by Steve Muhlberger,
Associate Professor of History, Nipissing University.
this article. I must state right out front
that I read no Indian languages, which may lead some
readers to dismiss entirely my work in this
difficult field. For the more tolerant, let me
explain that an earlier version of this article has
been read and commented on by several academic
readers, whose comments and corrections have been
taken into account. The editors of the Journal of
World History liked it well enough to ask me to
write a broader treatment of democracy's prehistory.
This resulted in Phil Paine and I writing
"Democracy's Place in World History," which appeared
in that journal in 1993. This article, however,
never found a home of its own -- in part because I
myself could think of few journals that would be
interested in an article that concentrates on
specialized material yet draws broad conclusions
it now, in 1998, I find I still believe in my
interpretation of the ancient evidence for Indian
democracy, and in its relevance to how we understand
the world history of democracy. Rather than let it
languish further, I am releasing it electronically,
for both general and specialist readers.
be glad to hear your comments. For the reader
who wants to look into the question independently, I
have posted a
bibliography, and of course there are always the
make clear that though this article bears my name
alone, I was pointed in the right direction by an
unpublished essay on democracy by Phil Paine. I also
wish to note that I was aided in my research by the
collection of Asian literature at Brock University,
St. Catharines, Ontario. My philosopher-colleague at
Nipissing University, Dr. Wayne Borody, made some
suggestions, but neither he nor anyone else is
responsibile for any errors or misinterpretations.
Historians who are
interested in democracy often insist it must be understood
in context of a unique western tradition of political
development beginning with the Greeks. The spread of
democratic ideals and practice to other cultures, or their
failure to spread, have many times been explained on the
assumption that democracy or personal liberty are ideals
foreign to the non-Western world -- an assumption at least
as old as Herodotus.1 But events since the
late 1980s have shown that people both in "Western" and
"non-Western" countries have a lively interest in democracy
as something relevant to their own situation. The old
assumption deserves to be re-examined.
In fact, the supposed
differences between "Western" and "non-Western" cultures are
in this case, as in so many others, more a matter of
ideological faith than of cool, impartial judgment. If we
are talking about the history of humanity as a whole,
democracy is equally new or equally old everywhere. Fair and
effective elections, under adult suffrage and in conditions
that allow the free discussion of ideas, are a phenomenon of
this century. The history of democracy, properly so called,
is just beginning.
The "prehistory" of
democracy, however, is scarcely restricted to Europe and
Europeanized America and Australasia. A search of world
history finds much worth studying. There are no perfect
democracies waiting to be discovered, but there is something
else: a long history of "government by discussion," in which
groups of people having common interests make decisions that
affect their lives through debate, consultation, and voting.
The vast majority of such groups, it may be objected, are
more properly called oligarchies than democracies. But every
democracy has been created by widening what was originally a
very narrow franchise. The history of government by
discussion, which may be called republicanism for brevity's
sake, has a claim to the interest of anyone who takes
This article will
examine one important case of government by discussion --
the republics of Ancient India. Although they are familiar
to Indologists, these republics are hardly known to other
historians. They deserve, however, a substantial place in
world historiography. The experience of Ancient India with
republicanism, if better known, would by itself make
democracy seem less of a freakish development, and help
dispel the common idea that the very concept of democracy is
The present article
has two goals. First, it will summarize the history of the
ancient Indian republics as it is currently known. This
survey is restricted to North India and the period before
about 400 A.D., when sovereign republics seem to have become
Second, the article
will examine the historiographical evaluations of the Indian
republican experience, and suggest that most of them have
placed it in too narrow a context. Ancient Indian democratic
experiments, it will be argued, are more important than they
are usually granted to be. It is well known that the sources
of ancient Indian history present considerable difficulties.
All the indigenous ancient literature from the subcontinent
has been preserved as part of a religious tradition,
Brahmanical, Buddhist or Jaina. When the subject is
political theory and its implementation, the preselected
nature of sources is a distinct handicap to the researcher.
The largest and most influential Indian literary tradition,
the Brahmanical, is distinctly hostile to anything
gives kingship a central place in political life, and seldom
hints that anything else is possible. For moral philosophers
and legislators such as Manu (reputed author of the
Manu-Smrti between 200 B.C.-A.D. 200), the king was a
key figure in a social order based on caste (varna ).
Caste divided society into functional classes: the Brahmans
had magical powers and priestly duties, the ksatriyas
were the rulers and warriors, the vaisyas
cultivators, and the sudras the lowest part of
society, subservient to the other three. Moral law or
dharma depended on the observance of these divisions,
and the king was the guarantor of dharma , and in
particular the privileges of the Brahmans. 3
Another tradition is best exemplified by the Arthasastra
of Kautilya (c. 300 B.C.), which alloted the king a more
independent role but likewise emphasized his responsibility
for peace, justice and stability.4
Both Kautilya's work
and the Manu-Smrti are considered classic expressions
of ancient Indian political and social theory. A reader of
these or other Brahmanical treatises finds it very easy to
visualize ancient Indian society as one where "monarchy was
the normal form of the state." 5
Until the end of the
last century, the only indication that this might not always
have been the case came from Greek and Roman accounts of
India, mostly histories of India during and just after
Alexander the Great's invasion of India in 327-324 B.C.
These works spoke of numerous cities and even larger areas
being governed as oligarchies and democracies, but they were
not always believed by scholars.6 Yet
research into the Buddhist Pali Canon during the nineteenth
century confirmed this picture of widespread republicanism.
The Pali Canon is the earliest version of the Buddhist
scriptures, and reached its final form between 400-300 B.C.7
It contains the story of Buddha's life and teaching and his
rules for monastic communities. The rules and teachings are
presented in the form of anecdotes, explaining the
circumstances that called forth the Buddha's authoritative
pronouncement. Thus the Pali Canon provides us with many
details of life in ancient India, and specifically of the
sixth century (the Buddha's lifetime) in the northeast. In
1903, T.W. Rhys Davids, the leading Pali scholar, pointed
out in his book Buddhist India8 that
the Canon (and the Jatakas, a series of Buddhist
legends set in the same period but composed much later)
depicted a country in which there were many clans,
dominating extensive and populous territories, who made
their public decisions in assemblies, moots, or parliaments.
observation was not made in a vacuum. Throughout the
nineteenth century, students of local government in India
(many of them British bureaucrats) had been fascinated by
popular elements in village life.9 The
analysis of village government was part of a continuous
debate on the goals and methods of imperial policy, and the
future of India as a self-governing country. Rhys-Davids'
book made the ancient institutions of India relevant to this
debate. His reconstruction of a republican past for India
was taken up by nationalistic Indian scholars of the 1910s.10
Later generations of Indian scholars have been somewhat
embarrassed by the enthusiasm of their elders for early
republics and have sought to treat the republics in a more
balanced and dispassionate manner.11
Nevertheless, their work, like that of the pioneering
nationalists, has been extremely productive. Not only the
classical sources and the Pali Canon, but also Buddhist
works in Sanskrit, Panini's Sanskrit grammar (the
Astadhyayi ), the Mahabharata, the Jaina Canon,
and even Kautilya's Arthasastra have been combed for
evidence and insights. Coins and inscriptions have
documented the existence of republics and the workings of
The work of twentieth
century scholars has made possible a much different view of
ancient political life in India. It has shown us a landscape
with kings a-plenty, a culture where the terminology of rule
is in the majority of sources relentlessly monarchical, but
where, at the same time, the realities of politics are so
complex that simply to call them "monarchical" is a grave
distortion. Indeed, in ancient India, monarchical thinking
was constantly battling with another vision, of self-rule by
members of a guild, a village, or an extended kin-group, in
other words, any group of equals with a common set of
interests. This vision of cooperative self-government often
produced republicanism and even democracy comparable to
classical Greek democracy.
