Thou shalt take 'that time of the month' and embrace it

- Published in The Courier on January 28, 2004

   Historically in many cultures, every week when men got a day off for the Sabbath, to rest and to pray, women did not get this luxury and still had to cook, clean and take care of the kids.
Women never got a break, even when God said they should. On top of that, when 'that time of the month' came around and a woman had to deal with irritability, cramps and mood swings, she still did not get time off. 

   Many religions throughout the world have given women a day off during her period, to rest and focus on herself. Traditionally Hinduism and Islam say that when a woman's period hits, she should seclude herself in a room for the first few days of her cycle, and should not do anything but relax.

   Since women work at the same jobs as men, in modern, secular, western societies, this practice does not hold ground. But Western scholars should realize that in most traditional societies, women do not have the luxury of taking a day off from work, and this religious practice is their only way to get time off.

    Professor Radha Kumar, who teaches ancient Indian culture at the University of Mumbai, explains the Hindu customs of menstruation in a different way. She says when a woman has to deal with painful cramps, loss of orientation and mood swings, Hinduism asks her to give up her traditional chores to her mother-in-law, relatives or servants and ask her to rest for the day. She does not have to worry about cleaning the house, cooking three meals, or taking care of the kids, all she is asked is to lie in bed and focus on herself. Since she cannot even cook, food is served to her. All her basic needs are taken care of by her relatives or servants, so that she can have some peace.

   Although this may seem barbaric to many because it forces a woman into seclusion because of her bodily function, it also forces this woman's husband not to give her any work or chores to do for the day because by religion he cannot ask her to do anything. As such, this practice can be seen as a cultural method of giving a wife a day off from her job as a housewife.

   Western scholars have understood this cultural difference as these different religions considering women impure and dirty during their menstrual cycle and therefore cannot be near religious items. One could see this in a different light as the only way women can get a time off their jobs as housewives, to include a women's bodily functions in religious practice. 

   Women belong in the same jobs as men. But even in modern, western society we must consider that physically, men and women are different. In order for a woman to choose the same profession as a man in sports, it is likely that she has to condition her body to give up her period. Therefore, in order to be equal to a man, a woman has to lose part of her very uniqueness as a woman. As well, women with severe cramps often have to take days off work when they cannot bear the pain, something a man does not have to do on a regular basis. 

   Other cultures have included a women's menstrual cycle in social practices because they see the difference between man and woman. In the process of giving women equal rights to men, we have ignored the very uniqueness of women. Instead of ignoring women's physical difference we should embrace it.

The adventures of the disciple of Indiana Jones 


By Jonathan Coutts-Zawadzki


Plato had Socrates, Alexander the Great had Aristotle, well my guru of life is Indiana Jones. I tried to emulate his life as much as I can. The thing is that Harrison Ford and Sean Patrick Flanery are great actors but they only represent the characters represented in the original plots, just as the recently deceased Charleston Hesston, former head of the National Rifle Association, represented Ben Hur. I do not try to emulate the actors; just see the story of Indiana Jones as guidance.

Ever since I was a child I wanted to be an archeologist just like Indiana Jones. I studied archeology and biblical studies at U of T. In my history of India class, we learnt much about the great Empires of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa. We spent a whole month learning about the different types of pottery found in Bharat (the non-anglicized name of India).

This class inspired me to listen to my father and study in India for a year. I attended St. Xavier’s College, the university my father and my grandfather attended in Bombay. One of my courses was Archeology in India, taught by one of the most charming women I know. Mme Fleur, a mix between Indira Gandhi and Angelina Jolie. Let’s just say I stayed awake during her classes, well more than in other classes at least.

She taught us much about the red bricks found in Pakistan, where the remains of Harappa are located and also focused on the pottery found in Northern India where Mohenjo-Daro once lay. She also selected me to go on an archeology dig in Northern India with 8 other classmates.

On the trip my friend Rohit explained that this archeological site used to be a town that was attached to one of the 5 rivers of India. He is a Tamil Brahmin from Bombay, and said that he prays to these 5 rivers every day. Everything in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh originate from a single source of water. This main river broke up into 5 rivers which flow throughout these three modern nations.

                In Ancient times, two great civilizations, Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa, grew near two of these rivers. These two rivers gave the resources to build two great civilizations, which grew side by side but with different cultures and languages. According to some academics, these two cities battled each other sometimes and then decided to unite and pool their resources. Hopefully one day India and Pakistan will do the same.

Well, we arrived at the site. By chance, my guide was another Jew. She enjoyed hearing about my mishaps when I played water polo in Israel at the maccabiah games. She taught me how to sweep for artifacts, which is so freaken boring. I thought archeology was like what you see in Indiana Jones movies or Jurassic Park. Guess I was wrong. We could not dig; we could only sweep the dirt off the dirt.

The camp was great and we had nice vegetable tallies every night.  But the veg dishes are a good laxative, especially needed when you are outside in the blazing heat all day. My biggest fear in the camp was crouching over the Indian toilets. It was not so much a fear but I really hated falling in.

Every day we would tour the site. There was one girl named Amita, she was the daughter of the head of archeology in India at the time. She had been dusting for months around a fully intact pot that dated back to a time when Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa were separate entities, in the 1st millennium B.C. She found seals in the pot that showed direct trade between this small town and both Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa. It was the biggest find at the site in the 50 years it had been excavated besides the burnt-red bricks surrounding the city.

On the second last day of our trip, we joined a few others in the camp to see Amita’s discovery. Well Rohit wanted to take a picture, so he stood next to the pot and gave the typical Indian full teeth smile.  I was sick of the typical Indian fool teeth smile. So I gave Rohit my camera and told him to take my picture. I went up to the pot. Rohit steadied the camera; I squatted over it like I was over an Indian toilet. Rohit took the picture and everyone around laughed. I stood up; my foot slipped and hit the pot. It broke. Everyone was shocked; a pot that had been intact for two millennia now was broken. The hours of work Amita put into brushing away the dirt, was in ruins. Her first big discovery that her father was to brag to his colleagues about vanished.

I apologized profusely but to no avail.  The next day, Dr. Posslel, the head of the site, came back from a trip. I went up to him and confessed my actions. He said “well I cannot fire you because you leave tomorrow. But I have one question for you. Do you want to be an archeologist?” I said yeah of course, ever since I was a little child I wanted to be just like Indiana Jones. I know now that Indiana Jones doesn’t really represent the field of archeology but I still very much wanted to be part of another dig.” Before I could finish, Dr. Posslel crushed my dreams by saying “Don’t.” That one word crushed my dreams of being like my hero.

A few years later, I was applying for courses at Ben Gurion University, in Israel. While I was speaking to the coordinator of the program, a man came in asking the coordinator something in Hebrew. She introduced the man as the head of the department of archeology at BGU. He asked me if I was going to take his course. I told him regretfully no because of a bad experience I had on an archeology dig in India. He asked me about it and I told him my story. At the end, he laughed and said don’t worry he had broken a few ancient walls on an excavation in Jerusalem. Breaking ancient artifacts is part in parcel of the business. We just have to try our best to preserve the past and tell its story.

This conversation put me at ease but I was too afraid to lose another piece of history because of my stupidity, so I didn’t take the class and well, I live my dreams of adventures by watching the Indiana Jones movies and TV shows.

Read up about Gilund at:


Reverse Racism

Go to the movies to become an Indian nationalist

Just after Republic Day on January 26, the Indian national government passed a law that all movie theaters in India should play the national anthem before every movie.

I had heard this in one of my classes today, and was shocked but somewhat proud that India could be so nationalistic. I have never lived in a nation that could be so proud in their nation that they stand at attention for their country before every movie.

At home, in Canada, I have never seen so much pride in one’s nation as in India. I remember that when in the 11th standard in high school, there was a petition started to allow choice if you want to stand for the national anthem or sit. This enraged me but many of my friends thought it was a great idea.

I remember two incidents when lack of Canadian nationalism affected me in high school. The first also had to do with the national anthem. In politics class we always curious why there where some of our classmates were always late for class but never got punished During this previous petition we were told by our teachers the reason to our query and that was that these students could not be present for the national anthem because they were of the Jehovah Witness sect of Christianity and that by religion, the people of this faction could not stand for the anthem because it was the worship of something other than God, the nation, and therefore one should not worship something that is not the One.

