While submitting my doctoral treatise (in 1965), Society Under an Imperial State with special reference to Kautilya's Arthasastra, I pointed out that since the discovery of that work on Arthasastra during the first decade of the 20th century, scholars have evinced considerable interest in examining this work that has advocated the primacy of economy (artha eva pradhana) and is based on the principles of economic determinism. But an undesirable impression has been created that Kautilya counselled his ruler to overlook all moral and ethical considerations and resort to necessary expedient steps though cruel and crooked to get his economic and political goals achieved. A comparison of Kautilyas stand with that of Kanika Bharadvaja, a disciple of Bharadvaja, in his counsel to Dhrtarashtra would show that the former was not against giving the principles of Dharma the importance and respect due to them.
Dharmasastra vs Arthasastra
While the conservative opinion in India treated Arthasastra as being antithetical to the stances taken by Manava Dharmasastra and discouraged that work and its admirers, the critics of the latter work and detractors of religion have welcomed Kautilyan Arthasastra and its stands on various issues like law and economy. But both the conservatives and their detractors have overlooked or failed to appreciate its salient features, I have pointed out. Of the four values of life that every individual has to pursue for developing a wholesome personality (purusharthas) Arthasastra gave importance to acquisition of wealth (artha) but did not reject ethics (dharma) or the need to have pleasure (kama). It however ignored the pursuit of steps leading to salvation (moksha).
While examining the contents of the Arthasastra and its stands on economy, law, bureaucracy, war and peace, conquests and imperialism and colonization, I drew on the sociological theorems popularized by modern social thinkers like Karl Marx, Max Weber, Karl Mannheim, Robert Merton, Alfred de Grazia, Wilfred Pareto, Pitirim Sorokin, Harold Laski, Bryce etc. I pointed out that Kautilya far from recommending immoral means did keep within the bounds of ethics and principles of social welfare though he was more pragmatic and more rational than his contemporaries and predecessors. My analysis of the stands of Bharadvaja, Visalaksha, Pisuna, Parasaras, Kaunapadanta and Vatavyadhi and the schools of Manu, Brhaspati and Usanas, and his anonymous deuteragonist, Acharya, was appreciated by my esteemed examiners as a highly scientific one.
I also examined the features of the four-fold social order known as varnasrama dharma and the scheme of samkaravarnas, mixed classes against the four-fold paradigm, prescription, permission, preference and prohibition and pointed out that the much-criticized system of four socio-economic classes (varnas) which Kautilya too acknowledged was not an obnoxious and unjust one as it has recently been made out to be by some thinkers who have been carried away by the interpretations of western scholars some of whom were Christian proselytizers. I also brought out the similarities and differences between the stands of Kautilya in Arthasastra and those of Bhishma in Shantiparva of the Mahabharata.
In 1964, I followed the (conservative) chronologies of events, personages and literary works of Ancient India as given by P.V.Kane and other eminent Indian scholars who assumed that the Arthasastra reflected the society, economy and polity of the empire that was founded by Chandragupta Maurya. I however had my reservations on this assumption and they were reflected in the title of my treatise, which carefully avoided the expression, Mauryan empire. I have avoided identifying Kautilya with Vishnugupta who recovered the works of Kautilya and other authors from the Nanda archives and edited them and with Chanakya who played a crucial role in dislodging the Nandas and installing Chandragupta on the throne of Magadha.
My search for the times and identities of the scholars mentioned by Kautilya has led me to take radically new positions on them as my post-doctoral treatise, Evolution of Social Polity of Ancient India from Manu to Kautilya (1989) and the subsequent work, Foundations of Hindu Economic State (1997) indicate. Kautilya whose work on Arthasastra composed originally in verse couplets during the decades immediately after the battle of Kurukshetra was a junior contemporary of Bharadvaja (a Vedic sage who was the counsellor of Chakravarti Bharata), Visalaksha (a Saivaite scholar and counsellor of Bharatas mother, Sakuntala), Pisuna (finance minister under Bharatas father, Dushyanta), Dvaipayana (son of Parasara and father of Dhrtarashtra and Pandu whose sons fought against each other in the battle of Kurukshetra), Bhishma (Kaunapadanta, son of Santanu and step-brother of Dvaipayana) and Vatavyadhi (Uddhava, a minister in Krshna's cabinet).
