Political life during Vedic Age

During Early Vedic Age

The information found in Rig-Veda Samhita throw light on nature & characteristics, the institution & practices of politico-admin life during 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 early Vedic age. Because the Aryans were living nomadic life. As result of which definite territorial identity was absent. Democratic elements were present in political life during early Vedic age.

Rig-Veda Samhita contains reference of number of popular assemblies such as Sabha Samiti, Vidath, and Parsihad & Gana. Sabha was the assembly of Brahmans & elders. Samiti was assembly of comments. Vidath was responsible for distributing war booty among members of tribe.

Parsihad was like legislative body where common issues were discussed. Gana – highest advisory body. Both men & women were used to participate in meeting of Sabha & Samiti. The Early Vedic polity was liberal & progressive. Rigid political restrictions were absent people enjoyed high degree of freedom in their public & private life.

Early Vedic polity was egalitarian in character because political status of members of tribe was equal. There was hardly any difference in the political status of the common & the political functionaries like Gramins, Vispati, and Raja etc. Family was primary unit of political life. It was known as Grihapati or Kulapa (the head of family) represented the members of family in political act.

A number of families together constituted which were called as Grama where Gramini were its head. He was important functionary. A number 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. Political system was monarchial in nature because the king was the head of entire political system.

Republican polity was known during Vedic age but monarchy was common. In the beginning the king was elected by Samiti but later on office of king became hereditary. The power & prestige of crown were not high because the king was just leader of tribe. His main responsibility was to lead tribe during offensive & defensive battle other fun of the state were 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. Judicial legal system was its infancy. Crimes like cattle lifting/theft are mentioned in Rig-Veda Samhita. The king was highest court of justice. Issues were decided by him by keeping in mind customs & traditions in mind. Wars & battle were quite frequent during Vedic age cattle lifting was 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 banks of river Ravi/Paryushini (Vishwamitra). There was no regular standing army during Vedic age. The adult male members of village used to participate in wars & battles under leadership of Gramini.

Taxation system was also in nascent stage of development. Bali is mentioned as in Rig-Veda Samhita. But in reality it was a voluntary offering by members to tribe of king because there was no one to collect it. Regular system of taxation was yet too emerged.

During Later Vedic Age

Reference found in Later Vedic literature through light on the political life in India during Later Vedic Age. The tribal character of polity got diminished to some extent because of the amalgamation of tribe and population growth. As result of these factors, the size of group living together (tribe) had increased and the attributes identified birth particular tribes were no longer dominant.

The concept of state emerged during Later Vedic Age because Aryans had started living sedentary life. As result of this definite territorial identity developed. Democratic elements were still present in political life during Later Vedic Age. Sabha, Samiti enjoyed a place of great significance. In Atherva-veda, Sabha & Samiti was mentioned as twin daughters of Prajapati.

Women were not allowed to participate in meeting of Sabha & Samiti. This indicates that democratic character of polity had got reduced to some extent when compared with Early Vedic Age. Political life was liberal & progressive (same explanation as Early Vedic Age). Political system was still largely egalitarian through it had evolved significance when compared with Early Vedic Age.

Janapada / Rastra emerged as highest political unit during later Vedic age (other units were same). The power & prestige of crown increased significance during Later Vedic Age. A number of rituals & ceremonies developed in context of office of king. These ceremonies like Rajsuya Sacrifice, Ashavamedha Sacrifice, and Vajpayee Sacrifice. Greatly enhanced the power & prestige of crown.

Rajsuya Sacrifice performed at time of coronation of king. Vajpayee Sacrifice was performed to increase strength of king & Ashavamedha sacrifice was performed for territorial expansion. The concept of divine monarchy emerged during Later Vedic Age. In Athervaveda King Parikshit is mentioned as Aardhadeva King started assuming high sounding titles such as Ekrat (solo monarch) & Sarbhumi (Lord of whole earth). Some titles were direction specific because kings of East assumed title Samrat, King of west Swarat, King of North adopted title – Virat, King of middle country Raja & king of south – Bhoja

Kings were maintaining elaborate court during Later Vedic Age in which senior officials & other functionaries used to participate. Bureaucracy evolved quite significance during Later Vedic Age because 16 officials are mentioned in Later Vedic literature. The prominent among them were Senans, Parohita, Yuvraj, Akshavapa (Kings Companion in game of dice), Rakshin (police chief) & Palagal (ambassador of king).

Judicial legal system same as Early Vedic Age. Military system was same as 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 main cause of war.

Imperialistic outlook emerged for 1st time during Later Vedic Age. As result of this territorial expansion, Janas of Early Vedic Age got transformed into Janapada. Taxation system also evolved during 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 king from people.