India, the biggest democracy in world, has witnessed the democratic way of ruling before 2500 years back. The following article will put lights on those Kshatriya clans who followed the democratic way of life and how they degraded due to their opposition to Brahmanism. Today a section (ancient Santhawar) of modern “Sainthwar / Saithwar Rajput” community of eastern Uttarpradesh, India, feels proud of their ancestors who seeded the first democracy in India.
In 600 B.C, Northern India was divided into many states, some monarchial and some non-monarchial (republic). The monarchial states were sixteen in number and were known as “Solasa Mahajanpada”. The monarchial states were Anga, Magadha, Kasi, Kosala, Vriji, Malla, Chedi, Vatsa, Kuru, Panchala, Matsya, Saursena, Asmaka, Avanti, Gandhara, and Kambhoja.
The non-monarchial states were known as Sangha or Gana and consists of Sakyas of Kapilvastu, the Mallas of Pava (Padrauna) and Kushinara (Kushinagar), the Lichhavis of Vaisali, the Videhas of Mithila, the Koliyas of Ramagram (Gorakhpur), the Bulis of Allakapa, the Kalingas of Resaputta, the Mauriyas of Pipphalvana, and the Bhaggas with their capital on Sumsumara Hill. (7)
The non-monarchial states had a meeting place to take decisions and the general assembly was called “Santhagar (Sansthagar)”. To become a member of this assembly, one should have completed 20 years of age. The assembly was very popular and contains strong sentiments against hereditary privileges and supported the principle of free election by the Gana to all-important posts, including that of Commander-in-chief, which seems to have the highest in state.
In the assembly, there were different posts known as vargya, grihya and pakshya who clashed from time to time for power. The term Dvandva was used to denote the rival parties and the term Vyutkramana to their rivalry. The rules of procedure and debates in these assemblies were same as those of Buddhist Sanghas, which were modelled on Samgha or Gana states. Transaction of the Assembly business strictly required a quorum without which it was considered invalid. Panini refers to gana-titha as the person whose attendance completed the quorum in a Gana and to Sangha-titha as one who completed the quorum of the Samgha. The person who acted as a “whip” to secure the “quorum” was known as “Ganapuraka”.
One person known as “Asanapannapaka” used to be seat regulatorwhose main job was to allot the seats to persons on dais, front seats and other places depending on their position. The polling officer was known as “Salakagrahpaka” whose job also was to collect votes. The word used for votes was “Chhanda” which meant free choice. The president of the state was known as “Samghyamukhya” and he is responsible for presiding the assembly and regulating the debates. He was expected to observe strict impartiality and if he failed, he was furiously criticized.
There were definite rules for moving any resolution. Generally a proposal was repeated thrice and if no objections were raised, it was approved. In case of objections, majority decided it. The voting methodology was of three types – By Guthaka (secret method), By Sakarnajapakam (whispering method) and Vivatakam (Open method). Generally complicated matters were referred for settlements to different committees. Clerks were also present whose main job used to be keeping records. It is also found that matters when finally decided were not allowed to reopen.
Buddhist literatures shows that Santhagar of republic states used to control foreign affairs, entertaining foreign ambassadors and princes, and deciding on peace and war proposals. The Santhagar also served the purpose of being social clubs where they used to decide the topics related to social and religious issue. The Malla of Kusinara discussed the problems related to funeral of Buddha and disposal of his ashes in Santhagar.
Malla and Lichchhavis as per Buddhist literatures, requested lord Buddha to perform the opening ceremonies of their Santhagar by first using them for delivering a sermon to a congregation assembled therein.
The Malla state, which was small, had an executive of four members only in their Santhagar, all of them have taken a prominent part in the funeral of Buddha. On the other hand Lichchhavis had nine Executive officers (kings) in their assembly. The confederations of Lichchhavis and Videhas had Executive of Eighteen members. Generally the assembly contains four to twenty executive members. The Raja, Upa-Raja, Senapati andBhandagarika seem to be the designation of four executive members. The president of the executive (Raja) was probably the President of Assembly also known as Samghyamukhy.
According to Buddhist literatures, the Lichchhavis formed a league with Videha and together they were called as “Vajjis”. Lichchhavis had once formed a federation with their neighbor, The Malla. The federal council was composed of eighteen members, nine Lichchhavis and nine Malla. The president of federation was known as Gana-raja. In a federation, both parties were having equal rights even though Malla were not a great power as Lichchhavis.
