Chintaman Vinayak Vaidya.

History of mediæval Hindu India (being a history of India from 600 to 1200 A.D.) .. (Volume 1) online

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people which advised the king on all important matters.
Taxation was levied apparently with the consent of the
people. The later tradition that the people promised Manu
^^th of their land produce in consideration of his accepting
their kingship contains the germ of this principle. Kings
were often elected and in some tribes there were no kings
at all, the people themselves regulating their affairs by a
council of elders. In short, in the earliest period of Indian
history the political condition of the people was developing
in the same direction as in the west. Indeed the union
of the people with the state and the king was so complete
in ancient times that the names of the three were
identical. The state was still tribal and the same word
n the plural indicated the state and the people, while in
the singular it meant the king. In the Vedic and even in
Epic times this was the rule. For example the Kurus, the
Madras, the Panchalas, the Kosalas and so on meant both
the people and the country; and the singular Kuru,Madra,
Panchala and Kosala and so on meant the king. A similar
state of things obtained in the west. The land was there
also called after the people and the king was called by the
same name. France was the land of the Franks, England
of the Angles and Saxony of the Saxons ; and France?
England and Saxony meant also the kings of those lands*
Thus the name of the people gave the name to the country
and the king, both in the east and the west.

Such was the state of things in India down to
Buddha''=; time. In the succeeding centuries this condition
gradually changed. The people gradually receded from
view, probably because they were now composed largely
of Sudras and not of the Aryans as in previous times.
The kings who were often non-Aryan and sometimes even


foreigners, gradually assumed absolute power. The people
thus became accustomed to the rule of kings who were not
of their own race and of the Kshatriya caste. They gradu-
ally ceased to take interest in politics, being less or never
consulted and eventually came to believe that it was
none of their business to rneddle with state affairs. Parti-
cular persons of the three higher castes, Brahmins,
Kshatriyas and ,Vai?yas did take some interest in politics
being soldiers and olificials, but the generality of the people
being Sudra, was debarred from all participation in
political activities. And eventually the people lost all
idea as to their possessing any rights of participation in
the government of the country.

In this way diverged the political development of
the Aryans in the east and in the west. Not that in the
west the factor of a lower class did not arise. In Greece
there were the Helots ; in Rome the Plebeins ; in France
the Gauls ; in England the Britons. In Germany alone,
perhaps, the people were homogeneous. But in all these
cases the lower classes were not racially very distinct
from the higher and not very inferior in physical and
mental capacities- In all these countries, therefore, they
struggled to obtain political rights. For instance the
persistent efforts of the Plebeians in Rome to obtain politi-
cal and even social equality are well known and these
struggles themselves were an education to the people. In
India, on the other hand, especially in the north, the
Dravidian lower classes were very inferior in capacities,
and being different in complexion, features and habits re-
mained distinct in position, social and political, and never
struggled for equality of rights. Political power, there-
fore, gradually centered primarily in the higher classes»
especially in the Kshatriyas and in the kings next. The
king was invested with divine attributes in public esti-
mation by superstition as well as by craft, and the despotic
power of kings without any restriction by popular assem-
'blies was eventually firmly established during the Bud-
dhistic period of Indian history.


Such remained the political condition of India in the
seventh century. The king was absolute and possessed
of despotic power unrestricted by the voice of any
public assemblies. The kingdom and the people belonged
to him, so to speak, as his private property. The kingdom
naturally ceased to be called by the name of the people.
Among the seventy or so kingdoms mentioned by Hiuen
Tsang only a few bear the name of the people. The old
names of Kuru, Panchala, Anga, Vanga &c. are gone and
we have the names of Thanesar, Kanauj, Karnasuvarna,
Tamralipti and so on. They are names taken generally
after the capital town or some physical feature of the
country. The kings are not named after the people but
after a Vansa or family as the Vardhanas, the Maukharis,
the Guptas and so on.

