The (royal, governing, advisory) Council included five people who represented five groups plus one important individual:

  • Chief Minister: civil administration that included several ministries (treasury, justice, mines, etc.)
  • Chief Priest: helped the king to perform yagna (sacrificial prayers/offerings) and attended to religious education and related duties.
  • Ambassador: his team ensured friendly relations with neighbouring kings.
  • Chief Messenger: he managed news gathering and the spy network (internal and external).
  • Army Commander: includes officers commanding the forts, the frontiers, the kaval (police) and the various contingents (foot, horse, elephant and chariot).
  • The Queen

Often the queen was present to lend a female view-point and her in-born empathy to temper the aggressive male egos. Trained in the art of gestures, council members seldom heard her voice but she was loud even when silent. Considering that early South Indian society evolved from matriarchal family units, the queen’s presence in court deliberations was not extraordinary.

There were other functionaries whom the king summoned for advice when required, but these people were not permanent council members.

The Chief Minister and his ministers were the key administrators in the state. Young men spent a lifetime under rigorous tutelage and physical training to realise their dream of attaining ministership. The physical exertion came from doing menial tasks (to inculcate humility) and training in martial arts. Every minister was a trained warrior and military strategist.

The ministers, known as kalai-kannaalar (he who has the eye of knowledge), had to master all sixty-four arts of life, referred to as “aaya-kalaigal”. Even after attaining ministership, a student went back to his mentor for continued training. Learning was a lifelong pursuit for them.

Not all young men chose politics. Many joined the academies of literature and sciences, the military, and  even engaged in commerce.

Next week: The 64 Arts of Life

Copyright @ Eric Alagan, 2019


  1. I like that, the silent one is more influential than the spoken one. Most amazing is their sense of fair play regardless of sex. Whereas women all over the world were fighting for woman’s right, the king here already practised it.

    There is so much to learn. Keep it coming, Eric.

    1. Hello Windy,

      In days of antiquity women enjoyed equal standing with men. Then, it slipped and I wonder how much of that has to do with religion. Only in the later half of the 20th century (our lifetime) did women get back a measure of equality. There remains more to do.

      Thank you for your encouragement 🙂


  2. Another enjoyable glimpse into the past Eric. I liked the reference to what is described in the North as the Guru-Chela relationship through life. Still honoured today and has found its way in our modern world in the close relationship between student and teacher not only in the sub-continent but in East Asia I’ve noticed too. While my major assignment was business administration in Asia, the years I spent teaching both in university and distance learning programs earned me more respect that continues to today from my students than my so called exalted position in the business world. 🙂

    1. Hello Ian,

      Yes, the mentor-protege relationship was well established in many cultures. In modern business, we encourage young job entrants to attract a mentor. Good teachers establish long-term relationships with their students and it’s no wonder that many of your students continue to respect and keep in touch.

      Trust the weekend is going well for you,

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