Rig Vedic Polity

During Rig-Vedic era, the basic unit of power lied within a patriarchal family (Kula). The head of the family was a Kulapa. A group of such families called grama, which was controlled by a village headman Gramini. The groups of the villages belonged to a clan (Vis) and many clans made a community called Jana.

Concept of King

The Chief of this tribe Jana was Rajana. Rajana was not a king in real sense, but a protector of the tribe and the cattle wealth. In fact there was no real state territory or structure or even a real King.

Since Rajan was the leader of the people and not ruler of any territory, he is called Janasya gopa or Gopati Janasya also. A Rajana fought wars on behalf of his Jana. These wars were for control of cattle wealth and not possession of territory. Thus, the concept of land territory was absent in early Rig-Vedic period.  This is the reason that while term Jana appears many times in Rig-Veda, Janapada does not appear even for once. The territorial aspect of the state is thought to have appeared in later Vedic age only. Initially, the various regions were known after the names of the tribes which controlled them and later they developed into various Janapadas.

Grama and Sangrama

The Grama was not essentially a village but a group of families who kept on migrating. So, again, the concept of a settled village was absent in early Vedic era. A grama can also be called a militaristic tribal unit. A war or battle between Gramas was called Sangrama. In a grama, the duty to manage pastoral land was of a Vrajapati, who also led the battles. Thus, both Gramini and Vrajapati were either same person or equivalent grama level heads.

The Rig-Vedic Tribes

We know about at least 33 tribes belonging to Early and later Vedic era from Rig-Veda. The most important source of these tribes is the Dasrajana or the battle of ten Kings. According to Rigveda, this battle happened between Sudas of Bharata tribe and the confederacy of ten well-known tribes viz. Puru, Yadu, Turvasa, Anu, Druhyu, Alina, Paktha, Bhalanas, Shiva and Vishanin. This bloody battle was fought on the banks of Purushni (Ravi) and Bharata emerged victorious in it.

Taxation

The Rajan could not have an elaborate administrative machinery because the nature of the Rig-Vedic economy. An economy in which the surplus was very small, the Rajan received only Bali, i.e. offering to a prince or to a god from the conquered people. However these tributes were neither regular and nor stipulated and hence cannot be called a tax.

Military & Spy functionalities

There was no regular standing army. The military functions were invested in the Vedic assemblies. All the three persons viz. the Vrajapati, Kulapa (head of the family) and the Gramani functioned as military leaders. The Rajan held the Spies called Spasa to keep an eye on the conduct of the people.

Ugra and Jivagribha were two officials probably  meant for dealing with  the criminals. The Madhyamasi seems to have acted as a mediator in disputes. There was no code of law in the early Vedic era.

The Earliest Tribal Assembly – Vidhata

Vidatha appears for 122 times in the Rig-Veda and seems to be the most important assembly in the Rig Vedic period. Vidatha was an assembly meant for secular, religious and military purpose. The Rig-Veda only once indicated the connection of woman with the Sabha whereas Vidatha is frequently associated with woman women actively participated in the deliberations with men. Vidatha was the earliest folk assembly of the Aryans, performing all kinds of functions- economic, military religious and social. The Vidatha also provided common ground to clans and tribes for the worship of their gods.

Sabha & its Sabhavati

The term Sabha denotes both the assembly (in early Rig-Vedic) and the assembly hall (later Rig-Vedic). Women called Sabhavati also attended this assembly. It was basically a kin-based assembly and the practice of women attending it was stopped in later-Vedic times. Rig-Veda speaks of the Sabha also as a dicing and gambling assembly, along with a place for dancing, music, witchcraft, and magic.  It discussed pastoral affairs and performed judicial and administrative functions and exercised judicial authority.

Samiti

The references to samiti come from the latest books of the Rig-Veda showing that it assumed importance only towards the end of the Rig-Vedic period. Samiti was a folk assembly in which people of the tribe gathered for transacting tribal business. It discussed philosophical issues and was concerned with religious ceremonies  and prayers. References suggest that the Rajan was elected and re-elected by the Samiti.

The differentiations between Sabha and Samiti

In the beginning, there was no difference between the Sabha and the Samiti. Both were called daughters of Prajapati. Both were mobile units led by chiefs who kept moving along with the forces. The only difference between Sabha and Samiti seems to be the fact that Sabha performed judicial functions, which the Samiti did not. Later, the sabha became a small aristocratic body and samiti ceased to exist.

The Gana or the Republic

A Gana was a assembly or troop. The leader of the gana is generally  called Ganapati .

The Parisad

The early parisad seems to be a tribal military assembly, partly, matriarchal and partly patriarchal. However, the variety of the references lead to the non-Vedic character of the parisad. In later-Vedic period, it tended to become partly an academy   and partly a royal council dominated by the priests, who functioned as teachers and advisers.

Changes in Polity in later Vedic Era

In the later Vedic period, groups of communities became part of a region or a state (janapada). The idea of kingship evolved gradually from clan chieftainship. By the end of the Vedic period, king’s authority was beginning to derive less from the support of such assemblies than from his own success in the struggle for power. Gradually, the hereditary element crept in with the further consolidation of power by the rajas. From this point, the role of courtiers became important. In the later Vedic era, the main office holders included chief priest (purohit), commander-in-chief (senani), treasurer (samagrahitri), collector of taxes (bhagadugha) and keeper of the king’s household (kshata).

Slowly, the legitimisation of the king’s power started getting confirmed by a lengthy and elaborate rituals of sacrifice (yajna) conducted by the priests. This way, the alliance between priest and King became the fundamental feature of the Indian polity. It also later led to social stratification.

Important Officials

For your examinations, you may also note down the important office holders in the Vedic era.

OfficialRig Vedic Title
KingRajan
PriestPurohita
CommanderSenani
Officer in Charge of Pastoral LandsVrajapati
Police OfficersJivagribha
SpySpasa
Head of the VillageGramini
Head of the familyKulapa also called Dampati
Mediator in DisputesMadhyamasi
Tax ColllectorBhagadugha
TreasurerSangrahitri
Chief QueenMahishi
CharioteerSuta
MessengerPalagala
AccountantAkshvapa

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