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The early kings of ancient South India were not autocrats. They faced a system of checks and balances from the Council and lesser organs of state that represented the people. (We discuss these checks and balances in later blog posts). The kings were subject to the laws of custom and tradition, had to champion custom and tradition, and had to be benevolent.

[Notice their attire. No upper garment for the king. A thin shawl over his left shoulder flows over his right arm. In actual life the queen uses a bra wrap but in the screenshot she wears a translucent blouse over the wrap]

Most eastern potentates maintained harems, but not so in ancient South India. The kings were monogamous. It was a mark of self-discipline, morality and high regard for women. Taking a concubine provoked scandal. The Council denied succession to any prince who succumbed to harlotry.

The ordinary classes consorted with harlots, and “dance halls” were a fixture in most towns. But the subjects held the royals to higher standards in morals, courage, justice, gentle speech, and so forth.

Anyone can challenge the king in open court on any matter such as his decisions, the state of the nation, and his morals. The king will reply or court officials may reply on his behalf.

A typical day in the life of a king:

  • Sunrise to mid-morning: religious duties and studies.
  • Mid-morning to early afternoon: held court, including alms-giving.
  • Early afternoon to early evening: caucus with his ministers.
  • Early evening onwards: rest, amusement, and family time.

When the king spent private time with his wife, the queen, they entertained one another with song, music and dance. At the least the king told stories to please his queen.

The king prevented war, but executed it when required. He adhered to rules of custom before going to war.

In the first instance, the king endured the errors of omission and commission from another monarch. If that monarch persisted, then the king curbed the provocateur’s exuberance. His options included going to war. Tamilakam’s customs and traditions considered such a war as justified. War booty was his for the taking and distributing among his allies and nobles. A righteous war allowed the king to conquer and gain the enemy’s territories.

A king who invaded a neighbouring country without provocation invited shame on himself and his lineage. He suffered the question: Are you incapable of feeding your people without coveting the resources of another? If so, step down and let a better prince wield the sceptre.

This idealistic code of chivalry crumpled under the onslaught of foreign invaders.

 Next week: The Council

Copyright @ Eric Alagan, 2019