Impact of Vedic Culture on Society

by Kaushik Acharya | 2020 | 120,081 words

This page relates ‘Systems of Administration Prevalent In the Vedic Period’ of the study on the Impact of Vedic Culture on Society as Reflected in Select Sanskrit Inscriptions found in Northern India (4th Century CE to 12th Century CE). These pages discuss the ancient Indian tradition of Dana (making gifts, donation). They further study the migration, rituals and religious activities of Brahmanas and reveal how kings of northern India granted lands for the purpose of austerities and Vedic education.

Systems of Administration Prevalent In the Vedic Period

Most of the time, term rājan (the king) has been used as the title of various deities. Again, rājan was meant to the Primitive-chiefs as well. The basic unit of power lay within a kula (patriarchal family). Kulapā or Gṛhapati was the head of the family. The word bappa pointing to the real originator of the family. The term denotes ‘father’. However, there are several instances of Bappa-svāmin that indicate just a specific name of a particular yajurvedīya brāhmaṇa[1] in inscriptions. Grāma has consisted of a group of such families, and that was controlled by a Grāmaṇi (village headman). Similarly, the groups of the villages belonged to a viś (clan), which was headed by the Viśpati, and many of this viś made the highest unit or community called jana, which was led by the primitive chief maybe because of his successful leadership, and he was called Rājan.

Not much information is available on the nature of administration that existed in the ṛgvedic polity. Still we do know that the early vedic chief, the rājan did possess a modest number of administrative staff. Due to an increase in the size of the primitive kingdoms or certain territories and diversification of economic and social activities, the strength of the chief and the royal officials grew manifold during the post-ṛgvedic period. During the ṛgvedic period, we see the names of specific entities that perform a variety of activities related to the affairs of the state.

Concept of Vedic Chief:

It is believed that the ṛgvedic Rājan was equal to a person whose hereditary position was not in question. But several references indicate that he owed his office to the choice of the people, may have been elected by his people. Most references to the election of the king found in the Atharvaveda, which is relatively later addition to the Vedas.[2] Still, it seems that the practice must have begun much earlier. This reference shows that the tenants elected its Chief and the Chief of the jana (locality) was Rājan. However, Rājan was not a king in a real sense, but a protector of concerned region and the livestock. There was no actual structure of a state territory or even a real king, as discussed before. Since Rājan was the leader of these people and not the ruler of any region, Rājan was known as janasya gopā or gopati janasya. [3] He was leading the people in wars for taking possession of livestock and wealth but not to occupy areas as he was not the ruler of any region or province. Perhaps the idea of occupying lands or regions did not come into existence at that time, and thus the concept of the territory was utterly absent. This is the reason that the term jana which means respective regions region or its tenants or ordinary people, is used two hundred and seventy-five times,[4] but we don’t find any instance of word the janapada in Ṛgveda. This indicates that the realm and the territorial aspect of the state appeared in later vedic age only. Initially, some regions were known after the names of the tribes, and later, they developed into various janapadas.


Although grāma has been used twelve times in Ṛgveda, does not give the idea of a village either, but a group of families or a primitive unit or a militaristic primitive unit. It seems that the concept of a settled community was absent in the early vedic era. In a grāma, the duty to manage land and battles was of a Vrājapati, who later became synonymous with Grāmaṇi who was the head. Thus, both of them, Grāmaṇi and Vrājapati were either the same person or the identical leader heads of those primitive units called grāma.

The Political Units of Ṛgvedic Period:

Ṛgvedic Units Definition Unit Heads
Kula (the smallest unit) The Family Kulapāti
Grāma The Village Grāmanī
Viś The Clan Viśpati
Jana The People or tribe Rājan
Rājya Small states Rājan
Rāṣṭra A group of small states or the country Rājan / Samrāṭ

The Political Structure in the Vedic Period:

The political structure was in vedic times was not much complicated as we said before. Just the names of some officials associated with the administration were found at that time.