Though evidence for
non-monarchical government goes back to the Vedas, 12
republican polities were most common and vigorous in the
Buddhist period, 600 B.C.-A.D. 200. At this time, India was
in the throes of urbanization. The Pali Canon gives a
picturesque description of the city of Vesali in the fifth
century B.C. as possessing 7707 storied buildings, 7707
pinnacled buildings, 7707 parks and lotus ponds, and a
multitude of people, including the famous courtesan Ambapali,
whose beauty and artistic achievements contributed mightily
to the city's prosperity and reputation. The cities of
Kapilavatthu and Kusavati were likewise full of traffic and
noise.13 Moving between these cities were
great trading caravans of 500 or 1000 carts -- figures that
convey no precise measurement, but give a true feeling of
scale: caravans that stopped for more than four months in a
single place, as they often did because of the rainy season,
were described as villages.14 Religion,
too, was taking to the road. The hereditary Brahman who was
also a householder, as in later Vedic tradition, saw his
teachings, authority and perquisites threatened by wandering
holy men and self-appointed teachers.15
warlord-kings who sought to control this fluid society, some
with a measure of success. But the literature, Pali and
Sanskrit, Buddhist and Brahmanical, shows that
non-monarchical forms of government were omnipresent. There
was a complex vocabulary to describe the different types of
groups that ran their own affairs.16 Some
of these were obviously warrior bands; 17
others more peaceful groups with economic goals; some
religious brotherhoods. Such an organization, of whatever
type, could be designated, almost indifferently, as a
gana or a sangha; and similar though less
important bodies were labeled with the terms sreni,
puga, or vrata. Gana and sangha,
the most important of these terms, originally meant
"multitude." By the sixth century B.C., these words meant
both a self-governing multitude, in which decisions were
made by the members working in common, and the style of
government characteristic of such groups. In the case of the
strongest of such groups, which acted as sovereign
governments, the words are best translated as "republic."
That there were many
sovereign republics in India is easily demonstrated from a
number of sources. Perhaps it is best to begin with the
Greek evidence, even though it is not the earliest, simply
because the Greek writers spoke in a political language that
Perhaps the most
useful Greek account of India is Arrian's Anabasis of
Alexander , which describes the Macedonian conqueror's
campaigns in great detail. The Anabasis, which is
derived from the eyewitness accounts of Alexander's
companions, 18 portrays him as meeting
"free and independent" Indian communities at every turn.
What "free and independent" meant is illustrated from the
case of Nysa, a city on the border of modern Afghanistan and
Pakistan that was ruled by a president named Aculphis and a
council of 300. After surrendering to Alexander, Aculphis
used the city's supposed connection with the god Dionysus to
seek lenient terms from the king:
beseech thee, O king out of respect for Dionysus, to
allow them to remain free and independent; for when
Dionysus had subjugated the nation of the Indians...he
founded this city from the soldiers who had become unfit
for military service ...From that time we inhabit Nysa,
a free city, and we ourselves are independent,
conducting our government with constitutional order." 19
Nysa was in Greek
terms an oligarchy, as further discussion between Alexander
and Aculphis reveals, and a single-city state. There were
other Indian states that were both larger in area and wider
in franchise. It is clear from Arrian that the Mallian
republic consisted of a number of cities.20
Q. Curtius Rufus and Diodorus Siculus in their histories of
Alexander mention a people called the Sabarcae or Sambastai
among whom "the form of government was democratic and not
regal." 21 The Sabarcae/Sambastai, like
the Mallians, had a large state. Their army consisted of
60,000 foot, 6000 cavalry, and 500 chariots.22
Thus Indian republics of the late fourth century could be
much larger than the contemporaneous Greek polis .
And it seems that in the northwestern part of India,
republicanism was the norm. Alexander's historians mention a
large number of republics, some named, some not, but only a
handful of kings.23 The prevalence of
republicanism and its democratic form is explicitly stated
by Diodorus Siculus. After describing the mythical monarchs
who succeeded the god Dionysus as rulers of India, he says:
At last, however,
after many years had gone, most of the cities adopted
the democratic form of government, though some retained
the kingly until the invasion of the country by
What makes this
statement particularly interesting is that it seems to
derive from a first-hand description of India by a Greek
traveler named Megasthenes. Around 300 B.C., about two
decades after Alexander's invasion, Megasthenes served as
ambassador of the Greek king Seleucus Nicator to the Indian
emperor Chandragupta Maurya, and in the course of his duties
crossed northern India to the eastern city of Patna, where
he lived for a while.25 If this statement
is drawn from Megasthenes, then the picture of a
northwestern India dominated by republics must be extended
to the entire northern half of the subcontinent.26
If we turn to the
Indian sources, we find that there is nothing far-fetched
about this idea. The most useful sources for mapping north
India are three: The Pali Canon, which shows us northeastern
India between the Himalayas and the Ganges in the sixth and
fifth centuries B.C.; the grammar of Panini, which discusses
all of North India, with a focus on the northwest, during
the fifth century; and Kautilya's Arthasastra, which
is a product of the fourth century, roughly contemporaneous
with Megasthenes. All three sources enable us to identify
numerous sanghas and ganas, some very minor,
others large and powerful.27
What were these
republican polities like? According to Panini, all the
states and regions (janapadas ) of northern India
during his time were based on the settlement or conquest of
a given area by an identifiable warrior people who still
dominated the political life of that area. Some of these
peoples (in Panini's terms janapadins ) were subject
to a king, who was at least in theory of their own blood and
was perhaps dependent on their special support.28
Elsewhere, the janapadins ran their affairs in a
republican manner. Thus in both kinds of state, the
government was dominated by people classified as
ksatriyas, or, as later ages would put it, members of
the warrior caste.
