The present work Aspects of Political Ideas and Institutions in Ancient India discusses different views on the origin and nature of the state in ancient India. It also deals with stages and processes of state formation and examines the relevance of caste and kin-based collectivities to the construction of polity. The Vedic assemblies are studied in some detail, and developments in political organization are presented in relation to their changing social and economic background. The book also shows how religion and rituals were brought in the service of the ruling class.
R.S. SHARMA is Emeritus Professor of History in Patna University. He also taught in Toronto and Delhi Universities. He was the first chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research. The Indian History Congress gave him the V.K. Rajwade Award for his lifelong service and contribution to Indian history. His books include Sudras in Ancient India, Ancient India, Perspectives in Social and Economic History of Early India, Material Culture and Social Formations in Ancient India, Indian Feudalism, Urban Decay in India and Advent of the Aryans in India. Early Medieval Indian Society is his latest work. Sharma's publications appear in fifteen languages, Indian and foreign.
The first edition of this book was based on some pieces I had written in 1950-54. My study was particularly influenced by the ideas generated by historical materialism. In collecting, analysing and interpreting the evidence I relied on Ancient Society by Henry Morgan and The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State by Fredrick Engels. My approach enabled me to under-stand better the origin, growth and nature of the state in ancient India and also the history of its organs. Drekmeier, a political scientist, who adopted a sociological framework in his Early Kingship and Community (1962), found many of such findings acceptable. He underlined the primitive and tribal character of ancient rituals and institutions connected with polity. On the other hand although the importance given by me to the treatment of the vidatha was recognised by J.P. Sharma in his Republics in Ancient India (1965), he considered it to be a religious body and ignored the undifferentiated character of functions performed by the kin-ordered institutions of a pre-class Vedic society. However, came to be regarded as an important Vedic assembly along with the vidatha the sabha and samiti by many scholars including A.S. Altekar.
A.S. Altekar's State and Government in Ancient India has been a popular textbook. Published in 1949, it has undergone three editions, and the third edition (1958) was reprinted in 1972 and 1977. Although he generally admired ancient institutions, in the third edition he did take note of some unorthodox researches which were stimulated by anthropological and other ideas. He referred to the role of the family and property in explaining the origin of the state. In his view the "institution of the family with the notion of family and property thus played its own part in the origin of the State." He also states that "the state in the early Vedic period was still tribal'" and that the Vedic tribes had a for a long time no permanent territorial basis for their states." These views are sound though Altekar and scholars of his generation were neither interested in the definitions of kin- ordered collectivities such as clan, tribes, etc., nor in the stages and processes of state formation and polity evolution. Altekar also gave some attention to the discussion of the character of the vidatha) His concern with problems of social injustice is evident." A revivalist and Hindu nationalist, he blames both the state and society for perpetuating an inequitious social system." However he singles out society for castigation and does not examine the linkage between the state and the dominant social classes. He defends the disabilities of the sudras and untouchables on the ground that they "believed that they were born in their particular caste as a natural result of certain sins committed by them in past lives'". Altekar also discovered "a welfare state' which was the case with K.A. Nilakanta Sastri" and even A.L. Basham." He not only tried to demonstrate the state's effort to establish harmonious relationship between castes and social classes," but also put up the ideal of the Vedic kings and of the ancient republics" before modern citizens. He did not investigate whether these 'ideals' were the products of certain social situations. Altekar was deeply religious, but he did not adopt a consistent position on the role of religion in ancient Indian polity. He finds "considerable force in the view that the ancient Indian state was theocratic to a great extent." However, he does not accept Willoughby's view that in all early Asiatic monarchies the rulers claimed a divine right to control the affairs of the state. He asserts that religion and philosophical dogmas and concepts did not deeply influence Hindu political thought, practice and institutions.
As in the earlier phase, Ghoshal's contribution in the post- independence period is marked by impeccable scholarship. In his, A History of Hindu Public Life (1957) and A History of Political Ideas Ancient and Medieval (1959) he elaborates the points made in his earlier publications and documents them so carefully that it is difficult to detect any error. His analysis is more or less on the lines of Western liberal writings on the history of political thought which he taught for long in Calcutta. Though associated for many years with a journal called Greater India, Ghoshal is not swayed by Hindu chauvinism. He substantially adds to our information on political ideas and institutions but does not try to link them to social and economic developments; he considered such an exercise to be 'speculative." Apart from his repetitive and involved style of writing, Ghoshal creates some problem because of the methods he adopts in using the sources. For example, he ascribes the major part of the Kautilyan material to pre-Maurya times on the ground that Kautilya frequently quotes from masters of political thought who preceded him. Unfortunately the writings of these teachers have not been discovered so far, and many of them may have been Kautilya's senior contemporaries. The more one examines the Arthasastra the more- difficult it becomes to use its major part even for Maurya times.
The Mahaharata continues to attract a good many researchers. In recent years at least four dissertations on political ideas and institutions in the Mahabharata have appeared.' They certainly systematise much information bearing on ancient Indian polity.
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