TRANSITION TO POST-VEDIC SOCIAL POLITY
ON DHARMARAJYA (Contd)
Rajarshi constitution propounded by Samkara and amended by Krshna and Kautilya
The Rajarshi constitution propounded by Samkara and adopted by Krshna and Kautilya with amendments envisaged the head of the state as a more dynamic person than the Janaka. He too was a trained and modest scholar. But he had more duties and powers than the Janaka, a stoic had. The Rajarshi was to be selected from among the senior trainees of the royal academy by a committee of three members, the outgoing Rajarshi, his political counsellor and senior, Rajapurohita and the Prime Minister who headed the council of eight ministers and was equal in rank to Indra.
But some rulers who consented to abide by this constitution tended to misuse their powers and distorted the provisions of this constitution. Vena was such an autocrat who was killed in an uprising by the peasants of his state who later installed Prthu, an agriculturist in his place under a new constitution. The new Prthu constitution was modelled on the one recommended by Manu Vaivasvata and Kashyapa, the chief of his council of seven sages. All those who paid the prescribed tax (kara) of one-sixth of the produce were recognised as prajas and became eligible for protection by the king (raja). It was further tuned by Sanatkumara who while permitting the king to embark on personal conquests and become a chakravarti (head of a confederation of numerous states), expected Mahendra, the head of the committee of chancellors of the exchequer of the member states to wield real power.
Purusha constitution and Ramarajya
In a state that was headed by a charismatic leader, Purusha, who could not be dislodged, and who embarked on conquests to assert his leadership and authority, internal affairs were managed by Pracetas, an intellectual who functioned as regent while the eight-member ministry looked after the affairs of the social welfare state. In Kosala, the ministers were designated as Jaya and Vijaya (in charge of defence and conquest), Drshti (in charge of the institution of spies), Asoka (in charge of social welfare), Arthasadaka (in charge of economic resources), Siddhartha (in charge of completion of social and economic projects), Mantrapala (in charge of protection of counsel) and Sumantra (the chief counsellor).
It had also posts designated as Mahanandi (equivalent to Pracetas), Indra (who presided over the house of nobles) and Brhaspati (in charge of the civil administration). We notice that Valmiki held the rank and authority of Pracetas and Vasishta that of Brhaspati. Both of them belonged to the lower classes of the society. Vasishta had identified himself with the liberated workers, Sudasas and Shudras and Valmiki belonged to the social periphery. Ramarajya was not a theocratic state. It was essentially a social welfare state.
Yudhishtira and Dharmaraja constitution
When Yudhishtira was trained to become a Dharmaraja, his roles had to be determined in the light of these different patterns of political authority and social structure. Narada had acquainted him with patterns where he would be required to abide by the stands of Indra and his house of nobles and their supporters, of Kubera and his assembly of plutocrats and their admirers, of Brahma, the head of the judiciary and the council of jurists and other scholars and of Dharma (Yama) who wielded authority over the commonalty (manushyas) but not over the aristocrats or the plutocrats or the high intelligentsia. Yudhishtira was being trained to function effectively as Dharmaraja.
The lands and wealth of the leisure class of aristocrats, noted for conspicuous consumption and of the covetous plutocrats and their ways of life that indicated pageantry and little concern for the needs of the commoners could not be taken over by the state even when the commoners (manushyas) and the weaker sections of the periphery and the subaltern it cared for were in dire need.
Janapada constitution distorted by Bali
When the expanded janapada became the norm with peoples belonging to the forests, mountains, open areas, social periphery and the subaltern admitted to it as prajas and granted rights equal to the natives (jana) of the core society, the social universes (jagats) who had retained their right to move about in all areas without disturbing the economic activities of its natives found the state acquiring whatever wealth they had earned and retained as liquid assets. Of course feudal lords (like, Bali, grandson of Prahlada) who played to the gallery as protectors of the interests of the natives of the janapada, acquired the wealth of the latter too and that of the aristocrats and plutocrats.