Army and Espionage:

Although the terms senā (army) or senānī which have been used twenty times[5] in Ṛgveda but does not show the existence of a regular army. Grāmanī, Vrājapati, Kulapā and others appear to have functioned as leaders. The only functionary who had some permanent responsibility for the defense was Purapatis.6,7 However, the Rājan employed Spasa (spies) to keep an eye on the behavior of the people.[6] There were also two officials Ugra and Jivagribha[7] probably meant for dealing with the criminals. Along with these officials, some functionaries are mentioned in Ṛgveda, such as Mahiṣī (literally the powerful one, was the crowned queen),[8] the Purohita, [9] Saṃgrahitṛ (treasurer),[10] the charioteer,[11] the Taksan (carpenter)[12] and the Duta (messenger).[13] But any category of officers to administer justice and the code of law are absent totally in the early vedic era.

It seems, the Rāṣṭra was small areas ruled by a Rājan, and the bigger ones were ruled by ‘Samrāṭ’ that reflects that Samrāṭs enjoyed a position of higher authority and dignity. The Rājan administered justice with the assistance of Purohita and other officials. Some data, however, indicate that the dominance of a king was limited to specific families. This lack of stable hereditary inheritance came in the way of the socalled Chief or king to become the most influential person.

The Primitive Assemblies during Vedic Times:

It seems that the vedic king’s authority was diminished by the existence of all the primitive assemblies called vidatha, sabhā, samiti [samitiḥ], pariṣad, gaṇa and others. These assemblies had to take responsibilities for both military and religious functions.


Vidatha was the oldest and earliest folk assembly of the Āryans among these assemblies. The vidatha seems to be a more popular assembly than either sabhā or samiti [samitiḥ] in the ṛgvedic period, as it appears for one hundred and twenty-two times in the Ṛgveda. The vidatha was an assembly where both men and women took part. It meant for religious, military, and all kinds of economic, military, religious,[14] and social functions at that time. In addition, it also provided a common ground for the worship of gods[15] refers to various interpretations regarding vidatha. The term vidatha “probably indicated a religious or sacrificial gathering, rituals at which required the highest knowledge,” according to Altekar. Again, Bloomfield mentions it refers to a patriarchal house and then to connect sacrifice with the house. However, the last explanation does not seem plausible.


Not enough details are available regarding the term, which finds mention in the hymns of the Ṛgveda and Atharvaveda. But there is no doubt about the existence of such an institution. Wilhelm Rau[16] has quoted Grassman’s opinion about the term sabhā. He says that the word sabhya that mentioned in Ṛgveda hymn 1,91.20 is nothing but an adjective to sabhā, which means “to qualify for an assembly, to be distinguished in it.” He further adds[17] that according to many instances in the brāhmaṇas the word sabhā has a multifaceted meaning. It denotes a barn building, an unlimbered hall with a fire-place and dice game for the banquets, or it means game in the house of rich men, the society, the community, a place where used to discuss pastoral affairs and performed judicial and administrative activities and judicial authority exercised with great attention. In addition to the dance, music, magic, and others, the sabhā was also a center for fun and gambling.[18] Women were called as Sabhāpati and its members as sabhya in this a kinbased assembly. Unfortunately, the practice of women attending the sabhā probably stopped in later-vedic times.


The references of samiti [samitiḥ] are found mostly in the last chapter of Ṛgveda. This shows that it only took importance towards the end of the ṛgvedic period. Samiti was a folk assembly and mainly business-oriented gatherings. Apart from the business transaction-related discussions, people discussed philosophical issues, religious ceremonies, and were concerned with prayers. References suggest that the Rājan was elected and re-elected by the samiti, the political functions of the samiti were far more prominent. It was a comprehensive core conference, which included the familiar people (viś), the brāhmaṇas and the wealthy patrons according to Ludwig. It was probably a general primitive assembly. The samiti, however, resurfaces as the janapada assembly 600 BCE -600 CE.[19]

Sabhā and samiti were the most important and essential assemblies of the government at that time. Both were mentioned as the daughters of Prajāpati in Atharvaveda. [20] Both the units led by the chiefs. Thus it seems that in the early stage, there was no fundamental difference between the two. The only difference was that samiti did not perform judicial activities.


