Republican Polity of the Ancient Uttarapatha

All the country to the west and north-west of the river Yamuna and extending beyond the Hindu Koh was known in ancient times as the Uttarapatha, i.e. the country of the Uttara Patha, the Northern Highway. The people of this country organized themselves into a number of Republican states, centuries before the birth of Christ. These states were known as the Janapadas. Some of these republican states issued, at a later date, the inscribed coins. We can trace the Janapada form of government in ancient India, when the closing sections of the Vedic Brahmanas, were being written. Satapatha Brakmana is vague. But the Aitareya Brahmana’s last chapter unambiguously speaks of Janapada as a political institution. Such references in the Brahmana literature, however, are rare. Hence our conclusion is that the Janapada type of states started taking shape in the late brahmana period. But the chronology of these works is itself uncertain. Even if we accept the rather modest estimates of their antiquity, the closing sections of the massive Brahmanas have to be placed near 1000 B.C. This may be accepted as the hypothetical date for the birth of the Janapada form of government in this country. Gradually the popular institution of Janapada spread all over the country. The Bhuranakosha section of the Puranas has preserved the names of as many as 175 Janapadas. Extending from the Central Asian Janapadas of the Uttara-Kurus, Uttra-Madras, Kambojas and the Bahikas in the north to the far south, and from
the Sauviras in Sindh and the Andhaka Vrishnis in the west to Anga and Vanga in the east, they covered the entire length and breadth of India. It must, however, be borne in mind that the states included in the Bhuvanakosha lists were not all contemporary. These lists, in fact, are very late and seem to have been compiled at a period, when most of the listed states were no longer a contemporary facts. The word Janapada literally means people’s settlements or colonies.
When the nomadic Aryan tribes settled down in an area and developed elementary political institutions, which were democratic in character, their states came to be known as the janapadas. Thus the janapada was an Aryan colony organized as a democratic state.
The original settlers in an area conferred their tribal name on the state. In the course of history, it sometimes happened that the
original settlers moved out, but the name, conferred by them on the region survived. Panini testifies to this process by stating that the names of some of the Janapadas did not take after the original settlers, but were then current as independent names of territorial units. Gandhara, Urasa, Abhisara, Kekaya, and Madra are examples of Janapadas, which had completely lost their ethnic significance and had become in all respects territorial states in which all sections of society participated in the task of government. Distinct from these were states like Sindhu and Trigarta which had no tribal associations but
began as geographical units. In addition to the two types of States discussed above, the territorial and ethno-territorial, there were in the Utarapatha, janapadas which maintained their tribal or ethnic character to the end. The Yaudheyas, the Malavas, the Sibis, and others preserved the tribal characters of their respective states even when they were
dislodged from their original homes. Wherever they went they carried with them their political institutions. This type of republic
far outnumbered the other two in these parts of the country and was far more important from the viewpoint of history. It was these republics that defined imperial encroachments the longest and hence are better remembered in literature. Another remarkable fact about them is that almost all the inscribed coins that have come down to us, were issued by the tribal states. Of the territorial states only their tribal sub-units, like the Asvakas in Gandhara and Audumbaras in Trigarta, have left us any coins.

Dr. K.P. Jayaswal has taken considerable pains to prove that the Indian republics of this period, in particular those of the Panjab,
were not ethnic in composition. He misunderstood the implications ofcertain Paninian rules, to be discussed in the following paragraphs.
He asserts that they point “to a stage of a developed, the familiar, Hindu society as opposed to a tribal stage. Again he states, The
results of the above discussion are that…..a Hindu republic had Brahmin members, Kshatriya members, and other castes, i.e. the
personnel of Samghas was not composed of one caste or tribe. The views may be patriotic, but they certainly do not conform to the known facts of history. The evidence is clear and conclusive that the Janapadus were tribal in origin and composition.
The identity of a Janapada and the dominant Kshatriya clan settled therein is clearly alluded to by Panini. Since the majority of
the self-governing tribes were of Kshatriya stock, the grammarians of Panini’s school took special notice of the fact of their pre-eminence in their respective states. This fact was so patent that “Katyayana questions the advisability of including the word Kshatriya in Panini’s sutra, IV.1.168. His point is that only the descendants of the ruling
Kshatriya tribe were designated by the descent denoting (apatyartha) suffix after the name of a Janapada. Patanjali confirms this view, when he states that such words as Kshaudrakya and Malavya denoted only a member of the Kshatriya caste and not of the other sections of the population, such as the laborers and slaves, living there. Panini distinguishes in clear terms the Ayudhajivi Sanghas of Brahmana and Rajanya castes from the others flourishing in the Vahika country, i.e the Panjab. There are numerous references in ancient Indian literature and in the writings of the Greek historians to Brahmana, Abhira and Sudra republics, which were flourishing in the Uttarapatha. To be true to history, we have no alternative to accepting the tribal
composition of most of the ancient republics of the Utarapatha.
A. Polity
Early in the fifth century B.C. when Panini lifts the curtain, we find the entire country south of the Oxus covered with Janapadas,
i.e. republican states, whose political institutions were in different
stages of evolution. Primitive tribal states flourished side by side, with
highly advanced democracies. Thus constitutionally we can put the
ancient states of the North-West, into five categories, namely,
1. the Vrata or Vratya, 2. the Puga, 3. the Sarogha or Gana,
4. the Sreni, 5. the Ekarat or monarchical.
B. The Vrata
The most primitive of the tribal groups were the Vratas or Vratyas, whose members lived by voilence and depredation sedha
jivika) Their political institutions were in an elementary stage. The leader was known as the Gramani. The Vrata states flourished
most in what are now the countries of Dardistan and Afghanistan. “The Vratas were backward Aryan clans whom their civilized brothers in the Indo-Gangetic plains, been trying since Vedic times to reform In fact, even the advanced republican communities in the plains had amongst them backward sections, who were not fully amenable to
the Samgha discipline and carried on primitive religious practices. In the Mahabharata, Krishna admits that there were 18000 Vrata families in his tribal community of Andhaka-Vrishnis. We can presume that the ancient tribal communities of the Panjab, too, had their share of Vrata families, who were their kith and kin, but more
Primitive in their ways. The Brar (pronounced Barad) of the Punjabi jats may be traced back to Vrata families. However, these vrata sections of samghas in the plains do not appear to have been organized as states or sub-states.

