or pantheistic and not monotheistic.
By his first step, Vamana covered the areas belonging to the three social universes (jagats) of Gandharvas, Kimpurushas and Kinnaras. Bali had taken over the vast territories claimed by these nomadic groups and these are now retrieved for them from him. Gandharvas did not belong to any of the three organized social worlds (lokas), divam, prthvi and antariksham, patriciate, agro-pastoral commonalty and the industrial frontier society, whose members were settled clans and communities and had prescribed residential areas and permitted vocations.
Gandharvas and Apsarases were not organized on the basis of families and households and did not pursue any economy oriented vocation and were not settled communities. They claimed the right to move across any territory and were allowed passage.
The Kimpurushas were later equated with monkeys. They were large social groups that were denied the right to dig the soil and hence could not be engaged in agriculture or in mining. They had to move from one region to another, living on fruits and leaves plucked from trees. They were not denied access to vocations involving manual labour. They were persons with talents but were dispossessed of lands and property.
The Kinnaras were musicians and couriers and were employed by the chiefs of the forest society to convey their messages to those in the core society and had the right to move along the highways and even by-paths unharmed. They were free men not bound by social ties. The rights of these three social universes, jagats, who were also known as blessed peoples (punya-jana), were restored to them as a first step in social reorganization.
The vast territories with no recognized domiciles were thrown open to the social universes in a move to encourage them to get settled as organized communities. Vamana claimed for the three social universes (jagats), the third society (tirya), the right to reside in the open areas annexed by Bali. The free men, naras (nrs) (who had parted company with their families, clans and vocational communities to be able to pursue their own permitted activities), the nobles (devas) and the sages (rshis) would get access to these territories.
The lower ranks of the Gandharvas were known as Naras. The officials of the government and even troops were recruited from among these free men, naras. Gandharvas ranked lower than the Devas and the sages. But the commoners (manushyas) unlike the free men (naras) were organized and settled economic communities. They had to keep away from these territories.
Vamana demanded that the residents of these freed territories be free to operate on the land (bhumi), that is, cultivate the lands and in the mines (kham). They should be free to go in all directions (disa), stay at higher levels. All chasms and ravines (vivara) and river economy (paya) should be thrown open to them.
The Asura king had surreptitiously come in possession of these lands and had restricted entry to these from his strategic position in Janasthana, in the central Narmada valley. That control is declared void. It was a highly significant move to reorganize the society by getting a very large section of the population settled as organized vocational communities and as free men, in the peninsula control over which Bali had taken over surreptitiously.
Bhagavatam describes Urukrama (Vamana) covered three lokas by his second step. These were mahaloka, janaloka and tapaloka. The seven Vedic social worlds (lokas), bhu, bhuva, sva, maha, jana, tapa and satya, were indeed seven constituents of the Vedic social polity. Bhu referred to the agro-pastoral plains and to the commoners, manushyas, engaged primarily in agriculture and pasture and secondarily in trade to procure other needs of the population of this core society. Bhuva meant the frontier society of the forests and mountains, which was engaged in industrial economy, and was dominated by the plutocrats, the technocrats and the industrial proletariat (yakshas, nagas and sarpas). Sva indicated the patriciate of the agro-pastoral core society. (The three social worlds, lokas, bhu, bhuva and sva, had surrendered even before Urukrama took his first step to liberate the territories of the three jagats.)
Mahaloka referred to the council of the senior sages, known as maharshis. Bali had wound up this council on the advice of Usanas. Vamana called for its restoration.
Vamana restored another state institution, Janaloka, the assembly of legislators and representatives of the people, jana, which too had been dissolved by the feudal chieftain.
Tapaloka was a body of planners and researchers. They were engaged in rigorous endeavour, tapas, to discover new methods and invent new tools. This body had always been free from state control. Tapasvis were not dependent on either the aristocrats or the plutocrats. The feudal warlords did not appreciate the immunities enjoyed by these academicians and researchers and wound up this council and cadre too. Vamana called for its restoration.
The seventh social world and constituent of the Vedic social polity was known as 'Satyaloka', the judiciary that stood by Satya, Truth. Bali did not function against the code based on the principles of truth. He ignored this judiciary but did not dissolve it or distort its functioning. These seven social worlds pertained to the country that was situated on the banks of Svardhuni. It is likely that Bali had taken over this country under his protectorate. He violated the autonomy of the three bodies maharloka, janaloka and tapaloka.
But Bali who was arrested for unpaid debts and not returning the lands to their owners was not convinced that Urukrama (Vamana) had been just to him. The arrest of Bali had a wider import. It was made for violation of the constitution of Janasthana.
Urukrama's move to convert the social universe (jagat) of the cadres like Gandharvas into settled communities, a socil world (loka) was a failure in the opinion of the natives of Janasthana.
Vamana had not intended or anticipated such misuse of the Narmada valley by those who did not belong to that area. Throwing it open to all was an act of ignorance or miscalculation. Only the natives, jana, could be relied upon to tend their lands properly, it was urged.
According to Vamana, neither residence nor pursuit of a beneficial employment or vocation led to establishing ownership (svamya) over lands in these areas meant for Gandharvas, Kimpurushas and Kinnaras. For, according to the constitution of Viraj, these regions were open to all and no group could claim exclusive ownership there. [To use Kautilyan terminology, they would have been noman’s land, sunyadesa.]
They could not be brought under any nation-state and the original residents were allowed their autonomy. But they too could not prevent others from entering these regions for residence and livelihood. They were jagats, not lokas. Bali had violated this provision of the constitution of Viraj.
Urukrama was not Vishnu (a Virat). He was a Kashyapan ideologue-cum-activist who was then nominated as Upendra, Deputy Indra, of that Janapada.
Upendra was a post that was equal to that of Brhaspati who controlled civil polity, the treasury and the armoury under the Vratya scheme, in tune with the provisions of the Indra-Brhaspati agreement. Vamana belonged to the Atharvan school of Brhaspati (who upheld civil law based on Truth, Satya).
Even in his fall, Bali was a Satyavrata, one who adhered to his pledge to abide by truth. Bali had not disturbed the authority of the judiciary (Satyaloka). So it was declared that he would be reinstated (after five years) as Indra during the tenure of Manu Savarni.
As Bali was banished to the reformatory, Sutala, the three vistapas which he had annexed were given back to Indra of Janasthana) with the Dandaniti scheme of governance as originally envisaged coming again into force.
Indra could function only as directed by the members of the bodies of the legislature. Autocracy could no longer hold sway. The social universes, jagats, were not under the governance of Indra or his deputy. Indra and Brhaspati (or Upendra) had jurisdiction only over the aristocracy and the commonalty of the core society.