But in many states,
perhaps most, political participation was restricted to a
subset of all the ksatriyas . One needed to be not
just a warrior, but a member of a specific royal clan, the
rajanya.29 Evidence from a number
of sources shows that the enfranchised members of many
republics, including the Buddha's own Sakyas and the
Licchavis with whom he was very familiar, considered
themselves to be of royal descent, even brother-kings. The
term raja, which in a monarchy certainly meant king,
in a state with gana or sangha constitution
could designate someone who held a share in sovereignty. In
such places, it seems likely that political power was
restricted to the heads of a restricted number of "royal
families" (rajakulas) among the ruling clans. The
heads of these families were consecrated as kings, and
thereafter took part in deliberations of state.
Our Indian republics
are beginning to sound extremely undemocratic by our modern
standards, with real power concentrated in the hands of a
few patriarchs representing the leading lineages of one
privileged section of the warrior caste. A reader who has
formed this impression is not entirely mistaken. No doubt
the rulers of most republics thought of their gana as
a closed club -- as did the citizens of Athens, who also
defined themselves as a hereditarily privileged group. But,
as in ancient Athens, there are other factors which modify
the picture, and make it an interesting one for students of
First, the closed
nature of the ruling class is easy to exaggerate. Republics
where only descendants of certain families held power were
common; but there was another type in which power was shared
by all ksatriya families.31 This may not sound like
much of a difference, since the restriction to the warrior
caste seems to remain. But this is an anachronistic view of
the social conditions of the time. The varnas of
pre-Christian-era India were not the castes of later
periods, with their prohibitions on intermarriage and
commensality with other groups.32 Rather,
they were the constructs of theorists, much like the
division of three orders (priests, warriors and workers)
beloved by European writers of the Early Middle Ages.33
Such a classification was useful for debating purposes, but
was not a fact of daily existence. Those republics that
threw open the political process to all ksatriyas
were not extending the franchise from one clearly defined
group to another, albeit a larger one, but to all those who
could claim, and justify the claim, to be capable of ruling
suggests that in some states the enfranchised group was even
wider. Such a development is hinted at in Kautilya:
according to him, there were two kinds of janapadas,
ayudhiya-praya, those made up mostly of soldiers, and
sreni-praya , those comprising guilds of craftsmen,
traders, and agriculturalists.34 The first
were political entities where military tradition alone
defined those worthy of power, while the second would seem
to be communities where wealth derived from peaceful
economic activity gave some access to the political process.
This interpretation is supported by the fact that sreni
or guilds based on an economic interest were often both part
of the armed force of a state and recognized as having
jurisdiction over their own members.35 In
the Indian republics, as in the Greek poleis or the
European cities of the High Middle Ages, economic expansion
enabled new groups to take up arms and eventually demand a
share in sovereignty36 If it was not
granted, one could always form one's own mini-state.
Panini's picture of stable, long-established janapadas
is certainly the illusion of a systematizing grammarian. As
Panini's most thorough modern student has put it, there was
"a craze for constituting new republics" which "had reached
its climax in the Vahika country and north-west India
where clans constituting of as many as one hundred families
only organized themselves as Ganas."37
Furthermore, power in some republics was vested in a large
number of individuals. In a well-known Jataka tale we
are told that in the Licchavi capital of Vesali, there were
7707 kings (rajas), 7707 viceroys, 7707 generals, and
7707 treasurers.38 These figures, since
they come from about half a millenium after the period they
describe, have little evidentiary value, despite the
ingenious efforts of scholars to find a core of hard fact.
The tale does not give us the number of Licchavi ruling
families (rajakulas), the size of the Licchavi
assembly, or any real clues as to the population of Vesali.39
Yet the Jataka does retain the memory of an
undisputed feature of Indian republicanism: the rulers were
many.40 The same memory can be found in
other sources, especially in those critical of
republicanism. The Lalitavistara, in an obvious
satirical jab, depicts Vesali as being full of Licchavi
rajans , each one thinking, "I am king, I am king," and
thus a place where piety, age and rank were ignored.41
The Santi Parva section of the Mahabharata
shows the participation of too many people in the affairs of
state as being a great flaw in the republican polity:
leaders should be respected as the worldly affairs (of
the ganas) depend to a great extent upon
them...the spy (department) and the secrecy of counsel
(should be left) to the chiefs, for it is not fit that
the entire body of the gana should hear those
secret matters. The chiefs of gana should carry
out together, in secret, works leading to the prosperity
of the gana , otherwise the wealth of the gana
decays and it meets with danger.42
A Jaina work again
criticizes ganas for being disorderly: the monks and
nuns who frequent them will find themselves bullied, beaten,
robbed, or accused of being spies.43
The numerous members
of a sovereign gana or sangha interacted with
each other as members of an assembly. Details of the working
of such assemblies can be found both in Brahmanical and
Buddhist literature. By the time of Panini (fifth century
B.C.), there was a terminology for the process of corporate
decision-making. Panini gives us the terms for vote,
decisions reached by voting, and the completion of a quorum.
Another cluster of words indicates that the division of
assemblies into political parties was well known. Further,
Panini and his commentators show that sometimes a smaller
select group within a sangha had special functions --
acting as an executive, or perhaps as a committees for
The Pali Canon gives a
much fuller, if somewhat indirect, depiction of democratic
institutions in India, confirming and extending the picture
found in Panini. This is found in three of the earliest and
most revered parts of the canon, the
Maha-parinibbana-suttanta, the Mahavagga, and the
Kullavagga.45 These works, taken
together, preserve the Buddha's instructions for the proper
running of the Buddhist monastic brotherhood -- the
sangha -- after his death. They are the best source for
voting procedures in a corporate body in the earliest part
of the Buddhist period. They also give some insight into the
development of democratic ideology.
The rules for
conducting the Buddhist sangha were, according to the
first chapter of the Maha-parinibbana-suttanta, based
in principle on those commonly found in political sanghas
or ganas. In the case of the Buddhist sangha,
the key organizational virtue was the full participation of
all the monks in the ritual and disciplinary acts of their
group. To assure that this would be remembered, detailed
rules concerning the voting in monastic assemblies, their
membership, and their quorums, were set down in the
Mahavagga and the Kullavagga .
Business could only be
transacted legitimately in a full assembly, by a vote of all
the members. If, for example, a candidate wanted the
upasampada ordination, the question (ñatti) was
put to the sangha by a learned and competent member,
and the other members asked three times to indicate dissent.
If there was none, the sangha was taken to be in
agreement with the ñatti. The decision was finalized
by the proclamation of the decision of the sangha.46
In many cases, as in
the granting of upasampada ordination, unanimity of a
full assembly was required.47 Of course,
unanimity was not always possible. The Kullavagga
provides other techniques that were used in disputes
especially dangerous to the unity of the sangha,
those which concerned interpretation of the monastic rule
itself. If such a dispute had degenerated into bitter and
confused debate, it could be decided by majority vote, or
referred to a jury or committee specially elected by the
sangha to treat the matter at hand.48
It is here that we see
a curious combination of well-developed democratic procedure
and fear of democracy. The rules for taking votes sanctioned
the disallowance by the vote-taker of results that
threatened the essential law of the sangha or its
unity.49 Yet, if the voting procedure is
less than free, the idea that only a free vote could decide
contentious issues is strongly present. No decision could be
made until some semblance of agreement had been reached.50
Such manipulations of voting were introduced because
Buddhist elders were very concerned about the survival of
the religious enterprise: disunity of the membership was the
great fear of all Indian republics and corporations.51
Yet the idea of a free vote could not be repudiated. The
Kullavagga illustrates a conflict within the Buddhist
sangha during its earliest centuries between democratic
principles and a philosophy that was willing in the name of
unity to sacrifice them.