Gaṇa has been interpreted in most of the ṛgvedic references[21] in the sense of an assembly or troop. The head leader of the gaṇa was generally called Gaṇapati and, in some cases, as Janasyarāja. There were a few non-monarchical states (gaṇa) whose head was Gaṇapati or Jyestha (elder). Whatever it is, the term ‘gaṇa’ denotes a primitive community.[22]


In the early period, pariṣad seems to be a primitive military unit, but in the latervedic period, it became an academy partly and partly a royal council under priests. It was functioned as an advisor to the king. In ṛgvedic times women attended vidatha and sabhā.

In the day-to-day administration, the king was assisted by a few another functionaries as evidenced through Ṛgveda, Such as the Senāni or the general, the Purohita or the priest, the Grāmaṇi or the head of the grāma and to Spasas or spies, Grāmya-vādin or a village judge and others. But these do not seem to be organized administrative bodies.[23]

The System of Taxation during the Vedic Period:

Naturally, the ṛgvedic Rājan did not have a large administrative system like the kings had in early and early medieval periods in northern India. The nature of the ancient ṛgvedic economy and such a simpleand less complicated social system did not support a sound administrative system. We will discuss an enormous taxation system that existed during the early and early medieval periods. Compared to that, the surplus was too small in the vedic age, and the Rājan only received bali, i.e., offering to a prince or a god from the conquered people and so-called tenants. However, these were not regular or scheduled and, therefore, cannot be called a tax.

Administrative Officers Ṛgvedic Titles
King Rājan
Priest Purohita
Commander Senāni
Officer in Charge of Pastoral Lands Vrjapati
Police Officers Jivagribha
Spy Spasa
Head of the Village Grāmaṇi
Head of the family Kulapā
Mediator in Disputes Madhyamasi
Collector of taxes Bhagadugha
Treasurer Sangrahitṛ
Chief Queen Mahiṣī
Charioteer Suta
Messenger Palagala
Accountant/ superintendent of dicing Akshvapa
Envoys Dutas
Chamberlain Kshata

Over time, a lot has changed in the administrative system in the early and early middle ages. In this case, too, land grant charters issued at this time testify to this. We will see that with the growth of regional units, the simple administration gradually became more complicated.

Footnotes and references:


USVAE, vol. III, p. 26.


Atharvaveda, book III, Hymn 4. [Ralph T.H. Griffith (ed.), The Hymns of the Atharvaveda, vol. 2].


“marutstotrasya vṛjanasya gopā vayam indreṇa sanuyāma vājam | tan no mitro varuṇo māmahantām aditiḥ sindhuḥ pṛthivī uta dyauḥ ||” Ṛg, 1.101.11.


Ṛg 6.36.2, Ṛg 1.136.3, Ṛg 1.86.1, Ṛg 8.93.11, Ṛg 10.57.5, Ṛg 1.41.1, Ṛg 10.141.4, Ṛg 8.5.39, Ṛg 2.21.3.



Nagendra Kr. Singh and A.P. Mishra, Encyclopedia of Oriental Philosophy and Religion: Hinduism, p. 913.


Praphullachandra Basu, Indo-Aryan Polity, Rigvedic Period, p. 96.


R.U.S. Prasad, The Rig-Vedic and Post-Rig-Vedic Polity (1500 BCE-500 BCE), p. 113.


Keith, Arthur Berriedale, The Religion and Philosophy of the Veda and Upanishads, part I, p. 293.


R.U.S. Prasad, op. cit., p. 197.


Sparreboom M., Chariots in the Veda, p. 134.


Arthur Anthony MacDonnell and Arthur Berriedale Keith, Vedic Index of Names and Subjects, vol. II, p. 70.


Ibid., p. 371.


Ṛgveda, 6.8.1.


R.U.S. Prasad, op. cit., p. 113. Also see, Arthur Anthony MacDonnell and Arthur Berriedale Keith, op. cit., pp. 296-97.


Wilhelm Rau and Harrassowitz Otto, Staat Und Gesell Schaft In Alten Indien, p. 77.


Ibid., pp. 77, 81.


R.U.S. Prasad, op. cit., p. 108.


Ibid., p. 111.


Atharvaveda, 7.13.1.


Forty-six places in the Ṛgveda.


R.U.S. Prasad, op. cit., p. 196.


Ibid., p. 112.

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