Vamana was not a ruler. He was a liberator. The visualization of Vamana as God Vishnu who took Visvarupa, a huge form as Trivikrama covering the entire cosmos, in order to humble Bali needs to be set aside for arriving at a rational appraisal of his role.
Bali was not an emperor controlling earth, sky and the lower world. He was but a fort-based chieftain who had his base in the Vindhyas. He exceeded his authority and jurisdiction and annexed territories not owned by any and which were open to all. The disputation between Vamana and Bali can be understood correctly only in the light of the liberation of these territories from Bali.
Vamana was asked to justify his action before an assembly of rtvijas (who were officers in charge of protocol and performance of duties) and Brahmavadis (who were socio-political ideologues).
The rtvijas were mainly Bhrgus who stuck to the procedure prescribed and the letter of the law while the Brahmavadis were practitioners of realpolitik. Bhargava Usanas was a master of statecraft. Urukrama (Vamana) asked him to explain the legal position. Usanas had to account for the faults committed by Bali, as he had been Bali’s advisor.
The Brahmavadis (who knew the point of view of the upholders of the socio-political constitution, brahma-drshtam) who upheld the principles of the constitution as enshrined in the Atharvaveda, Brahma, cited instances and held that the procedural errors (karma chhidram) committed by his disciple were equivalent to distortion (vaisamyam) in performance of duties (karma).
In other words, Bali distorted the constitution while functioning as a ruler though he might have adhered to the procedure laid down. He had distorted the spirit of law.
Vamana does not allege that Bali failed in his duties and hence he deserved to be impeached. Usanas was required to consider how Bali had deviated from his duties.
We have come across three terms, trijagat, triloka and trivistapa. These are different from the conventional three social worlds (lokas), (urban) patriciate (divam), (rural) commonalty (prthvi), and frontier society (antariksham).
Trijagat referred to the three social universes, Gandharvas, Kimpurushas and Kinnaras who were not settled communities and had their distinct social, cultural, economic and political orientations. Triloka referred to the three socio-political institutions of the Vedic times, maharloka, janaloka and tapaloka, council of sages, assembly of legislators and academy of researchers.
Trivistapa referred to the three sources of revenue, under the heads dharma, svajana and yasa, collected by the state and kept in the hands of the incumbent to the post of Indra as trust money. We have traced how Bali, guided by Usanas, manipulated the rules to get riches. Bali had taken three-fifths of the earnings and wealth of the individuals under the heads, dharma, yasa and svajana, and allowed them to use two-fifths under the heads, artha and kama, to meet their current economic needs and pursue pleasures.
To be precise, Bali directed the people to surrender to the state three-fifth of their earnings and assured them that the state would look after the social and spiritual obligations of the individuals (dharma), their future needs and prosperity (yasa) and the security of their families (svajana). He had not refused to meet the obligations under the three heads. But they were not safe with him.
As there was no prescribed source of revenue for the state (unlike the tax, kara, equivalent to one-sixth of the earnings as proposed in the charter given to Prthu), Bali distorted the older scheme while coveting the three portions of the trust wealth, vistapas. According to the laws proclaimed by the first Manu, Svayambhuva, these thrr vistapas were to be entrusted to Indra, Chancellor of the Exchequer for release at the appropriate time to the successors of the deceased earner. By his third step, Vamana forced Bali to give up his control over the three trust funds, vistapas.
The people and legislators of Janasthana argued that the natives had not given assent to Krshna’s proposal to settle the mobile groups in the areas owned by the natives and that his steps violated the provisions of the constitution that the janapada was functioning under. Krshna warned the new settlers and newcomers that they should not transgress the limits of freedom granted to everyone to choose and pursue one’s vocation, his exclusive rights and duties, svadharma.
Neither Dharmasastra nor Arthasastra could afford to ignore the reality of the two codes being introduced after a major upheaval in social polity. Provisions of Usanas’s Dandaniti which preceded these two codes could not be taken as ideal ones.
Dharmarajya vis-à-vis Artharajya
The king, rajan, was not the owner of all the lands of the country. A head of the state who flaunted the designation, svami, was deemed to be the owner of all the lands.Those who lived in and worked on the lands were doing so only under his pleasure and leave and none could challenge his rights whether he was a resident or not. The Svami claimed sovereign rights but a Rajan or a Prajapati could not. Of course many sovereigns had to compromise with the claim that every son of the soil was a sovereign of the piece of land where he lived and which he exploited for his livelihood. These claimants were called bhusvamis. Bhrgu’s Manusmrti and Kautilyan Arthasastra did not accept this claim. But they accepted that charismatic heads of states could have sovereign rights in interstate polity.
Bhishma’s counsel on Rajadharma was meant to make Yudhishtira pragmatic rather than idealistic in his policies in the administration of the state. Bhishma held Pracetas Manu, author of an Arthasastra text in esteem. Manavas who were followers of Pracetas Manu as well as Manu Svayambhva claimed that they had opted to follow varnasrama dharma which called for enrolling oneself in one of the four classes which gave him a definitive position in the social order and the right to reside in any territory whose ruler did not curb his right to practise his vocation in accordance with high social, political, economic and cultural values and in tune with his innate trait and aptitude.
This called for liberal states that did not close their doors to the citizens of the world (manavas) who would assure the ruler that they would do nothing that would harm his interests. The king was not a sovereign. He was a protector and governor of those who paid the tax at the prescribed rate.
Yudhishtira was against taxation as it was a form of coercion and was for the state extending protection to the life and property of every individual whether he was a member of a native settled community or not and was a tax-payer or contributed or not . He could not accept Bhishma’s political theorems which called for a strong state.
Yudhishtira wanted the ruler to depend on voluntary donations and be a donor of all the donations received. This was the characteristic of the ideal ritual of sacrifice offered to the governing elite who returned to their benefactors whatever they had been given.
This modification in the unwritten contract between the nobles and the commoners was suggested by Krshna while extending the provisions of the varnasrama scheme originally meant for the commoners to the nobles, the free middle class and those in the social periphery. Krshna too like Yudhishtira did not envisage a tax regime. But he did not advocate a soft state. Neither Manusmrti nor Arthasastra accepted the concept of a tax-free regime.
The elite leisure class was withering and its duties were being taken over by the sagacious king, Rajarshi and his political guide and alter ego, Rajapurohita. The classes of Brahmans (scholars and jurists) and Kshatriyas (warriors and administrators) were formed from the pious cadres of the free middle class of gandharvas and the commonalty, manushyas, were constituted into two classes of Vaisyas (owners of property) and Shudras (workers who had no property). The duties these classes were expected to perform were defined by Bhishma and Krshna and were adopted by both Manava Dharmasastra and Kautilyan Arthasastra.