Since the rules of the
Buddhist sangha are by far the best known from the
period we have been discussing, it is tempting to identify
them with the rules of political ganas, particularly
those of the Licchavis (or Vajjians), since the Buddha made
a clear connection between the principles applicable to the
Licchavi polity and those of his sangha.52
But from early on, scholars have recognized that the
Buddhist constitution was not an exact imitation of any
other: for instance, sovereign republics had a small,
elected executive committee to manage the affairs of the
gana when the whole membership of the gana was
unable to be assembled.53 But neither did
the Buddha or his earliest followers invent their complex
and carefully formulated parliamentary procedures out of
whole cloth. R.C. Majumdar's conclusion, first formulated in
1918, still seems valid: the techniques seen in the Buddhist
sangha reflect a sophisticated and widespread
political culture based on the popular assembly.54
Similarly, the value
placed on full participation of members in the affairs of
their sangha must reflect the ideology of those who
believed in the sangha-gana form of government in the
political sphere. The Buddha's commitment to republicanism
(or at least the ideal republican virtues) was a strong one,
if we are to believe the Maha-parinibbana-suttanta,
among the oldest of Buddhist texts.55 As
is common in the Buddhist scriptures, a precept is
illustrated by a story. Here Ajatasastru, the King of
Maghada, wishes to destroy the Vajjian confederacy (here =
the Licchavis) 56 and sends a minister,
Vassakara the Brahman, to the Buddha to ask his advice. Will
his attack be a success? Rather than answer directly, the
Buddha speaks to Ananda, his closest disciples:
"Have you heard,
Ananda, that the Vajjians hold full and frequent public
"Lord, so I have
heard," replied he.
"So long, Ananda,"
rejoined the Blessed One, "as the Vajjians hold these
full and frequent public assemblies; so long may they be
expected not to decline, but to prosper...
In a series of
rhetorical questions to Ananda, the Buddha outlines other
requirements for Vajjian prosperity:
"So long, Ananda,
as the Vajjians meet together in concord, and rise in
concord, and carry out their undertakings in
concord...so long as they enact nothing not already
established, abrogate nothing that has been already
enacted, and act in accordance with the ancient
institutions of the Vajjians as established in former
days...so long as they honor and esteem and revere and
support the Vajjian elders, and hold it a point of duty
to hearken to their words...so long as no women or girls
belonging to their clans are detained among them by
force or abduction...so long as they honor and esteem
and revere and support the Vajjian shrines in town or
country, and allow not the proper offerings and rites,
as formerly given and performed, to fall into
desuetude...so long as the rightful protection, defense,
and support shall be fully provided for the Arahats
among them, so that Arahats from a distance may enter
the realm, and the Arahats therein may live at ease --
so long may the Vajjians be expected not to decline, but
Then the Blessed
One addressed Vassakara the Brahman, and said, "When I
was once staying, O Brahman, at Vesali at the Sarandada
Temple, I taught the Vajjians these conditions of
welfare; and so long as those conditions shall continue
to exist among the Vajjians, so long as the Vajjians
shall be well instructed in those conditions, so long
may we expect them not to decline, but to prosper."
The comment of the
king's ambassador underlines the point of this advice: "So,
Gotama, the Vajjians cannot be overcome by the king of
Magadha; that is, not in battle, without diplomacy or
breaking up their alliance."
The same story tells
us that once the king's envoy had departed, the Buddha and
Ananda went to meet the assembly of monks. Buddha told the
monks that they too must observe seven conditions if they
were to prosper: Full and frequent assemblies, concord,
preserving and not abrogating established institutions,
honoring elders, falling "not under the influence of that
craving which, springing up within them, would give rise to
renewed existence," delighting in a life of solitude, and
training "their minds that good and holy men shall come to
them, and those who have come shall dwell at ease." 57
These precepts, and others that follow in sets of seven,
were the main point for the monks who have transmitted the
Maha-parinibbana-suttanta to us. We, however, may
wish to emphasize another point: the Buddha saw the virtues
necessary for a righteous and prosperous community, whether
secular or monastic, as being much the same. Foremost among
those virtues was the holding of "full and frequent
assemblies." In this, the Buddha spoke not only for himself,
and not only out of his personal view of justice and virtue.
He based himself on what may be called the democratic
tradition in ancient Indian politics -- democratic in that
it argued for a wide rather than narrow distribution of
political rights, and government by discussion rather than
by command and submission.58
The Pali Canon gives
us our earliest, and perhaps our best, detailed look at
Indian republicanism, its workings, and its political
philosophy. About no other republics do we know as much as
we do about the Buddhist sangha and the Licchavis in
the time of Buddha -- even though we do know that republics
survived and were a significant factor until perhaps the
fourth century A.D., a period of over 800 years. Scattered
inscriptions, a great number of coins, and the occasional
notice in Greek sources, the Jatakas or other Indian
literature give us a few facts. But any history of Indian
republicanism is necessarily a rather schematic one.
The theme that has
most attracted the attention of scholars is the constant
danger to republicanism, and its ultimate failure. Much of
what we know about the sovereign ganas of India
derives from stories of attacks upon them by various
conquerors. Yet it is remarkable that for several centuries,
the conspicuous successes of monarchs, even the greatest,
had only a temporary effect on the sovereign republics and
very little effect indeed on the corporate organization of
guilds, religious bodies, and villages. The reason is, of
course, that Indian kings have seldom been as mighty as they
wished to be, or wished to be presented. Conquerors were not
in a position to restructure society, to create states as we
visualize them today. Rather they were usually content to
gain the submission of their neighbors, whether they were
other kings or republics.59 These defeated
rivals were often left in control of their own affairs,
merely required to pay tribute and provide troops for the
conquerors next war. The great emperors of ancient India,
including Chandragupta Maurya and Asoka, ran rather
precarious realms. Once the center weakened, these unraveled
very quickly, and society returned to its preceding
complexity. Rival dynasties revived, as did defeated
As Altekar recognized,
the mere existence of warlords was not fatal to the
republican tradition of politics. Far more important was the
slow abandonment of republican ideals by republicans
themselves. We have seen that many republics were content
even in the earliest days with a very exclusive definition
of the political community. In some, ideas of wider
participation gained currency and even implementation. But
the contrary movement is easier to document. By the third
and fourth centuries A.D., states known to be republics in
earlier times were subject to hereditary executives.
