Different Units of State-The family or 'Kula' was the smallest unit with 'Kulapa' as its chief. Numerous families established a village or 'Grama', whose head was called "Gramini". Several 'gramas' created a 'vis' and several 'visas' formed a 'Jana'. The 'Jana' had its chief, who was called its protector or 'Gupta Jansya'. Five central people of Rigveda era were called 'Pancha-Janah'. The 'rashtra' (state) was governed by 'rajan'(king) who was also known as 'gopa' (protector) and 'samrat' (supreme ruler). There were four councils of which 'sabha' and 'samiti' were popular ones and the rest two 'vidhata' and 'gana' were not that popular. Women in those days were allowed to attend 'sabha' and 'vidhata' only.
Kingship-As a predominant rule, the monarch system of government was widespread. Kingship was by and large hereditary, but citations are found, which signify that, at times when the need arose, people could select a king from the members of a royal family. The King or 'Rajana' exerted massive powers and occupied a towering position among people.
The main duty of the king was to protect the tribe. He was aided by two functionaries, the purohita (chaplain) and the senani (army chief; sena- army). The former not only gave advice to the ruler but also practiced spells and charms for victory in war. Soldiers on foot (patti) and on chariots (rathins), armed with bow and arrow were common. The king employed spasa (spies) and dutas (messengers). He often got a ceremonial gift, bali, from the people. Though his powers were massive, yet they were not supreme and there were some obligations on him too.
Checks upon the Power of King-The institution or persons who assisted as a check upon the monocracy of the king, may be analysed under following heads-
System of Selecting King-As already mentioned that when a situation called for, kings could also be selected by the people from amongst the members of royalty. As people possessed this right, emperors always tried to keep the people gratified by working for their well-being. This obliquely served as a check upon his powers.
Rights of Purohita-Purohita was an important person and exerted enormous powers, which served as a check upon the authorities of the king. He was the chief consultant and spiritual guru of the king. As remarked by A. B. Keith, "The Vedic Purohit was the forerunner of the Brahman statesmen who from time to time in India have shown conspicuous ability in the management of affairs and there is no reason to doubt that a Vishwamitra or a Vasistha was a most important element of the Government of the early Vedic realm".
Council of Ministers-Ministers were appointed who recommended a king on various matters.
Public Institutions-As commented by Basham, "The raja was not the absolute monarch, for the government of the tribe was in part the responsibility of the tribunal council, the sabha and the samiti".
Sabha (Council)-Meetings of the Sabha took place in the Assembly Hall and it conducted political and non-political business. There is reference of persons of immense wealth and nobility, both attending it and hence it was perhaps a Council of Elder or Nobles. It is described in Atharvaveda as the 'sister of samiti', which are mentioned as the daughters of Prajapati. Generally in these meetings both political and non-political topics were discussed. About its running a distinguished writer writes, "The function of the Sabha started with a prayer in which great, importance was attached not only to concord between the King and the Assembly, but also to infuse a spirit of harmony among the members of the Assembly. The people disliked and dreaded the discord and dissensions in it". Even if the discussions were free and frank, associates spoke with self-control. The Sabha also enjoyed certain judicial powers and it acted as the national judicature. In. Paraskara Grihya, the Sabha is called 'Trouble' and 'Vehemence', because they were in store there for the culprit. From the above citation, it can be derived that the Sabha also possesses criminal jurisdiction.
Samiti (Assembly)-According to Dr. Radha Kumud Mookerjee, "The samiti was probably the larger assembly of the people in general". It was regarded an obligatory duty of the king to attend it. According to Prof. Jaiswal, "One of the main works of samiti was to select king". As remarked by Dr. Majumdar, "The raja, though the lord of the people did not govern without their consent. The business of the tribe was carried out in a popular assembly styled 'Samiti' in which princes and people were alike present".
Religious Checks-The king was obligated to behave according to the religion and this had further narrowed down his powers.
Thus, it can be seen that though the king engaged a towering place, yet he was not a supreme sovereign. The afore-mentioned checks upon his supremacy served as a means to oblige him to work for the well-being and progress of the inhabitants.
Justice- The king was the highest authority as far as justice was concerned. As the system of astuteness was very efficient, cases of offences were very few. Dr. R. K. Mookerjee observes that, "The judicial system was advanced beyond the primitive system of eye for eye and tooth for tooth". Death sentence was given for heinous crimes and for ordinary crimes, imprisonment and fines were imposed on.
(Last Updated on : 20-01-2009)
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