The other incident was when there was a dispute between Iraq and the US because of biological weapons, and countries like Russia and China were not siding with the US. In politics class we were worried that there might be a third World War because alliances were starting to form. My teacher then asked "Who in this class would not dodge the war and take up arms to protect Canada in case of attack." What really saddened me and opened my eyes to the lack of pride of Canada was that I was the only one in class of forty to raise my hand. It really disgusted me. All children of Anglo-Saxon Canadian families who have been in Canada for decades, if not centuries, were not going to fight for their country. So the children of immigrants, refuges and illegal aliens who all came to Canada to find a better life, to make more money and to have free healthcare, education for their children and protection of their cultural and social identity, followed suit with the Anglo-Saxon Canadians in my class and would rather run away to another country to escape a draft and possible turmoil, for a country that did so much for them. Later, many of them swore to me that the lives of the people of India are much more important than my measly life and it would be an honor to serve such a nation.

I love Canada! I believe in its constitutional values, the belief of multiculturalism and its peaceful nature. And even now when I disagree with the government’s policy of joining the US in making discriminator laws which target brown people but more so Muslims, I would still raise to arms and defend my nation.

I asked a few of my college friends of St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, what they thought of the act of playing the national anthem at movie theaters. I was completely surprised that everyone of my friends, who are made up of Sikhs, Hindus, Christians, and Muslims and who come from all parts of India, all agreed that it was a brilliant idea and they were so proud to stand up and sing their anthem for their nation. After asking a few of them if they thought it was forcing nationalism on the people and was if it were like worshipping another God, Bharat, only one out of fifteen partially agreed that it was silly attempt at propagating national pride. The rest just told me that if you cannot show respect to you great nation, you do not belong in that country. My teacher explained that because of proxy nationalism (pride in ones area above nation), the communal and political tension, and many politicians misinterpretation of hindutva to be ‘Hindu nationalism,’ instead of Indian nationalism, an attempt to settle all of this and put people’s minds to India rather than their groups in conflict would be the building blocks for national peace.

India is a great nation to be proud of. It has everything from beautiful scenery like the Himalayas, the tea valleys of Kerela and the desserts of Raritan, diverse cultures and cuisine, and an ancient history that goes back millennia. Although Canada has many great things too, its nationalism cannot be compared to the great national pride I find in India. Even though technically Canada is an older state, in the modern sense of the word, than India, Canadians can only strive to be as proud as many Indians are to Bharat.

Indian Essays

The Purusharthas: A way to live the good life

Throughout the centuries man has wished to come up with a method for living the good life. For some people living the good life means following the holy texts of their religions such as the bible or koran. While others like Socrates of ancient Greece the good life was to always question oneself and others. The Vedic religion that came out of India before the time of the Christian calendar, came up with their own solution, which is found in the Pursharthas.

The main theory of the purusharthas is concerned with the understanding, justification, management and conduct affairs of the individual's life in relation to the group, in and through the asramas. The purusharthas are considered the 'psycho-moral' base of the asrama theory. The reason for this is that the individual receives a psychological training through the asramas in terms of lessons in the use and management of the pursharthas, while in actual practice; he has to deal with the society in accordance with these lessons. The purusharthas emphasize four categories: dharma, artha, kama, moksa.

Dharma is derived from the Sanskrit root 'dhri' meaning 'to hold together, to preserve.' The social implications and meaning of dharma as a principle for maintaining stability of society is brought about by Sri Krishna in three versus of the Mahabharata: In advising Arjuna as to what is dharma, he explains dharma as "dharma is created for the well-being of all creation," and further that " all that is free from doing harm to any created being is certainly dharma, for, indeed, dharma is created to keep all creation free from any harm." He also said that "Dharma is called because it protects (dharanat) all) dharma observes all that is created. Dharma, then, is surely that principle which is capable of preserving the universe"

It is this ideology of dharma that created the foundation for ethics and reality. Dharma is the idea of morality or what is called amrittaba, has always been the ardent desire of every individual in society. Our literary sources also teach us that our actions that guide our placement in society. The kind of birth we have depends on the kind of karma that a person has. This came up in order for humans to regulate their conduct and tried to place what an individual should be doing. Dharma is the transcript of moksha, where dharma is what a man ought to do while moksha is the reason he ought to do it.

Manu said, "those who are devoid of dharma are beast. By truth of God remain the same, dharma is dynamic, ever growing and ever renewing." The theory of dharma is hence all embracing, with adaptation for the very poorest, the lowest, meanest, and the most ignorant human beings. The theory if dharma is not purely theoretical status but it also has a practical standpoint. A person who practices dharma is called dharma-atma, as he becomes a shinning light to all men. The dharma of an individual depends on various factors and they are the characteristic community in which he lives. It depends on his profession and the situation he has been placed and has reached and based on all of this.

Hence it is excitingly noteworthy to analyze this theory of dharma because it is this theory of dharma that sets this ethical foundation for life. It is dharma that regulates the physical and moral behavior of individuals to such an extent that they have to respect the diverse norms of this society and the people at large. There are classic examples of how dharma is to be upheld. Some such examples are found in epics that give an analysis of the doctrine between human beings in different forms of relationships such as brothers, sons, parents, children, spouse, teacher and student, king and subject. Dharma hence, is the feeling of righteousness as regulated all aspects of society. It controlled the life of man in the economic, social and political sphere.

Artha, on the other hand, refers to all means necessary for acquiring worldly prosperity, such as wealth and power. If one is only concerned with this section of the purusharthas than he is only worried about his daily life and what he needs to live his worldly life well. For some this is the way to live one’s life but this life is one that is for people who’s basic needs are not yet met and do not have neither the time nor the assets to be concerned with the metaphysical world.

Kama refers to all the desires in man for enjoyment and satisfaction of life of the sense. Although this is said many scholars have interpreted this as referring to satisfying the sex drive and believe that is how kamasutra or tantric emerged but this is incorrect for kama is the satisfaction of not only the sex drive but all the senses. The term refers to the native impulses, instincts and desires of man, his natural tendencies, and finds it in his needs and desires, his primary motives. In other words the desires that drive man.

While artha and kama refer to man's earthly belongings, dharma is of a higher level. Although kama is thought to be one of the six enemies of human beings, it is still needed since man is no different from a rock without his desires and sense and it is needed in order to procreate. This is also true for artha, since everyone has to have a certain material desire when living o earth. Therefore there has to be a certain balance between kama and artha, which has been laid out by wise sages. This is done in terms of dharma, which defines for man the proper quantum, pole and season, for the right functioning of artha and kama. By attending to this dharma, a person is able to live a proper life even though it may be lived in terms of artha and kama. Vidura says, " It is by the help of dharma that the sages have been able to cross the world. The stability of the universe depends on dharma; artha and kama, too, depend for their proper management upon dharma. Dharma is the foremost o all; artha is said to be middling: and kama, it is said by the wise, is the lowest of the three. Therefore, we should conduct our lives with self-control; paying attention to dharma."

Manu says that humanity lies in a harmonious management or co-ordination of the three (trivarga). He says: " Some declare that the good of man consists in dharma, and artha; others opine that it is to be found in kama and artha; some say that dharma alone will give it; while the rest assert that artha alone is the chief god if man hare below (on earth). But the correct position is that the good consists in the harmonious co-ordination of the three."

Hence like many other cultures within the ancient times and even today, the Vedic peoples created the Purusharthas to concerns themselves with the understanding, justification, management and the conduct of affairs of the individuals life in relation to the group. They make up the psycho-moral base for society.


Basham, A.L.. The Wonder that was India. New York: Grove Press, Inc., 1954.

Prabhu, Pandharinath.Hindu Social Organization. Mumbai: populat Prakashan Pvt. Ltd, 1998.

Radhakrishnan, S. The Hindu View of Life. London: Allen and Unwin, 1927.