Yudhishtira had to accept the concept of an expanded and inclusive core society with only remote areas to which feudal and other undesirable elements had been consigned staying beyond the limits of the janapada (desa, rashtra, rajya). The new state would not be an empire though it would have a strong army to defend itself and its subjects. Yudhishtira did desire to be a samrat, an emperor, who could settle the disputes among his subordinate rulers and performed the rajasuya sacrifice where his authority to do so would be acknowledged by them by sending him tributes and gifts in token thereof. His brothers had gone in different directions and subdued those kings who resisted them. [While a viraj would normally have five kings acknowledging his authority as head of a federal state, a chakravarti would have twenty-five or even fifty-one states in his confederation. Unlike Bharata, Bhagiratha, Marutta, Mamdhata and Kartavirya or Jarasamdha or even Prthu he did not become either a samrat or a chakravarti.]
Yudhishtira claimed to be a descendant of Rajarshi Ajamidha. No one could inherit this status. The successor king must deserve that post and must have been duly nominated to it. He needed rational legitimacy to become a Rajarshi or a Janaka. To become a Purusha, one needed charismatic legitimacy far higher than the one needed to become a Viraj. To become a samrat or a chakravarti one needed both charismatic and rational legitimacy. To become a Dharmaraja the king required vast training. He had to know the social, cultural and economic codes of all clans, communities, economic organisations and regions and be able to render justice to their adherents on the basis of the provisions of those codes, kuladharmas, jatidharmas, srenidharmas and desadharmas.
Dharmaraja and Rural Bureaucracy
The commoners (manushyas) of the core society who functioned as organised clans and communities (kulas and jatis) had to be governed on the bases of their respective codes which were in vogue since ancient times. No legislature or judiciary could overrule them. Similarly economic corporations (srenis) had each its own codes and arbitration boards. They were not to be disturbed by any act of the state. Every region had its own civil codes to maintain law and order. They had to be honoured. The king (raja) who was stationed in his palace in the city or in the fort located inside a forest or on the top of a hill administered the rural areas through officials designated as prthvipati or parthiva or nrpati. Most issues pertaining to revenue and law and order and civil disputes (vyavahara) were handled by the rural bureaucracy and rural courts. Very few disputes were brought before the head of the state.
Duties and Powers of Dharmaraja
Dharmaraja was expected to carry out the duties that were in the Vedic social polity within the ambit of the official designated as Dharma or Yama. The latter was a magistrate who was harsh on those who broke the orders that prohibited certain antisocial activities like theft, robbery, adulteration and adultery, challenge and gambling, drinking and abusing. These acts did not fall within the scope of officials of the clan (kula) or community (jati) or corporation (sreni). They were punished by the nrpati who had free men under his charge to ensure law and order. In his capacity as Dharmaraja, the king supervised the implementation of the codes of clans and communities and corporations and the functions of the officials like nrpati, parthiva and prthvipati. But rarely, he was required to function as an appellate authority.
Dharmaraja however had to intervene when the codes of clans and communities clashed with one another. There was no mechanism by which these differences could be solved. The official, designated as Yama, was empowered to punish the violator of rules but was not entitled to pardon any violator. The official, designated as Dharma presided over the legislature that could discuss the merits and demerits of the different social, economic, civil and political laws and arrive at the minimum desiderata that could prove one as unpardonably guilty of the alleged crime. What conduct was within the framework of prescribed duties, or permitted ventures and was not a prohibited one could be determined by that legislature functioning under a trained and educated king.
Since the early Vedic period, commoners were required to sacrifice one fourth of their earnings (through yajna) to maintain the sections of the population who were not engaged in economic activities. But some of these sections were rich and did not need assistance. There were, however, some sections in the social periphery (bhutas) and in the subaltern (pranis and jivas) who were in dire need of assistance. Dharma took note of this change in socio-economic pattern and tried to meet their need.
