Republics in ancient India Notes for UPSC Exam

Republics in ancient India

  • In ancient India, there were two main types of governing systems mentioned in the Vedas:
  • The first type was like a monarchy where rulers were elected, and this is considered an early form of democracy.
  • The second type had no monarchy, and authority was given to a council or Sabha. 
  • These Sabhas were not necessarily composed of people known for their great deeds but often included those who had made a mark through their actions. 
  • The Sabha shared authority with the Samiti, a group of common people. This setup is similar to today’s bicameral legislative system.
  • The Rig Veda talks about the vidhaata, where people gathered to discuss important matters like policies, military issues, and other topics that affected everyone. 
  • These discussions included both men and women.

Historical sources that tell about republics in ancient India


Historical sources that tell about republics in ancient India
  • Chapter 107/108 of the Mahabharata’s Shanti Parva provides a detailed account of Indian republics known as “ganas.” 
  • It explains that when the people of a republic are united, the republic becomes strong, and its citizens prosper. 
  • The only thing that can harm a republic is internal conflicts among its people.
  • This shows that in ancient India, there were not only kingdoms like Hastinapur and Indraprastha but also regions without a single ruler, where the system of a republic was in place.

Canons Of Buddhism:

Canons Of Buddhism
Historical sources that tell about republics in ancient India
  • The Buddhist scriptures mention Indian republics, like Vaishali, in both Sanskrit and Pali texts. They also talk about Vaishali’s rivalry with the monarchy of Magadha. 
  • If the republic of Lichchavis had won, India’s government might not have been monarchical.
  • Some regions in ancient India followed a republican system of governance, as mentioned in texts like the Mahanibbana Sutta and the Avadaana Shatak. Buddhist and Jain scriptures list sixteen powerful states known as “maha janapadas.”

Greek Records:

Greek Records
Historical sources that tell about republics in ancient India
  • Around the time when Alexander the Great conquered Northwest India in 326 B.CMany cities in that region had democratic governments, as described by the Greek historian Diodorus Siculus and Arian. 
  • Although some areas were ruled by monarchs like Ambhi and Porus, most places followed a democratic system of administration.
  • When Alexander’s army faced these democratic republics, they encountered strong resistance, especially from groups like the Mallas. It took a heavy toll on Alexander’s forces before they ultimately emerged victorious.

The Arthashastra Of Kautilya:

  • Various sources, including Panini’s Ashtadhyayi and Kautilya’s Arthashastra, provide insights into the elements of a state. 
  • According to Kautilya, a state is composed of seven elements. The monarch (Swami), the ministers (amatya) responsible for administration, and the people (janapada) make up the first three.
  • For the well-being of the people, the monarch should listen to the advice of the ministers. Ministers are chosen from the general population, and the Arthashastra even mentions the use of entrance tests.
  • According to the Arthashastra, a king’s happiness and advantage are closely tied to the happiness and benefit of his people.

MCQ Test on Ancient Republics of India

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