Mahajanapadas – Administrative System, Guilds




Mahajanapadas – Administrative System, Guilds:

They were ‘Rajya’, ‘Svaarajya’, ‘Bhaujya’, ‘Vairajya’, ‘Maharajya’, ‘Saamrajya’ and ‘Parmeshthya’. It is difficult to define these terms. However, ‘Shatapatha Brahmana’ and ‘Katyayana Shrautsutra’ explain the term Rajya and Saamrajya in the context of the sacrificial system. According to it, the king who performs ‘Rajasooya’ sacrifice is designated as ‘Raja’. The kingdom ruled by him is designated as ‘Rajya’. When a ‘Raja’ performs ‘Vajapeya’ sacrifice, he is entitled to the epithet of ‘Saamraj’ and the ‘Rajya’ under his rule is entitled as ‘Saamrajya’. A ‘Raja’ is always desirous of the superior entitlement of ‘Saamraj’. The epithet ‘Raja’ always indicates a lower cadre. A ‘Raja’ was expected to be a ‘Kshatriya’ and according to the existing norms a Brahmin was expected to refrain from accepting the position of a ‘Raja’. However, there are a number of exceptions to this norm as seen in the Vedic literature and Buddhist jatakas. The position of Raja was generally bequeathed on the son of the ruling king after him. However, at times, a king was elected by the people. The first wife of the king was given the epithet of ‘Rajmahishi’. She was the one who was formally crowned along with the king. A powerful sovereign performed ‘Ashvamedha’ sacrifice to establish his supremacy. The coronation of a  king principally gave him absolute authority over his subjects. He was the one to decide the amount of taxes to be collected from them. He was the ultimate lord of all the land in his kingdom and so he could donate any portion of that land according to his wish. Nevertheless, his power was not totally unrestricted. The king made his decisions by seeking advice from his officials such as ‘Purohita’, ‘Senani’, ‘Amatya’, ‘Gramani’, etc. Besides, there was an assembly of people of all classes. When it assembled, everybody present there could participate in the decision-making process. There were instances when people’s assemblies made a king step down from the throne.

The trained workers of the guilds provided a congenial atmosphere for work. They procured raw materials for manufacturing, controlled quality of manufactured goods and their price, and located markets for their sale. Though seen through the Eurocentric blinkers they have been misunderstood. It was believed that the Indian Guild system also followed the European feudal or the manorial system of the high Middle Ages, due mainly to sudden increase in trade. These European guilds identified as Merchant Guilds and Craft Guilds lasted in some places until the nineteenth and the twentieth century, though probably their golden age was in the thirteenth and the fourteenth centuries. The Craft Guilds being the direct producers were more important than the Merchant Guilds. But the Indian guilds were far more important and complex institutions than the European examples. The guilds of the merchants and the artisans played a great role in the growth of the mahajanpadas into wealthy states. These guilds had their own way of organization and functioning. Among the important characteristics of the guilds were, local organization of various occupations, transferring the skills to the young members in the family with hands-on training, leadership naturally invested in the senior and experienced members of the guild and other members following them voluntarily. The paid outsiders who worked in the guilds were known as ‘Karmakara’ and unpaid workers as ‘Dasa’. All the members of the Guild constituted the General Assembly. Jataka stories give round figures of 100, 500,1000 as members of different guilds. The Mauryan period is highlighted by the extensive treatment given to Guilds by Kautilya who considers the possibility of guilds as agencies capable of becoming centers of power. Thaplyal points out that the Mauryan Empire (c. 320 to c. 200 BC) witnessed better-maintained highways and increased mobility of men and merchandise. The state participated in agricultural and industrial production. Apart from their socio-economic importance, the guilds must have exercised considerable political influence as well.  Guilds had their laws, based on customs and usage, regarding organization, production, fixation of prices of commodities, etc. These rules were generally recognized by the state. The laws were a safeguard against state oppression and interference in guild affairs. The Gautama Dharmasutra enjoins upon the king to consult guild representatives while dealing with matters concerning guilds. In Kautilya's scheme, a Superintendent of Accounts was to keep a record of the customs and transactions of corporations. The Ashokan edicts show that the roads and the transport system were maintained with great care. It had made the transport of goods and travelling convenient. Obviously, this state of affairs was favourable for the growth of trade and the development of shrenis. All the members of the Guild constituted the General Assembly. Jataka stories give round figures of 100, 500,1000 as members of different guilds. There were independent traditions with respect to the interrelationship between the guild members and the Karmakar as, various stages of production and fixing the prices of produced goods. Each guild had its own rules based on its traditions. The state administration did not interfere in these aspects of the functioning of the guilds. It kept the internal independence of the guilds intact. If a decision has to be reached about the matters of a guild, then the king sought advice from a guild representative. The chief of a guild of artisans was known as ‘Jyeshthaka’ or ‘Jyetthaka’. e.g. 'head of garland makers' (Malankara jetthaka), 'head of carpenters' guild' (vaddhaki jetthaka), The chief of a guild of merchants were known as ‘Shreshthi’ or ‘Setthi’. Ancient texts do not seem to specify whether the office of the head of a guild was elective or hereditary though there are positive references to either. It appears that normally the headship of a guild went to the eldest son. The guilds used their funds for the operations involved in production and trade, as well as for the social cause. It was in the way of giving donations and giving loans with interest at modest rates.

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