History of India/Volume 1/Chapter 19

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AN account of the system of administration which prevailed in India over two thousand years ago will naturally interest our readers, and fortunately both Hindu Sutrakaras and Greek writers furnish us with reliable information on the subject. We will begin our account with some extracts from Sutra works. The king is directed to build a royal town and a palace for himself, looking towards the south:—

"The palace shall stand in the heart of the town.

"In front of that there shall be a hall. That is called the hall of invitation.

"At a little distance from the town to the south he shall cause to be built an assembly house with doors on the south and on the north sides, so that one can see what passes inside and outside."

Fires shall burn constantly and oblations shall be offered in these fires, and—

"In the hall he shall entertain his guests, at least those who are skilled in the Vedas.

"Rooms, a couch, meat, and drink should be given to them according to their good qualities. A table with dice should also be provided, and Brahmans, Vaisyas, and Sudras may be allowed to play there. Assaults of arms, dancing, singing, and music are allowed in the houses of the king's servants;

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and the king shall constantly take care of his subjects:—

"That king only takes care of the welfare of his subjects in whose dominions, be it in villages or forests, there is no danger from thieves."

Both Vasishtha and Baudhayana declare that the king is entitled to a sixth portion of the income of his subjects as taxes, but they exempt many classes who are unable to pay, while Gautama details the taxes thus:–

"Cultivators pay to the king a tax amounting to one-tenth, one-eighth, or one-sixth (of the produce).

"Some declare that the tax on cattle and gold amounts to one-fiftieth (of the stock).

"In the case of merchandise one-twentieth (must be paid by the seller) as duty.

"Of roots, fruits, flowers, medicinal herbs, honey, meat, grass, and fire-wood, one-sixtieth.

"Each artisan shall monthly do one day's work (for the king).

"Hereby the taxes payable by those who support themselves by personal labour have been explained.

"And those payable by owners of ships and carts.

"He must feed these persons while they work for him."

Megasthenes gives us a valuable account of the manner in which the work of administration was actually carried on, and the following passages from McCrindle's translation will be read with interest:–

"Those who have charge of the city are divided into six bodies of five each. The members of the first look after everything relating to the industrial arts. Those of the second attend to the entertainment of foreigners. To these they assign lodgings, and they keep watch over their modes of life by means of those persons whom they give to them for assistants. They escort them on the way when they leave the country, or in the event of their dying, forward their property to their relatives. They take care of them when they are sick, and if they die bury them. The third body consists of those who inquire when and how births and deaths occur, with the view not only of levying a tax, but also in order that births and deaths among both high and low may not escape the cognizance of government. The fourth class superintends trade and commerce. Its members have charge of weights and measures, and see that the products in their season are sold by public notice. No one is allowed to deal in more than one kind of commodity unless he pays a double tax. The fifth class supervises manufactured articles, which are sold by public notice. What is new is sold separately from what is old, and there is a fine for mixing the two together. The sixth and last class consists of those who collect the tenths of the prices of the articles sold."

The military officers "also consist of six divisions with five members to each. One division is appointed to co-operate with the admiral of the fleet; another with the superintendent of the bullock trains which are used for transporting engines of war, food for the soldiers, provender for the cattle, and other military requisites. The third division has charge of the foot-soldiers, the fourth of the horses, the fifth of the war-chariots, and the sixth of the elephants."

Besides the municipal officers and military officers, there was yet a third class of officers who superintended agriculture, irrigation, forests, and generally the work of administration in rural tracts. "Some

superintend the rivers, measure the land, as is done in Egypt, and inspect the sluices by which water is let out from the main canals into their branches, so that every one may have an equal supply of it. The same officers have charge also of the huntsmen, and are entrusted with the power of rewarding or punishing them according to their deserts. They collect the taxes and superintend the occupations connected with land, as those of the wood-cutters, the carpenters, the blacksmiths, and the miners. They construct roads, and at every ten stadia set up a pillar to show the by-roads and distances."

Of the personal habits and occupations of kings, Megasthenes has given us a picture which agrees in the main with the picture given in Sanskrit literature. The care of the king's person was entrusted to female slaves, who were bought from their parents, and the guards and the rest of the soldiery were stationed outside the gates. The king attended the court every day and remained there during the day without allowing the business to be interrupted. The only other occasions on which he left the palace were when he performed sacrifices or went out for the chase. Crowds of women surrounded him when he went out for the chase, and outside this circle the spearmen were ranged. Armed women attended the king in chariots, on horses, or on elephants, when he hunted in the open grounds from the back of an elephant. Sometimes he shot arrows from a platform inside an enclosure, and two or three armed women stood by him on the platform. These accounts show that the sturdy and warlike manners of the Kurus and the Panchalas of the Epic Age had already been replaced by more luxurious and effeminate habits in the Philosophic Age. The age of chivalry had gone, and that of luxury had come.

Arrian gives an account of the way in which the Hindus equipped themselves for war: "The foot-soldiers carry a bow made of equal length with the man who bears it. This they rest upon the ground, and pressing against it with their left foot, thus discharge the arrow, having drawn the string far backwards; for the shaft they use is little short of being three yards long, and there is nothing which can resist an Indian archer's shot—neither shield nor breastplate, nor any stronger defence, if such there be. In their left hand they carry bucklers made of undressed ox-hide, which are not so broad as those who carry them, but are about as long. Some are equipped with javelins instead of bows, but wear a sword, which is broad in the blade, but not longer than three cubits; and this, when they engage in close fight (which they do with reluctance), they wield with both hands to fetch down a lustier blow. The horsemen are equipped with two lances like the lances called Saunia, and with a shorter buckler than that carried by the foot-soldiers. For they do not put saddles on their horses; nor do they curb them with bits in use among the Greeks or the Kelts, but they fit on round the extremity of the horse's mouth a circular piece of stitched raw ox-hide studded with pricks of iron or brass pointing inwards, but not very sharp; if a man is rich he uses pricks made of ivory."

