In the previous section, we learned about the religious life of the Vedic age in both phases that is early Vedic age and later Vedic age. In this section, we are going to discuss the political life during the early and later Vedic age.
Political life during the Early Vedic Age
The information found in Rig-Veda Samhita throws light on nature & characteristics, the institution & practices of politico-admin life during the early Vedic age. The Early Vedic polity was tribal in nature because Vedic Aryans were living in small tribal groups. The tribal chiefs were responsible for politico-administrative matters.
The concept of state was absent during the early Vedic age. Because the Aryans were living the nomadic life. As a result of which definite territorial identity was absent. Democratic elements were present in political life during the early Vedic age.
Rig-Veda Samhita contains a reference to several popular assemblies such as Sabha Samiti, Vidath, and Parishad & Gana. Sabha was the assembly of Brahmans & elders. Samiti was an assembly of comments. Vidath was responsible for distributing war booty among members of the tribe.
Parishad was like a legislative body where common issues were discussed. Gana – highest advisory body. Both men & women were used to participate in the meeting of Sabha & Samiti. The Early Vedic polity was liberal & progressive. Rigid political restrictions were absent people enjoyed a high degree of freedom in their public & private life.
Early Vedic polity was egalitarian in character because the political status of members of the tribe was equal. There was hardly any difference in the political status of the common & the political functionaries like Gramins, Vispati, and Raja, etc. The family was the primary unit of political life. It was known as Grihapati or Kulapa (the head of the family) represented the members of the family in political activity.
Several families together constituted which were called Grama where Gramini was its head. He was an important functionary. Several numbers of Grama together called as Vish and Vishpati was its head. Jana was the highest political unit headed by Janasya Gopa or Gopati Janasya. He was equivalent to King. The political system was monarchial in nature because the king was the head of the entire political system.
Republican polity was known during the Vedic age but monarchy was common. In the beginning, the king was elected by Samiti but later on, the office of the king became hereditary. The power & prestige of the crown were not high because the king was just the leader of the tribe. His main responsibility was to lead the tribe during offensive & defensive battle other fun of the state was yet too emerged. Bureaucracy was its early state because only 3 officials are mentioned in Rigvedic Samhita. These are the Purohita, Sainani & the Gramini.
There was no system of codified law. The judicial legal system was in its infancy. Crimes like cattle lifting/theft are mentioned in Rig-Veda Samhita. The king was the highest court of justice. Issues were decided by him by keeping in mind customs & traditions in mind. Wars & battle were quite frequent during the Vedic age cattle lifting was the most common cause of conflict.
At times alliances & counter alliances were formed & alliance of 10 kings was defeated by king Sudas of Bharta tribe on the banks of river Ravi/Paryushini (Vishwamitra). There was no regular standing army during the Vedic age. The adult male members of the village used to participate in wars & battles under the leadership of Gramini.
The taxation system was also in the nascent stage of development. Bali is mentioned as in Rig-Veda Samhita. But in reality, it was a voluntary offering by members to the tribe of the king because there was no one to collect it. A regular system of taxation was yet too emerged.
Political life during the Later Vedic Age
Reference found in Later Vedic literature through light on the political life in India during the Later Vedic Age. The tribal character of polity got diminished to some extent because of the amalgamation of the tribe and population growth. As a result of these factors, the size of the group living together (tribe) had increased and the attributes identified birth particular tribes were no longer dominant.
The concept of state emerged during the Later Vedic Age because Aryans had started living a sedentary life. As a result of this definite territorial identity developed. Democratic elements were still present in political life during the Later Vedic Age. Sabha, Samiti enjoyed a place of great significance. In Atharva-Veda, Sabha & Samiti was mentioned as twin daughters of Prajapati.
Women were not allowed to participate in meetings of Sabha & Samiti. This indicates that the democratic character of polity had got reduced to some extent when compared with the Early Vedic Age. Political life was liberal & progressive (same explanation as Early Vedic Age). The political system was still largely egalitarian through it had evolved significance when compared with the Early Vedic Age.
Janapada / Rastra emerged as the highest political unit during the later Vedic age (other units were the same). The power & prestige of the crown increased significance during the Later Vedic Age. Several rituals & ceremonies developed in the context of the office of the king. These ceremonies like Rajsuya Sacrifice, Ashavamedha Sacrifice, and Vajpayee Sacrifice. Greatly enhanced the power & prestige of the crown.
Rajsuya Sacrifice was performed at the time of the coronation of the king. Vajpayee Sacrifice was performed to increase the strength of the king & the Ashavamedha sacrifice was performed for territorial expansion. The concept of divine monarchy emerged during the Later Vedic Age. In Atharvaveda, King Parikshit is mentioned as Aardhadeva King started assuming high sounding titles such as Ekrat (solo monarch) & Sarbhumi (Lord of the whole earth). Some titles were direction-specific because the kings of the East assumed the title Samrat, King of west Swarat, King of North adopted title – Virat, King of middle country Raja & king of the south – Bhoja
Kings were maintaining elaborate court during the Later Vedic Age in which senior officials & other functionaries used to participate. Bureaucracy evolved quite a significance during the Later Vedic Age because 16 officials are mentioned in Later Vedic literature. The prominent among them were Senans, Parohita, Yuvraj, Akshavapa (Kings Companion in the game of dice), Rakshin (police chief) & Palagal (ambassador of the king).
The judicial legal system is the same as the Early Vedic Age. The military system was the same as the Early Vedic Age. Wars & battles were still quite frequent but their character had changed. Wars were no longer fought for cattle lifting territorial expansion was the main cause of war.
The imperialistic outlook emerged for 1st time during the Later Vedic Age. As a result of this territorial expansion, Janas of the Early Vedic Age got transformed into Janapada. The taxation system also evolved during the Later Vedic Age. Bali became a regular tax & it was collected by Bali Sadhak. Bhaga (King’s share) in agriculture produce & Bhoga (ceremonial gifts) other taxes collected by the king from people.