All the four socio-political thinkers, Krshna, Bhishma, Bhrgu and Kautilya were aware that the liberal cultural aristocracy was withering despite efforts to replenish it by granting the upper stratum of the bourgeoisie especially the landlords and the intelligentsia the status of nobles. Krshna deplored that the distinction between the liberal aristocrats and the covetous plutocracy was vanishing and so too the one between these two and the feudal lords who were parading themselves as ruling elite, rajanyas, superior to kshatriyas. Krshna had intended to nominate Arjuna as his next in command leading a group of social missionaries but Arjuna did not come to his expectations. Bhishma guided Yudhishtira to become an effective Dharmaraja but the latter had to retire as victory in battle was not adequate to make one eligible to become the ruler of a country.
All the four thinkers, Bhishma, Krshna, Bhrgu and Kautilya dealt with the theme of Dharmavijayi, one who became a victor by adopting purely righteous methods. Only Arthasastra dealt with use of economic power in gaining political power. Kautilya redefined the concept of might, bala. He recommended the concept of three powers, sakti. Unlike Usanas he did not accept the claim that the mighty had the right to rule and that the weak should obey them in their own interest. The conqueror should retreat after ensuring that the conquered territory was able to function effectively as an independent state. It could not be a colony or protectorate for long. The constitution did not permit ceding or annexing any territory. The political demography had to remain unchanged. However no territory was an ethnic unit.
Kautilya distinguished among the three saktis, aids in gaining political power. Prabhusakti meant strength gained from extending one’s political jurisdiction to areas beyond the boundaries of his land and being recognized as ‘prabhu’. A bhupati administered the demarcated land, ‘bhu’. A ‘vibhu’ made periodical incursions into neighbouring areas without bringing them under his control. Inherent strength of the army and economy is needed by a ruler to gain the status of a ‘prabhu’. Mantrasakti emanated from the high caliber of the ministers and the value of the counsel (mantra) given by them. The enthusiasm shown by the people of his country and his ability to inspire them is called utsahasakti.
Kautilya did not advocate imperialism and colonialism. However he described more effectively than the other thinkers how to build an empire using all the three types of power. One who went on conquest to appropriate the lands and wealth of his opponents was known as lobhavijayi (greedy conqueror) or arthavijayi (a conqueror who aimed at economic benefits). It was colonialism and economic imperialism. One who destroyed the lands and property of his victims and let loose terror was called an asuravijayi.
Bhishma and Kautilya and other socio-political thinkers had no objection to conquest per se as long as it was within the framework of justice. The cause must be a just one and the success of the conqueror should help the people of the conquered country have a better ruler from among its ruling elite and not one imposed on them against their wishes. Conquest resulted in increase in the influence of the conqueror in the comity of states while it had to ensure for the people of the defeated ruler a better government. After installing a leader to the liking of the people as the new head of the state the conqueror should withdraw.
The conquered territory was not to be converted into a colony. Every territory should be enabled to have a state constitution of its choice. Kautilya added that the conquered people would continue to have the same laws and value systems as they had earlier. (Conquest for proselytizing the defeated people was not permitted.) Dharmavijaya was not victory of one religion over another or one religious community over another. Wars meant to impose one’s religion on another are not called dharmavijaya. Only a victory in war meant to liberate a people from despotism is entitled to be called dharmavijaya.
All these socio=political thinkers recognized that wars would take place as every ruler was eager to defend his land, wealth, property and prestige. They wanted to ensure that loss of life was kept to the minimum. Wars were between kings and not between peoples. The standing army and even the militia were meant only for defence. For conquests abroad the king should raise his own troops and pay them from his personal wealth as Prthu was told. It was not a state conquering another state but the head of a state settling scores with the head of another state or establishing his superiority over the other. The territorial jurisdiction of a state remained unchanged whether it continued to be independent or not. Even barren and uninhabited lands could not be attached by the victor.
Mahadeva constitution provided for small trained troops from communities accustomed to taking part in battles. The Atharvan practice of drafting new troops from the commonalty and involving the residents of the forests and mountains accustomed to facing danger was given up. The elite were not entitled to have personal troops. Only the troops from the forests and mountains were allowed to retain their weapons. Others had to surrender them to the civilian authority so that none could use them to browbeat the commoners and the civil society.
Parasurama disbanded the troops of several countries and asked the feuding chieftains to settle their disputes through personal duels or through dice. This however left the states weak and in effect led to the people becoming stateless society, anarchist. Since anarchism led to anarchy his move was objected to and he was exiled.
No socio-political thinker whether he gave primacy to social laws or to economic laws, to dharma or to artha recommended a state without an army. Bhishma however following Indra, the author of Bahudantakam distinguished between Kshatradharma and Kshatradharma, troops meant for externalizing the innate trait and urge to be aggressive and warriors who felt it their duty to sacrifice their lives in defence of others. In principle only those who had inherited the urge to exhibit their superior physical strength were recognized as Kshatriyas and given the respect and privileges they were accustomed to enjoy. Else they might turn into lawless brigands. However most of the society remained unarmed and motivated to show the spirit of non-violence.
Hindu state has been non-aggressive though it was required to be strong and Hindu society non-violent.
Generals like Sakra Indra whose protégé the highly esteemed emperor, Mamdhata was and Bhishma, the Kuru statesman and socio-political thinker endorsed this arrangement though they demanded that economic power and political power emanating from a rich treasury and a strong army respectively should be given equal importance while forming a ministry and running the administration. Kautilya endorsed this stand but Bhrgu’s Manava Dharmasastra did not.
Bhishma provided in the eight-member central cabinet three dealing with political affairs, including defence and external relations and five with economic affairs. Bhishma was for a stable state rather than for an empire.
But Kautilya envisaged a dual-confederation of fifty small states. Svetasvatara Upanishad called it Brahmachakra. Though aware of the possibility of such a large confederation emerging Bhishma and Bhrgu did not dwell much on this scheme. Krshna was for a small stable social welfare state rather than for large empires established through conquest which he held was indicative of greed and arrogance. Kautilya too was for small viable and integrated autonomous states which emphasized both social welfare measures and economic progress.
Bhrgu’s Manava Dharmasastra following the Vaivasvata-Prthu constitutions recommended creation of small, self-reliant social welfare states and almost ruled out the need for establishing a federation or confederation of such states. This direction has characterized Hindu states down the ages. They were basically agro-pastoral states whose rulers were satisfied with them functioning as peaceful economically viable states attending to the welfare of their native populations and with permanent laws and institutions of justice. Prthu constitution recommended the formation of agro-pastoral states. But Prthu’s counsellor, Sanatkumara, wanted them not to neglect industries.