Wolpert, Stanley. A new history of India. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

The religion of the Ancient Indus Valley Civilization

By Jonathan Coutts-Zawadzki

Although not much is known about the great culture of Mohen-jodaro and Harappa, also known as the Indus Valley culture, archeologists, based on their findings, have theorized about the great culture that existed so many centuries ago. Specific discoveries that they have made in the area of religion include the worship of: mother goddesses, trees, animals, the worship of a male god, phallic worship, and water worship. Since the Indus Valley culture is proto-historic, and thus scholars cannot understand the written script yet, each form of worship cannot be completely proven but just theorized by archeologist, sociologists and other scholars.

The artifacts found that archeologists use to prove their theories are mainly found in the ancient Indus Valley cities of: Mohen-jodaro, Harappa, Kalibangan, Lothal, and Surkotada. The remenance found of these cities have lead archeologist to see that there is similar town planning and therefore the people belong to the same Indus culture. One finds the streets and lanes are laid out according to a set plan: the main street running North to South and the cross streets and lanes running at right angles to them. At Harappa, Mohen-jodaro, Kalibangan, and Surkotada there was a citadel found, smaller in area than "the lower town." Other examples of similarities among the towns are that the houses were made of kiln-burnt bricks, as well as each city has an elaborate drainage system.

The advantage of learning about this magnificent culture is to better understand Indian history and also the history of the world. Throughout history there is a sense of continuity amongst all peoples. This is especially true in the history of the Indian culture, where the idea of one culture adding upon another is extremely important. Although groups of people have emerged in India, have created empires and have been taken over by other groups, a part of the original group will always be left behind for other groups to assimilate into their own culture. Although the culture of the Indus civilization may be completely different from that of todays, the remanence of the ancient culture can still be seen in the year 2002.

According to Mackay, a seal found of a three faced man, seated on a low throne in the yogic position, with legs bent beneath him, heel to heel, and toes turned downwards, represents a prototype of the historic god Siva. To either side of the God there are four animals, an elephant and a tiger on his right and a rhinoceros and a buffalo on his left. Beneath the throne there are two deer. The cult of this particular god Siva had been amalgamated with other cults and the fact that it was signified with giving him three faces instead of one (trimukha) is extremely important to the idea of continuity. Centuries later a similar trinity statue can be seen off the coast of Mumbai in the Elephanta caves, showing the faces of Siva, Brahma, and Vishnu.

Along with the potential pro-type Siva seal, many terracotta figurines have been discovered in the Indus Valley while archeologists were doing excavations of the cities of this great civilization. The famous archaeologist John Marshall interpreted these figurines as a form of mother goddess worship of the ancient Indus civilization. Some of the figurines were smoked stained so some archeologists have concluded that these figurines were used for a fire sacrifice to the mother goddess.

Most of the Indus mother goddess figurines have an elaborate headdress, necklaces and have a skirt held up with a girdle. On some Indus seals a woman is found with a plant issuing out of her womb, therefore some archeologists theorize the existence of a fertility cult. Some archeologist have also concluded that the mother goddess worship was very popular among common folks but because the figurines were not commonly found in the upper class houses it does not seem likely that the rich worshipped the mother goddess.

The mother goddess cult was widespread throughout the ancient world from the Indus to the Nile. The worship was especially noticeable in the Zhob Valley and throughout South Baluschistan. Throughout many religious texts there are many instances of mother earth worship or other female deities who are worshipped for fertility, agriculture, calm seas etc. So this concept of continuity should not only be attributed to India because this mother goddess cult has affected many cultures throughout the world.

Another worship archeologists believe the Indus valley civilization had, which was also shared amongst many ancient cultures, was tree worship. An example of tree worship in other religions can be seen in the praising of the tree of knowledge in the Hebrew bible, the tree of life of Babylonia or the sacred bodhi tree honored by the Buddhists as the type of tree which Buddha found his enlightenment under.

The main evidence archeologists have of this tree worship could be seen in several seals that portray a deity in a tree. The tree itself is represented by two branches springing from a circle on the ground, between them appears the deity; a standing nude figure, with long hair, horns and armlets with animals and beings worshipping around this tree.

For the Indus valley civilization tree worship was an essential characteristic of the so-called pre-Aryan culture, than that of the Aryan population. This tree spirit must have loomed far more important in prehistoric among the peoples who originated this worship than it did in later Vedic India, where tree worship was inevitably subordinate to alien or semi-alien cults.

This tree worship is still continued today. Hindus hold the papal tree (ficus religiosa) as an object of universal worship throughout India, in which no Hindu would willingly cut or injure, and which under they would never tell a lie. Throughout history the tree has been seen as a source of knowledge, especially for Isaac Newton; a place of shade, which is important in hot countries like India; and a source of food, thus explains the importance of worship to it.

Evidence of animal worship is far more abundant than tree worship in the Indus civilization. Much of the seals, terracotta, stone, and faience figurines, as well as larger stone idols have been found in excavations resembling many different animals. Such animals include: bison, rhinoceros, buffalo, elephants, bulls, alligators, unicorns, deer, goats, tigers, and lions.

Some of these animals have been portrayed as bijugats or hexajugates, animals with one nucleus body but different heads. As well there is a seal of a goat like being with a human face, which could represent the strength or endurance of a man.

This discovery of animal worship is far from astonishing since zoolatry was common among many ancient religions. But this worship of animals was carried on throughout the ages to present day Hinduism where we see the worship of such gods as Humuynan or Ganesh both gods with human bodies but animal heads thus leads us to understand the importance of animal life in Indian society.

Stone worship was also prominent in Indus civilization. This worship of stones is both universal as well as ancient. People worshipped stones for both their peculiar appearance as well features that distinguish them from other stones. They served as watchmen of the crossroads; they guarded the villages and fields from evil spirits. They ensured good crops and averted or cured diseases providing a resting place for the spirit of the departed.

Many cone-shaped objects have been found which have been interpreted as the phallus. As well it has been suggested that certain large ring-shaped stones are representations of the female generative organ and were symbols of the mother goddess.

Like the other objects found in the great Indus culture, stone worship has also been carried into the 21st century. Today in Hindu society the worship of ‘linga,’ a representation of Siva’s penis, is dominant throughout the sub-continent. Just another example of the continuity of culture passed from one generation to the next.

Like most religions of ancient times, some archeologists have theorized that the Indus culture also worshipped water. Since water is essential to all living forms of life, the worship of water is commonly practiced. Elaborate baths have been discovered in the ancient city of Mohen-jodaro. But this water worship cannot fully be proven but just theorized upon. Since water is held so dear to the Hindus from before Vedic times, especially the Ganges, these archeologists have postulated that the Vedic Hindus adopted such worship from the Indus civilization, therefore demonstrating the reverence for continuity.

Although the Indus civilization has long been destroyed, aspects of the culture have remained in the Indian identity today as well as many other cultures of the world. It is important to study such a great culture as the Indus civilization. As a great man once said, "to understand one’s past is to understand one’s self."


Marshall, John, ed. Mohenjo-daro and the Indus Civilization. London: Arthur Probsthain, 1931.

Wolpert, Stanley. A new history of India. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Basham, A.L.. The Wonder that was India. New York: Grove Press, Inc., 1954.

The Vedic Religion

By Jonathan Coutts-Zawadzki

The great Hindu society traces the original source of their culture to the ancient Vedic texts that they hold as both divine truths as well as a guide to live their lives properly. Their religion, philosophy, ritualistic practices, civic conduct and even their social relations are guided by these sacred texts. The religion itself is like no other, for it not only is a polytheistic faith but also holds monotheistic beliefs. This key aspect of the religion as well as the unique cult sacrifices and the cosmology of the Vedic religion makes it so unique.

The very word ‘Veda’ means knowledge and is held as both philosophical knowledge as well as spiritual. The Vedic texts are made up of four great works: the Rg-Veda, Yajur-Veda, Sama-Veda and Artharva-Veda. And within these texts they are each broken up into the Samhitas or mantras, the Brahmanas and the Aranyakas. Where the Samhitas and the Brahmanas are designated as karma-kanda (pertaining to rituals), and the Aranyakas as upasanakana (relating to meditation). As well another section, which was added in, is the Upanishads, which are designated to jnanakanda (the portion dealing with supreme knowledge and philosophical intrigue).

