The notion of state rested in kingdoms and according to the norms of Tamilakam, these had seven constituents:
Suitable for human habitation; fertile soil; and abundant water resources. The land should provide an inexhaustible supply of food, water and mineral resources.
Besides natural defences, a nation must build fortresses and defensive works to provide safety for its people—starting with the king’s safety. He lived in a fortified dwelling called a “koyil”. That is interesting as in later years, right up to the present day, koyil means temple.
To build fortresses, a king needed money, in all its forms. The kings also spent vast sums of money on irrigation—agriculture was the mainstay of the economy—built roads, temples and amenities for common use.
Agriculture was the primary produce and source of revenue. The established tax rate: one-sixth of the harvest. Money also came from levies on commerce and war booty.
The king and his ministers ensured that tax assessment was fair and not cause hardship to the people. The wealthy paid taxes; the poor paid nothing.
As the complexities of governing the clans grew, so did the demands on the Council members who advised the king and minded the daily affairs of the country.
Ministers, though drawn from the ruling elite, had to meet stringent selection criteria regarding their ethics, morals, knowledge, and practical experience. Where the elite did not produce candidates of calibre, capable men and women outside the established circles found a place in the Council.
The council members had to adhere to several guiding principles. One telling example of a common principle: never succumb to expedience at the expense of equity.
(This is interesting as our modern justice system, in countries such as Singapore, hinges on expedience over equity–and all in the name of efficiency.)
The king was the living symbol of the state and standard-bearer in war. He oversaw the Council and was accessible to his people. He was the final arbiter. When he held court, people, regardless of their social status, brought their problems to him.
On auspicious days the king gave alms to the poor.
As the people enjoyed direct access to the king, local officials and tax collectors became answerable for their errors and omissions.
Nowhere is the ordinary person’s right of access to the king illustrated better than in the classic Silappathikaram, where Kannagi confronts the king no less and accuses him of a guilty judgement.
It was incumbent on the king to forge friendships to secure peace. He must not only exhaust all diplomatic means to secure the peace but seen to have done his utmost.
During normal times, the auxiliary wing of the military engaged in police duties. In times of war, the army was the sharp end of the last resort. The king had a personal stake in securing the peace as—this is important—he must lead in the field, from the front.
(One can imagine our current clowns in government peeing in their pants if called upon to enter the field. See also my post > Liars and Cowards.)
Next week: Demands on the King
Copyright @ Eric Alagan, 2019