The laws of war were more humane among the Hindus than among other nations in the world, and Apastamba declares that "the Aryans forbid the slaughter of those who have laid down their arms, of those who beg for mercy with flying hair or joined hands, and of fugitives," while Baudhayana says: "Let him not fight with those who are in fear, intoxicated, insane, or out of their minds, nor with those who have lost their armour, nor with women, infants, aged men, and Brahmans." Megasthenes also vouches for the humane laws of war among the Hindus. "For whereas among other nations it is usual in the contests of war to ravage the soil and thus to reduce it to an uncultivated waste, among the Indians, on the contrary, by whom husbandmen are regarded as a class that is sacred and inviolable, the tillers of the soil, even when battle is raging in their neighbourhood, are undisturbed by any sense of danger; for the combatants on either side, in waging the conflict, make carnage of each other, but allow those engaged in husbandry to remain quite unmolested. Besides, they neither ravage an enemy's land with fire, nor cut down its trees."

Megasthenes tells us that the Indian tribes numbered 118 in all. On the north of India and beyond the Himalaya the country "is inhabitated by those Scythians who are called the Sakai." Such is the brief mention made of that powerful tribe which hung like an ominous cloud on the northern slopes of the Himalaya in the fourth century before Christ, but which in the course of a few centuries burst like a hurricane on the plains of Western India.

Of the peaceful and law-abiding people in India, Megasthenes gives an account which is well-nigh Utopian:—"They live happily enough, being simple in their manners and frugal. They never drink wine, except at sacrifices. Their beverage is a liquor prepared from rice instead of barley, and their food is principally a rice pottage. The simplicity of their laws and their contracts is proved by the fact that they seldom go to law. They have no suits about pledges and deposits, nor do they require either seals or witnesses, but make their deposits and confide in each other. Their houses and property they generally leave unguarded. These things indicate that they possess sober sense. Truth and virtue they hold alike in esteem. Hence they accord no special privileges to the old unless they possess superior wisdom."

Megasthenes further states that the Indians did "not even use aliens as slaves, and much less a countryman of their own," that thefts were very rare among them, that their laws were administered from memory, and even that they were ignorant of the art of writing. We have the evidence of Nearchos, however, that writing was known in India in the Philosophic Period, and the statement of Megasthenes only shows that writing was in very little use, either in schools, where boys received their learning and their religious lessons by rote, or even in courts of justice, where the Dharma Sutras were administered by learned judges entirely from memory.

Arrian quotes a passage from Nearchos, and says that the Indians "wear an under-garment of cotton which reaches below the knee half-way down to the ankles, and also an upper garment which they throw partly over their shoulders and partly twist in folds round their head. They wear shoes made of white leather, and these are elaborately trimmed, while the soles are variegated, and made of great thickness." And the great mass of the "people of India live upon grain and are tillers of the soil, but we must except the hillmen, who eat the flesh of beasts of chase."

Our faithful guide Megasthenes also gives us an account of cultivation in Ancient India which, on the whole, corresponds with the system of cultivation prevalent at the present time. He speaks of a double rainfall in the year, considering the winter showers as a regular rainfall. He speaks of "many vast plains of great fertility, more or less beautiful, but all alike intersected by a multitude of rivers. The greater part of the soil, moreover, is under irrigation and consequently bears two crops in the course of the year. It teems at the same time with animals of all sorts, beasts of the field and fowl of the air, of all different degrees of strength and size. It is prolific, besides, in elephants which are of monstrous bulk. In addition

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to cereals, there grows throughout India much millet, which is kept well watered by the profusion of river streams, and much pulse of different sorts, and rice also, and what is called bosporum, as well as many other plants useful for food, of which most grow spontaneously. The soil yields, moreover, not a few other edible products fit for the subsistence of animals about which it would be tedious to write. It is accordingly affirmed that famine has never visited India, and that there has never been a general scarcity in the supply of nourishing food. For since there is a double rainfall in the course of each year one in the winter season, when the sowing of wheat takes place as in other countries, and the second at the time of the summer solstice, which is the proper season for sowing rice and bosporum, as well as sesamum and millet—the inhabitants of India almost always gather two harvests annually; and even should one of the sowings prove more or less abortive, they are always sure of the other crop. The fruits, moreover, of spontaneous growth, and the esculent roots, which grow in marshy places and are of varied sweetness, afford abundant sustenance for man."

The excellent manufactures of India were known to the traders of Phoenicia and in the markets of Western Asia and Egypt long before the Christian era. Megasthenes naïvely says that the Indians were "well skilled in the arts, as might be expected of men who inhale a pure air and drink the very finest water." The soil, too, has " under ground numerous veins of all sorts of metals, for it contains much gold and silver, and copper and iron in no small quantity, and even tin and other metals, which are employed in making articles of use and ornament, as well as the implements and accoutrements of war."

With regard to finery and ornament, Megasthenes says that "in contrast to the general simplicity of their style, they love finery and ornament. Their robes are worked in gold and ornamented with precious stones, and they also wear flowered garments of the finest muslin. Attendants walking behind hold up umbrellas over them, for they have a high regard for beauty and avail themselves of every device to improve their looks."

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