Eventually such republics became monarchies.61
An evolution away from
republicanism is clearly seen in the literature of politics
and religion. If we grant that the society depicted by the
Pali Canon is the beginning of a new era, one with an
economy and culture quite distinct from the Vedic period, it
immediately becomes obvious that the most democratic ideals
are the earliest. The Pali Canon, and to some extent the
Jaina Canon, show us energetic movements that rejected the
hierarchialism and caste ideology seen in the Vedas and
Brahmanas in favor of more egalitarian values. Buddhism and
Jainism were scarcely exceptional: they are merely the most
successful of many contemporary religious movements, and
left us records. It is clear from Panini that egalitarianism
was an important element in the fifth century B.C.: he
preserves a special term for the gana where "there
was no distinction between high and low." 62
classics as the Mahabharata, the writings of Kautilya
and the Manu-Smrti, works that promoted hierarchy,
are manifestations of a later movement (300 B.C.-200 A.D.)
away from the degree of egalitarianism that had been
achieved. Kautilya, who is traditionally identified with the
chief minister of the Mauryan conqueror Chandragupta Maurya
(fl. after 300 B.C.), is famous for his advice to monarchs
on the best way to tame or destroy ganas through
subterfuge; perhaps a more important part of his achievement
was to formulate a political science in which royalty was
normal, even though his own text shows that ganas
were very important factors in the politics of his time.63
Similarly, the accomplishment of the Manu-Smrti was
to formulate a view of society where human equality was
non-existent and unthinkable.
Members of ganas
were encouraged to fit themselves into a hierarchical,
monarchical framework by a number of factors. Kings were not
the only enemies of the ganas . The relationships
between competing ganas must have been a constant
political problem. Ganas that claimed sovereignty
over certain territory were always faced by the competing
claims of other corporate groups.64 How
were these claims to be sorted out, other than by force? The
king had an answer to this question: if he were acknowledged
as "the only monarch [i.e. raja, chief executive] of
all the corporations," 65 he would commit
himself to preserving the legitimate privileges of each of
them, and even protect the lesser members of each gana
from abuse of power by their leaders. It was a tempting
offer, and since the alternative was constant battle, it was
slowly accepted, sometimes freely, sometimes under
compulsion. The end result was the acceptance of a social
order in which many ganas and sanghas existed,
but none were sovereign and none were committed to any
general egalitarian view of society. They were committed
instead to a hierarchy in which they were promised a secure
place.66 Such a notional hierarchy seems
to have been constructed in North India by the fifth century
A.D. Even the Buddhist sangha accommodated itself to
it -- which led eventually to the complete victory of the
This was not quite the
end of republicanism, because "government by discussion"
continued within many ganas and sanghas ; but
the idea of hierarchy and inequality, of caste, was
increasingly dominant. The degree of corporate autonomy in
later Indian society, which is considerable and in itself a
very important fact, is in this sense a different topic that
the one we have been following. A corporation that accepts
itself as a subcaste in a great divine hierarchy is
different from the more pugnacious ganas and
sanghas of the Pali Canon, Kautilya or even the
What have modern
historians made of what we might call the golden age of
Indian republicanism? We have already distinguished above
between two eras of scholarship on the topic. In the first,
patriotic enthusiasm and the simple thrill of discovery of
unsuspected material characterized scholars' reactions. The
former attitude was especially seen in K.P. Jayaswal's
Hindu Polity . Published first in article form in
1911-1913, then as a book in 1924, Jayaswal's work was
avowedly aimed to show that his countrymen were worthy of
independence from Britain. The history of "Hindu"
institutions demonstrated an ancient talent for politics:
The test of a
polity is its capacity to live and develop, and its
contribution to the culture and happiness of humanity.
Hindu polity judged by this test will come out very
successfully...The Golden Age of [the Hindu's] polity
lies not in the Past but in the Future... Constitutional
or social advancement is not a monopoly of any
In Jayaswal's book
scholarship was sometimes subordinated to his argument. In
his discussion of ancient republics (which was not his only
subject), the evidence was pushed at least as far as it
would go to portray the republics as inspiring examples of
early democracy.68 A similar, though
quieter satisfaction can be seen in the contemporary
discussions of R.C. Majumdar and D.R. Bhandarkar.69
In the second period
of scholarship, in the years since independence, a more
restrained attitude has been adopted by younger scholars who
feel they have nothing to prove. Among these scholars the
general tendency has been to emphasize that the republics
were not real republics, in the modern usage that implies a
universal adult suffrage. The clan-basis and the
exclusiveness of the ruling class are much discussed.
Sometimes writers have bent over backwards to divorce the
Indian republican experience from the history of democracy: 70
thus A.K. Majumdar's judgement that because in a
gana-rajya "all inhabitants other than the members of
the raja-kulas [had] no rights [and] were treated as
inferior citizens," people were actually better off in the
monarchies, where "if not the general mass, at least the
intellectuals and the commercial community enjoyed freedom
in a monarchy, which seems to have been lacking in a
gana-rajya." 71 The contrast drawn
here is not backed up by any real argument, and makes one
wonder about the how the author defines "freedom."
The reaction has
perhaps gone too far.72 One feels that
modern scholars have still not come to grips with the
existence of widespread republicanism in a region so long
thought to be the home par excellence of "Oriental
Despotism." 73 Republicanism now has a
place in every worthwhile book about ancient India, but it
tends to be brushed aside so that one can get back to the
main story, which is the development of the surviving Hindu
tradition.74 Historians, in India as
elsewhere, seem to feel that anything which could be so
thoroughly forgotten must have had grievous flaws to begin
with.75 Most historians still cannot
discuss these republics without qualifying using the
qualifiers "tribal" or "clan."76 Long ago
Jayaswal rightly protested against the use of these terms:
"The evidence does not warrant our calling [republics]
'clans.' Indian republics of the seventh [sic] and sixth
centuries B.C...had long passed the tribal stage of society.
They were states, Ganas and Samghas, though
many of them likely had a national or tribal basis, as every
state, ancient or modern, must necessarily have." 77
He was equally correct when he pointed out that "Every state
in ancient Rome and Greece was 'tribal' in the last
analysis, but no constitutional historian would think of
calling the republics of Rome and Greece mere tribal
Yet the phrases
"clan-" and "tribal-republic" are still routinely used today
in the Indian context, and it is difficult to avoid the
conclusion that they are being used perjoratively. In both
common and scholarly usage, to label a people's institutions
or culture as tribal is to dismiss them from serious
consideration. "Tribespeople" are historical dead-ends, and
their suppression or absorption by more advanced cultures
(usually those ruled by centralizing governments) is taken
for granted.79 The terminology of even
Indian historians demonstrates the survival of an ancient
but inappropriate prejudice in the general evaluation of
Once that prejudice is
overcome, Indian republicanism gains a strong claim on the
attention of historians, especially those with an interest
in comparative or world history.
It is especially
remarkable that, during the near-millenium between 500 B.C.
and 400 A.D., we find republics almost anywhere in India
that our sources allow us to examine society in any detail.