And these families did not attain to kingly position
by the consent or approbation of the people or by here-
ditary rights of several generations even, but by divine
favour obtained, it was believed, by reason of austerities
performed by certain individuals in their past
lives. Under this superstitious view anybody might be-
come king or had the right to become king if only he
succeeded in establishing himself on the throne by hook
or crook. For, the people's consent or acceptance was
never thought of as having anything to do with the aifair.
The story related by Kalhana about how Ranaditya
(Raj. Ill) became king is typical of this popular supersti-
tion. The Harsha Charita also relates how Pusyabhuti
obtainted a boon by assisting in a Pasupata sacrifice, that
a Chakravarti would be born in his family. When the
Brahmin Chacha usurped the throne of Sind, he is said in
the Chachanama to have observed " It is written in the
books of Hind that whenever a person who has trained
his soul to austerities dies, his soul transmigrates to the
child of a king or a great man in return for his good
deeds." The people thus had not only no political rights
but had no hand whatever in the acceptance of kings, as
persons became kings by reason of their austerities per-


formed in former lives. Under such a view of the
organization of a state, there can scarcely be born that
national vitality which is the essential factor in the
strength of nations. Naturally enough patriotism was a
virtue which never arose in India. There are, in Indian
history, no noble examples of patriotic sacrifices such as
are to be found in Greek, or Roman history or in the later
history of the European nations. The feeling of love of the
country or the nation cannot arise when the nation itself
has no existence. 'Ihe place of patriotism was supplied by
the feeling of loyalty. The king being the absolute master
of the state or the people, appointed by divine will, the
people could naturally be actuated only by the feeling of
loyality or love to the divine king. Loyalty has been the
distinguishing characteristic of the people of this country
from the most ancient times. In the Harsha Charita
we find many such examples recorded by Bana and inthese
servants or officers give up their lives simply for the
grief they felt on the death of their sovereign. And if the
royal family continued steady on the throne for genera-
tions it did so not by the patriotism of the people but by
the loyalty of their servants and officers. The people
generally were also loyal to the reigning king. But their
loyalty must always have been lukewarm and they were
generally willing, or felt no concern, when one rule was
substituted by another.

What the condition was in individual kingdoms also
obtained in empires. Harsha's empire was the culmina-
ting point of the Buddhist period of Indian history
which was passing away. He founded and maintained an
empire as strong as the Gupta empire and in the history of
the following mediaeval period no kingdom approached
either the extent or the solidarity of Harsha's rule.
Harsha again was one of the most righteous emperors in
the history of the world, conscientiously endeavouring to
secure the happiness of the people. And yet the poli-
tical conceptions of the people remaining the same, he could
not infuse into his empire any national vitalitj'. On the


contrary the very extent of this mass of kingdoms held
together by force, increased its aptitude to topple down at
the slightest shock, like a pile of stones heaped one upon
another without any cement- Of course, we cannot blame
Harsha for not introducing the cement. For, India had
not then evolved representative institutions nor had the
Indian intellect evolved proper conceptions of a political
state. That department of enquiry remained a blank in
the Indian intellectual activity. Harsha, therefore, could
never have thought of giving to the people any rights of
participation in the government of the country. His
maintenance of order by sheer force but confirmed the
current opinions about the absolute power of kings, and of
God's favour as the origin of all kingly power.

Under such a view, kingdoms and even empires could
not have any vitality. Harsha's empire fell to pieces,
immediately his strong arm was removed from the
administration. The subject kingdoms immediately
became independent while Kanauj itself fell into disorder,
Harsha having left no son. For in such a state of political
views not only the virtue of patriotism cannot be fostered,
bmt the contrary vice namely treason cannot but have
ample scope to flourish. Every ambitious person who can
by force or treachery seize the throne has the assurance
that the people's allegiance will be transferred to him as a
matter of course. The people having no voice in the matter
or rather believing that they had no voice were naturally
held of no account in such revolutions and the successful
usurper was always accepted without demur. Traitors
were, therefore, not uncommon. The punishment for unsuc-
cessful rebellion or treachery was indeed drastic, then as
now, traitors being imprisoned for life and ' dead or alive
nobody took any account of them ' as Hiuen Tsang
observes. But such drastic punishment did not deter
ambitious and bold persons, especially as success was not
^ery difficult when opportunities offered. These revolutions
or rebellions were never of the people but of a few
individuals only. Ministers and commanders-in-chief,


were generally the usurpers in such revolutions and they
were usually successful whenever the reigning king died
without issue, or was an incapable person. Such has
indeed been the trend of Indian history from the days of
the Sungas down to the days of the Peshwas and their
lieutenants, even throughout the Maliomedan times. Had
the people had a proper conception of their duties as
citizens of a state they would not have tolerated such
revolutions nor would the ministers have dared to seize
thrones. Only since the establishment of the British rule
are we getting accustomed to the sight of ministers never
aspiring to place themselves in the position of their

