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Indian Political Thought: Dharmashastra

The neglect of Indian political thought will result into the impoverishment of the west.

Morris Jones

Indian Political Thought

It is widely assumed that Indians lack political and strategic culture. It is assumed that India is not a place to look for political wisdom. India is a place to look for spiritual wisdom. Indians have made huge progress towards the spiritual aspects of life. Indians have ignored the material well-being. Politics is ‘this worldly’ whereas Indians have been concerned about ‘the other world’, the world of God. Hence in the western world, the status of Indian political thought  remained contested.
However it is not correct to say that Indians lack political thinking. When west describes India empty of political wisdom, it reflects their ethnocentric attitude. Similarly when west ignores Indian political thinking, it can be seen as the western attempt to maintain its cultural ideological hegemony.

According to professor V R Mehta, the failure of west to recognize Indian thought can be because of the lack of understanding of Indian way of life by the people in the west. There is a big difference in the outlook of the west and east. West thinks in dichotomous lines. West has made difference between man and society, nature and culture, politics and ethics. On the other hand, Indians have always looked things in continuity. We have never separated man and society, nature and culture, dharma and danda (ethics and politics). Hence in order to understand Indian perspective on politics and statecraft, it is necessary to understand Indian way of life or the unique way of Indian thinking.

According to professor Morris Jones, ‘the neglect of Indian political thought will result into the impoverishment of the west’. Max Muller who is regarded one of the greatest Indologist has acknowledged that “nowhere in the world, human mind has dealt with the various questions of life in such a depth as in case of India.” India has been a source of enlightenment for the world.

To conclude, we can say that it would not be appropriate to say that Indians lack political wisdom. There are various Indian texts like Manu smriti, Kautilya’s Arthashastra, Ramayana, Mahabharat, Sukra Niti and other texts which contain huge political wisdom. Besides Hindu texts, the Buddhists and Jain texts also discuss the principles of statecraft, the ideals of kingship and the objectives of governance.

Nowhere in the world, human mind has dealt with the various questions of life in such a depth as in case of India.

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Salient features of Indian political thinking.

Enormous continuity in ancient and modern Indian thought. There is a continuity in the concept of dharma and danda. Indian political thought is communitarian. Indian tradition has been pluralistic. Indian approach is always cosmopolitan. Indians have not defined nation in narrow territorial sense. According to Sant Tukaram “Entire world is a family.” 
Indian tradition is not critical but in some way Indian tradition is not optimistic. Indians take the regressive view of history.

Major traditions in ancient Indian thought.

According to Bhikhu Parekh, ancient Indian tradition can be categorized into two broad streams. Hindu tradition and Buddhist tradition.

Indian Political thought, Dharmashastra

According to Professor Bhikhu Parekh, Indian tradition reflects continuity rather than change. Hence Hindu tradition and Buddhist tradition does not differ in any qualitative sense of the term. We can call Buddhism as ‘rebel child of Hinduism’. Hence there is lot of similarities between the two traditions. Buddhism also believes in the concept of Karma and rebirth like Hinduism. The basic difference between Buddhism and Hinduism is that Hinduism represents the hegemony of Brahmins and Kshatriyas. Buddhism represents the hegemony/alliance of Kshatriyas and Vaishyas.

Buddhism challenged the caste system thus more egalitarian in nature. However whether it is Buddhist text or Jain texts, Kings are supposed to be Kshatriyas. Similarly two Hindu traditions, Dharmashashras and Dandashashras do not differ in a qualitative terms. It is a difference of degree rather than kind. Whether it is Dharmashashra or Dandashashras, both texts revolve around the two basic concepts. a) dharma and b) danda.
It is believed that Dharma cannot stand without Danda. In Dharmashashras, the central discussion is on dharma and the discussion on danda is peripheral. Whereas in Dandashashras, texts discuss danda as the main issue and discussion of dharma as peripheral.

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Thoughts of Manu

Manusmriti, belonged to the tradition of dharmashastra. According to Indian traditions, Manu is manasaputra of Bramha (originator of the universe). He is the first law-giver and has told what is dharma of different varnas.
There is no appropriate word available in any of the European languages which can be treated as the exact translation of the Indian word dharma. It should not be confused with religion. According to Rig-veda, Prithvim dharmam dhritam.  Which means dharma is that which holds life on this earth. When we will not follow dharma, it will lead to arajakata (anarchy). It will lead to pralaya (catastrophe). This will bring end to the life on earth.
Dharma is discussed in dharmashastras. Most well known dharma shastra is Manusmriti. Smriti is based on Shruti. Shrutis represent Vedas. Vedas contain revealed knowledge. The knowledge is revealed by Bramha to Rishis (sages). Smritis are based on the revealed knowledge found in Shrutis. Shrutis contain rta (riti). Rta denotes cosmic law i.e. the law of universe or law of nature. Dharma is a law to govern human society. Dharma is based on rta.

Manusmriti contains following ideas related to dharma.

1| Purusharthas: Purusharthas are four goals of life: dharma, artha, kama, moksa.
The four purusharthas show Hindus took life in a comprehensive sense. They have neither ignored the material nor sensual pleasures. Hence it represents a balanced way of life.
2| Concept of ashrams:
Ashrams denote different stages of life. There are specific goals in each stage. Bramhacarya ashram, grihastha ashram, vanaprastha ashram, sanyas ashram.
3| Concept of varnas: Hindu society was divided into four varnas: brahmin, kshatriya, vaisya, shudra. Each varna is to follow his dharma. If dharma is not followed, it will lead to arajakata which will end up in pralay. Hence the most important duty of the king is to ensure all varnas follow their dharma. It is for this reason, king has the rod of danda.
4| Concept of sanskar: There are sixteen essential rituals to be followed by Hindus. These rituals are called as sanskars. Starting with garbhadhana sanskara, ending with antyeshthi sanskar.