Maintenance of internal law and order and protection from brigands were the prime concern of these decentralized states and their troops functioned as police and frontier guards rather than as troops trained for large-scale wars and big battles. Needless to say that this political orientation made these states unable to defend themselves against powerful conquerors and internal revolts caused by inadequacies in regulating the economic system. These states and their rulers were always on the edge. Bhrgu and even Bhishma did not envisage major social, economic and administrative reforms.
Bhrgu’s outline of Rajadharma in Manava Dharmasastra provided for flexibility, but not Bhishma’s Rajadharma as expounded to Yudhishtira.
To recapitulate, Vedic Polity provided for two houses of legislature (sabha and samiti. assembly of nobles and council of sages and elders) and a cabinet of eight officials who looked after administration, law and order, defence and economy. It was essentially an agro-pastoral economy and the working class had to surrender half of the produce to the leisure class of ruling elite and share much of the remaining produce with other socio-economic sectors. The king who was elected by his peers as the head of the state had no control over either of the two socio-economic sectors, agro-pastoral and industrial.
The Vedic era also witnessed emergence of the federal state with the capital directly under the Viraj and the surrounding four districts under powerful chieftains, rajans. The Viraj was elected by a large college comprising all the heads of the families, both husbands and wives. He was assisted by the chief of the people, Prajapati who was the eldest among the elders and convened the two houses and looked after legislative measures. He was assisted by Aditi, an elderly pious lady who supervised the work of the eight members of the executive and issues pertaining to ethics.
By the end of the Vedic era, the posts-of Viraj and Aditi were discounted and the Prajapati who was elected by and who had the confidence of the people especially of the retired heads of the families became the head of the small predominantly rural agro-pastoral nation-state.
During the neo-Vedic era, the house of nobles was democratized and became a replica of the bourgeoisie, the upper stratum of the largely agro-pastoral commonalty. The Prajapati headed the nation-state, the legislatures, the executive and the judiciary. The influence of the nobles, the sages and the elders in administration of the small, viable state began to increase.
During the early post-Vedic period the post of the Prajapati too lost its relevance. The Rajarshi, a sagacious and assertive and trained ruler became the head of the state and of its executive. He was nominated by a committee of three persons, the outgoing Rajarshi, the Rajapurohita and the Prime Minister from among the candidates recommended by the head of the state academy.
During the Upanishad period these academies trained their students for both the executive and the judiciary. The trainee could opt for either on the basis of his aptitude and self-assessment. The retiring king, Rajarshi could become the Rajapurohita, political guide, if the new incumbent agreed. It was meritocracy.
The Rajarshi was head of the executive and the Rajapurohita was his political guide. The thirty-three member democratized house of nobles was in position and had a big voice in determining the policy of the state. Of course, the other house of intelligentsia and elders who represented the commonalty had an equal voice in policy-making. The policy so determined had to be implemented by the executive.
With administration decentralized the eight-member executive looked after only the affairs of the commonalty leaving the elite to continue its way of life without being interfered with by any official. The house of nobles became the court of appeal while maintenance of law and order and the civil judiciary were looked after by the rural bureaucracy.
Even a sagacious Rajarshi had to abide by the counsel given by his council of ministers. This council had members not all of whom thought alike. They belonged to different schools of thought and were not necessarily his classmates. If all or most of them refused to accept his views and ways of functioning and if he did not fall in line he could be interdicted and he had to step down though his suggestions were more sagacious than those of his larger council of ministers, secretaries of state and chairmen of bureaus (mantris, amatyas and adhyakshas).
The Rajarshi had the right and duty to select his ministers (mantris) from among the senior bureaucrats (amatyas). He had to consult his political guide (Rajapurohita) and the Prime Minister while doing so. He could not appoint anyone from outside the trained bureaucracy. Since these bureaucrats knew intimately the needs, views and aspirations of the people of their state and were not outsiders he should honour their counsel. He though a wise head of the state could not but act on their advice. Of course he had to quit if all the members of the larger council found him functioning in an arbitrary manner.
If he was flexible and honoured their views though he did not agree with those of the majority of the members of the larger council of cabinet ministers, secretaries of state and heads of the autonomous departments but did not overrule them he could continue to be accepted as the head of the state.
Some of the departments were directly under the Rajarshi and some under amatyas attached to these departments. The Rajarshi had to trust them but should supervise their work. It was a mega-state and it was not possible to personally control all the departments. At the same time these amatyas were not as free as the members of the cabinet were to take decisions. The Rajarshi was not an ornamental head of the state. He was not an autocrat and was not a feudal lord. He evoked respect but not fear or awe. But this respect was not response to charisma.
Since the members of the cabinet had earlier functioned as bureaucrats they could be expected to function efficiently and go by the rules book. But it was not government by bureaucracy with the Rajarshi functioning as an ornamental head of the state without any executive duties. He was not merely a social counsellor. He was the participative head of the larger executive of which he too headed some departments. The Rajarshi was more than a friend, philosopher and guide.
The Rajarshi was not the head of the legislature. If the state did not have the two houses of legislature, one representing the cultural elite and the other the commonalty, no fresh legislation was possible.
As he was not the head of the judiciary and as he was not the court of appeal with the advantage of a written constitution or laws framed under it and as there was no central judiciary the clans and communities and economic organizations had to depend on earlier precedents and the views of the elders who headed them.
He was however respected for his scholarship, valuable counsel and impartiality. He was far different from the aggressive uncivilized and uncultured chieftains, rajans who were but feudal lords.
Prthu reintroduced the Rajarshi constitution. It validated all the existing social, economic and political legislations existing then in the states under his aegis. While protecting them he had to ensure that they were linked. This was positive secularism where no particular dharma was imposed on others and there was socio-cultural integration as well as unity despite diversity.
In the absence of an unalterable socio-political constitution, Brahma, these legislations, Dharmas, had been envisaged, by rulers and sages to meet the particular requirements of their times and regions. They were not inflexible and there were vast differences in their purposes.
It was given to the Rajarshi under the Prthu constitution to function as a link between the dharmas, without arriving at personal judgments about their values, principles and efficacy. The Rajarshi functioning under the guidance of the scholar, Pracetas had a significant role to play in meting out justice to the satisfaction of the contending parties and the elders on the basis of precedents.
Dharmarajya accepted that all the existing practices were valid and even if some of them were unreasonable no practice or value system should be declared as invalid. All the existing laws, dharmas, were equally valid and all of them should be protected. [In the Prthu constitution, Pracetas was subordinate to the king and looked after home affairs. In the Kautilyan constitution, the Rajapurohita ranked higher than the Rajarshi. In the Dharmaraja constitution advocated by Narada and followed by Yudhishtira, the head of the state, Dharmaraja had to follow the advice given by the Purohita.]