Vedic rituals are a form of worship, which has been reduced to routine or habit. This is part of the grithasma because it was imperative that the grishta performs the rituals and the sacrifices. In the Vedic religion one can perceive various shades. One aspect that comes out explicitly is the importance given to materialistic tendencies. This is reflected in the form of nature worship as every aspect of nature was given a form and was worshipped. The natural forces also played a predominant role in the life of the people, as agriculture was very important in their lives, since most people were food producers. It was to appease these natural forces that the rituals and sacrifices were created. The cults of fire and soma dominated the religion of the Rg Veda. A great number of hymns were intended to be nothing more that sacrificial chants and a large number of them were connected with magic and rose independent of sacrificial rituals. Verses and hymns in the Rg Veda were intended for sacrificial purposes.

Certain groups of verses which were recited over an offering to the king at different times of the Soma sacrifice were called anvavia. There are also verses in the offerings of kurd and amptjer set of anakia verses of goat for Agni and Soma. There are various verses that explain the marriage of Sutiavit and Soma. The rituals of the dead are also important. And there are hymns also created for the prevention of miscarriages, against jondus and heart disease. Rituals are also intended for cattle going out to graze and coming back in the evening. Hence we notice it was a phase when materialism and desire for material prosperity was followed.

In the Arthava Veda there are various songs and spells that reflect various rituals and magic. The priest who followed the various Athmanic arthras was given the name Artharvan, which means ‘Holy Magic.’ In the entire Arthava veda there is evidence for cursing enemies and exorcizing demons. So these formulas were all written for removing a variety of sins and guilt. There are also reconciliation spells that were used for the appeasement of a writful master for influence in the assembly or in a court of law. There was also incantation for creating live and intrigues for creating sterility in men and women. Hence we notice the Vedas incorporate a wide variety of verses that can be used to study as a source for the social/religious life of the people back then. But these verses also lead us to make a study of the various sacrifices and ceremonies that were performed. This gets classified into a definite mode of study that was the Vedic rituals. These rituals were done in different levels at the personal and political levels too.

As a part of Vedic rituals that has been spoken about in the sutras. In the three sutras there are detailed explanations given about the preparation of dishes, the offerings and kind of offerings to the Gods, construction of yugashararas, and the way the fire has to be ignited. It is interesting to note that there were no public temples constructed. There were lots of detailed rules given for priests who were also classified depending on the functions they performed.

The items that these priests sacrificed were such things as honey, gee, husk, specific flower and leaves. The rituals that would keep reoccurring were called the Mitla sacrifices and occasional sacrifices were called Naimiltike. There were setting up of the special fires and there was also a detailed discussion given for the asnigotra for the five sacrifices. In the Grihi rituals: marriage, death and other rituals which were part of the samskaras were also important. As a rule at the end of a domestic right a small ceremony was performed called yhakbastan. A handful of kasa grass is dipped in honey or gee and thrown into the fire with a prayer to Udra.

The basic tenant of the Vedic religion is based on nature worship. The various aspects of nature were given a form (anthropomorphism), since nature played a very prominent role in the people of that time’s lives. This was done in a poetic manner. Vedic polytheism according to the famous German scholar Max Muller has been seen as the first phase of a transition from a polytheistic faith, believing in many Gods, to a henotheistic faith where one God is praised as the main God, to a monotheistic faith where one god is supreme and then to monism where there is only one cosmic entity and order. Although this view is very Christian centric, since who is to say whether believing in many gods is archaic but many scholars hold this view as fact, as it is quoted often throughout many books.

As the society progressed the desire for all did not share material prosperity and the Bhagavigita was created to give a way out of this materialistic desired to a more metaphysical one. The Upanishads, which has been translated as sitting close to a teacher and inviting knowledge, has brought a more philosophical stance to the Vedic religion. There are 109 Upanishads but only ten we in the modern days know about since commentaries have been written about them. The ten main Upanishads are Isa, Kena, Psasna, Nandukya, Mundaka, Taittriya, Avtrareya,, Chandogram Bsahaeanya, and Kaushitaki.

The belief that in each of us there is a part of Brahman (cosmic bliss) is called Atman. Upanishadic philosophy tries to teach us how to shed our outer shell and let out Atman become part of Brahman. The Upanishads is one of the highest expressions of mental genius and it has got a large flood of spiritual revelation. These works are philosophical explanations of different methods to find out our common queries.

The term RTA occurs often throughout the Vedas and is about the belief that there is a cosmic order in the universe. This is shared in many other religions as well since all people wish to know that things happen for a reason and the universe is not in a state of chaos. The way the Vedic religion explains this order is that everything is regulated by karma, where all man’s actions are controlled by this karma.

The religion itself did not support the worship of icons but out of these texts emerged a religion that has icons like most religion like Christianity. Since people need some way of seeing a divine being instead of just talking to a wall, they have an intermediary object like a rosary or a statute in which they can bring such an omnipotent being to form.

A criticism made of the religion was that it was a religion for the upper classes. The reason for this is that as the sacrifices became a more important aspect of the Vedic religion, it was only the upper classes that could afford the richness of conducting the sacrifices. Another criticism made was that the religion was male dominated since most of the main gods were not female.

Cosmology is the belief that there is a life after death. Like all religions the writers of the Vedas tried to answer this question. Since the Vedic composers were materialistic and they wanted the good things in life as well as in death, many sacrifices and rituals were created so that nature could be appeased for their own betterment.

There were also many passages in the Vedas where it spoke about life after death. Classic examples of this are seen in the punchamayanas were they were tried to conduct the samskaras in such a manner where the life of the pitravs would be safe and would be taken care of.

In the Vedas there are also references to the concept of hell, which was ruled by Yama, the God of death. This place is where the sinners would be sent to work after they died. There are also various prayers in the Vedas about reaching a place that was a higher world where there was mp sorrow or misery. The Rashids speak about two paths called Davayana and Pitriyana.

There is also a description of heaven that is actually the abode of the Gods. And they speak about the difference between heaven and earth, where no bird could fly to heaven. The atmosphere is described as watery and dark.

They also speak about the creation of the universe just like a carpenter who constructs a house. Some famous hymns of the Vedas such as the Asadrhymna, and the purashada hymn speak about the theory of creation.

As Max Muller believes that Hinduism is still in a progressional stage that will eventually end up as like the Christian faith as monotheistic, one can easily make the argument that the Vedic religion believed in a monotheistic being long before Christianity ever came into existence. Christianity itself should not call itself monotheistic for many sects still hold the holy trinity as its doctrine where worshiping Jesus, Mary or the Holy Spirit is far from monotheistic. It is not hard to see that the Vedic culture saw a single cosmic order before the Judeo-Christian religion considered themselves monotheistic. The Vedic religion like most religions shares the basic tenant that it tries to answer the immortal questions that man has, let it be "Where did we come from," "Why am I here," and ‘What happens when I die." These key questions were attempted to be answered centuries ago and still after years of philosophical thought we have to depend on faith to comprehend such immortal questions. The Vedic religion is only one path one can take in this everlasting path for knowledge.


Basham, A.L.. The Wonder that was India. New York: Grove Press, Inc., 1954.

Prabhu, Pandharinath.Hindu Social Organization. Mumbai: populat Prakashan Pvt. Ltd, 1998.

Radhakrishnan, S. The Hindu View of Life. London: Allen and Unwin, 1927.

Wolpert, Stanley. A new history of India. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

The Ancient Indian State

By Jonathan Coutts-Zawadzki

A state is a politically organized community. These concepts are parallel to society. Society is an organized group of people. State stands for the ideal of nationality, sovereignty, and unity, solidarity without which a state cannot be formed. There are several factors that make a state, i.e. religion, culture, geographical background. Society cannot exist without political consciousness so some kind of government is required. We have occasional speculations on the origin of the state in the Mahabharatha and the Dighanikaya. And those these works belong to different centuries and religions, their version shows similarity. They both argue that for a long time after the creation of society, when people led happy and peaceful lives on account of their innate virtuous disposition, though these existed without government to see that the laws of nature were respected and followed.

