Polity of Vedic Age

Early Vedic Period (1500-1000 BC)

  • Regarding the form of government, it was of patriarchal nature. The monarchy was normal, but non-monarchical polities were also there.
  • The Kula (the family) was the basis of both social and political organisations.
  • Above the Kula were the Grama, then the Jana, and the Rashtra.
  • A group of Kula (families) formed a Grama (the village) and so on.
  • The Rashtra was ruled by a King or Rajan.
  • The Purohita or domestic priest was the first ranking official.Other important royal officials were Senani (army chief) and Gramani (head of village).
  • The army consisted of foot-soliders and charioteers. Wood, stone, bone and metals were used in weapons. Arrows were tipped with points of metal or poisoned horn.
  • The king had religious duties also. He was the upholder of the established order and moral rules.
  • Rig Veda speaks of assemblies such as the Sabha, Samiti, Vidath, Gana. Sabha was committee of few privileged and important individuals.
  • Two popular assemblies, Sabha and Samiti, acted as checks on the arbitrary rule of kings. Later Vedas record that the Sabha functioned as a court of justice.
    • Samiti: Popular assembly representing a wide cross section of people which occupied a pre-eminent position in discussing social and political affairs of life during Vedic age. Samitis did not have regular sessions, but used to be convened on special occasions to deliberate on important issues. Presiding officer of the samiti was called isnan, who was quite powerful according to Vedic texts. However, samiti lost its pre-eminence towards the end of Vedic age.
    • Sabha: This was an assembly of elders or great men of the tribe as its members. This was a constant body where political affairs were discussed. Sabha exercised considerable checks on the powers of the king and influenced decision making. 
  • Theft, burglary, stealing of cattle and cheating were some of the then prevalent crimes.

Later Vedic Period (1000-600BC)

  • Large kingdoms and stately cities made their appearance in this Period.
  • Kingship became hereditary.
  • New civil functionaries, besides the only civil functionary of the Rigvedic period the purohita came into existence. These were :
    • the Bhagadudha (Collector of taxes),
    • the Suta/Sarathi (the Royal herald or Charioteer),
    • the Khasttri (Chamberlain),
    • the Akshavapa (Courier).
  • The period also saw the beginning of a regular system of provincial government. The Sthapati being entrusted with the duty of administering outlying areas occupied by the aboriginals and Satapati being put over a group of one hundred villages.
    • Adhikrita was the village officials.
    • Ugras mentioned in the Upanishada, was probably a police official.
  • Judiciary also grew
  • Kings did not possess a standing army.
  • The killing of an embryo, homicide, the murder of a Brahmana, in particular, stealing of gold and drinking sura were regarded as serious crimes. Treason was a capital offence.
  • The popular control over the affairs of the kingdom was exercised through Sabha and Samiti, as in the Rigvedic period.
    • Vidatha had completely disappeared by now.
  • The military officials of the Rigvedic times, the Senani (the general) and the Gramani (the head of the village) continued to function.
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