Some of the earliest writings that survived into modern times were from about the 4th century BCE, but historians believe the events referred to much earlier ages. The writings speak of Aryan influence from the north, and for the first time—the mention of caste, which was an import and not something that evolved in southern societies.
There appeared four broad southern classifications: arasar (Kshatriyan); antanar (Brahmin); vanikar (merchant); and velaalar (agriculturalist). Over the centuries, several sub-divisions evolved.
Arasar is another name for a king, who belonged to the Kshatriyan class. His two original duties were to protect his people and dispense justice. During the formative ages of kingship, a king’s primary responsibilities expanded to include three more:
- He also taught his people. Imagine a chieftain telling stories and transferring lessons and the clan’s values around an evening fire over roasted meat. Firesides evolved into community halls. And subsequently, the royal audience hall. When he was busy, others—teachers—took over. The oracle came into being.
- The king performed prayers and sacrifices on behalf of his clan. At one time this involved offering rice and slaughtered sheep. (Yes, I know. Even in ancient India, the sheep got it.)
- He donated to the poor among his people.
Over time, his duties continued to grow.
As the velaalars were the original chieftains of the south, they intermarried with the emerging southern kshatriyan classes which traced their roots to agriculturalists and pastoralists.
There is evidence that the early kings abdicated their thrones when they reached the evening of their lives. In pre-Aryan days, it is unclear whether kingship was hereditary or elective. But with Aryan influence, hereditary succession became the norm.
After ruling the kingdom according to established tradition and custom, the king retired and led a life of prayer and penance.
As the clan expanded and governance became unwieldy, the king established several institutions. This was the start of devolving the king’s power but also of strengthening the institution of kingship.
Next week: The State
Copyright @ Eric Alagan, 2019