Manusmriti also discuss origin of state, the ideals of kingship.

Quasi-contractual theory of origin of state. State is a contract between man and God. Chapter 7 of Manusmriti mentions the theory of state. Initially there was no state, it means there was arajakata. In this situation, matsyanyaya was prevalent. (Big fish eating small fish – might is right). Hence people requested Bramha. Bramha created Manu. Manu is the first king and the law-giver. Now it is the duty of the people to obey the laws.

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Features of kingship.

King has divine personality. Eight gods have given a part of their personality to the king.  Thus king combines Indra, Varuna, Agni, Vayu, Surya, Chandra, Yama and Kuber.  There is difference in the idea of kingship in east and west. In west, kings used to have divine personality as well as divine rights but in India king only had divine personality, but no divine rights. Divine rights symbolize absolute authority. Kings didn’t had absolute authority, kings were under the law. Kings were to follow ‘rajyadharma‘. Dharma as found in dharmashashras or as told by bramhins. If king does not follow dharma, according to Manu, such king will go to hell.
King is supposed to be from Kshatriya varna. Kingship was a hereditary institution. 

Duties of the king.

1| Follow varna dharma. i.e. Follow Kshatriya dharma. War is kshatriya dharma.
2| King should have knowledge of Vedas.
3| King should respect bramhins.
4| King should get up early in the morning.
5| King should not sleep during the daytime.
6| King should not indulge too much in hunting, gambling, drinking, dancing.
7| King should not indulge too much with women.
8| King should worship bramhins daily.
9| King should construct public utilities.
10| King should take care of orphans, destitute.
11| King should help his people to achieve yogakshema. (Help its people to achieve the four purusharthas.)
12| Raksha and palan (Protection and maintenance) are the responsibilities of the king.
13| King should administer punishment according to Shastras. In Manusmriti, there is no concept of equality before law. Lower is varna, higher is a punishment for the same offence.
14| Manusmriti also deals with principles of taxation. Principle of taxation is directly proportional to fertility of the land. 1/6th of the produce is king’s share from fertile land. 1/8th from less fertile and 1/12th from least fertile.
15| King also has a share in other produces. King has 1/6th share in milk, honey, meat, butter and other commodities which are traded.
16| Manusmriti gives inferior status to women. Women are kept under the supervision of man. They are considered as the responsibility. Their actions have to be guarded all the time.


Manusmriti is one of the most controversial text. Among the admirers of Manusmriti are Dr. S Radhakrishnan. Among the critics, the major critique is Ambedkar. In his book ANNIHILATION OF CASTE Ambedkar asked untouchables to put dynamite on Vedas and Manusmriti. Manusmriti is also criticized by feminists. Despite criticisms, Manusmriti remains the major text, which defines Hindu personal laws.

Test Your Knowledge!

1] Why does the status of Indian political thought remain contested in the Western World?
a) Indian intelligentsia has only focused on spiritual aspect of life
b) The lack of understanding of Indian way of life by the people in the West
c) Indians lack political and strategic wisdom
d) There are no texts from where Indian political thought can be derived

Show Answer

Ans: b) The lack of understanding of Indian way of life by the people in the West

2] Which of the following is not a feature of Indian political thought?
a) There is a continuity in the concept of dharma and danda
b) It is pluralistic
c) It is communitarian
d) It is not cosmopolitan

Show Answer

Ans: d) It is not cosmopolitan

3] Which of the following is known as ‘rebel child of Hinduism’?
a) Charvak
b) Sikhism
c) Buddhism
d) Jainism

Show Answer

Ans: c) Buddhism

4] Why does the king has the rod of danda according to Manusmriti?
a) To ensure all varnas follow their dharma
b) To make people people focus on moksha rather than arth and kaam
c) To ensure a smooth transition from one ashram to another
d) To ensure everyone does the sixteen sanskars

Show Answer

Ans: a) To ensure all varnas follow their dharma

5] Manusmriti’s explanation of origin of state can be called
a) Social-contractual theory of state
b) Quasi-contractual theory of state
c) Divine theory of kingship
d) Organic theory of state

Show Answer

Ans: b) Quasi-contractual theory of state

6] Which of the following statements is not correct?
a) In West, kings used to have both divine personality as well as divine rights
b) In India, kings had divine personalities
c) In India, kings had to follow ‘rajyadharma’
d) In India, kings had divine rights and hence absolute authority

Show Answer

Ans: d) In India, kings had divine rights and hence absolute authority

7] Which of the following is/are admirer of Manusmriti?
a) Dr. S. Radhakrishnan
b) Dr. B R Ambedkar
c) Feminists scholars
d) Both b and c

Show Answer

Ans: a) Dr. S. Radhakrishnan

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Can you please help me w/ the answer of the following question:

Compare and contrast Dharmashastra and Arthashastra with reference to State
power. [2010/30m/3b]

while I’m very clear about what state power is in Arthashastra, I cannot understand how to compare it to Dharamshastra, because in Dharamshastra we have discussed about “state” and not “state power”.

please help. Thx!


They seems to be copy of shubhra Ranjan mams note word by word


And i do appreciate your efforts to make it available to everyone


No it’s not same I have SR notes


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