Democracy in old India

Lakshmi Srinivas lsrinivas at YAHOO.COM
Sun Aug 20 15:41:09 UTC 2000

--- "N. Ganesan" <naga_ganesan at HOTMAIL.COM> wrote:
> I have
> the whole text
> of the Tamil inscription from a few different
> articles, (eg.,
> 'Kamban aDippoDi' S. Ganesan's from the 1968 World
> Tamil conference
> volume, etc.,) somewhere. Surely, the book on
> uttaramErUr
> by Nagasamy will have it.

Dr Ganesan,

The relevant portion of the inscription dealing with
the pot ticket ("kuTavOlai") method of electing sabha
officials is available in translation in Romila
Thapar's "History of India". If my memory serves me
right, it may also be available in Nilakanta Sastri's
"The Colas", esp. the 2nd edition of 1955 which has
summaries of inscriptions. (I don't have these books
handy right now).

In any case I'm not convinced that the process can be
called 'democratic'. In fact in modern terms it may be
looked upon as a plutocratic set-up. For example, the
only eligible candidates for office were those who
owned property in the said brahmadeya village.

Consider the following discussion


The population of a place like Uttaramerur ... must
have been very large if the elaborate rules for
selecting holders of the village offices (vAriyam)
were even partially followed. These rules provided for
the selection of forty-two members of the mahasabha to
serve on five committees ... Each of the mahAjanas, or
members of the great assembly, selected for membership
of the committees had to meet rigorous qualifications
and be free of specfied disabilities. The
qualifications were those of age (between 37 and 70
years), Vedic learning and teaching experience, and
minimum property expressed as a share of the lands
possessed by the Brahmans of the place; disabilities
involved having served on the sabha in the previous
three years, being shown derelict in the execution of
previous offices (...), having committed the sin of
incest or other similarly serious transgressions such
as theft, consuming polluted food withoput having
undergone purificatory rites, and having been adjudged
an 'enemy of the village (grAmakaNTaka)'. Considering
these restrictions and the rotational rules on
balloting, a village like Uttaramerur would have had a
large population in order to provide anything
approaching an adequate panel of candidates.

(B. Stein, Peasant, State and Society in Medieval
South India, OUP, Delhi, 1980, pp. 146-47.)


Although a similar record is not available for the
other assemblies such as the Ur etc, it stands to
reason that a minimum property requirement would have
been a pre-requisite there too.

Thanks and Warm Regards,


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