Charity (Dana) the only duty (dharma) prescribed for all
Performance of sacrifice (yajna), study (adhyayana) of the social and cultural traditions and history as found in the Vedic hymns, strenuous endeavour (tapas) to know the secrets of nature and the unknown and to master and harness them and offering generous aid (dana) to the needy had been prescribed as the duties of the persons belonging to the higher ranks of the society. The new legislature, assembly of maharshis, was only too willing to adopt a liberal approach. It called upon all to restrain their pride and arrogance, to be compassionate and to be generous. Dana (charity) was the only duty prescribed for all. Dharma came to be identified with charity.
Dharmarajya as social welfare state
Dharmarajya was a social welfare state looking after the interests of the weak who were unable to stand on their legs and who had no social or economic organisation to look after their needs. It was not an economic state interested in increasing the wealth of the individuals and the society and enriching the treasury of the state so that it might become powerful. Dharmarajya was not a theocratic state, a state having its own religion and requiring all the subjects to accept that creed or religion. It was a state that encouraged every individual and group to extend aid to the needy directly or through the organs of the state. It was interested in removing poverty and ignorance so that the weak were not trampled on by the mighty.
A social welfare state had to protect the weak against the rich and mighty and also ensure that no individual was throttled by his own clan or community or economic corporation. It was not enough to encourage an individual (manushya) to cease to be bound by his clan (kula) or community (jati) or economic organisation (sreni) and to pursue any vocation for which he had an aptitude. It was not enough to ensure one the benefit of the policy, svakarma according to svabhava as svadharma. As pointed out in my works, naras and naris were free men and free women who were not bound by the codes of any social group. They however could man the rural bureaucracy and even the central forces. Intellectuals, teachers, priests and jurists who were on the move educating all sections of the population were known as vipras. They had however not placed their services at the disposal of the state.
Manava Dharmasastra permitted every individual whether a commoner of the core society or of the frontier industrial society or a member of the elite or a member of one of the cadres called punyajana to voluntarily accept the membership of one of the four cross-regional classes, Brahmans, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas and Shudras. These manavas were free citizens of the world. Yudhishtira was keenly aware that if that code were to be implemented in full, it would weaken the state considerably for the latter and its head would not be able to claim sovereign right to punish the disobedient. This code vested final powers in the constitution bench and its head, Brahma, who had mastered all the four Vedas, especially the Atharvaveda or Brahma.
This head was assisted by three scholars, one from each of the three other schools, Rg, Yajur and Sama. The constitution (Brahma) and the constitution bench (of the highest judiciary) under the chief justice (Brahma) had more authority than the legislation (dharmasastra) and the legislature presided over by the official designated as dharma.
Executive and Legislature subordinate to Constitution:
Rajadanda subordinate to Brahmadanda
Dharmaraja was subordinate to the chief justice, Brahma. Rajadanda, coercive power vested in the king, the head of the executive could be overruled by Brahmadanda, the power of the constitution bench. Dharmarajya accepted the subordination of the executive (headed by raja) and the legislature presided over by the official designated as dharma to the constitution implemented by the chief justice, Brahma.
Yudhishtira was trained by Narada, Markandeya, Dhoumya and Lomaca to recognise the orientations of the different sections of the larger society so that as a Dharmaraja he could protect and promote the interests of every one of them. Narada had recalled to Yudhishtira and his brothers the counsel given by Pulastya, a senior sage, to Bhishma about what the latter could learn at the different centres of training (tirthas) spread over the different areas of greater India, from areas to the north of Himalaya to the seas in the south. Pulastya was interested in protecting the interests of the rich, landlords and traders (vaisyas) and plutocrats (yakshas). These were threatened by the militants (rakshasas) who had earlier been engaged as rakshas by the plutocrats to protect their wealth.
The instructions given to the Pandavas by the sages mentioned above bring out the nature of the challenge that Yudhishtira faced. He was expected to honour the laws (dharmas) and orientations of all the clans (kulas) and communities (jatis) that were then in existence in the agro-pastoral core society. They enjoyed traditional legitimacy and no member of a clan or community could be deprived of the right to pursue his traditional vocation, agriculture or animal husbandry or trade, or forced to follow some other vocation. He could also not disturb the laws enforced by the corporations and guilds pertaining to economic transactions and disputes (vyavahara).
