Bihar and Eastern Uttar Pradesh (early history)

by Prakash Narayan | 2011 | 63,517 words

This study deals with the history of Bihar and Eastern Uttar Pradesh (Northern India) taking into account the history and philosophy of Buddhism. Since the sixth century B.C. many developments took place in these regions, in terms of society, economic life, religion and arts and crafts....

The most conspicuous characteristic of the gana sangha was their companionship with the khattiyas. The companionship between khattiyas and the Lichchhavis and Vijjis have been referred to by the Arthashastra, and they possess equal rank and position with the great ksatriyas of northern India, i.e. the Madras in the west, the Kuru-Panncalas in the central region, and the Mallas in the east.[1] There arises a possibility of companionship between the ksatriyas and the republican form of government[2] as far as the opinion of Varma is concerned. The Khattiyas in the gana sanghas are undoubtedly Khattiyas as far as their status is taken into consideration but they are almost referred to by their respective clan names, such as Lichchhavi, Sakya, Malla, etc. Numerous clans demand a share of the Buddha’s ashes on the ground that they were khattiyas like the Buddha in the Mahaparinibbana sutta. It is important that all the khattiya claimants were connected with the gana sanghas[3] excluding Ajatasattu. There are various other examples to be taken into account. For instance, the Buddha has been referred to as a high-born khattiya in the sutta Nipata,[4] and Trisala, sister of the Lichchhavi leader of Vesali, is known as kshatriyani, and her husband Siddartha of the Natrikas is also characterized as a kshatriya in the Kalpa sutra.[5]

We must focus on the fact that the territories of the gana sangha were really known by the clans that occupied them. It is important to know that the use of the clan name was an exclusive privilege given to the Khattiyas only and no other inhabitants of the gana sangha such as the artisans and the brahmanas were provided with this privilege, whose occasional presence is noticeable there. In this way Upali, the barber, is not known as a sakyan[6] although he stayed in sakyan territory. Like this, Cunda, the kammaraputta (son of a metalsmith worker) is not known as a Malla.[7] Accordingly, in the sakyan territory, the brahmanas of Khomadussa are not considered as members of the sakyan clan.[8]

It has also been discussed that collective power in these territories was vested in the Khattiya clan composing the gana sangha, and that they had sovereignty over other social groups inhabiting the territory of the gana sangha.[9] In this way sovereignty extended over the territory and not merely over the members of the clan.[10]

The khattiyas have been exclusively privileged with the use of the clan name which gives them the right to exercise power, which the non-khattiyas did not govern. This privilege was allotted only to the governing class and not all members of the sangha were entitled to exercise political power as has been recommended by Agrawala on the basis of a reference in Panini. He says: ‘It appears that the descendants of the pioneer kshatriyas who had settled on the land and founded the janapada treated political sovereignty as their privilege which they transmitted in their families from generation to generation.’[11] It has been presumed that only descendants of the pioneer khattiyas exerted power, all Khattiyas in a gana sangha were related to each other and accepted themselves to be descendents from a common ancestor.[12] In this way all would be descedants of the pioneer khattiyas. Buddha’s reference to his sakyan kinsmen who were very closely associated to each other in a network of relationships provide an ample proof of this. It has been emphasized by Drekmeier that the political system in tribal organizations (or the gana sanghas) was based on the lineage principle, and the territory usually corresponded to kinship ties.[13] In modern Africa certain societies such as the Nuer, Tallensi and Logoli have been taken as examples for the explanation of his argument where kinship ties have significant role to play in political organization, although political relations are not necessarily coterminous with kinship organization. This view has been approved as a significant feature of the gana sanghas. The association of all khattiya clan members with the collective exercise of power have already been outlined although the exact method may not be obvious to us.

A passage in the Bhaddasala Jataka is remarkable in this association. It illustrates that a specially protected tank at Vesali existed for the use of the abhiseka (consecration) of the families of the gana-raja. The passege which reads vesali nagare gana kulanang abhiseka mangala pokkharani[14] has been comprehended as depicting the consecration of the raja kulas of the gana (ganasya raja kula); but Adhir Chakravarti asserts that it should be comprehended as ganara-jasya kulanang or families of the gana raja.[15] Adhir Chakarvarti further says that passage in the Lalita Vistara which implies that every Lichchhavi considers himself as a raja in the Vajjian republic.[16] It has been opined by us that the reason behind all Lichchhavi families of the Vajjian gana sangha participating in the abhiseka ceremony is that all Lichchavi families would be equally entitled for participating in the collective exercise of power.

