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Qualifications And Duties Of A Ruler In Shanti Parva Of Mahabharata

As per Shanti Parva of Mahabharata, although the king or ruler could claim a divine origin, he was not above dharma; in fact, as the chief protector of dharma, he was expected to follow its precepts most meticulously. He received obedience and reverence from his subjects because he was anointed by Bhagavan Vishnu, but for that very reason they expected him godly behavior. He had to be free of all temptations, greed and vices. He had to be learned, knowledgeable and brave. It was his duty to protect the life, honor and wealth of his subjects, to guide them on the morally correct path.

In this task, he was to be guided by his ministers and assisted by an administrative hierarchy. The ideal number of ministers was to be eight, and they could be chosen from any community or caste. However, the qualities and qualifications expected of various castes were different.

A Brahmin had to be learned, a Kshatriya minister had to be brave, a Vaishya minister was to be wealthy, while a Shudra could be appointed as a minister if he was proficient in various personal services. Suta, often treated as casteless, could be a very useful minister and confidant of the king, due to his knowledge of scriptures and folk stories.

The king and his ministers depended upon well-structured administrative machinery. At the lowest level was the village headman; above him was an officer in charge of ten villages, the one in charge of a hundred villages and finally one who had the charge of a thousand villages. Information, petitions, etc., were to be routed from the lowest to the highest level, while loyal decrees were transmitted downwards in the opposite direction. Officers (vulnerable to corruption) were to be watched and were to be given suitable punishment (danda) if found guilty. For dealing with other kings, the king appointed emissaries (duta). These persons were to be highborn, trustworthy and capable of putting across their views in a convincing manner.