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Republic – Democracy In Ancient Hindu India – Vairajya

Vairajya means “without kingdom” and derivatively, ‘without king.’ Aitareya Brahmana gives as examples of Vairajyas the Himalayan states of Uttara Kuru and Uttara Madra. Possibly elders of the ruling clan or representative of people administered the states. Other Vedic texts also refer to this type of rule. Thus we have many references of a republic and democracy in ancient Hindu India.

Naga Shrine of Kavaledurga Shimoga, Karnataka

Kautilya describes vairajya in his Arthashastra (VII. 2.5-8) as “snatching what belongs to another or impoverishment, plunder and abandonment of the country”, presumably by the king. Hence it has been suggested that vairajya means alien rule though not necessarily not-Indian rule. Kautilya’s vairajya cannot be construed as headless states, as such states give rise to anarchy, which does not keep people happy and in peace.

Kautilya and other political thinkers of the time were votaries of the monarchial form of state and the divine right of the king. However, vairajyas can be called republics that existed from the Vedic times.

Political thinkers, however, have waxed eloquent on the beneficial aspects of vairajya, where people’s will prevailed and they were ruled as they wanted. Such republics provided peace, prosperity, and happiness. The disadvantage of such republics was that an enemy could easily attack and overrun the republic.

Vedic period perhaps saw the rise of important monarchical as well as non-monarchical states, which find mention in Panini and the Jataka stories. The republic form of government was perhaps limited to the Himalayan region.