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Later Vedic Culture: Political Organization

Political Organization

  • In the Early Vedic Age tribal polities were dominant. The king was elected by assemblies.
  • In the Later Vedic period the assemblies became less important and the power of the king increased.
  • The influence of assembly called vidhata disappeared, while samiti and sabha continued in the period.
  • The development of large kingdoms reduced the power of the assemblies.
  • The Rajan was the leader who led the army in the battle.
  • The concepts of Samrat/Samrajya developed and they suggest the increase in the power and ambition of the king.
  • The legitimization of kingship became important with the performance of various sacrifices such as vajapeya and rajasuya.
  • The king developed more control over the territory, people and resources.
  • Purohita, which means ‘one who places the king in the forefront’, became important in the establishment of polity and kingship.
  • Monarchy developed.
  • The Rajan became the controller of the social order.
  • Srauta sacrifices (sacrifices to achieve some benefits) were carried out to control the resources.
  • The kings presented cows, horses, chariots, gold, clothes and female slaves to the priest.
  • The Aitreya Brahamana says that king has to provide 1000 pieces of gold and cattle to the Brahmana who anoints him.
  • Thus the priest became important in the formation of polity and royalty.
  • The terms such as rashtra, to denote a territory, and rajya, meaning sovereign power appeared.
  • The king received voluntary or compulsory contribution called bali from the people (vis).
  • Such voluntary contributions became tributes.
  • The Mahabharata offers clues to historical development and is suggestive of the power struggle to control the territories.
  • The Ramayana too is suggestive of the Aryan expansion and the encounters with native people in the forest.
  • The territorial formations and the development of lineages became stronger during the Later Vedic period.
  • Romila Thapar characterises the developments in the first millennium BCE as the movement from lineage to state.
  • The development of state level political organization emerged only after 500 BCE, and the Later Vedic society was therefore in transition.
  • Several lineages became more territorial and settled in the Later Vedic Age.
  • This is evidenced by the term janapada, as we saw earlier.
  • The mid-first millennium BCE had political organisations such as rajya and ganasanghas (oligarchies) and these institutions developed in the later Vedic period.
  • Lineage is a group of people descended from a common ancestor.
  • As we saw earlier, the clans of Bharatas and Purus combined to form the Kurus, and along with the Panchalas they occupied the central part of the Ganga-Yamuna doab.
  • Panchala territory was in north-western Uttar Pradesh.
  • The Kuru-Panchalas became one major ethnic group and Hastinapur became their capital.
  • The war between the Kauravas and Pandavas was the theme of the Mahabharata and both of them belonged to the clan of Kurus.
  • Traditions say that Hastinapur was flooded and the Kuru clan moved to Kausambi near Allahabad.
  • Sacrifices and rituals gained importance in the Later Vedic society.
  • The king became more independent.
  • Rituals dominated kingship, and this increased the power and influence of the Rajanyas and the Brahmanas, while distancing the king from the vis.
  • The Asvamedha-yaga involved letting a horse loose into areas where it moved freely; this was an assertion that the authority of the king was recognized, and a battle ensued when the horse was challenged.
  • The vajapeya ritual involved a chariot race.
  • Such innovative modes of rituals helped to increase the power of the king.
  • The formation of social, distinctions became prominent.

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