I have posited that the anonymous teacher who was Kautilyas deuteragonist was Krpa who was a political counsellor of Parikshit and a teacher of both Kauravas and Pandavas who fought the bitter battle at Kurukshetra (in c.3100BC). During Parikshits reign Surya Savarni occupied the post of Manu. I have held that Kautilya was on the scene when that battle took place but was not connected with either the Kauravas or the Pandavas. He was a highly influential technocrat and economist who did believe in the existence of God (was an Astika) and was in a position to put an end to the infamous slaughter by Janamejaya of the innocent workers (sarpas) who revolted against Parikshit who ascended the throne of Hastinapura soon after the battle of Kurukshetra. I have also pointed out the presence of two distinct streams in the text of Arthasastra, the early Kautilyan and the later one as recommended by Vishnugupta.
My works on Hindu Political Sociology, Evolution of Social Polity of Ancient India (1991), Origins of Hindu Social System (1994), Foundations of Hindu Economic State (1997), Hindu Social Dynamics, Lokayatra (1999), Prologue to Hindu Political Sociology (2000), Krshnas Bhagavad-Gita as Rajavidya (2001), Manusmrti as Socio-political Constitution (2002), The Upanishads and Hindu Political Sociology (2004) and Principles of the Neo-Vedic Socio-Political Constitution and Brahmasutras (2005) have preceded the present treatise which draws its theme from the above works and the great epic, the Mahabharata. Each of these works has been built on the themes developed in the preceding ones.
Kautilyan state headed by a Rajarshi
Before dwelling on the concept, Dharmarajya, it needs to be stated that Kautilyan state was headed by a saintly king, Rajarshi, who was appointed by a three-member selection committee comprising the Rajapurohita, state political counsellor and ombudsman, the retiring Rajarshi and the Prime Minister, and commanded respect for his scholarship (vidya) and humility (vinaya) and administered his country with assistants and able ministers and was kept in check by the state political counsellor, Rajapurohita. The Rajarshi enjoyed rational legitimacy, as he had to be approved by the representative bodies of the peoples of the state including its elite. Or the state was headed by a highly charismatic leader, svami, who was permitted to extend his authority beyond the boundaries of his primary state but was expected not to intervene in the internal administration which was controlled by the highly trained bureaucracy.
Vedic social polities and officials
I have drawn attention to the structures of the Vedic social polities where power was wielded by Indra, the head of the nobility and Agni, the head of the intelligentsia of the core society jointly while the aggressive king (rajan) was elected by a college of similarly aggressive Rajanyas. There were other patterns by which Brhaspati instead of Agni wielded power on behalf of the bourgeoisie and effectively checked the authority of the aristocracy headed by Indra. The Mahadeva constitution introduced a system of checks and balances and created four institutions, sabha of the nobles (devas) headed by Indra, sena, army of Kshatriyas headed by Aditya, samiti of intellectuals (Brahmans), headed by Agni, and sura, treasury, controlled by Brhaspati on behalf of the commonalty (prthvi). The king who was elected by a body of aggressive chieftains (rajanyas) was subordinate to the chief of the people, Prajapati who enjoyed the confidence of the commonalty (vis).
For arriving at a proper appraisal of the features of the different stages through which ancient Indian social polity went through it is imperative that we discard several of the postulates that western Indologists of the 19th and early 20th centuries advanced and which were accepted uncritically by the Indian scholars of that period. Those Indologists and social anthropologists were tuned to the faith that Christianity was the first (and last) to advance a credible monotheistic religion, that the Europeans were a race that was superior to other races, genetically and culturally and in virulence and were entrusted by the almighty with the mission to conquer the rest of the world and spread their faiths and social, cultural, economic, political and legal systems amongst all nations and peoples. Nazism was the extreme form of this imperialistic mission that the different European states had assumed for themselves.
Entire races and civilizations of America were exterminated by these European imperialists since they set their foot there during the last decades of the 15th century. And the dark peoples of Africa were subjected to the worst form of slavery and slave trade. Peoples of India too did not escape from these crimes against humanity committed by the imperialists and colonialists. But most of the Indian scholars of the 19th century were only too willing to toe the line of these imperialists and racists and pride themselves in being a part of the Aryan race that was superior to other races and was destined to rule the world and determine the features of its civilization. Most of the premises on which European imperialism and racial superiority were based were deliberate falsehoods. Indian scholars fell for these and failed to interpret the past of their own country and culture and civilization correctly.
Aryans were not a race
For a proper appraisal of ancient Indian works, it is necessary to recognize that they did not treat the Aryas as a white race, different from others anthropologically or in physiognomy or in language spoken or in cultural practices or in religious creed. The postulate that the Aryas were a race superior to others and that they spoke a language, Sanskrit, that was mother of the Indo-European languages, was propagated by eminent European Indologists like Max Muller and accepted uncritically by Indian scholars who had placed blind faith in them.