People in ancient India were afraid of lawlessness. Mahabharatha gives different theories about the origin of the state:

1. Divine origin theory: The divine is responsible for creating the state. Mythical tales tell us of the elections by the Gods. The Sanrtiparvan goes on to narrate that society flourished without a king or law for a long time, but later somehow there was a moral degradation. People fell from rectitude; greed, selfishness and cupidity began to sway their mind and the earthly paradise, which they had been enjoying, was soon converted into hell. The law of the jungle began to prevail, the string devoured the weak. Gods then became alarmed and decided to remedy the situation. Brahmadeva, the chief God, thought over the matters and then came to the conclusion that human society can service only if a code of law was formed and enforced through the instrumentally of a king. he composed a comprehensive code, created an asexual son named Virajas, appointed him as king and men agreed to obey his orders.

In the Santparvan, people were tired of the law of the jungle, which prevailed for a long time and entered into a mutual contract that persons guilty of unsocial acts would be expelled from society. In order to inspire mutual confidence, they entered into a universal social contract t guarantee the agreement. People still continued to be unhappy, probably because there was no king or government to enforce the contract. they the approached the creator and requested him to appoint a king, who on the one hand, should be worth the reverence of the community and on the other, should be able to protect the people. The creator straightaway appointed Manu as the king. Here the epic does not refer to the creator solving the difficulty by composing a law ode, continuing the atmosphere of the theory of the social contract it states that people themselves assured Manu that law would be followed and that sin would go to the lawbreakers and not to the king for punishing them. they further agreed to pay the necessary taxes.

The account in the Mahabharatha shows that the state was regarded as a divine institution, king's right to govern was partly due to his divine creation and partly die to the agreement of the subjects to be governed by him in order to terminate anarchy.

In the version of the Dighanikaya, Buddhists did not believe in God and so Brahmadeva as the creator of the 1st king and code does not naturally figure in it. But we are told that in dim and distant past, there was a golden age, when men lived in virtue and happiness. Somehow there was a fall from this ideal state. There arose anarchy and chaos, and people wondered how to put and end to it. Eventually there arose on the scene a person named Mahajanasammata, i.e. one acceptable to the great community who was born asexually. He was wise, virtuous and able and the public requested him to become their king and to put an end to the prevailing chaos. He ascended to their request and the people elected him to be their king, agreeing to give him a part of their paddy in return for his services.

Jinasera, a Jain author of the 9th century, also holds that the Earth was a paradise (bhogabhum) in the distant past, when all human wants were satisfied by desire –yielding trees (kalpavsishas). These latter, however, gradually disappeared and there was chaos. But order was soon restored by the first Jirthankara, Rishabhanatha, who introduced kings, officers, castes and professions. Kautilya refers to the problem of the origin of state only indecently. People themselves selected Manu as their king and agreed to pay in the necessary taxes. It does not refer to any golden age.

Narada and Brihaspati postulate the original existence of a Golden age and put out that it soon came into existence to put an end to it. State was an indispensable institution for the orderly existence and progress of society in the imperfect world as known to us in historic times, a country without government cannot exist.

The idea of primeval Golden age is accepted only in some sections of the Mahabharatha and Buddhist literature. There is no doubt that a notion here of government coming into existence as a result of some implied contract. The king is a servant of the people charged with the duty of protection. 16 % tax being his wage.

2. Social Contract theory: The state came into existence as a result of a contract between the people and the king where the king had mutual duties and obligations. Based on literary sources, Santiparvan section of the Mahabharatha, Manu was appointed king (divine theory). Part of this theory is divine and part is contract due to the payment of taxes. The Digharikaya- Mahajarasmmata. Kautilya says in order to counter act the law of the jungle, people selected Manu as a king and decided to pay taxes. Dharmashastra say that the people had to pay 16 % of the taxes to the king (Manu). This theory regarding the origin of the king and state is a western concept and came about in the 18th century in the US. It took the seeds of the French and American Revolution. It is a voluntary creation of the people, the people reached an agreement because the ruler and formed a contract with the government. There is also a provision to terminate the contract, which is on mutual agreement. According to this theory, the king was not a divine being. Buddhist and Jain accounts also mention about the Social contract. Indians do not believe in the social contract. Endowment of personal qualities and divinity on the king does not occur in this theory. The king was chosen as a wartime leader and his choice established a tradition of leadership and hereditary manner. No records to prove if the leader was chosen during wartime. This is a modern term, kingship being supported by the divine origin theory. The king is in power because he entered into an agreement because the people to govern them, protect them, this had to be fulfilled.

3. Military necessity: the king is chosen as a war commander. This theory is mentioned in the Brahman literature – Aiteraya, Taitteriya and Jaiminya. There was constant war between the Gods and Asuras (demons). The gods lost. The demons have a king and always won. Soon the Gods realized that they needed a commander. They appointed 3 different Gods for War – Soma, Varuna and Indra. It brings essential qualities of king as commander for the people because the people realized that they required guidance. All-powerful head of the group was Patria Protestas.

4. Joint family: Indian traditions were to have a joint family. The head of the family was the father known as the patriarch. The whole family was dependent on him. The father ruled over the family. This applies to kingship also where the senior member becomes the head of the family. The institution of the patriarchal joint family seems to have bring out how the state was gradually evolved. The patriarch of the joint family wielded very wide powers over its members, he could pledge, sell, amputate and even kill any person under his procession for an offence committed by him. The position of the patriarch in prehistoric times was more or less like that of a king. His jurisdiction increased, though perhaps his powers diminished, as the joint family expanded into a big federation of several natural families. The Rg Vedic evidence shows that the Aryan society in the early period was divided into families, jamans, visas, and janas.

Janams seems to have corresponded to a village consisting of people claiming a common descent and a number of such villages joined together by a bond of kingship seem to have constituted a vis, its chief was known as vispati. Visas were closely knit together and on the battle fields battalions were often arranged as per vis from which they had been recruited. Several visas made a jana or tribe, which had its own janapati as the king.

The available evidence shows that the sate was evolved in India out of the institution of the joint family. The patriarch of the family was instinctively revered and obeyed and social traditions and atmosphere inspired a similar respect for and evoked a similar obedience to the head of the village and tribe who generally quarried the status of chiefs and kings. The power of the kings gradually became more and more extensive as states became larder and larger.

The institution of the joint family thus gradually let to the evolution of kingship. It also presupposed the rise and acceptance of the notion of family property and also of the inviolability of the sacred family ties and relationship especially connected because of the institution of marriage. The institution of the family because of the notion of family property thus played its own part in the origin of the state.

5. Theory of Elected Kingship: Elective monarchy takes certain things for granted. People in the past elected a king, which indicated political consciousness. The process of election must have consisted for a long time. This required a lot of political wisdom. They might have adopted the process of election but must have on rare occasions.

6. Evolutionary theory: It says that family, caste and property played an important role in the development of the state in ancient India. Puranas speak of the importance of social classes. Kshatriyas ruling over the kingdom, they had a right to implement justice.

Property: Those who destroyed property were punished. Family and property play an important role in the evolution. According to Manu, the king has to protect the family and property. Conflicts arose between the classes. Kshatriyas got the right to implement justice, the monarchial form of government was formed. Initially there was chaos. Robbery resulted in the family property. To protect the people’s rights, the people opted for an authority. This authority resulted in having a king. According to the epics a king should be selected 1st before doing anything. The state did not emerge out of a single cause. This theory is far more rational than other theories. According to B.A.. Saletore, a state emerges within society and the ties of kingship, religion and economic needs were primarily required for the formation of rudiments of the state.

Types of States:

Monarchial: Monarchy had become the prevailing type of state. Apart from the frequent references to the vispatis and janapatis, the Rg Veda frequently refers to specific tribes like the Yadus, purus, Anus, the Turvasas, etc. Visvamitras prayers are said to have protect Bhartha. In the rajasuya sacrifice, the king is announced as the ruler of the Bhartha or the Kuru-Parchalas and not as the sovereign of a particular province or kingdom. The notion of rashtan or a territorial state, however, was being gradually evolved in the later Vedic period. Atharvaveda. It is clear that the notion of the territorial state was fully established at this time (1000 BC).