Unless those sources, not least our Greek sources, are
extremely deceptive, the republics of India were very likely
more extensive and populous than the poleis of the
Greeks.80 One cannot help wondering how in
many other parts of Eurasia republican and democratic states
may have co-existed with the royal dynasties that are a
staple of both ancient and modern chronology and
conceptualization. This may well be an unanswerable
question, but so far no one has even tried to investigate
it. If an investigation is made, we may discover things that
are as surprising to us as the republics of India originally
The existence of
Indian republicanism is a discovery of the twentieth
century. The implications of this phenomenon have yet to be
fully digested, because historians of the past century have
been inordinately in love with the virtues of centralized
authority and government by experts, and adhered to an
evolutionary historicism that has little good to say about
either direct or representative democracy. Perhaps the love
affair is fading. If so, historians will find, in the Indian
past as elsewhere, plenty of raw material for a new history
of the development of human government.
Notes for "Democracy
in Ancient India"
In referring to
classical sources, I have usually not given full citations
to the editions, on the assumption that specialists will
know how to find them, but that general readers will be more
interested in the translations.
Also, references to
Indian primary materials will be made to English
translations (where available). Nearly all the secondary
literature on the topic is in English.
1. See for example
Herodotus, The Histories 7. 135, trans. Aubrey de
Sélincourt, rev. ed. (Harmondsworth, 1972), p. 485: the
famous reply of the Spartan emissaries to the Persian
general Hydarnes. Back to text.
2. For more on this,
see Steven Muhlberger and Phil Paine, "Democracy's Place in
World History," Journal of World History 4 (1993):
23-45 and the
World History of Democracy site, especially
Chapter Two -- Democracy at the Basic Level: Government by
consent in small communities. Back to
3. A.S. Altekar,
State and Government in Ancient India, 3rd edn. rev. and
enlarged (Delhi, 1958; first ed. 1949), p. 1; the
Manu-Smrti translated by G. Bühler as The Laws of
Manu, vol. 25 of Sacred Books of the East,
hereafter SBE] ed. F. Max Müller (Oxford, 1886).
Back to text.
Arthasastra, trans. by R. Shamasastry, 4th ed. (Mysore,
1951; first ed. 1915). Back to text.
5. Altekar, State
and Government in Ancient India, p. 1 (hereafter
State and Government ); but see the same work, p. 109,
where the statement is qualified as a prelude to discussing
republics. Back to text.
6. Altekar, State
and Government, pp. 110-111; K.P. Jayaswal, Hindu
Polity: A Constitutional History of India in Hindu Times,
2nd. and enl. ed. (Bangalore, 1943), p. 58.
Back to text.
7. An introduction to
the Pali Canon may be found in R.C. Majumdar, The History
and Culture of the Indian People, vol. 2, The Age of
Imperial Unity, (Bombay, 1951), pp. 396-411.
Back to text.
8. (London, 1903).
Back to text.
9. See, for instance,
Sir Henry Sumner Maine, Village Communities in the East
and West (1889; reprint edn. New York, 1974).
Back to text.
10. K.P. Jayaswal,
Hindu Polity: A Constitutional History of India in Hindu
Times 2nd and enl. edn. (Bangalore, 1943), published
first in article form in 1911-13; D.R. Bhandarkar,
Lectures on the Ancient History of India on the Period form
650 to 325 B.C., The Carmichael Lectures, 1918
(Calcutta, 1919); R.C. Majumdar. Corporate Life in
Ancient India, (orig. written in 1918; cited here from
the 3rd ed., Calcutta, 1969, as Corporate Life).
Back to text.
11. E.g. Altekar (n.
6); J.P. Sharma, Republics in Ancient India, c. 1500
B.C.-500 B.C. (Leiden, 1968) [hereafter Republics];
U.N. Ghoshal, A History of Indian Public Life, vol.
2, The Pre-Maurya and Maurya Period (Oxford, 1966).
For the embarrassment, see Sharma, Republics, pp.
2-3. Back to text.
Republics, pp. 15-62, 237. Back to
13. Narendra Wagle,
Society at the Time of the Buddha (Bombay: 1966), pp.
27-28. Back to text.
14. Wagle, Society
at the Time of the Buddha, pp. 147-148.
Back to text.
15. Sukumar Dutt,
Buddhist Monks and Monasteries of India (London, 1957),
pp. 35-44. Back to text.
16. V.S. Agrawala,
India as Known to Panini: A study of the cultural material
in the Ashatadhyayi, 2nd edn. rev. and enl. (Varanasi,
1963), pp. 426-444 [hereafter, Panini]; Sharma,
Republics, pp. 8-14. A.K. Majumdar, Concise History
of Ancient History, vol. 2: Political Theory,
Administration, and Economic Life (New Delhi, 1980), p.
131 [hereafter, Concise History].
Back to text.
17. It is often
assumed in the literature that mercenary bands or wild
tribes must be clearly distinguished from true political
communities. A reading of Xenophon's Anabasis (trans.
by W.H.D. Rouse as The March Up Country (New York and
East Lansing, 1959)) would give food for thought about this
distinction. The army Xenophon was part of and led for a
time is perhaps the best documented example of the
day-to-day political life of a Greek community that we have.
Back to text.
18. See "Arrianus,
Flavius" Oxford Classical Dictionary, 2nd edn.
(Oxford, 1970), pp. 122-123. Back to text.
19.. Arrian 5.1-2; all
translations from the Greek sources are taken from R.C.
Majumdar's compilation, The Classical Accounts of India
(Calcutta, 1960) [hereafter Classical Accounts] -- in
this case, p. 20. However, those who don't have access to
that handy work can find these authors, whose books are all
well-known classical works, in standard editions and
translations. Back to text.
20. Arrian, 5.22,
5.25-6.14, Classical Accounts, pp. 47, 64-75.
Back to text.
21. Q. Curtius Rufus,
History of Alexander the Great 9.8, Classical
Accounts, p. 151; Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca
Historica 17.104, Classical Accounts, p. 180.
Back to text.
Back to text.
23. Altekar, State
and Government, p. 111. Back to text.
24. Diodorus Siculus
2.39, Classical Accounts, p. 236; cf. Arrian's
Indika 9, Classical Accounts, p. 223, which seems
to derive from the same source, i.e. Megasthenes, for whom
see below. Back to text.
25. Otto Stein,
"Megasthenes (2)," Real-Encyclopädie der classischen
Altertumwissenschaft, ed. A. von Pauly, G. Wissowa, et.
al. (Stuttgart, 1893-) vol. 15, pt. 1, col. 232-3.
Back to text.