This has caused immense harm to the unity of the peoples of India who are constantly fed on the postulate of Arya-Dravida dichotomy and the venomous falsehood that this subcontinent was once populated by the dark Dravidians who had built the highly advanced urban civilization of the Indus Valley and that the Aryan marauders of Central Asia invaded this country through the north-west mountain passes and destroyed it and forced them to go southwards to the cruel forests of the peninsula or be enslaved as Dasas.
The European scholars were engaged in defending the crimes committed by their imperialist troops in America and other parts of the world by claiming that they were only following the methods adopted by the Aryas in establishing control over India. Rationalism requires that the ideologues and demagogues who swear by the concept of the superiority of the Aryan race and who allege that the Aryans were invaders from Central Asia and that they destroyed the indigenous civilization and culture should be made to recognize the facts and cease to propagate venomous falsehoods.
I have pointed out that in the Rgveda only in less than thirty contexts does the term, Arya appear. Nowhere among them does it indicate a race distinct from others or an ethnic group or a people speaking a particular language or following a particular creed. It is wrong to presume that the Aryas of the Vedic times worshipped aspects of nature and were polytheists and pantheists and not monotheists. The conflicts between Aryas and Dasas were not racial conflicts. They were conflicts between owners of property and their employees. Often both the groups of a particular territory fought against similar combines of other territories. The Dasas were originally loyal servants of the liberal nobles (devas) and the Dasyus were mercenaries engaged by the cruel feudal lords (asuras) of the Vedic period.
Who were Aryas?
Aryas were not a race. There was no conquest of India by Aryas. There was no conquest, no conqueror and no conquered. Aryas formed the middle class self-reliant agrarian population of the plains of Ganga. After the scheme of four socio-economic classes (varnas) came into force they were known as Vaisyas. The rights that the Vaisyas had as free citizens, Aryas, entitled to have personal property were first extended to the other two higher classes, the intellectuals and the warriors-cum-administrators, Brahmans and Kshatriyas.
Kautilya was the first thinker and statesman who extended these rights to the workers, both agricultural and industrial, who did not have personal property. He declared all the four classes (varnas) as Aryas. He also ensured that no one, man or woman, child or adult, was forced to work under another person as a bonded labourer. He upheld Aryabhava and freed all from dasatva, servitude. He was however only completing a project that had already been undertaken by Sakra Indra and sages like Vasishta, I have noted.
The Sarasvati-Drshadvati basin to the east of the Sapta-sindhu basin was the cradle of Vedic civilization and when those two rivers disappeared in the desert of Rajasthan, its sages emigrated in different directions and first, the Kurus and Panchalas in the Ganga-Yamuna basin became the upholders of that civilization and culture and then Kasi and Mithila in the eastern Ganga basin became the models to be followed. Of course the sages migrated in other directions also, towards the northwest, north and southwest of Saptasindhu basin.
The sages, traders and venturous warriors could move along the western coast and reach the southern end of the peninsula. But they could not cross the rivers and forests of the great Indian peninsula and had to depend on the sea-route to establish links with the cultural groups already in place in the south. First eastern Ganga basin and then the entire north India and then the western coast were referred to as comprising Aryavarta. This took place before the four-varnas (four classes) scheme was extended to those areas.
Interpretations given by Western Indologists to be discarded
The western Indologists do deserve credit and gratitude for having recovered numerous texts of ancient Indian works, editing and translating them in English, French and German and also other Indian languages. But the interpretations that they have given of some crucial terms and concepts need to be discarded. They translated the terms, divam, prthvi and antariksham, as heaven, earth and intermediate space inhabited by gods, men and preternatural beings respectively. I have emphasized that devas and devatas were not gods and demigods and that they were aristocrats and plutocrats who enjoyed considerable respect in the larger society. In my works, I have developed a rigorously rational picture of the features of the larger society and brought out the intricacies of the relations among its different sectors, strata and cadres.
Dichotomous agro-pastoral core society of the plains
The agro-pastoral core society had two strata, the armed ruling elite, which controlled all lands and the commonalty who had no personal property and worked under the directions of the former. The gentle and liberal sections of the elite were known as devas and its aggressive and cruel members as asuras. The latter were mainly feudal warlords and were entrenched in forts from where they could threaten and coerce the workers and other commoners of the rural areas. The liberal aristocrats resided in exclusive urban areas. In the prolonged conflict between the two, the liberal nobles (devas) and feudal lords (asuras), the former could prevail because of the support extended to them by the commoners (manushyas).
Core society and the frontier society, Jana and Itara Jana
The core society comprising nobles and commoners devas and manushyas, of the agro-pastoral plains (prthvi) was separated from the industrial frontier society (antariksham) of the forests and mountains. The latter economy was controlled by the plutocrats (yakshas) who were accused of being covetous and was operated by the technocrats (nagas) and the industrial proletariat (sarpas). Both the nagas and the sarpas had to be constantly on the move in search of resources. Rakshas were guards who protected the wealth and property of the yakshas. The rebels among them were known as rakshasas and they tended to cast their lot with the expelled feudal lords, asuras.
