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Kingship in Early India By Christina Bell and Parker Burke.

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1 Kingship in Early India By Christina Bell and Parker Burke

2 From Tribal Chief to King During Tribal life there was a Chieftain King. Royal prerogative seriously restricted by tribal law and custom. Constant fighting among tribes increased the chieftain kings power. Over time this power restricted kingship to one family. Rivals within and outside the family were driven away to maintain internal peace.

3 Monarchies vs. Tribes Some tribes didn’t want to acknowledge absolute rule, they wanted to maintain their traditional tribal oligarchies. They not only resisted the idea of a caste based monarchy but also retained some central ideas of administration of a population from earlier times, such as government through assembly representing the tribe. –This involved a meeting of the representatives of the tribes or the heads of families in a public assembly. The assemble was presided over by one of the representatives who took the title raja. This office was not hereditary and he was regarded as the chief rather than king.

4 Monarchies vs. Tribes (con’t) There is evidence to suggest that the monarchies of the sixth to fourth centuries showed early signs of a caste society. This included the establishment of the hereditary lineage of kingship. The main technique to get tribes into monarchies was to soften them up for disintegration from within. The goal was to convert tribesmen into members of a class society based upon individual private property. By 600 BC kingship had definitely become hereditary and had accumulated more elaborate markers of power, divinity and status.

5 The Deification of a King Priests were central in granting divinity to Kings in early society. Rituals and sacrifices conducted by the high priests became the principal mechanism for consolidating the status of the king and for reinforcing the social order presided over by the King.

6 Deification of a King (con’t) Many Kings took part in the Golden Womb ceremony as described in some Puranas –A large vessel of gold was placed in an open area. The prince was placed inside it in the fetal position. Next the Brahmin priests chanted sacred texts. The man emerges, now reborn as a King. Many times the King became worshipped as a local deity. Divinity and exalted status were crucial attributes in the King’s arsenal.

7 King’s Responsibilities Brahmin scripture is emphatic that kingship is essential for the preservation of the social order of society. Their responsibilities include: –Adjusting disputes between different parties. –Pay fullest attention to local and religious law and be able to enforce it upon the community. –His vast revenue has to cover the upkeep of troops, hospitals, and unnumbered charitable institutions. –He must ensure employment opportunities for his subjects. –Provide spiritual guidance and example. –Avail himself to certain administrative duties, such as, hearing of public reports, and confidential reports, consultation with ministerial council, treasury, and army heads.


9 Bibliography Forbes, Rosita. India of the Princes. (London: The Book Club, 1939). Hawkridge, Emma. Indian Gods and Kings. (New York: Houghten Mifflin, 1935). Kosambi, D.D. A History of It’s Culture and Civilization. (New York: Pantheon Books, 1965).

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