The next higher stage of political evolution was represented by the Puga. It was better organized than a Vrata. According to the
Kasika, the Puga was a form of Sangha composed of members of
different castes primarily organized with the desire of producing
wealth, i.e. as guilds, and not insisting on any set of professions.
Thus they were a more peaceful set of democratic communities than the
Ayudhajivi Samghas or republics composed of professional warriors.
in the Vrata constitution, the leader of the Puga was designated
as the Gramani. The Puga states were mainly confined to the North-Western tribal belt. They flourished side by side with the less advanced Vrata communities. In the Panjab, only the Sibis of Jhang-Maghiana (ancient Usinara) is referred to as a Puga state. It is interesting to note that the Sibis avoided a clash with
the state. Alexander by claiming descent, presumably spurious, from earlier Greek immigrants. Evidently, they were not organized on military lines.

The Samgha or Gana

The Panjab of the 5th century B C., however, presented a different picture. Highly advanced types of republican states known as the Samghas or Ganas flourished in this region. Panini treats the words as Synonymous. Coins also confirm this fact.
The Yaudheyas, listed by Panini among the Ayudhajivi Sarmghas,, call
themselves a Gana on their coins issued a few centuries later. Katya-yana treats the Samgha as a republican Janapada, as distinct from the Ekarat or monarchical, Whereas in the monarchical constitution
the sovereignty vested in the king, in the Samgha, it lay in the Samgha Parliament. This Parliament was composed of the heads
of the ruling families, which constituted the ruling class, These families were designated as the Raja-kulas or Abhlshikta varmsas, i.e. royal or consecrated families. The eldest living male members represented each Rajakula in the Samgha Parliament and
designated as the Kula-vriddha or Raja. Thus only the families belonging to the dominant tribe enjoyed the right of representation in the Gana-sabha or Parliament. When a member of the Ganasabha or Raja died next senior member in the family, was duly consecrated, to the office of Raja. The statement in the Mahabharata that there were Rajas in every home can be understood in this context. This also explains the common Sanskrit phrase “Raja sabdopajivi Samgha”
which means, a republic whose members bore the title, Raja. The family basis of Gana polity, ensured the continuance of political power generation after generation, in the same families. We know in the case of Lichchhavis that the record of the members and names of these ruling families were carefully preserved. We can assume that the same was the practice among the Panjab tribes. The yuvans, ie. the younger male members of these families were designated Rajanyas.
This word has survived in a corrupt form as Rana in Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan. We know from the Kasika-Vriiti that in the
Andhaka- Vrishni state, there were less privileged Kshatriyas, who were not allowed to use the title Rajanya, since they did not belong to the consecrated families.
The Gana-sabha or Parliament elected a cabinet or Executive Committee of five, ten, or even twenty members, who were known as the Gana-mukhyas or Mantra-dharas. A large assembly cannot keep the policy decisions secret. The Exceutive Committee of Mantra-dharas, therefore was invested with the power of taking decisions on mantra, i,e. policy matters. Some of the Yaudheya coins were issued in the name of the Gaņa as well as the Mantra dharas of the tribe. Samgha polity was based on a party system. Diverse terms, e.g. varga, griha and paksha, were used to denote a political party. Each
party was named after its leader. The rivalry of parties for power was well-known and was called vyutkramana. The Kasika indicates that the parties sat separately in the House. Decisions were taken by majority vote and were known as chchhandasya. The vote was termed chchhandasa. For collection and counting of votes colored salakas, i.e. ballot tickets made of wood were used. An officer, of the designation of Salaka-grahaka, was charged with the duty of collecting and counting ballots. Each Parliament had a fixed quorum, which was strictly observed. The word varga, was used in the sense of quorum also. The last man whose appearance completed the quorum was called Gana-(Samgha-) Purana or Gana-(Samgha-) Titha. A whip, known as Gana-puraka, is also mentioned. His duty was to ensure the completion of the quorum. A remarkable feature of Samgha polity in the Panjab was that each male member was duty-bound to Wield arms. In times of war, every adult male was a soldier. It was incumbent upon every young man.