The Jatakas strengthened the view that power was exercised only by the khattiya clan members. The quarrel between the dasa-kammakaras of the shakyan and Koliyan clans forces the dasa-kammaparas to go back and report to their respective masters so that they could discuss the problem. The participation of the dasa-kammakaras in the discussions[17] has not been indicated. After reading from various sources, Jayaswal concludes that the inhabitants of gana sangha that included the slaves and workmen were categories to whom political participation or citizenship did not apply.[18] The fact noteworthy here is that the social organization of the gana sangha was comparatively simple with a predominance of khattiya population, and a marginal non-khattiya population comprised chiefly of brahmanas, artisans and the dasa-kammakaras. The dasa-kammakaras were numerically more important of the three non-kattiya categories in the gana sangha because they represented the base of the working population in the gana sangha.

It can be discussed that, at least in the Buddhist literature, the khattiyas exercise power in reality, either as members of the gana sangha where they exert collective power, or by association as members of the raja kulas in the monarchical kingdoms. In this reference we must focus on a passage in the Ambattha sutta where it arises that all khattiyas were entitled to receive the consecration of the abhiseka ceremony which was normally connected with the actual sanction to rule (khattiya khattiyabhisekana abhisincheyyang).[19] The derivation of the original meaning of kshatriya from kshatra has been confirmed by this association, which was translated by Keith as sovereignty, and which was rendered by Hocart as the Roman imperium.[20] It has been suggested by Hocart that the tradition of the description of the kshatriya as a warrior is based upon later texts and that the aboriginal definition is associated with kingship i.e. power.[21] Varma treats Keith’s translation of sovereignty as acceptable in case it is used in the general sense of power[22], and the Khattiya is represented in exactly the same way in the Buddhist texts. Fick noticed this characteristic of the khattiyas and he indicated in many scattered references that the khattiyas were associated with the actual exercise of power.[23]

The steady deterioration of the gana sangha and the corresponding rise of territorial units led by the kingdoms of Kosala and Magadha was the most important political phenomenon, to which the Buddha was a witness. In the development of Buddhist political thought and of the Buddhist sangha , both the characteristics had an important role to play. In the sixth century B.C. a shift was taking place from gana sangha to monarchies. The reason behind the deterioration of the gana sangha was the growth of individualism as far as the opinion of Ling was considered[24] but other socio-economic forces are also responsible for their decline.

Footnotes and references:


Arthashastra of Kautilya, ed. by R.P. Kangle, Vol., p. 244.


V.P. Varma, Hindu Political Thought and its Metaphysical Foundations, p. 31.


D.N., II, pp. 126-7.


Sutta Nipata, Khuddaka Nikaya, Vol. I, pp. 68-9.


Kalpa Sutras, tr. by Hermann Jacobi, S.B.E., Vol. XXII, p. 226.


Cullavagga, p. 281.


D.N., II, pp. 98-9.


S.N., I, p. 183. The brahma-as of Khomadussa seem to have had definite identity of their own since they had their own santhagara or assembly hall in which they met. This suggests that they did not participate in the deliberations of the sakyan assembly. The existence of the santhagara was itself a special characteristic of the gana sangha. It is a technical term which never appears in the context of the monarchies. All the santhagara were located in the capitals of the territories of the respective clans (T.W. Rhys Davids, D.B., I, p. 113n). It may also be noted that unlike the sakyas the brahma-as of Khomadussa were antagonistic to the Buddha. They addressed the Buddha as mundaka and samanaka to indicate their disapproval of him (S.N., I, p. 183).


K.P. Jayaswal, Hindu Polity, p. 394.


D.R. Bhandarkar, Ancient History of India, p. 161.


V.S. Agrawala, India as known to Panini, p. 428.


D.N., I, p. 51; see also A.S. Altekar, State and Government in Ancient India, p. 136.


Charles Drekmeir, Kingship and Community in Early India, p. 93n.


Jataka, ed. by V. Fausboll, p. 148.


Adhir Chakravarti, ‘The Federal Experiment in India’, Journal of ancient Indian History, Vol. XI, 1977-8, p.34.


Ekaika eva ma nate aham raja aham rajeti (Lalita Vistara, ed. by Lafmann, Vol. I, p. 21).


The Jatakas, ed. by V. Fausboll, Vol. II, p. 413.


According to K.P. Jayaswal citizenship was a prerogative of ‘free’ men (Hindu Polity, p.98; also J.P. Sharma, Republic in Ancient India, p. 112).


D.N., I, p.85.


A.M. Hocart, Caste, p.37.


Ibid., p. 34.


V.P. Varma, Hindu Political Thought and its Metaphysical Foundations, p. 49.


R. Fick, The Social and Economic Organisation of North-East India in Buddha’s Time, pp. 79-81.


T. Ling, The Budha, p. 62.

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