As Kashyapa pointed out the larger society had eight social sectors. Feudal warlords (asuras) claimed that they were senior (jyeshta) to the liberal nobles (devas). The sages who were ordinarily stationed in their abodes outside towns and villages, which were also residential schools, were referred to as rshis. They did not take part in the economic activities of either of the two societies, agro-pastoral and industrial. The elders (pitrs) who had retired from economic activities stayed in their forest abodes. The commoners who were engaged mainly in manual labour in agriculture and animal husbandry were referred to as manushyas. They had to maintain the nobles (devas) and sages (rshis) and elders (pitrs) from the surplus of their agricultural produce. The reformed feudal chiefs were absorbed in the cadres of pitrs (pitaras).
The industrial sector of the forest and mountainous areas was controlled by the plutocrats (yakshas) with the help of their guards (rakshas). The population under the nobles (devas) and feudal lords (asuras) were referred to as jana, sons of the soil, natives, while the population of the other society under the plutocrats (yakshas) was known as itara jana, other peoples. Their economy was operated by technocrats (nagas) and the industrial proletariat (sarpas). Both these groups were constantly on the move in search of natural resources and vocations. This population also included the discrete individuals of the social periphery (bhutas) who had dropped out of their original groups of the commonalty (prthvi, bhumi). This periphery had also militants (rakshasas) and persons (paisacas) belonging to the counter-intelligentsia.
Non-economic mobile cadres
There were several groups who did not belong to any of these above sectors and were not engaged in economic activities. Gandharvas, apsarases, vidyadharas, charanas, siddhas, guhyakas, tapasas were such cadres who were bold intellectuals and were known as punya-jana and did not belong to the settled populations. It needs to be recognized that all these were human beings. It is wrong to treat the gandharvas and apsarases as musicians and dancers who entertained gods. Similarly it is irrational to describe devas as gods and asuras and rakshasas as demons and bhutas and paisacas as ghosts and nagas and sarpas as serpents. Kimpurushas and kinnaras too were persons belonging to the frontier society. Kimpurushas and vanaras are not to be described as monkeys. A correct picture of the social structure of Ancient India can be obtained only if the misconceptions popularized by western scholars and adopted by their Indian adherents are removed.
Three sections of the elite: devas, asuras, yakshas; aristocrats, feudal lords, plutocrats
During the later Vedic period the governing elite of the larger society had three sections, aggressive and cruel feudal lords (asuras), liberal cultured aristocrats (devas) and covetous plutocrats (yakshas). The triple entente (Trisamdhi) entered into by the nobles (devas), commoners of the agro-pastoral plains (manushyas) and the plutocrats (yakshas) and industrial proletariat (sarpas) resulted in the isolation of the feudal lords (daityas), extermination of the intransigent elements (vrtras) among them and the reformation of many feudal lords (asuras). Many plutocrats (yakshas) accepted the status of devatas next to the liberal aristocrats (devas). The non-conformist among them were known as danavas and they joined hands with the feudal elements (daityas) who refused to treat the commoners, the intellectuals and others with sympathy and respect.
Vedic Society pre-varna and pre-dharma
It was a period when the scheme of four socio-economic classes, Brahmans, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas and Shudras had not yet been envisaged. It was also a period when the concept of dharma had not yet been crystallized. It was a period when communities, which were organized and had settled in definite areas were known as lokas and individuals and cadres who were constantly on the move were referred to as jagats. Vis or Visva had both the groups, lokas and jagats under its parasol. The society had originally two strata, the elite and the undistinguished masses (prakrti, manushyas). Among the elite, the nobles (devas) and the feudal lords (asuras) were dependent on the agro-pastoral economy (prthvi, bhumi, manushyas).
Social world and social universe, loka and jagat
With the free middle class of gandharvas who were not included in any of these three sectors and who constituted a social universe (jagat) rather than a social world (loka) being accommodated in the core society it had four classes, the gentle and refined aristocrats (devas), the free middle class (gandharvas), the elders (pitrs) many of whom were reformed feudal lords and the commoners (manushyas) who were engaged in economic activities and supported the other three classes. Among the nobles (devas) there were three ranks, upper crust of the local population, members of the high executive and privileged members of the house of nobles. Among the gandharvas some had access to the nobles (devas) and shared the orientations of the ruling elite and others were free men (naras) who were closer to the commoners (manushyas).
