Republics or the Non-monarchical States of India in 6th Century BCE

During the sixth century BCE, India came to be divided into a number of independent states and even north India had no single paramount power. Most of these states were monarchical but quite a large number of them had republican or oligarchic constitutions. The Buddhist and Jain religious texts are more informative regarding them as compared to the Hindu religious texts. The Buddhist texts mention the following republican or oligarchic states:

  • The Sakyas of Kapilvastu in the foothills of the Himalayas near the border of Nepal.
  • The Bhaggas of Sumsumara hill in eastern Uttar Pradesh.
  • The Butis of Allakappa between the districts of Sahabad and Muzzafferpur in Bihar.
  • The Kalama of Kesaputta.
  • The Kaliyas of Ramagama.
  • The Mallas of Pava-modern Fazillpur in Bihar.
  • The Mallas of Kusinara-modern Kasiya in eastern Utter Pradesh.
  • The Moriyas of Pipphalivana in the foothills of the Himalayas.
  • The Videhas of Mithila-modern Janakpur near the boundaries of Nepal.
  • The Licchavis of Vaisali – Basarah in the modern district of Muzzafferpur in north Bihar.

The concept of ‘republic’ has been variously explained from time to time according to its varying content. It its most elementary meaning, republic is contrasted with monarchy and means a form of state and government in which there is no hereditary monarch. Thus according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the republic is ‘a state in which the supreme power rests in the people or in officers elected by them, to whom the people have delegated powers sufficient to enable them to perform their duties required of them’. The head of the state is usually elected directly and in modern usage this fact distinguishes a republic from a monarchy in which the head is hereditary.

A.S. Altekar says that republics had a definite constitutional meaning. Since republic denoted a form of government where the power was vested not in person but in Gana or group of persons.Sangha is another term of the same sense as distinguished from monarchy. Altekar’s definition is in conformity with Panini’s Ashtadhyayi, writings of Katyayana and Mahabharata, as a political term of Gana.

The existence of republics along with monarchies in the sixth century BCE is found in Avadantashataka, accounts of visits of merchants from mid-India to Deccan. Jain Ayengasutra, Bhagvati Sutra and coin legends also refer to the existence of republics at that time. The existence of republican form of government signifies noticeable advancement in the political career of the people in this age. According to Shobha Mukerji, the rise or fall of several monarchies in this period gave opportunity to the republics to flourish where people experienced organizational experience. In historic times, republics existed in north-west and north-east zones and Punjab. Buddhist canons and Jataka stories refer to republics in Uttar Pradesh and North Bihar. But very little is known about the political history of these states except for Sakyas and Licchavis.

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