This approach recommended by Samkara, a socio-political thinker of the Rudra school of thought during the neo-Vedic era and his admirer, Krshna during the later Vedic period was followed by Pracetas, author of an Arthasastra text and contributor to Bhrgu’s version of Manava Dharmasastra. Krshna who had taken over the administration of a state which was earlier under a feudal warlord, Bali guaranteed that all the existing practices would be respected and protected.
Manava Dharmasastra edited by Bhrgu however envisaged four social options which superseded the inflexible Vedic system of prescriptions and proscriptions. It provided prescription of certain value systems, permission to follow some others closer to these, preference for one or some amongst those prescribed or permitted and proscription of some as antisocial.
It would not however be as liberal as Krshna’s who refused to sit on judgment on what among the extant dharmas was to be followed. Krshna permitted all value systems, dharmas but after choosing one of them none should give it up and choose another. Following such chosen values and line of duty, Svadharma was made imperative and opting for that of others, Paradharma was perilous, he warned. Bhrgu’s Manava Dharmasastra and Pracetas’s Arthasastra were not so outspoken but did not reject Krshna’s liberalism.
Freedom of thought and freedom of expression as honoured by modern constitutions and judiciaries are concepts undermining extant social systems and values. Krshna did not sit on judgment on which system or value was superior to others. While every individual is free to choose one from the options already available he is warned against giving up what he has chosen from among them and adopting another. Others are free to choose the ones they prefer. But neither they nor the former has the right to condemn the other systems and values as undesirable or inferior. Evangelism and proselytizing are not to be given freedom to flourish under the guise of freedom of expression and freedom of thought. They impose paradharma and undermine svadharma. Disputations were meant to arrive at a common solution.
Evangelism has already exterminated several cultures and civilizations that had been flourishing in their respective areas. The followers of these cultures have been denied the right to follow their value systems by the very people who clamour for the uninhibited right and un-prohibited scope to preach their values and impose them on others. Evangelists are not to be entitled to the right to impose their religions and value systems openly or indirectly or subtly or under subterfuge on others. To be fair the systems that have been suppressed need to be revived and made available under the scheme of four-fold options. This is neither conversion nor reconversion.
Dharmarajya is not a theocratic state nor does it give prominence to any particular religion. But it holds that any society as any state should give importance to moral values which no social or religious group does or can afford to deride. Of course there are individuals who are detractors and deny ethics and morality any importance in holding the society together and keeping the state away from paths that lead ultimately to self-destruction. Most states have fallen and most dynasties have ceased to survive because they neglected these values. Civilizations too have failed for this reason.
Dharma calls for adherence to truth and non-violence, compassion for and liberal aid to the poor, self-denial instead of self-aggrandizement, self-control and humility. It calls upon the Rajarshi to appreciate these aspects and honour and develop the spirit of sacrifice. He must not be acquisitive or seek to be an emperor proud of power and pelf. It is through silent persuasion rather than use of wealth that he should win over others. He should not resort to causing rift among others to score over the divided opponents or to war and coercive methods. Dharmavijaya calls for winning over the love and respect of all including the opponents. It is not crusade or jehad.
The Rajarshi is not unaware of the different means a ruler may resort to, for gaining the obedience of others but he deliberately opts to ensure that both the ends and means to attain them should be ethical. Kautilya does not overlook this aspect while outlining the Rajarshi constitution. But he emphasizes that the Rajarshi like any other wise ruler has to work within the framework of a rational and liberal constitution. He cannot afford to be weak.
This calls for giving importance to economic power as a means to ensure the society, stability, security and progress. Political power flows from the barrels of economic power. Krshna condemns lust for power, whether political or economic. Kautilya is pragmatic and is not unethical though he warns every ruler to remember that even if he is intensely ethical in selecting and using the means to secure economic power and through it political power his rivals and opponents might not do so.
He enumerates the undesirable means not because he was unethical and advocated them and permitted them but because these might be used by immoral rivals and foes and the ruler would be only harming himself if he was ignorant of their wicked potentials. Thorns are used to remove thorns but are to be used only for that purpose.
Every state has to be willy-nilly an economic state, Artharajya. It cannot become a social welfare state if it neglects economy. Kautilya was a social reformer who built his concept of empire on the edifice of Dharmarajya built by Bhrgu and Krshna. Krshna was opposed to the concept of a ruler who was not gentle and who was greedy and wanted to bring more and more lands under his control. He was against feudalism and hedonism.
Krshna wanted the executives and administrators to be imbued with gentleness. As a social reformer who wanted the members of the organized and settled clans and communities to be trained in their duties and not to give up their traditional vocations. Their rights should not be allowed to be encroached on by those not belonging to those social groups.
He wanted that the rights that they enjoyed should be extended to all the free men who did not belong to such clans and communities and who manned the bureaucracy and the defence forces. The individuals in the social periphery too should be extended those rights and so too all the members of the free middle class not engaged in productive economy. Krshna taught the aspirants to higher positions in the social polity and administration of the state the principles of exercise of their talents in the best way so that there might be least aggrandizement.
Krshna polished the concepts of personal talent and charisma (purushatva) that would lead to subtle and definite influence on the moral calibre of the society. He did not approve monasteries which trained their residents to grow in a social vacuum. It was in the context of the needs of the society that the trainees in his academy should develop their talents. Krshna was pained that leadership had fallen into the hands of a decadent aristocracy which was becoming as hedonistic as the plutocrats were and as cruel as the feudal lords were.
This leads us to the issue of desirable leadership. Social progress needs trained social leaders whose influence spreads over a wider area than the native core society. His academy had undertaken this task. Economic progress needs entrepreneurs and not speculators.
Krshna dilating on the three innate traits which are present in every man but not to the same degree, marking the individuality of everyone proceeded to counsel his trainees who were also his missionaries to be pragmatic and wise in their objective of social reorganization. A society or social cadre which is marked by gentleness and piety does not need replacement of its ruling cadre by one that too is marked by these tendencies. If it is replaced the new leadership too should be characterized by this quality. A society if so moulded would not yield to the machinations of feudal elements and plutocrats. A cultural aristocracy and an intellectual aristocracy should be the alternatives available as ruling elite, to the cultured, gentle and civilized society.
Of course this spirit behind establishment of dharmarajya will succeed in providing social stability and social justice. But it may not succeed in providing a social leadership capable of ensuring security of the state and economic progress. This needs a leadership characterized by holistic charisma and cautious but bold entrepreneurship. This leadership and a similarly trained alternative leadership which would take over are provided by the economic state, artharajya, governance by trained economists. This leadership too is not immoral.
A society marked by anomie, insensitiveness and fond dreams if its leadership is overthrown would get a leadership and governance by speculators rather than gentle counsellors or dynamic personages. Hence a state should be in the hands of either a gentle and sagacious leadership (as offered by dharmarajya) or a dynamic one (as offered by artharajya). Krshna did not offer the moon.
