Kings, Kingdoms Early Republics
Around 600 BC, which was about 3000 years ago; the status of the ruler changed significantly. Unlike the rajas of the Vedic period; the kings of this period became more powerful.
The method of choosing a raja changed, as compared to Vedic period. A person who wanted to become a raja had to perform big sacrifices to claim his authority. A raja usually performed ashwamedha yajna to assert his supremacy above other rajas.
Some of the details about ashwamedha yajna are as follows:
- A horse was let loose to roam around in the surrounding areas, during the ritual.
- If the horse was able to pass through any raja’s territory, this meant that that particular raja accepted the supremacy of the ambitious raja.
- If someone blocked the horse’s path, he had to fight with the raja’s army.
- The winner of that battle was to become the ultimate raja.
- After the horse used to complete its round of all the territories, other rajas were sent invitation to attend the yajna. This used to mark the beginning of supremacy of the raja who performed the ashwadedha yajna.
- Specially trained priests performed the rituals. The priests were rewarded with precious gifts. Cows used to be a major part of such gifts.
- In those rituals; the main raja used to be the central figure. He was given the most important and the highest seat. Other rajas sat according to their individual status.
- Since the charioteer of the raja always accompanied in all his exploits; he used to chant the raja’s tales of glory during the yajna. Other rajas were supposed to behave as mute spectators.
- The relatives of the main raja got the opportunity to perform some minor rituals. The ordinary people (vish or vaishyas) were supposed to bring gifts for the raja. The shudras were not allowed to attend the ceremony.
The Varna System
The society was divided into four varnas, viz. the Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras.
- Brahmins: The Brahmins were considered as the supreme varna and were given the highest status. Brahmins were expected to study and teach the Vedas. They were expected to perform sacrifices. They used to receive gifts; in lieu of performing sacrifices and rituals.
- Kshatriyas: The Kshatriya varna came at the second number. The rulers came under this varna. They were expected to fight battles and to protect people. They could also perform sacrifices.
- Vaishyas: The vaishya varna came at the third number and included the farmers, herders and traders. They could also perform sacrifices.
- Shudras: The shudra varna was at the bottom of this hierarchy. They were expected to serve the other three varnas. Sometimes, women were also considered as shudras. The shudras were not allowed to perform sacrifices. They could not even attend such ceremonies.
A person’s varna was based on his birth. Thus, the son of a Brahmin was always a Brahmin. Similarly, the son of a shudra would always remain a shudra. A shudra was not allowed to do the work meant for other varnas. But some people did not agree with this system. Even some rajas did not agree with this system. For example; in the north-eastern part of India, the society was not as sharply polarized. In this part of the country, the priests did not enjoy so much power.
The term janapada is composed of two Hindi words, i.e. jana and pada. This means a place where people (jana) set their feet (pada) and settle down. A janapada was bigger than the jana about which you have read in previous chapter. After successfully performing the ashwamedha yajna, a raja could become the king of a janapada. Even today; a district is called a janapad in Uttar Pradesh.
Although a janapada was bigger in size, yet people still lived in huts and reared cattle. People grew many crops; like rice, wheat, pulses, barley, sugarcane, sesame and mustard; were grown. The archaeologists have excavated many sites from the janapadas. For example; Purana Quila in Delhi, Hastinapur near Meerut and Atranjikhera near Etah (in UP).
Clay pots were commonly used by the people. Some of the pots were grey, while some of them were red. Some grey wares were painted with ornate designs. These pots were possibly used on special occasions; like a feast.