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Q & A : Governance in Ancient India

(In the Mahab­hara­ta, after the return of the Pan­davas to Hasti­na­pu­ra fol­low­ing their mar­riage to Drau­pa­di, they are told to set up their cap­i­tal at Khan­davaprastha, a desert, and rule from there, while the Kau­ravas rule from Hasti­na­pu­ra.) Yud­hishthi­ra goes to Khan­davaprastha and with Krish­na’s help, they build Indraprastha. Krish­na invokes Vish­wakar­ma and in no time the place is turned into Indraprastha, the same as Indraprastha in Del­hi today. We crossed that and came here to Rishikesh. Del­hi has been a hotbed of polit­i­cal pow­er for a long peri­od of time. Hasti­na­pu­ra is near Del­hi, near Meerut. So these are hotbeds of polit­i­cal pow­er – pow­er play — for a long peri­od of time.

Indraprastha’s descrip­tion is such, it has 32 gates of entry of entry; it is a city-state, huge, with moats all around it, gov­ern­ing it. The whole estab­lish­ment is prop­er­ly for­ti­fied. It is a huge city-state, and the entry-exit is restrict­ed, you need to prove your capa­bil­i­ty and skill to con­tribute to that city-state before you are giv­en entry. Yud­hishthi­ra has formed a detailed sys­tem of gov­er­nance and all class­es of peo­ple are giv­en prop­er accom­mo­da­tion, prop­er places of work, and every­thing is tak­en care of with­in the city-state. The whole state is for­ti­fied. And it is bril­liant. All sorts of pre­cious met­als are avail­able, it is lux­u­ri­ous, and it is pro­vid­ed for against nat­ur­al dis­as­ters, against social unrest – all of this is tak­en care of. And hence it is awe­some. See that is why even now peo­ple talk of Rama­ra­jya. Why?

Because Rama did away with adi-daivi­ka and adi-bhau­ti­ka forces. He tran­quil­ized them, or made them har­mo­nious, so that you would not have nat­ur­al dis­as­ters attack­ing the city-state. For exam­ple, the city state of Ayo­d­hya was called Ayo­d­hya – “could not attack”. In the mod­ern times we are still inch­ing there. For exam­ple, we have dis­as­ter warn­ing sys­tems, but still we are not there, we still have dis­as­ters like earth­quakes. We are build­ing up struc­tures, try­ing to research into it and come up with struc­tures that are earth­quake resis­tant. Earth­quake tol­er­ant. But still we are not there. But Rama in his time, estab­lished such mea­sures that no dis­as­ter could strike the city-state, or desta­bi­lize it. All the mea­sures were in place. Only now we are instill­ing fire alarms and light­ning arrestors and so on. Even water-sprin­klers and so on. We are tak­ing mea­sures but it is not com­plete. We have some gaps in that imple­men­ta­tion. But Rama had it in place, so won­der­ful­ly well. I am not say­ing exact­ly these means of imple­men­ta­tion, but basi­cal­ly adi-daivi­ka forces could not desta­bi­lize his state. Sim­i­lar­ly adi-bhau­ti­ka, social unrest, you see Arab spring, all these events, even with­in India, so many events dis­turb the equi­lib­ri­um of soci­ety. All those were well-tak­en care of. Such intel­li­gence oper­at­ing that the indi­vid­ual was free to engage in their swad­har­ma, with­out inter­fer­ence or desta­bi­liz­ing aspects of nature and soci­ety. That is why Rama­ra­jya is con­sid­ered so sig­nif­i­cant, because it gave the indi­vid­ual full free­dom of expres­sion. So even now that is an ide­al that Indi­ans look up to, though now because of lack of under­stand­ing it has been high­ly neg­a­tive­ly pub­li­cized, or neg­a­tive­ly politi­cized. But if you under­stand the rea­son­ing behind it in Ramayana, you will clear­ly under­stand what lev­el of bril­liance would have lead to that sort of a rule.