What he abhorred was leadership that had failed to inspire the people and one that left them dreaming and engaged in speculation without training in dharma and righteous polity and in hard and systematic productive work and bold entrepreneurship. Of course neither Bhishma nor Bhrgu dealt adequately with these alternatives.
Kautilya’s Rajarshi constitution, more than Bhishma’s Rajadharma and that of Bhrgu and Pracetas Manu, met this need. Krshna dilated on the relationship between the ruler and his political guide and alter ego, Rajarshi and Rajapurohita. The ruler was being trained in regulating the work of the commoners, engaged in traditional occupations, the free men in the bureaucracy and the army, the free individuals of the periphery pursuing the occupations available to them. He was being trained in the duties expected to be performed by the intellectuals and jurists and by the king and his intimate counselors.
While Bhishma dilated on how a ruler belonging to the class of warriors had to choose between exploits that would make him famous and the role of defenders of the people and the state, Krshna dealt with what the warrior should do to play an effective part in the struggle between dharma (righteousness) and adharma (unrighteousness). Neither of them dealt with the role of the king vis-à-vis the institution of justice. Manava Dharmasastra gave equal attention to aspects of good administration and to meting out justice and punishing the guilty. It did not deal with spiritualism or relations between man and god or with the issue of salvation.
Dharma as social laws allowed greater voice to the heads of families and clans in punishing the deviants than Rajadharma as state laws regulating economic relations applied mainly by the decentralized rural bureaucracy did. There was no conflict between the temporal order and the so-called ecclesiastical. Attention was paid to repentance and penance as an alternative to punitive measures and left to the jurisdiction of the society while deterrence was attended to by the trained judiciary and the state.
Bhishma cited the views of eminent socio-political thinkers like Bahudantiputra (an Indra), Brhaspati and Vamadeva of the Vedic era to drive home, his counsel. Manusmrti did not do so though it followed his recommendations on polity and that of Prthu constitution. Neither Bhrgu who was the chief editor of Manusmrti nor Bhishma nor Krshna was merely idealistic or neglected the realities. However none of the three condoned unethical conduct. Kautilya was the only thinker who boldly advocated economic determinism and pragmatism. This is not to be interpreted as rejection of ethics.
It may be noticed that neither Bhrgu nor Bhishma discussed the issue of how the ruler could be compelled by the cabinet of ministers to function in accordance with the mandate given to him. Only Kautilya dilated on this as every act political or social was subject to economic determinism. He could not however discard the recommendations made by a large assembly of intellectuals, bureaucrats and jurists.
It was only the decisions taken by the large council of ministers and the small committees of cabinet ministers had mandatory powers. However popular and talented the ruler might be he could not act arbitrarily. The political guide, Rajapurohita was not a mere counselor. He was the king’s superior and obeyed. Bhishma too drew attention to the importance of the posts like political guide (purohita) and regulator of administration (rtvig).
Kautilya presented his recommendations after taking into consideration, those of his senior contemporaries like Pracetas Manu, Brhaspati, Bahudantiputra (an Indra), Usanas, Bharadvaja, Visalaksha, Pisuna, Badarayana, Bhishma, Uddhava and Krpa. They belonged to diverse schools which had roots in the experiences they had during the Vedic and neo-Vedic eras. Neither Bhishma nor Krshna nor Bhrgu was engaged in such serious political debates though they had their detractors.
These debates were of great significance for the reforms that Kautilya introduced. These reforms were comprehensive and path-breaking. They have influenced the political economy of India for several centuries even as Vaivasvata Manu’s has done. Krshna’s counsel lost its way later in religion and Bhishma’s in idealism. Both concepts, Dharmarajya and Artharajya were products of intense debates whether silent or loud on how to provide a permanent political, administrative and economic structure for the then existing states. These debates were on all issues, social, economic and political.
Bhrgu’s Dharmarajya modeled on Prthu constitution and on Bhishma’s state based on Rajadharma depended on voluntary donations. Krshna too called for sincere sacrifice by all. But Kautilya preferred to follow the Vaivasvata model, the system of moderate tax as a proportion of one’s earnings. It ended uncertainty in governance. The system advocated during the earlier Vedic system called for surrender by the working class to the ruling elite who owned all lands and means of cultivation, half the agricultural produce. This was followed by a non-coercive liberal system which called for sacrifice by rich landlords of one-fourth of their income.
The system introduced by Usanas and adopted by the feudal lords did not support the system of voluntary sacrifice but permitted forcible extortion of whatever amount the feudal lord could lay hands on. But when the feudal lords urged by Usanas abandoned this unlimited extortion they ostensibly were liberal but appropriated three–fifths of the income allowing the commoner the rest two-fifths to meet their economic needs (artha) and pleasurable pursuits (kama). The feudal lord appropriated the funds meant for meeting social and cultural obligations (dharma), welfare of the offspring (svajana) and success in new ventures (yasa).
The states following the Prthiu system modeled on the Vaivasvata system appropriated as tax only one-sixth of income. Vaivasvata stipulated that no separate tax should be collected in the name of protection of life and property. Kautilya adopted this system. But he specified that the agriculturist should pay in addition expenses incurred by the state for providing irrigation facilities and manure. However he modulated the taxes and asked the traders to surrender one-tenth of their produce to the state.
It is noticed that Kautilyan system was lenient to the poor and asked the rich landlords and traders to compensate the loss to the exchequer. Bhishma, Krshna and Bhrgu did not dwell on this aspect.
Artharajya was rational and gentle but increased the responsibility of the king and the ruling class. It also placed restrictions on interest collected by the usurers and appropriation of profit by the traders. It took pains to ensure that the agriculturists and artisans were not exploited by the profiteers. Manusmrti and Bhishma were not unaware of this new system but did not give it prominence as their states had permitted the local authorities to collect whatever income they needed. Since the rural areas were not burdened with the task of ensuring the security of the state and protecting the people they escaped being taxed heavily.
The states envisaged by Bhishma, Krshna and Bhrgu continued to depend on the generosity of the ruling class. But the class of nobility as a political force with power to control the exchequer and the army and to legislate had thinned when the Mahadeva constitution was enforced in the fifty small viable states spread over the sub-continent. These states had the king, rajan, elected by his peers who were aggressive chieftains as the head of the state subordinate to the charismatic chief of the people, prajapati, elected by a vast body of heads of families. The waning of the nobility was accompanied by the rise of the bourgeoisie.
The neo-Vedic era which followed this development of the last stages of the Vedic era witnessed the dilemmas of these new states. With the post of chief of the people, Prajapati, entitled to admit as prajas new members from the areas beyond the janapada, land of the natives (jana) to revitalize the society and to declare what constituted personal property granted immunity against its attachment by the state and thereby allowed the owners of such property the status of privileged citizens, paura. These redefined states were constituted into paura-janapadas.