26. R.C. Majumdar,
Classical Accounts, Appendix I, pp. 461-473, throws
doubt on the authority of this whole section of Diodorus
(2.35-42, called "the Epitome of Megasthenes,"), but
classicists do not share his doubts, though they grant that
the original material may have been handled roughly by later
epitomizers. See Otto Stein, "Megasthenes (2)," col. 255;
Barbara C.J. Timmer, Megasthenes en de Indische
Maatschaapij (Amsterdam, 1930); Diodorus of Sicily,
trans. by C.H. Oldfather Cambridge, Mass. and London, 1935),
vol. 2, p. vii. Back to text.
27. Kautilya, 11.1;
Agrawala, Panini, pp. 445-457; see the short history
of known republics in Altekar, State and Government
pp. 118-123. See Joseph E. Schwartzenberg, ed., A
Historical Atlas of South Asia (Chicago and London,
1978), p. 16 (Plate III.B.2). Back to
Panini, pp. 426-428; Benoychandra Sen, Studies in the
Buddhist Jatakas: Tradition and Polity (Calcutta, 1974),
pp. 157-159. Back to text.
Panini, pp. 430-432. Back to text.
30. Altekar, State
and Government, p. 135; Sharma, Republics, pp.
12-13, 99-108, 112, 175-176. Back to text.
31. Altekar, State
and Government, p. 114. Back to text.
32. Wagle, Society
at the Time of the Buddha, pp. 132-33, 156-158.
Back to text.
33. Georges Duby,
The Three Orders: Feudal Society Imagined, tr. Victor
Goldhammer (Chicago, 1980); Jacques Le Goff, "Labor,
Techniques and Craftsmen in the Value Systems of the Early
Middle Ages (Fifth to Tenth Centuries)," in Time, Work,
and Culture in the Middle Ages, tr. Victor Goldhammer
(Chicago, 1980), pp. 71-86. Back to text.
Panini, pp. 436-439. Contra, Ghoshal, A History of
Indian Public Life, ii, p. 195, n. 5, who rejects
Agrawala's interpretation of the evidence in Panini and
Kautilya, and insists on a strict (but anachronistic)
division between political, military, and social and
economic groups. A fair reading of Kautilya shows that
"corporations" of whatever sort could be important political
and military factors, whether they were sovereign or not,
and whether they "lived by the name of raja"
(Kautilya, 11.1, tr. Shamasastry, p. 407) or not.
Back to text.
35. See esp. R.C.
Majumdar, Corporate Life, pp. 18-29, 60-63; Charles
Drekmeier, Kingship and Community in Early India
(Stanford, 1962), pp. 275-277. Back to
36. W.G. Forrest,
The Emergence of Greek Democracy, 800-400 B.C. (New
York, 1966), esp. pp. 67-97; J.K. Hyde, Society and
Politics in Medieval Italy: The Evolution of the Civil Life,
1000-1350, esp. 48-60, 104-118; John Hine Mundy,
Liberty and Political Power in Toulouse 1050-1230 (New
York, 1954). Back to text.
Panini, p. 432. Again cf. Italy at the beginning of the
High Middle Ages, Hyde, Society and Politics in Medieval
Italy, pp. 56-57. Back to text.
38. Jataka 149,
trans. in The Jataka, or Stories of the Buddha's Former
Births, ed. E.B. Cowell, tr. by Various Hands, 6 vols.
(1895; reprint, London, 1957), 1: 316. Jataka 301 (Cowell
trans., 3: 1) also mentions 7707 kings, "all of them given
to argument and disputation." Back to
39. Every scholar to
approach this material has wrestled with this number, none
more diligently than Sharma, Republics, pp. 99-104.
It is hard to take any of them very seriously once one has
examined Jataka 149 itself. Here, as in many other
places, 7077 is used as a large, ideal number.
Back to text.
suggestive numbers can be found in Jataka 465 (Cowell
trans., 4: 94) where 500 Licchavi kings (not necessarily the
entire body of kings) are mentioned; in the Mahavastu,
which refers to "twice 84,000 Licchavi rajas residing
within the city of Vesali," (Sharma, Republics, p.
99; the Mahavastu is yet untranslated into a European
language) and Jataka 547 (Cowell trans., 6: 266),
which mentions 60,000 ksatriyas in the Ceta state,
all of whom were styled rajano (Agrawala, Panini,
p. 432). Back to text.
Panini, p. 430; Sharma, Republics, p. 101; A.K.
Majumdar, Concise History, 2: 140. No translation of
the Lalitavistara into a European language was
available to me. Back to text.
12.107, trans. by R.C. Majumdar, Corporate Life, 251.
Back to text.
43. A.K. Majumdar,
Concise History, 2: 140, referring to Acharangasutra
II.3.1.10. The SBE translation of the Acharangasutra
(vol. 22 (1884), tr. Hermann Jacobi) of this passage
entirely conceals the meaning of gana. This is
typical of older translations, and some not so old (e.g. the
Roy trans. of the Mahabharata, Santi Parva (Calcutta,
1962), c. 107, where Roy insists that gana here must
be understood as denoting an aristocracy of wealth and
blood). Back to text.
Panini, pp. 433-435. Back to text.
Maha-parinibbana-suttanta: Buddhist Suttas vol. 1, tr.
T.W. Rhys Davids, SBE 11 (1881): 1-136. Mahavagga,
Kullavagga, and Pattimokkha: Vinaya Texts, tr.
T.W. Rhys Davids and H. Oldenberg, SBE vol. 13, 17, 20
(1881, 1882, 1885). Back to text.
1.28, SBE 13: 169-170. Back to text.
47. Note complex
rules, e.g. Mahavagga 9.4.7-8, SBE 17: 217-272,
establishing who has the right to vote (i.e., in such cases,
to object). Back to text.
4.9-14, SBE 20: 24-65. Back to text.
4.10.1, SBE 20: 20-26, where it is stated that taking of
votes is invalid "when the taker of votes [an elected
official] knows that those whose opinions are not in
accordance with the law will be in the majority," or "when
he is in doubt whether the voting will result in a schism in
the Samgha," or "when they do not vote in accordance with
the view that they really hold." Kullavagga 4.14.26,
SBE 20: 56-57 shows how the vote-taker was permitted to
prevent the will of the majority from being enacted even in
a secret vote, by throwing out the results if the winners'
opinion went against the law -- or his interpretation of it.
Back to text.
50. See Kullavagga
4.14.25-26, SBE 20: 54-57, where the emphasis is on
reconciling monks to a decision which they were opposed to.
Voting is one method of doing so; manipulation of votes
preserves the religious law without splitting the sangha.
Back to text.
51. It is commonly
accepted by scholars that the regulations we have been
discussing are, in the form we have them, the product of a
long evolution, though all of them are attributed to the
Buddha. See Rhys Davids' and Oldenberg's introduction to the
Vinaya Texts, SBE 13: ix-xxxvii, and notes
throughout. For the concern with disunity, see the extract
from the Maha-parinibbana-suttanta (i.1) below; the
Mahabharata, Santi Parva 107, and Kautilya, 11.1
(which despite their monarchist purpose, contain passages of
republican thought -- see below, n. 71); Altekar, State
and Government, pp. 129-130; A.K. Majumdar, Concise
History, 2: 140. Back to text.