So Indraprastha got estab­lished. The way it is described is beau­ti­ful. And the expla­na­tion giv­en for the tech­nol­o­gy of the devas is also pret­ty reveal­ing. For exam­ple, ear­li­er we used to dig up man­u­al­ly, and it used to take a long time to lay a road. Now we have so many equip­ments in place, we have done some R&D, you snap your fin­gers and the job is done. Rail­way net­works, build­ings, dig­ging tun­nels – using JCB and oth­er machines, you can fin­ish the job in a few months. Sim­i­lar­ly is explained the case of build­ing up of Indraprastha by Vish­wakar­ma. With awe­some tech­nol­o­gy, it was done in no time. It had the best peo­ple there because Yud­hishthi­ra had gained such a rep­u­ta­tion in all the lands of being a just king, and a humane king, and that is a very impor­tant.

Vish­wakar­man is the archi­tect of the devas. Civ­il engi­neer. So you should aspire to be a Vish­wakar­ma (Laugh­ter) Vish­wakar­man lit­er­al­ly means the “doer of the world” So this real­i­ty has been archi­tect­ed? Seems plau­si­ble? No? So it has not been archi­tect­ed? Has this build­ing been archi­tect­ed? Yes? Sure, or is it here by fluke? Archi­tect­ed, and all the R&D work has gone in for the struc­ture to now have the sta­bil­i­ty. Not just direct archi­tec­ture in terms of using mate­ri­als like steel and cement or con­struc­tion, but indi­rect­ly so much R&D has gone in to make this struc­ture what it is. How about his body? Archi­tect­ed? Evolved. So archi­tec­ture which is evo­lu­tion is a very impor­tant ques­tion. And we will look at it. It is very very impor­tant to look at it, because the insights are very impor­tant. The insights, at least to me, they lead me to co-cre­ate or co-archi­tect this (body). Co-cre­ate, co-engi­neer, just as we co-engi­neer these elec­tron­ic gad­gets. In my per­son­al expe­ri­ence, that is def­i­nite­ly pos­si­ble. We will look at the prin­ci­ples lat­er.

So Indraprastha was cre­at­ed, and the peo­ple there, actu­al­ly all the best peo­ple from every­where came there, even from Hasti­na­pu­ra, because Yud­hishthi­ra had such a rep­u­ta­tion. Why does that mat­ter? Let us say there is a cor­rupt gov­ern­ment. Even now if you need to attract FDI, For­eign Direct Invest­ment, with such a rank­ing in the world cor­rup­tion list, you will see peo­ple will be unsure whether to invest in this place or not. There will be huge spec­u­la­tion. Neg­a­tive spec­u­la­tion. That is how it works even now. Why do many peo­ple go to the US? Or now to the Europe? Because the pop­u­lar image is that “Wow, it is safe, it is pros­per­ous, we will get the free­dom and space to do what we want to do and through indi­vid­ual effort, we will actu­al­ly ben­e­fit from our own effort with the state not steal­ing away our effort through cor­rup­tion.” This builds a pop­u­lar image. Even now we take steps based on that. Sim­i­lar­ly Yud­hishthi­ra was known for being just. And if he is just, nat­u­ral­ly every­body in his admin­is­tra­tion would be hon­est in their deal­ings. If you see the root of cor­rup­tion, it is not the leaves, you go to a peon and ask,”Why are you cor­rupt?” He will point at his supe­ri­or, you ask them, they will point at their supe­ri­ors, you ask them, to the min­is­ters, you ask the min­is­ter, up, up, up, the source. When the king is extreme­ly clear-head­ed and just and also per­ceived to be just — both are impor­tant, not just being just but also right­ly per­ceived to be just — then you will see actu­al­ly they put in place every­thing that is nec­es­sary for jus­tice to pre­vail. That is where indi­vid­ual free­dom can be guar­an­teed. Indi­vid­ual lib­er­ty can be guar­an­teed. Oth­er­wise it is an oppres­sive state. So towards that Yud­hishthi­ra was so well-known that all the best peo­ple every­where, with what­ev­er skills and capa­bil­i­ties they had, used to head there. That is how pros­per­ous Indraprastha became, over and above Hasti­na­pu­ra. See now we don’t have too many city-states. For exam­ple, you might hear of a city-state, Sin­ga­pore. India does not have any city-state I believe, no longer. But a city-state is a unique con­cep­tion, which leads to intense pros­per­i­ty and intense growth. Out­side there would be more spread out growth, in form of gra­mas, nagaras and so on, but the city-state itself would be like con­cen­trat­ed eco­nom­ics, poli­ty, put togeth­er. It is like for exam­ple, Del­hi is con­cen­trat­ed pol­i­tics, pow­er. From there it spreads out to all the states and so on. So a city-state was some­thing like that for a king­dom, from where the raja oper­ates. This is just to give you an idea of the dynam­ic. We will explore lat­er, if you get ques­tions. So, many peo­ple quit Hasti­na­pu­ra and came to Indraprastha and it was a roar­ing suc­cess.