Emergence of Brahmans and Kshatruyas from the gandharva cadres and of Vaisyas and Shudras from commonalty, manushyas
The two classes, intellectuals (Brahmans) and warriors-cum-administrators (Kshatras) emerged from the vast free middle class of Gandharvas. The two classes, Aryas (Vaisyas) and Shudras emerged from the commonalty (manushyas) who were organized as clans (kulas) and communities (jatis). Brahmans and Kshatras were cadres of free individuals while Vaisyas and Shudras were organized as communities and clans. Intra-clan marriage was avoided while intra-community marital alliance was in vogue. Neither was binding on the gandharvas and the classes that emerged from them.
Rights enjoyed by natives, jana extended to other cadres
The extension of the facilities and immunities enjoyed by the members of the core society whose populace was referred to as natives, jana, to those outside its limits was bound to create instability in social relations. They were to be absorbed in the expanded society as equal to the members of the core society. The plutocrats (yakshas) had to be accommodated in ranks close to those of the aristocrats (devas) and the intellectuals of the frontier society who were technocrats (nagas) in strata almost equal to those of the scholars, teachers, thinkers, observers and researchers many of whom belonged to the free intelligentsia, gandharvas, vidyadharas, vipras, tapasas, siddhas etc. until they were assigned to the class (varna) of Brahmans.
The industrial workers (sarpas) were absorbed in the new class of Shudras along with the agricultural workers, kshudrakas. The expanded and integrated society had to treat all the subjects who obeyed the integrated ruling class as prajas, domiciles. Their rights were defined by law and their interests were protected by their chief, Prajapati, who ranked superior to the king (rajan), the head of the state and to Indra, Aditya, Agni and Brhaspati, the heads of the four state institutions, sabha, sena, samiti and sura or rajyalakshmi. This expanded core society recognized the existence of devas, rajanyas, kshatriyas and brahmans as cadres distinct from the working masses (prthvi, manushyas) and the integrated commonalty (vis).
Naras and Bhutas, Free men of the core society and Discrete Individuals of the periphery
But there were sections of the larger society who did not join any of these regulated cadres and they were free men and free women (naras and naris). In fact they belonged to the lower ranks of gandharvas and apsarases. They were free to pursue any vocation that had not been monopolized by specific clans (kulas) and communities (jatis). Their services were drawn upon to man the rural bureaucracy and the infantry. The free men who were guilty of serious crimes and deviance were consigned to the ghettoes called naraka.
The social periphery had discrete individuals who had been pushed out of the four classes, devas, rajanyas, kshatriyas and brahmans and manushyas. They were referred to as bhutas and their intellectuals as budhas. The forest guards who had taken to robbery were called rakshasas and the counter-intelligentsia who misguided others were known as paisacas. These two cadres too found refuge in the social periphery and it was difficult to distinguish them from its kshatriyas and the budhas.
Neo-Vedic Social Polity and subaltern of pranis and jivas and daharas, of the thinly populated areas
In the neo-Vedic social polity, industrial economy lost its identity with the emergence of integrated janapadas covering, agrarian and pastoral lands and forests and mountains, leaving the littoral lands and riverine and marine economy (of apsarases) to remain free. Similarly there was a vast thinly populated area (akasa) whose population was struggling to eke a livelihood to survive (as pranis and as jivas). The emergence of different cadres and diverse orientations called for liberal codes based on consensus. These orientations were brought under social laws based on ethics and acknowledgement of the validity of every one of the orientations that were not anti-social and anti-human. These socio-cultural laws of a liberal and inclusive society were called dharma.
Kuladharmas, jatidharmas and
These laws that assured that the traditional practices of every clan and community (kuladharma and jatidharma) would be honoured and protected were known as sanatana dharma. It is not easy to trace how these laws of the clans and communities came into existence. Only the elders of the clan or community concerned were in a position to state whether a particular act of one of its members was within the scope of its dharma. Yudhishtira who was slated to become a Dharmaraja was curious to know the features of the earlier laws that continued to be in vogue and when and how they first came to be promulgated.
Training of Yudhishtira to become Dharmaraja
He learnt that it took more than four millennia for the early society to get organized as clans or communities. That long epoch when the society got so organised and developed definite cultural orientations is known as krtayuga, the epoch of construction. Earlier, men everywhere lived in isolation without occupation or family and were struggling to exist. They were food-gatherers and the law of struggle for existence operated and only the fittest could survive. These laws were later termed as Rta, the laws of nature. According to a senior chronicler and social thinker of his times, four centuries elapsed before men and women came together with a community or clan claiming a particular habitat that offered its means of livelihood as its own.