Monarchy was the normal form of the state in the Vedic period. Raja (king), maharaja (great king) samrat (emperor), are the different terms by which kings were designated according to their power and prestige. Some were also called swarajas and bhojas, probably they were feudatories and zamindars. In the description of the coronation, the ritual is sometimes described as securing rajya, svarajya, bhaurjya, vairajya, maharajya and samrajya to one and the same inidividual. A doubt arises as to whether these terms really denoted different types of states or monarchies. States where the principal execute authority was vested in 2 rulers were not unknown in ancient India.

Probably it used to come into existence when 2 brothers or cousins, bring claimants to the same kingdom, preferred to rule jointly instead of dividing it into 2 parts. But just as 2 swords cannot remain in the same holster, two kings can hardly rule in harmony. When the power of each is extended over the whole kingdom. Such a state must have been often torn by factions and parties supporting either power. The power of each ruler (Arthashastra). To avoid discard, very often the brother or cousin rulers of a dvairajya state would divide the kingdom between them. I.E. Shungas in Vidabha.

It would appear that though the kingdom was divided by the two rulers would hold joint consolations on all-important matters. When the two kings were ruling in harmony the state was called a 2 king state (dorajya in Prakrit and dvirajaka in Sanskrit). The Vedic literature sometimes refers to kings meeting together in an assembly, we are also told that the person alone can become a king who is permitted to become one by other kings.

These passages probably refer to the existence of an oligarchy, where power was vested in council of nobles, each member of which was entitled to call himself kin and had a right to elect the chief of the state, who also was called a king. This type of state continued to exist down to the 6th century BC. Side by side a monarchial and oligarchial states existed. There also existed republican governments in ancient India as early as the Vedic Age. Uttarakurus and the Uttaramadras have a virat (kingless) type of state and are called vi-rat as kingless. These people had a non-monarchial or republican form of government. The city-state was another feature of the political life in the early period. We get some account of its constitution and administrative form from the Greek writers. Areian describes Nyasa as a free city state flourishing at the time of the invasion of Alexander the Great.

Several other city-states are referred to by Greek writers, among them we may mention Pimprama of the Adraisti and Sangala of the Kathaians and Patala in Sindh. The Mahabharatha refers to the powerful gramas in the bank if the Indus, it is obviously referring to the powerful city-states. It was but natural that the city-states should have brought under their control some of the outlying villages, but the government was usually carried on by the aristocratic classes in the city itself. Composite and confederate states were not unknown to Ancient India. The Kuruparshakas in the alter Vedic period seem to have formed one composite state, ruled by a common king. The Kshudrakas and the malavas were separate states in the days of Panini but are very frequently a mentioned together in the Mahabharatha. They had formed a confederation to meet the invasion of Alexander the Great. The confederation often lasted for short periods in the lifetime of the Buddha and Mahavira, the Lichchavis had formed a confederation, once with the mallas and once because of the Bidehas. The Lichchhavi- Malla federal council consisted of 18 members, nine being elected by each of the confederating states. It however seems very plausible that the jurisdiction of the central government of the confederating states was confined only to foreign policy and the declaration and prosecution of war. Otherwise each state retained its sovereignty. The general for the joint army in a particular campaign was elected by the confederating states.

Normally, however, states in ancient India were unitary in character. The king was the fountain source from which the ministers and provincial governors derived their power. Village Pajnchayats, town councils and trade guilds also were under the general supervision and control of the central government. The unitary character of the state in ancient India was to a great extent modified by the presence of the autonomous bodies, which used to function on their own lines, through revolutions occurred at the center.

Nature of the State

State was regarded as essentially a beneficent institution evolved in prehistoric times for the efficient protection of human life and for the better realization of its higher ideals. It is owing to the presence of this anti-social element that danda or force becomes the ultimate sanction of the government. Ancient Indian thinkers do not desire that danda should make its appearance, ever now and then. This code was binding is alike upon the people and the king. In the ideal state both the king and the subjects were expected to follow the provisions of the divine code for peace and prosperity both here and in the life to come.

Kautilya held that the state was not a loose assemblage of parts, each having its own interests and moving at its own will, it was characterized by an organic unity. The king, ministry (martins), the territory (rashtra/tarapada) the resources of the forts (durga), the military (danda or bala) and the allies (mitra) constitute the 7 parts of the state.

Of the 7 parts, svamin (king) and amatyas (ministers) constituted the central government, which exercised the sovereign powers and imparted the central unity. Rastra (territory) durgas (forts), bala (army) and kosha (treasury) constituted the resources of the state. The stage of the tribal state had long passed and so territory was regarded as an essential element of the state. Forts and armed forces were vitally necessary to defend the very existence of the state and so are regarded as its essential constitutes. The defense of the country and the proper discharge of the constitutes and ministrants functions of the state required as ample resources and so kosha (treasury) is also regarded as indispensable to the very existence of the state.

The seven constituent of the state are regarded as the limbs (angas) of the body of politics by the Indian thinkers. Some of them like the king and the ministers maybe more prominent than others like the forts and the allies. Each limb, however, by itself may look unimportant, is indispensable to the body politics, for its functions cannot work efficiently by an other part. The state can exist and function properly only if all the limbs of its body politic become mutually intergraded and cooperate with each other. No limb of the body politics can strictly be regarded as more important than any other.

  1. King: In Kautilya’s time, sovereignty, geographical boundaries had to be understood. Sovereignty was important which was dependent on the personality of the king. Swamin has a different connotation of sovereignty. Kautilya mentions swamin as the head of the state. The King has to process certain qualities. He should be attractive, of high birth and nobility. He should be intellectual. He should be energetic, and full of enthusiasm, The king cannot make decisions single handedly and has to have the support of his ministers. He should be able to protect law, subjects should be protected from internal and external aggression. The welfare of the king depends of the welfare of the state.
  2. Mantris: they are equally important as the king. They handle the government machinery. They should have qualities such as nobility and obedience. They deserve to have the king’s confidence. According to the Arthasastra a minister should be efficient. A king requires Senari, Gramini, and Purhita according to the Rg Veda.
  3. Rashtra/ Janapada: It is termed by Koutilya. Rashta stands for a definite territory. The importance of territory can’t be overemphasized. Land should be watered by natural resources. The kingdom should have the capacity of feeding the people during famines. It should be self-sufficient. IT should consists of people belonging to lower castes. Majority of people should be under the agricultural sector. The territories should be defended from attack.
  4. Durga (fort): According to Kautilya it’s an invulnerable place or stronghold of strength. They have proper defense arrangements. Manusmirti mentions 6 kinds of forts.
    1. Mahra Durga- Desert fort
    2. Sthana Durga – Land fort
    3. Jal Durga – Water fort
    4. Vana Durga – forest fort
    5. Manu Durga – battle fort
    6. Giri Durga – mountain fort
  5. Kosa (treasury)- Arthashastra, Mahabharatha and Nitisar mention about Kosa. It’s vital for existence of the state. According to Kautilya, Kosa is the root of the state. Artha does not mean money alone, even the people residing in a place, economic activity is Artha. It is a prime source. According to Kautilya, treasury should be got and retained. It should be able to stand distress. Treasury consists of cash and assets. The most important item in getting cash is taxes, which is a definite source of income. Kautilya said there should be sufficient balance and reserve of treasury, so that the state can be ready for any natural calamity.
  6. Danda/Bala (army/military)- force that is the best to protect the state from internal and external aggression. The state is always in danger. Hence the state has the authority to punish evildoers. Regulation of law and order is part of Danda. Danda was considered king of all kings. Army was necessary for the state. There were 6 kinds of troops:
    1. Manla- Hereditary
    2. Bhrata- Hired
    3. Sreni – soldiers provided for guilds
    4. Mitra – troops
    5. Amitra – troops of the enemy
    6. Atavika – Tribal troops

    Sartiparwn section speaks of hired, hereditary, forced and corporation troops. Vaishayas and Sudras could also form a troop because of numerical strength. The army could be constituted from all four Varnas. The members of the soldieries are given adequate provisions by the king. Army consists of chariots, elephants, foot soldiers – 4-fold army (Chaturanga Bala).

