The political ideas of Ancient India are diverse and complex, but some of the major features of this tradition include:
- 1] Monarchy
- 2] Democratic Values
- 3] Decentralization
- 4] Dharma
- 5] Spies and Armies
- 6] Welfare State
- 7] Republics and Oligarchies
Monarchy was the most dominant form of government in ancient India. The king was considered the supreme authority in the state and his duty was to maintain law and order, provide justice, and protect his subjects.
For Example: Shanti Parva of the Mahabharata
In the early Indian polity, monarchy was the prevalent form of government.
As stated in the Shanti Parva of the Mahabharata, the state was composed of seven fundamental constituents:
- (i) Swamin, the sovereign ruler
- (ii) Amatya, the officials
- (iii) Janapada, the territory
- (iv) Durga, the fortress
- (v) Kosa, the treasure
- (vi) Danda, the military, and
- (vii) Mitra, the allies.
The Swamin or the sovereign was the primary authority figure and held the highest position in the state.
The Amatyas, or officials, were appointed to manage the administration and perform various duties on behalf of the sovereign.
The Janapada or the territory referred to the geographical boundaries of the state, which were further divided into smaller regions for administrative purposes.
The Durga, or the fort, was a critical component of the state, serving as a defensive structure to protect the people and resources from external threats.
The Kosa, or treasury, was responsible for managing the state’s finances and storing its wealth.
The Danda, or army, was responsible for maintaining law and order within the state and defending it from external attacks.
Finally, the Mitra, or allies, were other states or entities that had formed a strategic alliance with the ruling state.
These seven constituents were crucial in the functioning of the state and played a significant role in maintaining stability and ensuring the well-being of its people. The early Indian polity was characterized by a well-structured and organized system of governance, which helped in the development and growth of the state.
2] Democratic Values
Despite the prevalence of monarchical government, democratic values and public opinion were highly respected in the political tradition. Both Brahmanical and Buddhist literature provide detailed accounts of the workings of assemblies and the process of decision-making through voting.
Despite the prevalence of monarchical government in ancient India, democratic values and public opinion were highly respected in the political tradition. Both Brahmanical and Buddhist literature provide detailed accounts of the workings of assemblies and the process of decision-making through voting.
These texts suggest that democratic ideals were present in ancient India, and that the principles of popular sovereignty and representative government were important features of political life.
Many ancient Indian political thinkers emphasized the importance of decentralization of power. They believed that the authority of the king should be balanced by the autonomy of local officials and communities.
For Example: “The Manusmriti”
The Manusmriti espoused the necessity of political authority, as it believed that without it, society would be plagued by disorder. According to Manu, the state should have villages, districts, and provinces, which closely resembles the present-day administrative structure.
His system was based on the principle of decentralization of authority. He suggested that an assembly of learned individuals, as well as state officials, should advise the king.
The authorities of the village and district should function independently, with the king only interfering or providing assistance when required.
The Manusmriti’s emphasis on political authority and decentralization of power highlights the importance of an organized and well-structured system of governance.
It recognizes that a strong political authority is essential to maintaining order and stability within society, while also recognizing the importance of local authorities in ensuring that the needs of individual communities are met.
The concept of dharma was central to ancient Indian political thought. It referred to the moral and ethical principles that guided the behavior of individuals and the state. The king was expected to uphold dharma in all his actions and decisions.
For Example: “Manusmriti”
Manu suggested that an assembly of learned individuals, as well as state officials, should advise the king. Members of this assembly should be objective and fearless when making decisions based on the principles of dharma.
Manusmriti’s system of governance is designed to ensure that the welfare of the people is the primary concern, and that decisions are made based on the principles of dharma.
The canonical literature of Buddhism advocates that a monarch should rule in accordance with the law of truth and righteousness. The ruler should not tolerate any wrongdoing within their territory and should take care of the poor. This aligns with the Buddhist teachings of compassion and ethical conduct, emphasizing the importance of governing justly and with the well-being of all in mind.
5] Spies and Armies
Many ancient Indian texts emphasize the importance of having well-organized armies and intelligence networks to maintain law and order and protect the state from external threats.
For Example: Kautilya’s Arthashastra
Kautilya recommended the organization of armies and spies to keep a watch on internal and external developments.
He recognized the importance of being aware of potential threats to the state, and believed that a king should be proactive in safeguarding his people’s interests. In addition, a good king should undertake welfare activities in the interest of all, to ensure that the needs of the community were met.
6] Welfare State
Ancient Indian political thinkers also emphasized the importance of the welfare state. The king was expected to take care of the welfare of his subjects and ensure that everyone had access to basic necessities like food, water, and healthcare.
According to Manusmriti, the king’s primary concern should be the welfare of the people. Members of the assembly should work together to ensure that the king’s decisions are just and fair, while also considering the well-being of the community as a whole.
The Shanti Parva of Mahabharat also mentions that the seven constituents were crucial in the functioning of the state and played a significant role in maintaining stability and ensuring the well-being of its people
7] Republics and Oligarchies
Greek and Roman accounts of India suggest that many places were governed by republics and oligarchies. The Buddhist Pali canon also talks about the existence of many republics, mainly in the foothills of the Himalayas and in North Bihar. This indicates that democratic values and principles of popular sovereignty were important features of political life in ancient India.
According to Greek and Roman accounts of India, beginning in 327-324 B.C. when Alexander invaded India, there were many places in India that were governed by oligarchies.
The Buddhist Pali canon also mentions the existence of many republics, particularly in the foothills of the Himalayas and in North Bihar.
This suggests that in addition to monarchies, ancient India was also characterized by a diverse array of political systems, including republics, which provided an alternative to traditional monarchical rule.
Tiruvalluvar’s Tiru-k-Kural suggests that the essentials of a state include having an adequate army, industrious people, ample resources and food, alliances with foreign powers, and dependable fortifications.
It also stresses that successful statecraft involves obtaining support without revealing one’s weaknesses. This emphasis on military strength, economic prosperity, diplomacy, and strategic planning reflects the importance placed on these factors in ancient Indian political thought.