Features of the Krta epoch (yuga)
Natives of a particular area, jana, had to come together to survive against threats from other beings and other groups. This also led to every group accepting the stronger among its members as its protectors. There was a struggle for leadership and power and might was right. The laws of nature called for allowing every distinct social group the right to its habitat and protection of the weak within every group by its other members, especially by the stronger ones. Rta that governed the lives of the people acknowledged that every individual had to protect his interests and consent to be protected against encroachment into its territory by others. There was no state or society.
But within every group the mighty ruled over the weak and the latter had to work for the maintenance of the former, in token thereof. Of course the mighty could guard their personal interests and did not need to depend on any one for meeting their basic needs. Laws of nature, Rta, led to the commoners (manushyas) working for the mighty who became rich without being engaged in productive economic activities. The ruling class was authoritarian and none among the commonalty dared to disobey or displease its members. Even while this dichotomy, governing elite and subordinate commonalty became the norm, the former developed distinct cadres in its midst even as the commoners began to function as distinct clans and communities.
Adityas, Vasus, Maruts and Rudras were elite cadres who led, protected and controlled the commoners of the agrarian plains, pastoral lands, moors and open spaces, and forests and mountains respectively. They differed from one another in their orientations and most of them became gentler than the earlier members of the elite who were later described as asuras or daityas. While the new ruling cadres owned the areas where the commoners (manushyas) worked for them and accepted the surplus of the produce surrendered by the latter and became rich, the feudal lords had to extort tributes from those who accepted their authority and unlike the Adityas and other nobles were not liberal in extending aid to the needy. Unlike the liberal nobles (devas), the feudal lords (asuras) were not entitled to be in possession of the surplus produce, which had to be kept in the treasury (sura) and distributed amongst the needy.
Simultaneously many among the commoners opted not to be engaged in economic activities or live under social laws that bound them to clans and communities. They had intellectualistic orientations and opted to be independent of all controls whether exercised by the ruling elite (devas and asuras) or by organised social groups (manushyas). Some of them were adventurous and would even earn their livelihood by arms. These were later called gandharvas and treated as constituting a large loosely-knit social universe (jagat). Several cadres like vipras, vidyadharas, tapasas, apsarases, siddhas, charanas, chakshus, guhyakas and naras, were associated with the gandharvas who had their base in the agro-pastoral plains and did not hesitate to foray into other areas. Similarly the forest areas too had free and adventurous individuals who neither served the ruling elite there nor were engaged in constructive activities. They were referred to as kimpurushas and kinnaras and their lower rungs as vanaras.
Krtayuga was an epoch of constructive activities, with men seeking to tame other men and other beings and objects of nature. Acquisition of knowledge of the socio-physical environment and of the means to tap its varied resources became the prime necessity to score over persons and beings and events that threatened one or his group. Strenuous and continual effort, tapas, became the way of life of the different cadres brought under the class of gandharvas, who had no personal wealth and no homes or households and even no institution of family and marriage. The relations between the working masses of the plains (manushyas) and the ruling elite were governed by the principle of voluntary sacrifice (yajna) of its surplus produce by the former to maintain the nobles (devas), the feudal lords and authoritarian elders (asuras, pitrs) and the free intellectuals (vipras) who were not engaged in economic activities and liberal aid (dana) by the rich nobles and loosening of control by the feudal lords.
Decline of constructive Krta epoch
But this long epoch soon developed weaknesses in these relations and the rich and the mighty became cruel and the commoners less particular in keeping their commitments to the maintenance of the three non-economic cadres. Then followed an almost equally long period when common socio-cultural orientations and economic interests led to the identification of two societies, agro-pastoral and industrial, and of three social worlds (lokas), divam, prthvi and antariksham (urban patriciate, rural commonalty and remote industrial areas of forests and mountains). Efforts were made to maintain their separate identities and at the same time to enable them to interact for mutual benefit.
Guna (Natural traits) classification and Treta Yuga
This led to the emergence of the class of traders. They were first treated as distinct from the agrarian and pastoral population but later were bracketed with the rich among the latter who owned lands and cattle. Some of the commoners (manushyas) were closer to the gandharvas, the class of free intellectuals and free administrators and warriors. They were called free citizens, Aryas, entitled to hold personal property and were later accommodated in the class (varna) of Vaisyas while other commoners were manual workers and placed in the class of Shudras. The members of the nobility were recruited from the upper stratum of the commonalty and from other higher cadres. These recruits were called Visvedevas. Before these strata came into existence, during the second epoch (tretayuga), men were distinguished from one another on the basis of their innate traits (gunas), dynamism (rajas), sedateness (sattva) and inertness (tamas). First the commoners and later the nobles were brought under this guna classification. These distinct traits were partly inherited and partly the product of nurture.
