Personal and geographical names in the Gupta inscriptions/Prologue II

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Personal and geographical names in the Gupta inscriptions

Tej Ram Sharma

Concept Publishing Company Delhi, 1978

The full text of this chapter has been converted into Wiki format by Laxman Burdak

Prologue II


Tribal Names occurring in our records make it clear that they represented a heterogeneous stock of people in Indian society and that ethnic or geographical factors predominated. The locality or country was generally known by the plural of the tribal name. The original name of the tribe whether ethnic or territorial may be hypothetical since it is difficult to determine exactly whether the place gave the name to the tribe or the tribe to the place. We find many examples where the tribes gave their names to the places after they were known by some ethnic or tribal appellations. For example, we know that Videha obtained its name from the settlement of the Videgha tribe who were lead by their king Mathava (माथव) when they pushed forward to the east from the Sarasvati 1 and that Panchala denoted the country or kingdom which the Kshatriya tribe Panchala occupied. 2 With a definite territory of their own, they lost their tribal character and assumed the functions of the ruler. The names of the janapadas thus given continued even if the tribe migrated somewhere else; rather it gave the names to the janapadas wherever it settled. Thus we know the divisions of the Malavas, Yaudheyas, the Kurus and the Madras.

These tribes went through various vicissitudes due to the growth of big imperial states viz. of the Mauryas and the Guptas, and foreigns invasions from the north-west. They had replaced old Vedic tribes in many places and flourished during the period from 6th century B.C. to A.D. 4th-5th century. Though Altekar 3 has pointed out that they flourished only in north-western and north-eastern zone and conspicuously absented themselves in the south, we find the evidence of self-governing people, though scanty, in South India as well. The Rock Edict XIII refers to some territories

122 Personal and geographical names in the Gupta inscriptions

in the south which are mentioned as a people and not as kingdoms. 4 Not only that the Satiyaputras and the Keralaputras are also mentioned in the Second Rock Edict of Asoka. 5

We find some tribes known probably after proper names viz., the Yaudheyas and Arjunayanas as well as the proper names used after the tribes. 6 We also know of Madra as a personal name in our records. K.P. Jayaswal has pointed out that the sudra republic is evidently the same whom Alexander met in lower Sind and whom 'we have identified with the brahminical Saudras or Saudrayanas of the Ganapatha. On grammar it is based on the proper name (of a man) Sudra, not the caste-name. 7

The tribes did not live in isolation and interacted with society. The bond that held so heterogeneous a society together, made it a society rather than a set of tribes, was not so much common ritual and common language but as a whole it was an aggregate of common needs satisfied by reciprocal exchange.

The indigenous tribes based on caste and family founded the republican kingdoms. They worked singularly or formed confederations to save themselves from foreign aggressions. The republics had emerged from the Vedic tribes and retained much more tribal tradition than did the monarchies. In the transition from tribe to republic they lost the essential democratic pattern of the tribe but retained the idea of government through an assembly representing the tribe. 8 Tribal organization was based on a smaller geographical area and permitted the functioning of a popular government more effectively. 9

The words Sangha and Gana have been synonymously used for these republics. Panini makes frequent use of the word Sangha in his Astadhyayi. It seems later the word Sangha became representative of the Buddhist order and hence the use of the term was dropped for a republic and only the word 'Gana' was retained for the purpose. 10

The Ayudhajivin republics of Panini had become Vārtāsāstropajivins by the time of Kautilya, probably they had taken to agriculture and industry side by side with their common profession of military art. They are enumerated by Kautilya as the Kambojas, the Surastras, the Kshatriyas, the Srenis, and 'others'. 11 The other class of republics bore the

Personal and geographical names in the Gupta inscriptions 123

title Rājan or king, are as follows : The Licchavikas, the Vrijikas, the Mallakas, the Madrakas, the Kukuras, the Kurus, the Panchalas, and 'others'. 12 Basham opines that the Arthasastra refers ironically to the martial arrogance and practical ineptitude of the republics when it mentions the members of the seven named tribes "making a living by the title of raja". 13

We do not agree with Basham since we know from a passage in the later Vedic literature that the Uttarakurus and the Uttaramadras were kingless (vairajya) states, where people, the heads of founder families, were consecrated for the rulership. 14 Kautilya has also placed the Madrakas and the Kurus along with the Licchavis. We can compare them with the Licchavis whose 7,707 members, probably the descendants of the founder members of the privileged aristocracy, who were all entitled to the honorific title raja. 15 At a certain time while dealing with the history of republican tribes in India some extravagant claims were made by some scholars like K.P. Jayaswal who wrote under nationalistic predilections to prove that not only a constitutional form of Government, but the entire parliamentary system, including Address to the Throne and Voting of grants, was prevalent in India and that responsible Government, with all that it implies in the West, existed in ancient India with its full paraphernalia.16

It may be mentioned that these republics were not democracies in the modern sense of the term where franchise is vested in as large a number of citizens as possible. We find that some of them had mixed constitutions, while others were transforming themselves to monarchy. Some of them may even be termed as oligarchies. We can call them Kshatriya aristocracies where the power was vested in the hands of consecrated Ksatriyas (Murdhabhisikta).

Panini 17 distinguishes between the Malavas or Kshudrakas and the Malavyas and Kshudrakyas respectively. The former denoted the Kshatriya and brahmana aristocracy while the latter the common folk. Similarly the Amarakosa distinguishes between the Rajanayaka gana and the rajaka-gana. In the former the power was vested in the descendants of the original founder families enjoying the title of the raja', whereas in the case of latter it was vested in all the Kshatriya families whether

124 Personal and geographical names in the Gupta inscriptions

descended from the original founders or not. 18

But the Gana indicated a certain type of state, sharply distinguished from monarchy, is proved by a reference from the Avadanas Jataka where it is narrated that when some merchants from Madhyadesa, travelling in the Deccan, were asked by a local ruler as to who the kings were in their respective homelands, they replied, 'Sir, in the countries of some of us there are kings but in those of others, there is gana or republican government'. 19 That gana had a definite constitutional meaning is also supported by the evidence from the Jain literature, the coin-legends of the Yaudheyas, Malavas and Arjunayanas as well as by the writings of the contemporary Greek writers. 20

It may be admitted that the ancient Indian republics were regular states and not mere territories marked for different tribes. They had crossed the tribal stage and had adopted the monarchical system or were transforming themselves to republicanism or had mixed constitutions. They were small territorial units. They issued their own coins and the coin-legends in Sanskrit. It proves beyond doubt that they got Aryanized. They had weak economy and followed their copper or silver coinage rather than the gold currency system which had its start with Kanishka in Northern India. In the time" of distress or as a friendly gesture, they worked as auxiliary armies to the kings. Though at times tributary to the great kingdoms, they exercised internal autonomy.

Even when they migrated to other lands, it is not necessary that the whole population migrated, a majority of them might have succumbed to the onslaughts of the invader or got merged with the dominant tribe.

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