Maha-parinibbana-suttanta 1.1, SBE 9: 6-7; see below.
Back to text.
53. Altekar, pp.
126-127, 132-134; Sharma, Republics, pp. 12, 110-111.
Back to text.
54. Corporate Life,
pp. 233-234; A.K. Majumdar, Concise History, 2: 137.
Back to text.
Maha-parinibbana-suttanta is the story of the "great
decease of the Buddha" and as such includes both colorful
anecdotes and important last-minute instructions to his
followers. Back to text.
56. The Pali Canon
uses both the term Vajji (Vriji in Sanskrit) and Licchavi to
designate a republican polity based at Vesali. Scholars
believe that the Licchavi were the people who lived at
Vesali, while Vajji was the name of a confederation that
they headed. For a detailed discussion, see Sharma,
Republics, pp. 81-84, 93-97. Back to
Maha-parinibbana-suttanta 1.1, SBE 11: 6-7.
Back to text.
58. In this sense R.C.
Majumdar was right in calling the Buddha "an apostle of
democracy;" Corporate Life, p. 219. Contra, Drekmeier,
Kingship and Community in Early India, p. 113.
Back to text.
59. Sen, Studies in
the Buddhist Jatakas, pp. 60-64. Compare Burton Stein,
Peasant State and Society in Medieval South India
(Delhi, 1980) for a similar evaluation of South Indian
monarchy in a later period. Back to text.
60. Altekar, State
and Government, p. 136. Back to text.
61. Altekar, State
and Government, pp. 137-138; A.K. Majumdar, Concise
History, 2: 144. Back to text.
Panini, p. 428. What may be the clearest statement of
egalitarian political ideology only comes to us through many
intermediaries, as a tantalizing passage in Diodorus Siculus
(2.39; Classical Accounts, p. 236) which seems to
derive from Megasthenes: "Of several remarkable customs
existing among the Indians, there is one prescribed by their
[sc. Indian] ancient philosophers which one may regard as
truly admirable: for the law ordains that no one among them
shall, under any circumstances, be a slave, but that,
enjoying freedom, they shall respect the principle of
equality in all persons: for those, they thought, who have
learned neither to domineer over nor to cringe to others
will attain the life best adapted for all vicissitudes of
lot: since it is silly to make laws on the basis of equality
of all persons and yet to establish inequalities in social
intercourse." Megasthenes (who was a contemporary of
Kautilya) is often criticized for the good reason that
slavery and other forms of inequality did indeed exist among
the Indians. But perhaps he correctly presented the views of
"their ancient philosophers." Back to
63. Kautilya, 11.1,
Shamasastry tr. p. 410. The Mahabharata, Santi Parva,
a royalist treatise on morality and politics, likewise
mentions ganas (in c. 107; cf. c. 81) only to show
how a raja who is not yet a true monarch in his state
can implement his will -- and as we have seen, eliminating
popular participation in government is an essential part of
this. It is interesting to note that there are in both works
passages that urge the raja to cooperate with the
gana and, like the Maha-parinibbana-suttanta,
emphasize the dangers to a gana of disunity. R.C.
Majumdar (in Ancient India, 7th ed. (Delhi, 1974), p.
159) regarded Mahabharata, Santi Parva 107 as a piece
of republican political science reworked for monarchist
purposes. Back to text.
64. Altekar, State
and Government, p. 124, draws attention to the existence
of republican-style local government within the greater
republic. Cf. the Italian situation described by Hyde,
Society and Politics in Medieval Italy, p. 104:
"Government under medieval conditions was always a
precarious matter...the Italian cities faced special
problems of their own, derived from the fact that the
commune was originally no more than one kind of societas
in a society that abounded in societates, so that it
was an uphill task to assert any special claim to the
loyalty and obedience of the citizens."
Back to text.
65. Kautilya, 11.1,
Shamasastry trans., p. 410. Back to text.
66. See R.C. Majumdar,
Corporate Life, pp. 42-59 for the attitude of later
Dharmasastra writers to the place of semi-autonomous
corporations and kindreds in the monarchical polity of the
fifth century A.D. and later. Back to
67. Pp. 366-367.
Back to text.
68. N.B. the
introduction: "To the memory of the Republican Vrishnis,
Kathas, Vaisalas, and Sakyas who announced philosophies of
freedom from devas, death, cruelty and caste."
Back to text.
69. See above, n. 10.
Back to text.
70. See esp. Ghoshal's
treatment, A History of Indian Public Life, ii, pp.
185-197, which goes almost as far in one direction as
Jayaswal went in the other. Cf. Drekmeier, Kingship and
Community in Early India, p. 279; A.K. Majumdar,
Concise History, ii, pp. 139-144; Burton Stein,
"Politics, Peasants and the Deconstruction of Feudalism in
Medieval India," Journal of Peasant Studies, xii, no.
2-3 (1985), p. 62 (discussing South India at a later
period). Back to text.
71. A.K. Majumdar,
Concise History, 2: 143. Back to text.
72. A similar tendency
in recent decades to dismiss democratic elements in
classical Athens and republican Rome is now being
challenged: e.g. Ellen Meiksins Wood, Peasant-Citizens
and Slave: The Foundation of Athenian Democracy,
corrected paperback edn. (London, 1989) and much more
cautiously by John North, "Politics and Aristocracy in the
Roman Republic," Classical Philology, 85 (1990):
277-287 and reply to W.V. Harris's criticisms, pp. 297-298;
John North, "Democratic Politics in Republican Rome,"
Past and Present 126 (1990): 3-21.
Back to text.
73. Romila Thapar,
A History of India, vol. 1 (Harmondsworth, 1966), p. 19;
Bhandarkar, Lectures on the Ancient History of India,
p. ix (written in 1918): "We have been so much accustomed to
read and hear of Monarchy in India being always and
invariably unfettered and despotic that the above conclusion
[that republics were important in ancient India] is apt to
appear incredible to many as it no doubt was to me for a
long time." Back to text.
74. A.L. Basham,
The Wonder That was India (London, 1954), pp. 96-98.
Back to text.
75. In European
history, the Anglo-Saxons have often been treated as a
failed culture, and the Visigothic kingdom of Spain is
seldom approached in any other way. See the opening remarks
of Roger Collins, The Arab Conquest of Spain, 710-789
(Oxford, 1989). Back to text.
76. Thapar is one of
the few to avoid this usage. Back to text.
77. Jayaswal, Hindu
Polity, p. 46. Back to text.
78. Jayaswal, Hindu
Polity, p. 116. Back to text.
79. For a general
discussion of the concept of "tribalism," see Eric R. Wolf,
Europe and the People Without History (Berkeley,
1982). Back to text.
Panini, pp. 479-493. Back to text.
February 8, 1998.
1998, Steven Muhlberger. This file may be copied on the
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this copyright notice, remain intact.