From Rta to Satya
Dynamism was needed for social leadership (purushatva) and sobriety for moderation of impulsiveness. By the end of tretayuga (which is said to have lasted three millennia) laws based on Rta gave way to the puritanical laws based on truth (satya). It was the individual who had the ability to reflect on the implications of his commitment to the constitution that gave no leeway which mattered and not his membership of or association with any group or his social status. The rights of the individual were defined and delimited for the free intellectuals (vipras) and free men (naras) and the civil judiciary that upheld these laws commanded greater respect than the house of nobles (devas) that functioned as the legislature or the king, the head of the state, who was elected after bitter internecine battles by the electoral college of dynamic chieftains, rajanyas from among its members.
Satyam eva jayate na (and not) anrta
The laws based on truth (satya) which bound the free intellectuals and the free men recognised their right to personal property and ensured that they were protected if they did not resort to force or violence and respected the rights of others to their respective property. These laws refuted the validity of the earlier laws of nature, Rta, which acquiesced to the dictum, might is right and pronounced instead that truth alone would win in all disputes that were taken to the civil court for adjudication, satyam eva jayate. These laws did not visualise satya as mere negation of rta. The sage pronounced that the instruction was satyam eva jayate na anrtam.
Anrta was inhumanity, unnatural conduct. Rta though it conceded that the mighty would prevail over the weak did not condone inhumanity of man to man (and other beings). These new laws called for severe restraints on personal desires and for commitment to ethics, for taking the pledge to abide by truth, satyavrata, which alone would stand one in good stead under all circumstances. While the educated could take this pledge, the uneducated masses were expected to abstain from perjury and were known as Nasatyas. Those who agreed to speak the truth were known as satyavacana. But they were not so highly educated and as competent as the satyavratas who sought and learnt what the truth was and then abided by those findings and refused to resort to violence to get their desires and needs met.
The laws based on truth guided not only the civil judiciary that was presided over by an official designated as Agni, but also the civil polity that was headed by an ideologue and activist, designated as Brhaspati, who stood by the provision of the socio-political constitution incorporated in Atharvaveda or Brahma. The laws based on truth (satya) held sway during the middle Vedic era. Society came under the governance of the constitution, Brahma, and all conquests came to a standstill. It was a period when the commonalty governed itself by the laws of the clans and communities (kuladharmas and jatidharmas) and the sectors of the population who were outside them and functioned as individuals and free men or as free intellectuals opted to abide by the new puritanical laws based on truth, satya, instead of the permissive laws based on nature, Rta.
From Satya to Dharma during the Dvapara Yuga
But social integration required that all the sectors of the larger society should arrive at a consensus with respect to both matters pertaining to personal ethics and civil affairs. Dharma was based on Satya and the honesty of the individuals concerned. But it was improper to assume that the rich and the mighty could be trusted and not the weak and poor. It called for laws based on reason and for very wide acceptance of those laws. Such laws that were newly legislated by the end of the Vedic era (that is, by the end of dvaparayuga) were expected to be less permissive than the earlier laws based on Rta and less puritanical than the laws based on Satya. These new liberal laws were expected to prevail forever and were known as Sasvata Dharma. It is imperative to distinguish among the three concepts, Rta, Satya and Dharma.
Svayambhuva, the first Manu, had held the position of Prajapati, chief of the people (prajapati) of Brahmavarta, the Sarasvati-Drshadvati basin, with the designation, Brahma. He was also in charge of affairs pertaining to Dharma, when he was elevated by his peers like Daksha, Kardama, Sthanu, Ruchi and Visruta who were also prajapatis to the newly created position of Thinker, Manu. Svayambhuva had tenure of twelve years during which besides arranging for compiling the available hymns into a Vedic anthology, he gathered scholars belonging to diverse sections of the population and nominated them as maharshis (great sages) who were to function as legislators and represent their respective social sectors as prajapatis and compile a common socio-cultural code, dharmasastra. Marici headed this board. Atri, Angiras, Pulastya, Pulaha, Pracetas and Kratu were its other members. Vasishta, Narada and Bhrgu too were taken on this editorial board.
Marici belonged to the Maruts (who were storm-troopers of the moors), one of the four groups of traditional nobles, the other three being, Adityas, Vasus and Rudras (who controlled the populations of the agrarian plains, pastoral lands and forests respectively). While Marici represented the nobility (devas) in general, Atri who was closer to the Rudras was in charge of the frontier society (antariksham) of forests and mountains. I have pointed out that the kings of the solar lineages who owed loyalty to Prajapati Vivasvan (Surya), Manu Vaivasvata and Kashyapa claimed to be followers of Marici. The kings of the lunar lineages owed loyalty to Atri and Soma who was in charge of the sober intellectuals of the forests.
