April 2, 2010


[The country which lies to the south of the Himalayas and the north of the oceans is called Bharata and the  Bharateeyas are the people of this country. Vishnu Puran, Ch. 3, p.1]

By: Om Prakash
National Law University


The Indian historiography was dominated by the Cambridge school of thought till India’s independence in 1947. This school negated Indianess, Indian nationalism, Indian nation, Indian culture and Indian people. They even refused to accept that there was an Indian freedom struggle against the British colonialism and exploitation. The rise of the nationalist school spearheaded by nationalist leaders was a reaction against such reactionary approach of Cambridge school. They glorified India’s past and sought to protect the Indian culture and tradition from the British colonizers and missionaries onslaught. However the objectivity in the historiography remained aloof. The Marxist school made an attempt to fill the gap by bringing the objectivity at the fore but it had its own inherent ideological limitations.

Despite sixty years of independence, India has yet to negate several Euro-centric biases in the historiography. Terming Samudragupta as Napoleon of India is one of such example, which is totally unjust. Napoleon met his waterloo, Samudragupta never got defeated in the several battles he fought. Like wise calling Kalidas as Shakespeare of India is ridiculous. Both Shakespeare and Kalidas were great dramatist but Kalidas is known also as a great nature poet. Why Shakespeare should not be termed as Kalidas of England? This is strange that since 5000 years invaders who came to India got overwhelmed by the superior Indian civilization and culture and ultimately got assimilated in the Indian society and culture. Their identity merged in that larger identity of Aryavrata, Bharat. But the British colonizers denigrated Indian culture, mocked Indian religion and mythology and remained aloof from the Indian society.

The main objective of this paper is to refute such euro-centric bias regarding statecraft in Ancient India. Another objective of this paper is to portray the real aspects of the state system in Ancient India. Since science of statecraft includes a large number of elements for example, judicial system, bureaucracy, army, civil institutions etc, it won’t be just to give a detailed account of all these aspects in one paper. So primarily the main focus of this paper is to discuss about the idea and types of government in ancient India in the light of various theory of state and Rajdharma or duties of the king as prescribed by the lawgivers with an attempt to portray that how well developed were the rules of governance.

The Origin of the Colonial Ideological Hegemony

The theory of Oriental Despotism was a western construct and especially a reflection of the colonial mindset. Some of the leading propounders of this theory were James Mill, John Kaye, Montesquieu, Hegel etc. The focus of this theory is on India and China, the two major civilization of the Orient. There were specific comments on India like, “unchanging stagnant India”, practice of the same religion and customs since ages and the despots and tyrants who ruled Indians since ages and the uncivilized Indians who are fit to be ruled with an iron hand[1]. It was held that there is no change in Indian custom, laws and manners because Indians are indolent in both body and mind and hence prone to inaction[2]. Such ideological constructs were created to derive the legitimacy to impose tyrannical rule on India.

The British administrator historians or the Anglicists as they were called, developed related theory of “Civilizing Mission”, “White Man’s Burden”, “Theory of Guardianship” etc. to impose an ideological hegemony on the Indian mind. It has been observed that the theory of oriental despotism is being resurrected in the recent times by adding the flavor of religion in it[3]. To give credibility to this construct there was depiction of Indian thought as symbolic and mythical rather than rational and logical. Anglicists argued that western knowledge in English should displace Eastern. James Mill’s History of India was, in large part, written as a refutation of some of William Jones’s ideas, which ultimately shaped the policies of the East India Company.(Read more)

[1] Hegel talked about unchanging India and their unbroken superstitions. Hegel, The Philosophy of History, Tr. J Sibree, New York, 1949, pp. 154, 167.
[2] Montesquieu, The Spirit of Laws, The Hafner, New York, 1949, pp. 224-25.
[3] Ram Sharan Sharma, Aspects of Political Ideas and Institutions in Ancient India, Motilal Banarasidas, Delhi, 2001, p. 86.