Concept of the State


The institution of state is created to enable the individual to practise his/her dharma and thus move towards the emancipation from the cycle of death-rebirth. The condition of arajat (lawlessness) was viewed with distaste as it militated against the practicing of dharma. There is reference in many ancient Vedic texts to Matsya-Nyaya (Law of the Fish) which prevails in the state of nature.18 Such a state is characterized by the absence of dharma and mamatava (private property rights)

State, which wields the instruments of coercion (danda), is constituted to get the society out of this quagmire 20 Thus the state enables two things – the practice of dharma and the bhog (enjoyment) of private property rights.21 The Vedic state can be viewed as “qualified monism” in which the autonomy and the diversity of the various social groups residing within the boundaries of the state was recognized Citizens had multiple loyalties – to the state as well as to the guild/association These associations were knit together on the basis of two principles – military imperative (strength in unity) and the principle of dharma . These bodies had well specified rules of governance and a code of conduct. They zealously guarded their autonomy and the King could not trample on their customs and traditions. To ensure that the King and the associations do not overstep their respective limits, the Superintendent of Accounts had to codify the history, the customs, and the traditions of every association . However, the relationship between the individual body and the state was not of competition or of turf protection. Both the bodies had a role to play in enabling the citizen to follow his dharma. Interestingly, there was a Department of Commissioners (Pradeshtarah) to protect the interest of the individual in the association . Thus there was a mechanism to protect the individual from the larger association (tyranny of the majority) and the association from the State (tyranny of the Leviathan). The King was looked upon an embodiment of virtue, a protector of dharma. He too was governed by his dharma as any other citizen was. Thus if any actions of the King went against the prevailing notion of dharma, associations and/or the individual citizens were free to question him. King was not the sole interpreter of dharma. In fact there was no specific institution (like the ecclesiastical courts) vested with the authority of interpreting dharma. Every individual was deemed competent to interpret it. This was an important factor in ensuring the non-religious character of the Vedic state.