The industrial society including the plutocrats (yakshas) who were investors, the technocrats (nagas) and the industrial proletariat (sarpas) had their own social, economic and political codes and these could not be questioned or disturbed without creating a major social split weakening the state. Dharmarajya had to accept a socio-cultural code (dharmasastra) and a politico-economic code (arthasastra) to which the two societies, agro-pastoral and industrial, had given assent.
As Kubera pointed out to Yudhishtira while releasing Bhima who ignoring the warning given by Hanuman acted like a militant rakshasa and was found guilty of murder for robbery, it was only recently then the nobles, the plutocrats, sages and others had met at Kusasthali (in Gujarat) and arrived at a common code that granted the plutocrats a status and authority equal to that of the aristocrats. The laws pertaining to the integrated economy were incorporated in Manava Dharmasastra to drafting of which Narada, an economist, and Pracetas, author of an Arthasastra text also contributed. The counsel that Hanuman gave Bhima and Kubera gave Yudhishtira were to be borne in mind while trying to establish Dharmarajya that would bring under its fold the vast and varied and rich industrial society of the forests and mountains.
Dharmarajya and Neo-Vedic socio-political Constitution
Yudhishtiras Dharmarajya was within the provisions of the neo-Vedic socio-political constitution that while keeping the expanded and integrated core society as its main base took into account the needs of the thinly spread population of the vast open space (akasa) who were outside political control and were at the level of subsistence and could not be expected to play a significant role in political economy and like them the discrete individuals (bhutas) of the social periphery who were either drop-outs from the socio-economic groups were attached to the soil or continued to observe the provisions of the laws based on Rta. They are not to be described as outcasts or as aborigines.
Dharmarajya was expected to treat them on par with the new subjects (prajas) most of whom had belonged earlier to the frontier industrial society of forests and mountains or to the economy dependent on rivers, ponds and seas. Of course, individuals belonging to the different gandharva cadres who had not developed or accepted the institutions of marriage, family, home, household and landed property too were accepted as prajas though grudgingly, on par with the native settled population, jana. Those intellectuals, warriors and administrators, plutocrats and traders and workers who were not welcomed as domiciles of the region had to resort to the provisions of Manava Dharmasastra and join one of the four classes in tune with their natural aptitudes. The four classes were being brought into existence by scholars like Angiras, Narada and Pracetas and their members would be citizens of the world rather than subjects of any particular state.
Dharmarajya and inclusive laws
Dharmarajya accepted the inclusive laws that the prajas and their chiefs, prajapatis, assented to rather than the exclusive privileges that the natives, jana, demanded with the consent of their rulers, janakas, or the feudal lords asked for in the name of janapada rights. It was willing to absorb the bhutas of the periphery and their counsellors, budhas, too in the new liberal state. However there were detractors who functioned as counter-intelligentsia and hindered the formation of a truly inclusive society. Dharmarajya did not assign any of its subjects, prajas, to any of the four classes.
It only required those who would not follow the social and economic laws of their clans or communities or corporations or the liberal state laws to reside in its territory as manavas without any political or civic rights. But it assured that they too would be protected by the state and would be eligible to pursue any vocation for which they had an aptitude, as long as they did not disturb the lives of the recognised subjects of the state or sponge on them. It did not expect these manavas to contribute to formal sacrifices (yajnas) or pay up levies (bali) or pay taxes (kara) but expected them as it expected all persons to help other persons who were in need through generous aid (dana).
Not a theocratic state; king is head of the executive
and not of the independent judiciary; no powers to legislate
Far from being a theocratic state controlled by puritanical religious leaders, Dharmarajya was an essentially social welfare state with the king functioning as the chairman of the legislature that had both experts in polity and jurists as its members. It did not expect him to preside over arbitration councils or tribunals or courts of justice. But he was expected to take action on their findings if he found them to be in accordance with the laws promulgated. He was the head, essentially, of the executive. The constitution bench of Brahman jurists was superior to the king and his ministry and also to the house of nobles and the council of elders and scholars. The state had to respect the autonomy of the clans (kulas) and communities (jatis) who formed the agrarian commonalty (prthvi) and of the corporations (srenis) and guilds (samghas) of the industrial frontier society (antariksham) and their laws. These could not be amended by the legislature over which the king presided.