  7. Mitra (Allies): Kautilya speaks of mitra and amirita. Amrita can be an ally and also a foe. Mitra and amitra are supposed to be a double distinction. It refers to foreign policy. A king should be a double distinction. It refers to foreign policy. A king should make distinction between allies and foes. He should maintain and develop friendly relations. The circle of 12 kings is known as Rajamandala. The king should learn to have judicial alliance. Terms like Vikrari and Adity are the last constitutes of the state. Kautilya gives an insight of foreign affairs.

Aims of the State:

The Vedic literature does not specifically discuss the aims and ideals of the state. Incidental observations mad therein however enable us to gather that peace; order, security and justice were regarded as the fundamental aims of the state. The king as the head of the state was to be like God Varuna, the upholder of law and order (dhrtavrata); he was to punish the wicked and help the various. Religion was to be promoted, morality was to be encouraged and education was to be patronized. The state, however was to secure not only the moral but also the material well being of its citizens. All around welfare of the public was clearly regarded as the chief aim of the state.

Dharma, Artha and Kama are usually mentioned as the aims of the state. The state was to promote dharma, not by championing any particular sect or religion, but by fostering a feeling of piety and religiousness, by encouraging belonging to all religion and sects, by maintaining free hospitals and feeding houses for the poor and the decrepit and by extending patronage to literature and sciences. The promotion of artha was to be procured by encouraging trade, industry and agriculture, by developing national resources, by bringing fresh land under cultivation, by building dams and canals to make agriculture independent of rain and by encouraging extensive and systematic working of mines.

The state was to promote kama by ensuring peace and order, so that each individual may enjoy life undisturbed and by offering encouragement to fine acts like music, dancing, painting, sculpture, and architecture in order to promote aesthetic culture. The state was thus expected to maintain peace and order and promote moral, material and aesthetic progress.

Functions of the State

The functions of the state are divided into2 categories: constituent and ministrant. Under the former class fall those functions of the state, which are absolutely necessary for the orderly organization of state defense against foreign aggression, protection of persons and property, preservation of peace and order and adjudication. Under the latter class fall those activities of the state which it undertakes to promote the welfare of the people, to increase their wealth by a cooperative effort and to add to their amenities of life, education, sanitation, pastel service, trade regulation, roads and communication, development of mines and forests, care of the poor and invalid, etc, would come under the ministrant functions of the state. The modern tendency of the state is to increase the ministrant functions.

The State in ancient India confined itself only to the constituent functions. It also maintained internal order by enforcing respect for the traditional law. Even the civil and criminal cases were decided by popular bodies (sabhas).

The activity of the state was to embrace the whole of human life, both here and hereafter. The state was to offer facilities to religions and sects to develop their own lines and foster and inculcate piety, morality and righteousness. It was to improve the social order and to encourage learning, education and art by subsidizing learned academies and extending patronage, scholars and artists. It was to establish and maintain rest houses, charity halls and hospitals, and relive the distress due to floods, famines, pestilences and earthquakes. It was to see that the population was evenly distributed and encourage colonization of fresh lands. It was to enrich the resources of the country by developing forests, working mines and constructing dams and canals in order to make agriculture independent of rain as far as possible.

According to Dikshitar, ancient Indians permitted the state to have a wide sphere of activity not because they did not value individual liberty, but they felt that a state would organize themselves in reconciling conflicting interests in bureaucracy with close cooperation with well-established guild, popular bodies and village councils.

Akbar the Great: Ruling by Experience and History

By Jonathan Coutts-Zawadzki

Some people are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them. :William Shakespeare

The creator of the great Mughul Empire, Jalal-ud-din Muhammad Akbar, was born to be great; he also had greatness thrust upon him but more importantly he achieved greatness. Akbar was great because he had learned from both history and experience how to rule well in both the political and social spheres of his empire. He learned from his grandfather, Babur, from his father Humayun, and from other past emperors of India how to form strong political structures. Akbar formed a strong social structure within his empire by unifying the people through social and religious means. He did this by accepting the teachings of Sufism, Bhaktism and the teachings of Kabir and Nanak. Akbar was a great leader because he created both a strong political and social structure for his empire. The purpose of this paper is to examine the causes that led to Akbar’s greatness, how he not only established but maintained a vast and prosperous empire.

Akbar’s main challenge was forming the empire. In 1526, his grandfather, Babur attempted to invade India after being driven from Afghanistan. Babur’s main goal in this invasion was to accumulate booty for himself and for his army and not direct conquest. Because Babur did not invade for conquest, he therefore did not build a secure administration system like the Sultanates in India had done, to maintain his control (Misra, pg.62). When Babur died his son Hamayun inherited the lands his father had invaded but because Hamayun was more concerned with poetry, architecture and using opium, than being a strong emperor, he lost the invaded area to an Afghan named Sher Shah. He spent twelve years in exile and then finally in 1555, after Sher Shah’s death, re-conquered the lands his father had invaded (Pandey, pg.87).

The son of Emperor Humayun, Jalal-ud-din Muhammad Akbar, was born in Umarkot, Sind, and succeeded to the throne at the age of 13. In order to achieve his dream of creating his empire he would have to go beyond following the path laid out by his grandfather and father, to become the illustrious ruler and founder of the Mughal Empire. He first ruled under his father’s advisor, Bairam Khan, who recaptured for the young emperor much of the territory usurped at the death of his father. In 1560, however, Akbar took the government into his own hands. Akbar was not just interested in accumulating wealth. He had bigger prospects, he wished to form an empire (Pandey, pg.88).

Akbar not only invaded but conquered the many lands that both his father and grandfather could not succeed in doing, such as the land of the Rajputs, an honourable but rebellious group in India. This was a strategic conquest. Through this conquest Akbar added Malwa, Gondwana, Bengal, Khandesh, Deccan, Berar and Ahmadnagar to the empire (Misra, pg.82). These areas became Mughal subahs (provinces) and he made governors to rule these provinces. The annexation of the formerly independent Sultanate of Gujarat provided the empire with enormous additional revenue from the area's rich commercial centers; access to the Gulf of Cambay, and therefore to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina in the Arabian Peninsula; and opportunities for trade with the Portuguese and the Ottoman Empire (Keene, pg.54).

Akbar did not wish just to sack the conquered areas and control the land loosely like his grandfather did. By imposing his rule of law and administration on the people he conquered, he not only made his empire larger but he was able to get a continuous source of booty through taxes on the conquered peoples (Pandey, pg.95). He realized that a continuous source of revenue would be needed to maintain his huge army and rule over a huge empire.

When Babur’s ancestor, Timor, had first invaded India he bestowed the dignity of his name to one of the Indian nobles whom he formerly proclaimed deputy in a part of the Punjab (Pandey, pg. 2). Like his ancestor, Akbar realized that Hindu acceptance and cooperation was essential to the successful rule of any Indian empire. He won the allegiance of the Rajputs, the most belligerent Hindus, by a shrewd blend of tolerance, generosity, and force; he himself married a few Rajput princesses (Misra, pg. 82). Having thus secured the Hindus, he further enlarged his realm by conquest until it extended from Afghanistan to the Bay of Bengal and from the Himalayas to the Godavari River (Misra, pg.84). Akbar was greater than both his father and grandfather because he learned from his great ancestor, Timor, that the way to gain power in India was to get the Hindus on his side, something both his father and grandfather overlooked and therefore failed to maintain an empire in India.

At first Akbar consolidated his power by sheer force but as his reign continued he made social, religious and cultural reforms which helped him to legitimize his power among the population of India. In order to govern this territory, Akbar developed a bureaucracy and a system of autonomy for the imperial provinces called the Mansabdari System. Akbar's bureaucracy was among the most efficient in the world. He put military governors, or mansabdars, in charge of each region. Each governor was responsible for the provincial military and was directly responsible for all abuses. Abuses of power and mistreatment of the poor or weak resulted in severe punishments and death. Each military governor was put in charge by the Emperor himself, so he could be dismissed at will (Chandra, pg.156).

