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Amatya In Ancient Hindu Kingdoms – Minister - History - Duties

Amatya is a Sanskrit term for minister if ancient Hindu kingdoms. The word amatya is derived rom the indeclinable ‘ama’, meaning ‘together’, ‘by the side of’, with the suffix -tyak, standing for ‘a companion’. Ancient Hindu political thinkers held that the complex machinery of state administration could not be run by a king without the assistance of competent ministers and councilors (Arthashastra 1/9/5). Shukra calls the king the head of ‘the body politic’ and the amatya its eyes (Shukra Niti Sara 161-62). The words sahiva, shurd and sahaya are generally employed as the synonyms of amatya. In the beginning, the mantrin (from mantra, counsel) was primarily a counselor but he gradually took over the actual work of administration and thus reduced the importance of the amatya. The character of the state in the later Vedic period was primarily tribal and the high functionaries, who comprised the king’s relatives, his courtiers and important state officers, wielded great power and influence on the king and the administration. This is evident from the fact that they are described as ‘non-royal king-makers’ (Satapatha Brahmana III 4/1/7) and ‘bestowers of the kingdom upon the king’ (Taittiriya Brahmana 17/3).

Gradually, the emergence of territorial states, the size of the state and the scope of its activities expanded, and correspondingly there was an increase not only in the number of ministers but also their grades and scales. The counselors came to be distinguished from the executive officers; the former were generally described as dhi-sachivas while the latter as karma sachivas (Amarakosha II 8/4). The term mantrin, strictly speaking, applied to the counselors, while the terms amatya and sachiva, referred to the executive heads of various departments. Kautilya recognizes junior ranks in both of these categories. With reference to the amatyas, he states, ‘Such as are possessed of one-half or one-quarter of the above qualifications come under middle and low ranks’. (Arthashastra 1/9/5). About the mantrins he records the opinion of Bharadvaja – ‘Ministers have their own ministers and these latter some of their own.’ (Arthashastra 1/15/11).

There is ample literary and epigraphical evidence to show that over a long period of time there was a sizable section of the ministry holding office in its maulas (hereditary capacity). In cases where a king made fresh selections, different acharyas laid emphasis on different qualities such as integrity, loyalty, intellectual capacity, and good conduct. Kautilya, however, while approving all these as justifiable, felt that an amatya should be a native of the country, of noble birth, influential, trained in arts, should possess foresight, be intelligent, preserving, dexterous, eloquent, bold, ready-witted, endowed with energy and power, able to bear hardships, upright, friendly, firmly devoted, endowed with energy and power, able to bear hardships, upright, friendly, firmly devoted, endowed with character, strength, health and sprit, devoid of procrastination and fickleness, amiable and not given to creating animosities (Arthashastra 1/9/5). In the case of mantrin, in addition to the above, Kautilya considered integrity to be an essential qualification; he emphasized that only those (from among the amatyas), be appointed a mantrin, whose purity of character had been tested by all types of allurements (Arthashastra 1/10/6).

The primary duties of the ministers were two – to restrain the king if he goes astray and to help him in the task of administration. As mantrins, the duty of the ministers was to deliberate on every matter and give counsel to the king after fully examining its five aspects, namely, the means to carry out an undertaking, availability of men and material, (proper) allotment of time and place, remedies against calamities and final success. As amatyas they were the springs of all state activities such as the successful accomplishment of the works of the people, security of person and property from internal and external enemies, remedial measures against calamities, settlement of new territories and improvement of wild tracts of land, recruiting the army, collection of revenue, and bestowal of favors, (Arthashastra 1/11/15 and 8/1/127). Shukra is the earliest exponent to give us a somewhat clear indication of the portfolios of ministers. According to him, the ministry, whose strength was to be ten, was to consist of a purohita (a spiritual preceptor of the king), a pratinidhi (one deputizing for the king in his absence), a pradhana (prime minister), a schiva (war minister), a mantrin (foreign minister), a pradvivaka (minister-in-charge of the judicial department), a pandita (minister-in-charge of religion and morality), a sumanta (minister in charge of the treasury), an amatya (revenue minister) and a duta (royal ambassador). (Shukraniti Ii 70-72).

In urgent matters, the king summoned his counselors as well as the council of ministers for consultation (Arthashastra 1/15/11). Otherwise, the normal practice was to hold consultations with three or four counselors.

The ministers were appointed by the king, who also had the right to dismiss them. Naturally, they were directly responsible to the king.