The privileged citizens and rich landlords were treated as marginally lower than the born aristocrats and the new aristocracy was elected from amongst them. Yajnavalkya constitution democratized the house of thirty-three nobles while Vaivasvata constitution which envisaged autonomous paura and janapada assemblies had given admission to that house to a limited number of representatives of this bourgeoisie and of the proletariat.
Vaivasvata did not dilate on who could become the head of the state and what powers he should have. The head of the state was required to take into account the views of his supporters and of their opponents. He insisted on governance by consensus even as during the early Vedic era the assembly and the council had to arrive at unanimous decisions after deliberation on all issues. He brought all the three strata, aristocracy, independent middle class and the commonalty (devas, gandharvas and manushyas) under a common legal system of privileges and duties. Egalitarianism characterized this move.
The neo-Vedic state was not a small one headed by an aggressive chieftain designated as rajan and elected by his peers who too like him were aggressive. It also departed from the system of a federation of five states, the capital and four janapadas around it headed by a Viraj. This head of the federal state was expected to penetrate into areas (not to conquer and annex them or colonize them but to externalize the innate urge of aggressiveness) beyond this federation allowing the city and the four janapadas to govern themselves through the paura-janapada system. He was assisted by the chef of the people, Prajapati who admitted new members to the privileges of free citizens, equal in status to the natives.
Yajnavalkya bypassed this system and called for an end to the practice of incursions and made the Prajapati who was elected by a council of elders the head of the steadily expanding but stable nation-state. Prajapati was assisted by Mahendra who headed the committee of five Indras, officers of the exchequer of the five constituents of the state.
Prajapati headed the state and the army that was meant only for defence of the federation. He also headed the constitution (Brahma) bench and the judiciary which ensured that every citizen would get protection for his life and property. Later the Prajapati was subordinated to Brahma, an independent officer heading a four-member bench though he as head of the nation-state had selected that jurist, Brahma, from the senior members of the college of jurists. This experiment was short-lived.
The house of liberal cultural aristocracy lost all powers, administrative and judicial. It survived by agreeing to induct new members for short durations as intellectual aristocrats. The concept of small independent and viable states without concentration of power in any single authority as envisaged by Mahadeva was adopted again. The ruler could not use the state funds or the state army to bolster his image as a conqueror. The janapada could be enlarged and constituted into a nation (rashtra) comprising four janapadas controlled from the capital city by a charismatic leader. If that leader was but a native of that federation and preferably an agriculturist like Prthu he was given the designation, Janaka.
During the early post-Vedic decades, with the neo-Vedic emphasis on a new social order, society was found wanting in resilience. It would however undo the sharp cleavage and wide gap between the small rich leisure class of nobility who owned all the lands and the vast poor and property-less uneducated working class. It was being bridged by the emergence of a stratum of intelligentsia and a bourgeoisie of mainly landlords.
Democratization of the aristocracy and the empowerment of everyone to own personal property, it was expected would facilitate this change. Everyone would be self-reliant and none would be serving others. The class of common workers even as the leisure class of cultural aristocrats, feudal lords and plutocrats noted for conspicuous consumption, would cease to be there, it was expected. But the framers of the constitution hesitated to aim at the creation of a classless society.
The constitution could by supporting the two strata of the middle class (intellectual aristocracy and free individuals, deva-gandharvas and manushya-gandharvas) ultimately witness the withering of the two classes, the small aristocracy and the large working class and the society becoming a single large self-reliant educated class.
It would be democratized and govern itself free from a proud, ambitious and covetous ruling class, it was expected. It was also expected to provide protection for life and property by training a new judicial order and elevating it to the highest position.
Social equity required that social distance was negated. This step made the head of the constitution bench, Brahma and the largely unwritten constitution (Brahma) rank superior to the head of the state and his executive whether this head was a rajan or viraj or prajapati or janaka or a svami or isvara. A dynamic charismatic talented and trained social leader, purusha, could rise from the free commonalty to occupy one of these positions as head of the state.
But the head of the judiciary had to be one who had experienced (not merely observed from a distance) life at different levels of the society, from the poorest to the richest but not belonging to any of them and thereby had been equipped to become a free man representing the wills and desires of all, a vaisvanara. Vaisvanara was a stoical, sympathetic and impartial social leader (Purusha) who wanted the society and the state to meet the genuine needs of every individual at whatever economic level he might be. Ultimately he could become an impartial, selfless chief justice, Brahma, the highest position in social polity. Even Manu could not ignore what Naciketas the vaisvanara (who had not yet occupied the seat of Brahma) recommended, as the ideal classless social structure.
Such a chief justice who could correctly represent the cause of the entire society could however not succeed in getting his just verdict executed, as he was not a powerful head of the state and as he lacked dynamism. He was gentle, knowledgeable and simple but not awesome which the head of the state was expected and required to be. This dilemma led to the re-emergence of the feudal order with the new kings being despots brushing aside all counsel and feuding amongst themselves.
In this process social welfare activities were neglected. ‘Might is right’ became the motto of these rulers whether in intra-state affairs or in inter-state relations. Both had to be regulated, the reformist socio-political thinkers realized. Within the state, the king who was mightier than other chieftains and officials and social leaders held the plutocrats and technocrats to ransom, for they had to answer to the people for their excesses and deceits and not he. Like the cultural and intellectual aristocrats, the rich plutocrats and the technocrats surrendered meekly to the new despots.
As we continue outlining the features of the Hindu State that emerged before it slowly declined, it would be advantageous and even imperative to free ourselves from certain stereotypes that we have absorbed uncritically during the last three centuries. Let us not equate it with the princely states headed by non-Muslim rulers. Most of these non-Muslim princely states adopted the political structure that the stronger Muslim states had and later the one recommended by the British regents attached to their courts. We have to deem the pre-1000AD states as Hindu states which had floundered while continuing the models that were available at the end of the Battle of Kurukshetra (c3100 BC according to Hindu tradition and c1440BC according to western Indologists and their docile and imbecile Indian adherents).
The Indian academicians of the 19th and 20th centuries had failed to trace the features of the state of the Vedic and Upanishadic eras and also that of the decades subsequent to them. The compilation, Passage to Hindu State brings out this failure and its causes. The early Vedic society had two strata, the rich and mighty ruling class and the poor and weak commoners who worked for the former. The civilized sections of that ruling class got rid of the cruder section in it with the help of the commoners. The aristocrats accepted the economic policies advocated by Brhaspati, an ideologue who promoted the interests of the bourgeoisie and ensured that the benefits that the bourgeoisie got were shared with the docile agrarian proletariat.