The Judiciary system was very strong and liberty of citizens was efficiently guarded. A person was not declared guilty unless all courts proved his crimes. According to Atthakatha, the first tribunal used to be of the officer called Vinichchaya Mahamatta. If the person is found to be guilty, then he will be send to next higher tribunal of Suttadhara. If there he also found guilty, then he had to approach other similar tribunals of Atthakulaka, Senapati and Upa-raja each of which can acquit the accused if innocent, but if found guilty then he will be send to highest tribunal i.e. of Raja.
The working of republic sates was very good and Lord Mahavira and Lord Buddha were born in republics states of Videhas and Kapilvastu respectively. The ideologies of both religions were against Brahminism and opposed caste system in society. Though the caste system was not abolished fully but was reduced considerably during their period.
During and before Buddha and Mahavira period, kshtriya was considered as highest in the varna system. The superiority of kshtriya was clear from the legend in which Buddha wished to be reborn as Kshtriya and not as Brahmin. Also in one of the Buddha’s discourses, there is a dialogue between Buddha and Ambattha, a dialogue in which latter recognized the Buddha’s superiority. Jain Suttas also says that kshtriya occupied the foremost position in caste system. No Tirthankara was born in a clan other than that of kshtriya and a legend also says that Mahvaira was removed from the womb of a Brahmini Devananda and placed in Kshtriyani Trisala.
The opposition to Brahmin rituals led to classification of Malla and Lichchhavis as Vratya Kshtiyas (degraded kshtriya)(8) in Manusmiriti as they refused to accept the Brahmin superiority. In fact, many kshtriyas who opposed till end were placed in Shudra category and some of them were made untouchables. The Brahmins were helped by Magadh empire who were known for conquering both Malla and Lichchhavis empire.
Later with the fall of Buddhism in India around 100 A.D to 400 A.D, Malla and Lichchhavis, who were classified as Vratya kshtirays, accepted the Brahminical system of living. Since they were ruling the states by forming “Santhagara”, Brahmins called them as “Santhwar – the one who left Santhagar”.Being classified as Vratya kshtiyas, they were placed second to vedic kshtriyas in social status. The republic kshtriyas who were opposed to Brahminsm joined the “Santhwar group” and those remained, out of them large fraction of Lichchhavis and Malla moved towards Nepal and a fraction of Malla who opposed Brahminism till end moved towards South India. Chinese Monk Fa-Hien who traveled India in 500 A.D quotes that at that time there were Nagvanshi kshtiryas of Koliya clan in Ramgram (Gorakhpur) worshipping Buddha – stupa. With the fall of Buddhism, they joined the “Santhawar group due to their social orientation and beliefs” (Kshtriya Itihaas, Page 296).
The ancient Santhawar group people exist in Kushinagar, Deoria, Maharajganj, Gorakhpur districts of Uttar Pradesh and few places in western Bihar. Famous historian Rahul Sanskrityanayan says that “ Today’s a large fraction of Santhawar are ancient Malla of Kusinara”. According to Dr. Rajbali Pandey, there still exists a wide social difference between Santhawar and Vedic Kshtriyas. However todays Sainthwar / Saithwar Rajput community consists of ancient Santhawar, Gaharwar of Padrauna and western rajputs belonging to Mahabat Khan’s famous 1626 rebellion
There is no doubt that with the fall of Malla, Lichchhavis and other republican states, the Kshtariya lost their highest social position to Brahmins. The interesting part is that Kshtriya lost the position because other Kshatriya helped to get Brahmin the highest social status.
1. Lord Mahavira and His times – By Kailash Chand Jain (page 233-249)
2. Encyclopedia of India – By Prem Nath Chopra (page 27)
3. The Architecture of India: Buddhist and Hindu (page 81)
4. History of Parliament of India : By Subhash C. Kashyap
5. Ancient Indian Republics- From the earliest times to the 6thcentury A.D : By Shivanandan Misra (page 141)
6. History of Bihar – By Radhakrishna Choudhary (page 12)
9. Gorakhpur Janpad aur Uski Kshtriya jatiyon ka Itihaas – By Dr. Rajbali Pandey