We have discussed, heretofore, at length what in our
opinion was the main cause of the weakness of Indian
states. To put it shortly, the absence of representative
political institutions prevented the people from feeling
self-interest in the maintenance of the state intact and the
belief that kings were appointed from heaven in reward
for their austerities in past lives made the people thorough-
ly unconcerned as to who ruled them. The king enjoyed
absolute power and was the master of the state or kingdom
as if it were an item of private property. Patriotism was
naturally absent and though its place was tolerably
supplied by the feeling of loyalty, disloyal and treason-
able persons were not uncommon, those who were
successful in their usurpation being accepted by the
people without demur. This state of things continued
down to the latest period of Indian history, for we find
in the last successful usurpation by Raghoba, hundreds
and thousands came forward to support his cause. Had
the people a proper conception of their rights and duties
as members of the Maratha state, not a man would have
been found to stand by that misguided person in creating
the unfortunate cleft in the solidarity of the Maratha
state which eventually destroyed it. The greatest benefit
of the Britisti rule in India is the awakening of the people
to a sense ( f their essential rights and duties as citizens


of the British Empire. And it will be wise for the British
government to take note of this awakening and to admit
people to their due share in the government of the country.
British statesmen should remember that even the British
government in India is comparatively weak if it is not
supported by the co-operation of the people rendered not
merely by the sentiment of loyalty but by the feeling of
self-interest engendered by self-government through
representative institutions.

The question why nations fall is one of extreme com-
plexity and difficulty. But there can be no doubt that
representative government creates a feeling of self-
interest in the people which is the great backbone of a
nation's strength. History indeed records the fall of the
brilliant city-states of Greece and of Rome inspite of such
national sentiment. But we must remember that that senti-
mept had been completely undermined in Greece and Rome
by demoralization and luxury and hence it was that these
states succumbed and fell. But they rose again when the
same sentiment became strong. The Indian states on the
other hand never developed the national sentiment at all
and hence were never strong. They could not have deve-
loped into strong states in the succeeding centuries. On the
contrary, coming under the influence of certain causes
which we shall discuss in another place they gradually
became enervated and hence fell easily before the advanc-
ing tide of Mahomedan invasions.

It is, however, necessary to state before concluding this
chapter that the despotic states of India of the seventh cen-
tury were certainly strong as compared with the contem-
porary despotic kingdoms of Asia and it is hence that they
could beat back the Huns who in Europe could not be beat
away. The physical and moral capacities of a people
are also an important factor in the vitality of nations.
Even a vegetarian people inured to arms and abstemious
in habits can hold their own in the struggle of nations. In
the seventh century the people of India were habituated


to the use of arms owing to the constant warfare waged by
the different kingdoms. They were also, as Hiuen Tsang
testifies, simple and abstemious in habits. The Indian
states of the seventh century were strong and warlike in
spite of their despotic constitutions and were neither ener-
vated by luxury nor enfeebled by want of martial exercises.
The prominent index of the enervation of a people is their
employment of mercenary forces and neither Hiuen Tsang
nor Baiia mentions any mercenary troops in the army of



The kingdoms of India of the 7th century A. D., not-
withstanding their despotic or autocratic nature, were
usually well-governed and happy and were probably better
off in this respect than the kingdoms contem.porary with
them in the West The Indo-Aryans, while they acquiesced
in or rather preached the divine nature of the kingly
authority, at the same time sought to impose a check on
the autocracy of kings by holding that laws were also
divine and incapable of being changed. In fact in the
Indian kingdoms every thing from the life and conduct of
the king down to the taxes and punishments was fixed by
the divine ordinance of the Smritis. In the West the king
is believed to be the source of all laws. In India the source
of law is the Sruti and the Smriti and no human agency
can change it. The kings with even the consent of the
people had thus no legislative power. Their duty was
simply to administer justice according to the divinely
ordained law and to keep peace and order by punishing
robbers and other evil-doers. They were to receive taxes
from the produce of land and trade and handicraft for per-
forming this service and the amount was fixed at one sixth
of the former and c»ne-fiftieth of the value of the latter.
The former amount in case of necessity might be increased
to one-fourth. The expenses of government, as Hiuen Tsang
has noted, were very limited and the kings probably never
found it necessary to levy taxes beyond what were sanc-
tioned by the Smritis. The people again with their highly
religious nature were generally free from crime and thus
was caused that usually happy condition of the ancient
kingdoms if J,adia which so favourably impressed impartial
foreigners like Hiuen Tsang who themselves lived under
widely different conditions in the imperial kingdom of


( !hina.* With these preliminary remarks we shall try to

Online LibraryChintaman Vinayak VaidyaHistory of mediæval Hindu India (being a history of India from 600 to 1200 A.D.) .. (Volume 1) → online text (page 13 of 38)