But the leisure class, the commoners working for them and also the bourgeoisie kept out of their political economy several cadres and individuals who were not economically oriented and did not allow them to settle in the lands owned by the former and plied by the latter. These cadres became a vast middle class interested in pursuit of knowledge and spread of culture and became part of the service sector.
The liberal nobles, whose stratum had been pruned of the cruel amongst them, were known as devas. 19th century Indologists committed a serious error in presenting them as ‘gods’ of a polytheistic Vedic society. Devas and manushyas, it has to be realized, were not ‘gods and men’ but were liberal nobles and commoners who were settled as organized clans and communities and were the two recognized social worlds of the core agro-pastoral society. The two strata were not opposed to each other.
The vast middle class cadres who were not settled in any particular area or organized as clans and communities with distinct cultural identities were a fluid social universe. This class was expected to merge in either of the two classes, devas and manushyas. But the cadres of this middle class did not want their pursuits hampered by such merger. However many of them were split on the basis of their aptitudes into two classes, intellectuals and warriors, Brahmans and Kshatriyas. Neither of them had personal property.
With the rise of this middle class, the nobles were not able to defend their position as a cultural aristocracy capable of exercising political control. The aristocracy lost its pre-eminent position with the emergence of an influential bourgeoisie having personal property and an agrarian proletariat capable of resisting economic exploitation and political domination by the rich plutocracy and technocrats. These two classes, Vaisyas and Shudras predominated in the city and the rural areas respectively.
The emerging Hindu state underplayed the importance and influence of the Rajanyas (who claimed to be traditional aristocrats) as warriors. They were neither aristocrats nor warriors. Most of them were landlords, bhojas and belonged to the local communities. But many of them pretended to belong to the two ancient royal lineages, solar and lunar, Surya and Soma.
These Rajanyas would have marital alliances with royal families of other regions but not with local clans. Many historians and chroniclers have been carried away by these impressive claims. These claims have only vitiated the socio-economic relations throughout the subcontinent and caused rivalries and violent conflicts among the ruling classes.
The nearly fifty small nation-states brought into existence by the end of the Vedic era had rulers, Rajans, who had come to power by routing their rival Rajanyas. They had no control over the two houses of legislature, sabha and samiti which were manned by nobles and scholars and elders. But these two houses slowly waned as decay set in in the caliber of the social leaders.
The Vedic state had no use for Rajans and functioned under the aegis of these two houses and the eight or twelve member executive drawn from the representatives of the different social sectors in the governing elite, sabha. We need to study the different constitutions of ancient India without giving Rajanyas undue importance. Attempts to give the Rajanyas sophisticated training in administration on par with the scholars and jurists had little success.
The Rshabha constitution of the early Vedic era presented the head of the state as the first among equals who constituted the ruling elite. He was depended on by the docile commoners for protection. But he controlled all economic activities and took charge of all they produced. It was a totalitarian state where the commoners enjoyed no rights. It was based on the concept, ‘might is right’. They could not but obey their masters if they wanted to survive. The practice of the rajan, the head of the state being elected by his peers was allied to the Rshabha constitution.
The system of bicameral legislature with the chief of the people, Prajapati, convening the two bodies of sober and unselfish members took away economic power and political power from the Rajan and his team of Rajanyas and vested these in the nobles who were guided by sages and elders. The upper house (sabha) of the legislature controlled the treasury and the army and the other house (samiti) was in charge of the civil judiciary and the civil administration.
Indra-Agni diarchy was interested in ensuring social justice for the commoners without diluting the status distinctions between them and the cultural aristocracy. Indra-Brhaspati diarchy ensured that the entire core society of nobles and commoners stayed unarmed and yet secure. It also promoted the interests of the rich among the commoners. It created a civil administration managed by the bourgeoisie as distinct from the central administration headed by Indra who controlled both the treasury and the army while Agni controlled the judiciary. Most of the states were functioning under one of these two systems which were against feudalism and chieftains, Rajanyas, who did not differ much from feudal warlords.
The Viraj constitution envisaged a federal system. Initially, the Viraj was like the Rshabha elected by his peers as the first among equals. This election was accompanied by violent conflicts. But later he was elected by a vast body of heads of families and their consorts, purushas and stris. This change also put severe restraints on the powers of the Viraj. He had tenure of only ten years and was required to function as advised by the chief of the people, Prajapati and the mother-figure, Aditi who looked after observance of rules of ethics by all. The two houses of legislature were in their place and a cabinet of eight executives, Adityas, functioned under her supervision.
The Viraj had neither economic power nor political power. He was allowed to make intrusions on his own into areas beyond the borders of his federal state but without assistance from it. The Prajapati too could come in contact with such areas but only spread the orientations of his native society among their population and grant them the status of prajas and the rights that the natives, jana enjoyed. Both the natives and the new domiciles were entitled to protection of life and property and have personal property.
The federation of five states, the capital and the four regions round it over which the Viraj presided, had eight social sectors. None in the areas under the Viraj was denied the right to life and property. Virajam was a social polity that ensured unity without uniformity and union of units that were assured autonomy, svarajam.
The federal state could not be ruled by a despot or have any particular cultural system as its value system. It was democratic and expected the two houses of legislature to arrive at unanimous decisions after deliberations on every issue. It was neither autocratic nor imperialistic.
If the Viraj was re-elected for second tenure of ten years or granted tenure of twenty to twenty-four years he was recognized as a Purusha and the state would come under Purusha constitution. This constitution upheld meritocracy and efficient administration was expected to encourage social and economic progress and establish colonies in areas which had no viable states.
HINDU SOCIAL POLITY
PASSAGE TO HINDU STATE
SOCIAL POLICY AND SOCIAL POLITY
BOOK ONE: VEDIC POLITY
BOOKS TWO, THREE, FOUR
UPANISHADS AND HINDU POLITICAL SOCIOLOGY
BOOKS FIVE AND SIX
BRAHMA-SUTRAS OF BADARAYANA
PRINCIPLES OF NEO-VEDIC
BOOKS: SEVEN AND EIGHT
KRSHNA'S BHAGAVAD-GITA AS RAJAVIDYA
SCIENCE OF POLITY
BOOKS NINE, TEN, ELEVEN, TWELVE
DHARMARAJYA AND DHARMARAJA
LIBERAL SOCIAL WELFARE STATE
TRANSITION TO POST-VEDIC POLITY
BOOK THIRTEEN: BHISHMA AND RAJADHARMA
ETHICS AND POLITY
BOOKS FOURTEEN AND FIFTEEN
MANUSMRTI AS SOCIO-POLITICAL CONSTITUTION
SOCIAL POLITY AND INSTITUTION OF JUSTICE
KAUTILYA AND HINDU ECONOMIC STATE
HINDU STATE: Constitution and Features