Q : How did such an ide­al reign get lost down the ages? Every­thing requires a sys­tem in place to hand down, from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion. It was hand­ed down, that is why you would see that, for exam­ple, even the con­cept of yud­dha dhar­ma, you would have heard, in the 18th cen­tu­ry the Por­tugese actu­al­ly parad­ed near Tra­van­core, the state of Tiru­vanan­da­pu­ram. The raja at the time, he invit­ed the Por­tugese, he had rules of war laid down, he said,”We will fight here. We will treat you to med­ical aid, because you are our guests as well, you are for­eign­ers.” He laid down a whole host of stip­u­la­tions, and the Por­tugese were like,”What?! Is this a war or a sport?” They had that feel­ing, because that was our con­cept of yud­dha dhar­ma. We treat every­thing appro­pri­ate­ly. Because of a cer­tain sen­si­bil­i­ty, we are sen­si­ble in our approach. But with peo­ple who don’t under­stand, who don’t come from such a back­ground, you will also need to pro­vide for a cer­tain pro­tec­tion against them. So that, all these com­plex vari­ables, it is very dif­fi­cult to trans­mit from one gen­er­a­tion to anoth­er. When it is not prop­er­ly tak­en care of, it gets lost down the gen­er­a­tions. That is why the whole idea of var­nashra­ma dhar­ma was there. Ksha­triyas would play their role. A king, for them to be edu­cat­ed for that office — because it is a very impor­tant office — there would be a life­long ded­i­ca­tion. Every­thing else would be sec­ondary. The king’s pri­ma­ry dhar­ma would be to the pra­ja, his peo­ple. But they would be trained so rig­or­ous­ly, if you look at the reg­u­lar sched­ule of a king, you would run away from it. Even now with Prime Min­is­ters you would see that. For exam­ple, our erst­while Prime Min­is­ter used to com­plain that he could not get suf­fi­cient sleep. Hey! If you com­plain, you bet­ter not be there! Because you are doing a dis­ser­vice to the entire nation. You can­not com­plain like that. You have been trained appro­pri­ate­ly for that, if peo­ple, unskilled and unfit and untrained for that posi­tion, if they occu­py that posi­tion, we see the con­se­quences of what hap­pens to a democ­ra­cy. So you need to qual­i­fy for that and hence it is not very easy. So much would go into the train­ing of that leader. When there is a gap in that train­ing because of var­i­ous aspects, you would see the next gen­er­a­tion suf­fers, and that is passed down the line. Even now, let’s say you build a busi­ness empire for your­self, you will need to invest so much for train­ing the next in line. If you don’t do that, you have lost it. So that is com­plex social dynam­ics. So we will analyse this lat­er, but this is just the gist of it.

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