The king could not legislate on issues pertaining to the practices of the classes (varnas) to which the manavas as citizens of the world belonged. He had to only ensure that one acted in accordance with the practices of the class to which he claimed that he belonged. But groups and individuals who did not belong to the traditional clans and communities or to any of the four classes but belonged as discrete individuals (bhutas) to the social periphery or to the subaltern as fallen (patita) free men and women (naras and naris) or to the open space as persons at the subsistence level (pranis) had to be looked after by the social welfare state (dharmarajya).
Non-coercive welfare state and not the traditional state of Dandaniti or the economic state of Arthasastra
This was in tune with the concept that the state looked after those whom society did not care for. Clans, communities, corporations, guilds and classes had their own machinery to regulate the conduct of and protect their members. Only others needed the state and it arranged liberal aid for their needs. It did not tax or collect tributes but asked for donations to extend aid to the weak. It did not extend threat to those who failed to respond to its request. It refused to coerce any section of the population. It exercised minimal control. This distinguished Dharmarajya from the traditional state of Dandaniti and the economic state of Arthasastra.
Rationalism requires that we should shed many of the stereotypes and postulates which have been floated by the western Indologists of the 19th and 20th centuries and accepted uncritically by their Indian admirers, I have emphasized. We have to realise that devas and devatas were not gods and demigods but were liberal aristocrats of the core society and the frontier society and that asuras, yakshas and nagas were feudal lords, plutocrats and technocrats and were not preternatural beings.
Similarly gandharvas, apsarases, vipras, vidyadharas, charanas, tapasas, siddhas, chakshus and guhyakas were cadres belonging to the free middle class with specific orientations and ranked above the commoners (manushyas) who were mainly manual workers of the agro-pastoral core society, the industrial proletariat (sarpas) who like their masters, the technocrats (nagas) had to be constantly on the move, free men and women (naras and naris), who had ceased to be under the control of the clans and communities of the commoners, the discrete individuals (bhutas) and militants (rakshasas) and counter-intelligentsia (paisacas) of the social periphery, the populace of the subaltern (pranis and jivas) who lived at the bare subsistence level. This free middle class from among whose ranks the classes of Brahmans (teachers, priests, thinkers, scholars and jurists) and Kshatriyas (rulers, soldiers and administrators) emerged was however lower in status than the different sections of the ruling elite.
Autonomy of every social sector:
Concept of sovsreignty of the state or of the nation not accepted
Though social integration was aimed at by the thinkers of the different sectors of the larger society in order to protect their members from resort to violence by some persons, sparked by economic conflicts, every sector was eager to maintain autonomy (svarajam, svatantra) even as every aristocrat did. The concept of sovereignty of the state or even of that of the nation (sons of the soil) was not accepted by the new Manava code, which stood by dharma. Only if the king or head of the state assured that the spirit and provisions of the dharmasastra were honoured and protected he would be safe.
No immunity to anyone in Dharmasastra
Dharmasastra refused to grant immunity to any one whether he belonged to the ruling elite or to the commonalty who violated its provisions. Dharmasastra was however a liberal code based on wide consensus. Different types of marriages were allowed by it though it specified who could resort to which type. It did not pronounce any particular method to be superior to others. Similarly it did not state which means of livelihood was superior to others. It however prescribed (niyamas) in the case of every new socio-economic class (varna) certain duties as obligatory, certain ways of livelihood as ones that may be preferred to others, some deeds as ones that were permitted and would not be found fault with. But it prohibited (yamas) a few acts that were blatantly anti-social and antihuman. Only authorised bodies of the clan (kula) or community (jati), corporation (sreni) or guild (samgha) could exercise powers of regulation and coercion over its members and not the state. These belonged to the agrarian proletariat (manushyas) or the mobile industrial proletariat (sarpas). The state had little control over them and could not even requisition their services.
