Satyaniti And Swaraj: The Historical Backbone Of The Socio-Political Order Of India

The society which we know as India in modern times was once a society firmly placed on the twin-pillars of self-governance and voluntaryism [1-5]. Voluntaryism is a philosophy that posits that all forms of human association should be voluntary [6 and 7]. A voluntaryist society is one where people live, socialise, transact and trade without any structures of power and hierarchy, without any coercion or regressive power dynamics. The decentralisation of power, which ends with a community or family in modern times, ended only with the individual – politically, socially and spiritually – in ancient India. 

Spontaneous order in the political and economic realms was respected and harmonized. While in the past I have written on Dharmocracy, comprehensive (political, economic and spiritual) democracy; in this piece, I go one step further in decentralisation and renegotiation of the normative to the individual. In ancient India, at least in spirit, it was Swarajya (self-rule of people within picayune kingdoms/republics – so much so, that even in 1947, India had 565 princely states) not Samrajya (imperial rule), catallaxy (a synchronisation of individual economics and interests) not a modern economy (transactions with assumed common goals and interest) [8, 9]. This was the perspective that prevailed, and in such a liberal society, people lived with responsibility, peace and rationality: traits of a rarely found, open, free and transparent society [10-12].

The Vedas are the fountainhead, the spring of profound and beautiful philosophical, soteriological and spiritual principles and ideas [13-18].

1500-1200_BCE,_Vivaha_sukta,_Rigveda_10.85.16-22,_Sanskrit,_Devanagari,_manuscript_page
Vivaha Sukta, Rigveda Mandala 10 Hymn 85 Verses 16-22

Composed in Vedic Sanskrit, the Vedas constitute the oldest layer of scriptural literature within the Sanatana Dharma, with Hindus considering the Vedas to be apauruṣeya, – not authored by a man. While monarchies prevailed in the Vedic society [19, 20]; not only was there a movement away from pre-eminence given to political power towards a more spiritual one [21, 22], but also the existence of ancient Indian republics – Ganatantra, which contributed towards the decentralisation of power [23]. Whether this directly took the form of anarchism is debatable, but there was a move towards reducing the importance of the construct of a primary, overarching s”tate and constructs of powers [24]. 

The Dharmic path has always been about a fearless trek into the unknown, about seeking the truth of reality [25-27]. It throws out any and every imposed normative ideal of political philosophies, and in doing so, calls for the sacrifice of attachment of the human mind with dogma and rigid political alignments. While this perspective highlights society’s ills and even prescribes possible solutions, it lays a greater emphasis on mutual respect, cooperation and harmony in society rather than rigid loyalties to political constructs of the state or ideologies. This is part of the greater Dharmic realisation of the futility and fleeting nature of all constructs – be it political, social or economic, in the pursuit of the Absolute Truth.

Satyaniti, The Principle of Self-Governance

Satya, the Absolute Truth, is beyond constructs of politics and society, particularly those of state and (political) ideologies

And in doing so, it had anarchist undertones, when one considers politics: it highlighted the fallibility of human power and reasoning that can be applicable to one and all. The importance of spontaneous self-organisation and unconscious design in political entities, the significance of innovation and influence of factors and forces beyond the control of a central authority. 

Satyaniti, this Dharmic anarchism, is the result of the Indic civilisation embracing the dynamism of life, and the spontaneity and capacity to the self-organization of human beings.

The principle of self-governance naturally arises from this realisation. Instead of imposed structures, the emphasis is on peaceful emergent orders without any rigid conservatism regarding hierarchy, power dynamics, and coercion. A truly Dharmic society has at its foundations a pre-eminent place for honest introspection, self-improvement and evolution of thought, and individuality thereby. This is a dynamic way of determining one’s purpose of life, of one’s role within society, and the key to one’s happiness.

Difference Between Western Anarchism And Dharmic Anarchism

There is a distinct difference between western anarchism and Dharmic anarchism. While western anarchism is about negation and oft-violent insurrection against political structures, the Dharmic version preoccupies itself with the realisation of why the obsession with these political elements is naturally at odds with one’s existence and well-being. The Rishis (seers) since times immemorial led by example in highlighting how self-governance and self-rule are significant, coupled with anarchist tendencies of not placing much importance with control of the state.

They dwelled in forests outside the control of any government – be it of a monarchy or republic of ancient India. They brought forth a spiritual mooring for education and existence, a values-based living and a realisation of Rta (cosmic order) and Dharma (the path that facilitates this order, the universal cosmic principle as well equilibration in nature). 

While western anarchism emphasised anti-state policies, Dharmic anarchism emphasised self-consciousness. While western anarchism went against specific rulers, Dharmic anarchism went for decentralised and non-hierarchical polities. The latter prioritises community living, sensitivity to holistic living and ecologically sustainable lifestyles. This was done with a combination of grassroot democracy (that was centralised around the unit of the Gram, village), Dharma, Varnasrama (not Jaativad) and socio-spiritual realisation of Satya, Truth.