While Pracetas represented the peoples with apsara orientations and Narada with those holding gandharva orientations, Kratu represented the Valakhilyas who were technocrats. Svayambhuva required Bhrgu, Angiras, Pulastya and Vasishta to organise the four classes, Brahmans, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas and Shudras and expected Pulaha to look after the weaker sections who belonged to the social periphery. Svayambhuva wanted the scheme of four varnas to be made applicable only to the commonalty (prthvi, manushyas). The other two social worlds (lokas), (divam and antariksham), and those belonging to the mobile populations (jagats) might be brought under it later.
Three decades later, during the tenure of the fourth Manu, Tamasa, the Vedas (Srutis) were re-edited and the social codes (Smrtis) were drafted under the supervision of Vasishta. The socio-economic laws were based on the principles outlined during the epoch when adherence to truth (satya) was insisted on. Vasishta and his disciple, Rama of Kosala, who was a Satyavrata, belonged to the times of Manu Tamasa. When Dasaratha was king, Rama was being trained in the post of Indra and headed the army and the house of nobles while Vasishta controlled the civil polity in his capacity as Brhaspati.
Dasaratha functioned under Rajarshi constitution; Rama trained under modified Purusha constitution
Though Dasaratha functioned under the then popular Rajarshi constitution, which did not permit the head of the state to go on conquests of other territories and required him to function under the guidance of the eight-member ministry, Rama was being trained to be a charismatic social leader, purusha, with clearly defined powers and reduced tenure. He had to share his life tenure of twenty years with his brothers though he had a preferential share, as he was the eldest of the four brothers. He was a maryada purusha. Kings could not be autocrats and could not appoint their sons as their successors. Hereditary monarchy was not the norm even as life tenure was not.
Most rulers (rajans) who were controllers only of small territories or chiefs of departments of a state had tenure of five years. A Viraj who headed a federal state had tenure of ten years. He was assisted by the chief of the people, Prajapati, and the benevolent mother figure, Aditi, who regulated the activities of Adityas, the eight officials of the social polity. In this ideal Atharvan state, the Viraj was elected by the heads of families, Purushas, who could act independently and by Naris, women who were free to act. The Prajapati was elected by a council of elders who had retired from all economic activities. The Viraj presided over a council of thirty three nobles (devas) including the three authorities, Viraj, Prajapati and Aditi and the eight Adityas. The other nobles were drawn from the cadres of Vasus, Maruts and Rudras. The Viraj had tenure of ten years and Purusha had two such tenures. The limits within which a king had to function were referred to as Rajamaryada.
Mahadeva constitution of small nation-states
Ancient Indian rulers found it difficult to function as autocrats. They had to plead with the house (sabha) of nobles (devas) and the council (samiti) of elders (pitrs) and scholars for permission to withdraw funds from the state treasury (sura) to finance their ventures. The sabha and samiti were headed by officials designated as Indra and Agni and could be convened only by the Prajapati.
The Mahadeva Constitution which did not provide for the posts of Viraj and Aditi, made the Prajapati, chief of the people, superior to the king (rajan) who was elected by a college of dynamic chieftains (rajanyas) and the four permanent and independent state institutions, the house of nobles (devas), the council of scholars (Brahmans), the army manned by Kshatriyas, and the civil administration including treasury of the commonalty (prthvi), sabha, samiti, sena and sura, headed by Indra, Agni, Aditya and Brhaspati respectively.
Such neo-nation states where the highly charismatic chief of the people represented the will of the nation (rashtram) and the state with coercive power (kshatram) were established throughout the subcontinent during the last three decades of the long Vedic era. The Prajapati had brought together all the peoples in a given territory and won their confidence by assuring them that their minimum need, food (anna) and other needs (annadhi) would be met by the new administration. It promised social security for all the subjects and it was the prajapati who would decide who in addition to the natives (jana) were admitted to the social polity as its subjects (praja) and extended all the rights that the natives had.
Designations and roles of the Vedic officials
If the Atharvan federal state had the Viraj, the dynamic leader as the nominal head though elected by representatives of the people and their chief, prajapati, ranked next to him, power was exercised by the council of eight ministers who represented the different sectors of the larger society. Indra, Aditya, Agni, Vayu, Varuna, Mitra, Parjanya, Aryaman, Soma, Kubera, Dharma, Yama, Mrtyu, Asvin, Prthvi etc. were designations of such ministers. They were not gods of a polytheistic society. They were members of the inclusive governing elite and looked after the interests of the sectors that they represented primarily. While most states had eight ministers, their designations and roles differed from time to time and from state to state. The neo-Vedic social polity opted for Janaka as the head of the state. Though a scholar, he was primarily an agriculturist and was elected by the natives (jana) of the state. He could not extend his authority to areas outside his native janapada.