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Rig Vedic Culture: Polity and Administration

Polity and Administration

  • The polity of the Rig Vedic period was that of a tribal society.
  • The chief of the tribe was the main political head and he was called rajan.
  • The kings lived in multipillared palaces.
  • They offered gifts of cattle, chariots and horse ornaments and gold to the priests.
  • Rajan was a hereditary chief.
  • He was perhaps elected by the assembly called samiti.
  • The main duty of the king was to protect the tribe.
  • He protected wealth, fought wars, and offered prayers on behalf of gods.
  • The king had authority over the territory and people.
  • Vedic society was militaristic.
  • Bows, daggers, axes and lances were the main weapons of war.
  • Tributes and booty collected from war were redistributed by the king.
  • There are also references to gift of dasas or slaves.
  • The king Trasadasyu, the chief of the Purus, gave away 50 women as a gift.
  • The chief was known as gopa or gopati which means, chief of cattle.
  • The assemblies called sabha, samiti, vidhata and gana are mentioned in the Rig Veda.
  • Sabha was the assembly of elders or the elites, samiti was an assembly of people, and vidhata was the assembly of tribe.
  • They performed military and religious functions.
  • Women attended the sabhas and vidhatas.
  • The king sought the support of the samiti and sabha for his activities.
  • There are debates about the exact nature of these assemblies and functions.
  • Most of our understanding of the conditions of Vedic society depends upon the interpretations of various terms.
  • Sometimes it is hard to reconstruct the original meaning.
  • The purohita or priest offered advice to the king.
  • Vedic priests advised the kings, inspired them and praised their deeds. In turn they received rewards for their services.
  • Senani was the chief of army.
  • There is no evidence of tax collecting officers.
  • Perhaps people made voluntary contribution called bali to the king.
  • Some scholars say that bali was an imposed tax, and not voluntary.
  • There is no reference to the administration of justice.
  • The officer who controlled the territory was called Vrajapati.
  • He helped the kulapas or heads of fighting groups called gramini.
  • Gramini was the head of the village and fighting unit.

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