Friday 19 April 2013
Republics in Ancient India
Our country India is a fascinating country. In this piece I wish to refer to the overwhelming material to show that in many regions there were republics, that is, areas without kings, in ancient India.
This material consists of (1) The Mahabharata,(2) The Buddhist Canon,both in Sanskrit and in Pali, (3) The accounts of Greek and Roman historians regarding Alexander the Great's invasion of India in 326 B.C. (4) Panini's Ashtadhyayi, (5) Kautilya's Arthashastra, etc
Let us first take the Mahabharat. In Chapter 107/108 of Shantiparva there is a detailed narration by Bheeshma Pitaamah to Yudhishthir about the features of republics (called ganas) in India. Bheeshma states that when there is unity among the people of a republic that republic becomes powerful and its people become prosperous. Such people are intelligent, brave,enthusiastic, honest, and trained in the use of arms. They do not cheat each other, and help those in distress. This way they prosper.
Having said this Bheeshma then narrates how republics are destroyed :
" Bhedey ganaah vineyshur hi bhinnaastu sujayaah paraih
Tasmaat sanghaatyogen prayateran ganaah sadaa"
I.e. "Republics are destroyed only by internal conflicts between the people
Therefore republics should always seek to maintain good relations among the people"
and also :
"Teshaam ayonyabhinnaanaam swashaktim anutishthataam
Nigrahah panditaih kaaryah kshipramev pradhaanatah"
which means :
" Therefore the wise people in a republic should crush the chiefs of the wicked persons who try to divide the people"
This is a fascinating narrative in the Mahabharat. It shows that in ancient India there were not only kingdoms (like Hastinapur and Indraprastha) but also regions where there was no king but a republic. As to details about the organization and functioning of these republics the material available is vague and scanty, but that there were republics can not be doubted. As long as people of these republics were united they were strong and prosperous, but they became endangered when there were dissensions among the people.
The Buddhist Canon, both in Sanskrit (in which much of Mahayana Buddhist literature was written) and in Pali (in which much of Hinayana literature was written) has extensive reference to republics in India, e.g. the Lichchavi city of Vaishali. Thus in the Pali Buddhist work 'The Mahanibbana Sutra' it is mentioned that when King Ajaatshatru of Magadha was planning to attack the Vajjian democratic republic he sent a messenger to the Buddha for his opinion. Instead of speaking to this messenger, the Buddha said to one of his disciples :" Have you heard Anand that the Vajjians foregather often and frequent the public meetings of their clan ? So long Anand, as the Vajjians so foregather, and so frequent, the public meetings of their clan, so long they may be expected not to decline but to prosper".
Similarly, in the Avadaana Shatak, a Sanskrit Buddhist text of the second century A.D. it is mentioned that a group of merchants went from North India to the Deccan, and were asked by the King of the Deccan as to who was the king who ruled over North India. The merchants replied :
" Deva, kechit deshaah ganaadheenaah, kechit raajaadheenah, iti"
which means :
" Your Majesty, certain areas are under a republican form of government, while others are under kings"
Alexander the Great's invasion of India in 326 B.C. has provided a lot of material to show that there were many parts of India under republican forms of government, not kings. The Greek historian Diodorus Siculus writes that at the time of Alexander's invasion most cities in North West India had democratic forms of government (though some areas were under kings,e.g. Ambhi and Porus) and this is also mentioned by the historian Arian. Alexander's army faced its fiercest resistance from the armies of these republics,e.g. the Mallas, and gained victory only after suffering huge casualties.
Panini and Kautilya have also referred to these republics (ganas) in many parts of India.
I have referred to all this to show that if today's Indian Repulic and its people wish to be strong and prosperous they must be united, and not divided on the basis of religion, caste, language, region, race, etc as some wicked people are trying to do.