Akbar must have seen through the history of his ancestors, that when governors or generals had the support of vast armies and people, some tended to get the desire to attack the emperor in order to seize power for themselves. In order to prevent this Akbar made sure that each governor of a province did not spend more than three years ruling in a single place, so that they could not establish local loyalties. As well, it is known that Akbar had kept some of the children of the mansabdars (ahadis) within his residence to work for him. The mansabdars were not likely to revolt lest their children be harmed. Another method of control was to prohibit hereditary rule. He made it so the mansabdari positions were given by merit and would be granted by Akbar himself. Therefore the rank would not be hereditary and there would not be feuding between the ranks (Chandra, pg. 147).

   The most important part of the bureaucracy was tax collection. Akbar made several innovations. His tax, like all other states, was a land tax that amounted to one-third of the value of the crops produced each year. However, the tax was assessed equally on every member of the empire. This was a radical innovation considering that every other state in the sixteenth century rarely taxed the nobility (Chandra, pg 148). He also eliminated the tax assessed on non-Muslims. From the beginning of the Islamic expansion, a special tax was levied on non-believers. This special tax, called the jizya, was bitterly resented by non-Muslims during the history of Muslim rule in India. In addition, Muslim rulers in India charged a "pilgrimage" tax on unbelievers travelling to various Hindu pilgrimage sites. Akbar eliminated this tax as well in 1564 (Wolpert, pg. 127).

   A large part of Akbar's administrative effort was expanded in winning over the Hindu population. The Rajput kingdoms had never fully accepted Islamic rule, but the ending of the jizya tax and the pilgrimage taxes helped to calm their resistance. Akbar also included vast number of Hindus in the official bureaucracy; by his death, almost one-third of the imperial bureaucracy was Hindu (Chandra, pg. 159). He cemented relations with the various kingdoms by marrying the daughters of the kings. By the end of this process he had over five thousand wives, almost all of whom he married for political reasons. His favourite wife, however, was a Hindu, and she gave birth to his successor, Jahangir.

   Akbar’s most successful administrative coup was allowing Hindu territories to retain a large degree of autonomy. In all other Muslim kingdoms in the past, non-Muslims came under the same Islamic law, the Shari’a. Akbar, however, allowed the Hindus to remain under their own law, called the Dharmashastra, and to retain their own courts. This loose style of government, in which territories were under the control of the Emperor but still largely independent, became the model that the British would emulate as they slowly built the colonial model of government in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (Pandey, pg. 107). By creating this system he not only was able to get a constant source of wealth from his provinces but he was able to consolidate the people of India into one empire.


Incorporating Hindus into the administration of the states was Akbar’s ingenious method of gaining political legitimacy from the Hindus, they being the majority of the population of India. But this idea of incorporating Hindus in administration was not a new concept. Both Emperors Sekandar Lodi and Sher Khan, who were emperors before the Mughals seized power, incorporated Hindus into their administrations in order to increase their political stature and to maintain power with the help of the Rajputs (Chandra,pg.160). Under Akbar this coordination was evidently reinforced but to a much grander scale. It went to the point that "many of the local Hindu elites began to identify themselves, to a certain degree, not simply with the Mughal state but also with the Mughal Persian culture" (Alam, pg 107).In Akbar’s Mansabdar System he made many Rajputs high ranking mansabdars, a high rank, in order to ally himself with them. The belief was that if the Rajputs, a problematic group of Hindus, would work for the Mughal Empire, thus Hindus would see the Empire as more legitimate since their fellow Hindus participated in this bureaucratic form of rule (Alam, pg.113). So unlike his ancestors, Akbar was not only able to conquer land, which they were not able to do, but he could rule it effectively and with legitimacy.

One of Akbar’s greatest acts was trying to unite the people of his Empire in order to achieve legitimacy as well as strengthen his numbers and ranks. Akbar attempted to do this by making religious reforms. He created a secular state in which the people were allowed to practice their own religions and the state was run without priests having direct influence over the government. But this is not to say that religion was not important to Akbar for religion was an integral part of Akbar’s rule. For centuries scholars have praised Akbar for making such revolutionary changes to Indian life concerning his toleration of all religions and his attempt at uniting Hinduism and Islam. But this, in fact, was not revolutionary in India during that time. Before Akbar took his throne as Emperor of Mughal India, two main religious groups had emerged out of Hinduism and Islam, the Sufi sect of Islam and the Bhakti sect of Hinduism (Ashgar, internet). These sects preached that there were common elements in Hinduism and Islam. They adopted some of each other’s practices within their sects. An example of this is the Sufis adopting singing into their rituals, which according to the Mullahs, an Islamic orthodox order, was very un-Islamic because they believed that music did not belong within the religion. The Bhaktis adopted such rituals that did not require Brahmin priests to worship god. This was similar to the Sufi practice (Ashgar, internet ). Two great men emerged from these sects, Kabir and Nanak. Both must have had a great influence on Akbar’s thinking

Kabir preached the commonalities between Hinduism and Islam. He expressed his creed in the following words:

The Hindu resorts to the temple and the Muslim to the mosque, but Kabir goes to the place where both are known. The two religions are like two branches in the middle of which there is a sprout surpassing them. Kabir has taken the higher path abandoning the custom of the two. If you say that I am a Hindu then it is not true, nor am I a Muslim; I am a body made of five elements where the unknown plays. (Asghar, internet)

Like Kabir, Guru Nanak’s mission was also the unification of the Hindus and the Muslims. He went on to create one of the newer religions of the world, Sikhism, which takes practices from both the Hindus and the Muslims (Wolpert, pg.121). These religious reforms were revolutionary as they had not been done on as grand a scale as Akbar had done. But it was not revolutionary in the sense that the integration of Islam and Hinduism had begun many years before Akbar was born. Akbar, unlike his predecessors and the Islamic sultans, attempted to unite the people of India by looking past religion, and this is what made him great.

Both sects and men had a great influence on Akbar, for Akbar was taught by a Sufi teacher and held a Sufi priest as his mentor (Pandey, pg 452). Akbar revered a Sufi named Shaikh Salim, so much that he built his capital of Fateh Pur Sikri on the land that was once the home of this Sufi (Wolpert, pg 128). As well, Akbar took much of the Sufi teachings of religious toleration, as well as the belief of commonalities in Hinduism and Islam and created his own religion called Din-i-llahi (Divine Faith).

Before creating this religion, Akbar showed respect for other religions by learning about them. He formed an ‘ibadad-knana,’ a meeting of religious groups. First he invited Sunni theologians and then theologians from other religions, such as Jesuits from Goa, Sikhs, Hindus, and Zoroastrians, in order to discuss their views of religions (Chandra, pg. 181).

By respecting religions and by learning about the differences and similarities, Akbar, unlike his predecessors, his ancestors or the Sultanates, was able to unite the people of the Empire under the laws of a secular state. This had never happened before in Indian history. Now people of all faiths could worship their own religions without persecution. Although Akbar was tolerant of religions he was against some immoral practices attributed to these religions. Akbar tried to stop the Hindu ritual of Sati, being that if a husband dies his wife commits suicide in his honour. Akbar also disapproved of child marriages and marriages among close relations, which were both practiced by Hindus and Muslims alike (Srivasta, pg. 65). So, although Akbar was revered as religiously tolerant he still was against what he believed were immoral acts.

Rulers who learn from the past do not repeat it. Akbar was a great ruler because he did just that. He learned from his grandfather who could not maintain his empire, and he learned from his father who wasted away his empire that this was not the way to rule. He remedied his ancestor’s mistakes by establishing a strong administrative system in order to maintain his greatest achievement of all, the creation of the great Mughal Empire. His strategic conquest helped increase his wealth, as well as increase the numbers in his ranks. And because of his tolerance and sense of justice he gained legitimacy as a ruler from the people he conquered. We may attribute Akbar’s achievements to his brilliance as a leader and administrator but much of that brilliance was a result of learning from the mistakes, as well as the success of his ancestors, and from the greatest teacher of all experience.


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