A_Gramsabha_in_a_rural_village_of_Madhyapradesh
Gram Panchayat. Courtesy: Shagil Kannur

Grassroot democracy can be seen even today with the Panchayati model. Over millennia, this turned India into not only a village-based society but also a strongly community-based, resilient society. The movement towards making these fundamental units of politics and society self-governing and self-sufficient has been seen over the ages. This was in a cooperative model, which was sustainable and nature-bound, and most importantly, independent from the state and its associated politics. Orientalists such as Metcalfe, Munroe and Wilks have described the importance of these communities in India. Kings came and went, dynasties came and went, power exchanged powers, wars took place, but what never changed beyond a point was the underlying social fabric of India, which is based on the village- and community-based model.

C. F. W. Hegel highlighted how this system made India impervious to the vagaries of despotism and subjugation by rulers and invaders, even during the colonial era. The achievement of this high level of decentralisation was that there never was a political monolith that a coloniser or invader could demolish for the Indians to fall as a people. It is this rich political heritage that naturally translates to the principle of self-governance, self-rule and Swaraj. And it is this rich political heritage that I would like to stand by.

Satyaniti and Swaraj constitute the historical backbone of the socio-political order of India, through the ages.

References:

[1] Talwar, Balvir. “‘Sustainable growth–the Vedic way.” International Conference on Quality (ICQ’05), Tokyo, September. 2005.

[2] Rammohan, Sethuraman. “Improving Governance In The Light Of Ancient Indian Heritage Texts.” (2018).

[3] Jha, Pradip Kumar. “Decentralization in India: Reflections from Bihar.” Journal of Politics and Governance 3.4 (2014): 149-155.

[4] Singh, Gurdeep. “Swami Dayananda Saraswati’s Instruments in the Reformation of Indian Society.”

[5] Mohapatra, Amulya Ranjan. Swaraj: A Multi-Dimensional Concept. Readworthy, 2009.

[6] Herbert, Auberon Edward William Molyneux. The principles of voluntaryism and free life. Free Press Association, 1897.

[7] Watner, Carl. “‘Stateless, not lawless’: voluntaryism and arbitration.” The voluntaryist 84 (1997): 1-8.

[8] Tilak, Deepak, and Geetali Tilak. “Swarajya and Tilak.” (2019).

[9] Nikam, N. A. “Indian Thought and the Philosophic Bases of Responsibility of Man.” Revue Internationale de Philosophie (1957): 75-87.

[10] Kuppuswamy, Bangalore. Dharma and society: A study in social values. Macmillan, 1977.

[11] Londhe, Manali. “Vedic Concept of Rta: The Cosmic Order.” Proceedings of the XXIII World Congress of Philosophy. Vol. 16. 2018.

[12] Saravanamuthu, Kala. “Gandhian-Vedic’.” Envisioning a New Accountability (Advances in Public Interest Accounting, Volume 13). Emerald Group Publishing Limited (2007): 177-235.

[13] Halbfass, Wilhelm. “The Idea of the Veda and the Identity of Hinduism.” Defining Hinduism. Routledge, 2017. 16-29.

[14] Goodall, Dominic, ed. Hindu scriptures. University of California, 1996.

[15] Macnicol, Nicol. Hindu scriptures. Univ of California Press, 1996.Remove featured image

[16] Zaehner, Robert Charles. Hindu scriptures. Motilal Banarsidass Publ., 2001.

[17] Frawley, David. Wisdom of the ancient seers: Mantras of the Rig Veda. Motilal Banarsidass Publ., 1994.

[18] Wilson, H. H. “Rig-Veda Sanhita: A Collection of Ancient Hindu Hymns, Vol.” (1888).

[19] Bedekar, V. M. “VEDIC FOUNDATIONS OF INDIAN CULTURE.” (1976): 223-226.

[20] Singh, Sarva Daman. “Monarchy in the Vedic Age.” Australian Journal of Politics & History 35.3 (1989): 338-352.

[21] LINDBLAD, J. THOMAS. “The Ultimate Implications of the Ancient Hindu Concept of Sovereignty: The Principle of.” Journal of Indian History: Golden Jubilee Volume (1973): 193.

[22] Sinha, Braj M. “SVADHARMA AND SVABHĀVA IN THE” BHAGAVADGĪTĀ”.” Journal of South Asian Literature 23.2 (1988): 144-149.

[23] Pandey, R. B. “Vedic origin of Indian republics.” Proceedings of Indian History Congress; 15th. session, Gwalior. 1952.

[24] Weir, Kay. “A brief history of anarchism.” Pacific Ecologist 19 (2010): 48-50.

[25] Agarwal, Manjul K. The Vedic Core of Human History: And Truth Will Be the Savior. iUniverse, 2013.

[26] Edgerton, Franklin. “The Upanisads: what do they seek, and why?.” Journal of the American Oriental Society (1929): 97-121.

[27] Nigal, Sahebrao Genu. Vedic philosophy of values. Northern Book Centre, 2009.

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