Manavas as citizens of the world
The state however exercised authority over the manavas who consented to reside in its territorial jurisdiction and were organised as classes but were citizens of the world. But it could not but honour their fundamental rights. They could be governed only with their consent. The new larger classes of scholars, teachers, priests and jurists (Brahmans), rulers, warriors and administrators (Kshatriyas), traders, landlords, owners of property including livestock, investors and money-lenders (Vaisyas) who were all drawn from the three social worlds (patriciate, commonalty and industrial society, divam, prthvi and antariksham) and the new class of free workers (Shudras) who had all been granted the status of Aryas were not subordinate to the state or even to any social group. They were all individuals whose rights were inviolable and absolute as defined by the Manava Dharmasastra.
The state however had the duty to protect the weaker sections like the discrete individuals of the social periphery who were mainly ex-servicemen or former workers or weaker sections of the commonalty whom the latter had failed to protect (bhutas, pranis and jivas) and keep in check the militants (rakshasas) and the counter-intelligentsia (paisacas). The state drew on the services of the free men and women (naras and naris) who belonged to the lower ranks of the free middle class of gandharvas, apsarases and vipras who did not have property of their own or had walked out of the folds of social groups of the commonalty (manushyas). The state administration and also the army were manned by these free men who however had little control over the traditional organised commonalty (manushyas) or the new free classes (manavas).
Not an economic state
Unlike the economic state of Kautilya which encouraged enterprise and collaborated with the investors whether in industry or agriculture and obtained its share of profit and used it to build a powerful empire, the state envisaged by Dharmasastra allowed the landlords (prthvipatis, bhumipatis and parthivas) to look after rural bureaucracy and even the pious chiefs of free men (nrpatis) to head it. It did not dabble in industry either, though many kings had emerged from the class of technocrats and engineers (nagas and rathakaras) and had only trade relations with it.
The state (rajya) as envisaged by the Dharmasastra functioned under the aegis of the constitution and the central judiciary (Brahma) whose superior authority the socio-cultural code (dharmasastra) had acknowledged. The king from whichever stratum he might have risen could not but honour the views of the nobility (daivam) and its purposes or ignore the efforts and orientations of the commonalty (manushyas). The state was minimal and was almost superfluous. The society, its integrated nobility and larger commonalty and the vast middle class, could govern its members and units and regulate their activities on its own. The state would be allowed to stand by to protect it against aggression by other states or groups on the periphery.
Liberal state for the protection of the weak
It had to however honour the built-in mechanisms in the society that enabled capable individuals to rise in the social ladder. Such persons had access even to the threshold of the nobility. Dharmarajya was not run by saints or by theologians. It was a liberal state meant for the protection of the weaker elements. But it did not and could not mobilise a large army as most of the kings lacked charismatic influence and traditional legitimacy as well as rational legitimacy. It allowed the state to have but a small army (to be precise, a police force) and placed it under an official who was answerable to the nobility and the civil administration headed by Indra and Brhaspati, and the two levels of the judiciary, the higher headed by Brahma and the lower by Agni.
Even the economic state (artharajya) of Kautilya had to accept the implications of this system that allowed the state to function only as long as the larger commonalty and the integrated nobility needed its services. The main source of income of Dharmarajya was gifts extended voluntarily (dana) by members of every stratum and not sacrifice of even necessities (yajna) by the commoners for the maintenance of the ruling elite and other classes as in the past or payment of involuntary tributes (bali) to the mighty or even payment of prescribed tax (kara) to the state. For the economic state, Artharajya, the main source of income was the share of the natural resources allowed by the entrepreneurs with whom it collaborated and whose excesses it had to ignore if not openly support. How Yudhishtira was trained to be the head of the Dharmarajya may be noticed in the analysis of the first three sections of the great epic.
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