In any event, certain states in the age of the Buddha were not ruled by hereditary kings but by persons who were responsible to the assemblies.
Thus, although the people living in the old republics may not have shared political power equally, the republican tradition in India is as old as the age of the Buddha.
The real increase in state power is indicated by the formation of a large professional army.
At the time of Alexander’s invasion, the Nanda ruler of Magadha maintained 20,000 cavalrymen, 200,000 infantry, 2000 four- horse chariots, and about 6000 elephants. The horse-chariots were losing their importance not only in north-east India but also in the north-west, where they had been introduced by the Vedic people. Very few elephants were maintained by the rulers of the states in north-west India, though some of them maintained as many horses as did the Magadhan king. The possession of numerous elephants gave an edge to the Magadhan princes.
The large, long-service army had to be fed by the state exchequer. We are told that the Nandas possessed enormous wealth which must have enabled them to maintain the army, but we have no idea of the special measures they adopted to raise taxes, though the fiscal system was well- established. Warriors and priests, that is, the kshatriyas and the brahmanas, were exempted from payment of taxes, and the burden fell on the peasants who were mainly vaishyas or grihapatis.
Bali, a voluntary payment made by the tribesmen to their chiefs in Vedic times, became a compulsory payment to be made by the peasants in the age of the Buddha, and officers called balisadhakas were appointed to collect it. It appears that one-sixth of the produce was collected as tax by the king from the peasant. Taxes were assessed and collected by the royal agents with the help of village headmen. The advent of writing may have helped in the assessment and collection of taxes.
The discovery of many hoards of punch-marked coins suggests that payment was made in both cash and kind. In north-eastern India, payment was made in paddy. In addition to these taxes, the peasants were subjected to forced labour for royal work. The Jatakas state that sometimes peasants left the country of the king in order to escape the oppressive burden of taxes. Artisans and traders too had to pay taxes. Artisans were made to work for a day in a month for the king, and the traders had to pay customs on the sale of their commodities. The tolls were collected by officers known as shaulkika or shulkadhyaksha.
The territorial kings discarded the sabha and samiti. Popular tribal assemblies had virtually disappeared in post-Vedic times. They dwindled and disappeared as tribes disintegrated into varnas and lost their identity. Their place was taken by varna and caste groups, and therefore caste laws and customs were given due weight by the writers of the law-books. However, these regulations were largely confined to social matters. Popular assemblies were able to succeed only in small kingdoms where members of the tribe could easily be summoned, as may have been the case in the Vedic period.
With the emergence of the large states of Koshala and Magadha, it was not possible to hold large assemblies attended by people belonging to the different social classes and different parts of the empire, and the very difficulty of communications made regular meetings impossible. Also, being tribal, the old assembly was unable to find a place for the many non-Vedic tribes which lived in the new kingdoms.
The changed circumstances, therefore, were not congenial for the continuance of the old assemblies. They were replaced by a small body called parishad consisting exclusively of the brahmanas. Even during this period, assemblies existed, but this was not the case in the monarchies. They flourished in the smaller republican states of the Shakyas, Lichchhavis, and the like.
The Republican Experiment:
The republican system of government existed either in the Indus basin or in the foothills of the Himalayas in eastern UP and Bihar. The republics in the Indus basin may have been the remnants of the Vedic tribes, although some monarchies may have been followed by republics. In some instances in UP and Bihar, people were possibly inspired by the old ideals of tribal equality which did not give much prominence to the single raja.
Both Panini and the Pali text, speak of the non-monarchical states. According to Panini, the janapada or the territorial state was generally headed by ekaraja or one king. He specifies nineteen one-king janapadas, but he also speaks of the samgha or multi-ruler janapadas which were republics.
In the republics, real power lay in the hands of tribal oligarchies. In the republics of Shakyas and Lichchhavis, the ruling class belonged to the same clan and the same varna. Although in the case of the Lichchhavis of Vaishali, 7707 rajas sat in the assembly held in the motehall, the brahmanas were not mentioned in this context. In post-Maurya times in the republics of the Malavas and the Kshudrakas, the kshatriyas and the brahmanas were given citizenship, but slaves and hired labourers were excluded from it.
In a state situated on the Beas river in the Punjab, membership was restricted to those who could supply the state with at least one elephant, and it was characteristic of the oligarchy of the Indus basin. The administrative machinery of the Shakyas and Lichchhavis was simple. It consisted of raja, uparaja (vice-king), senapati (commander), and bhandagarika (treasurer). We hear of as many as seven courts in hierarchical order trying the same case in succession in the Lichchhavi republic, but this seems to be too good to be true!
In any event, certain states in the age of the Buddha were not ruled by hereditary kings but by persons who were responsible to the assemblies. Thus, although the people living in the old republics may not have shared political power equally, the republican tradition in India is as old as the age of the Buddha.
The republics differed from the monarchies in several ways. In the monarchies the king claimed to be the sole recipient of revenue from the peasant, but in the republics, this claim was advanced by every tribal oligarch who was known as raja. Each one of the 7707 Lichchhavi rajas maintained his own storehouse and apparatus of administration. Again, every monarchy maintained its regular standing army and did not permit any group or groups of people to carry arms within its boundaries.
However, in a tribal oligarchy, each raja was free to maintain his own little army under his senapati, enabling each of them to compete with the other. The brahmanas exercised great influence in a monarchy, but they had no place in the early republics, nor did they recognize these states in their law-books. Finally, the principal difference between a monarchy and a republic was the same as that between one-man rule and many-men rule. The republic functioned under the leadership of oligarchic assemblies but the monarchy under the leadership of an individual.
The republican tradition became feeble from the Maurya period. Even in pre-Maurya times, monarchies were far stronger and more common. Naturally, ancient thinkers looked upon kingship as the commonest and most important form of government. To them, the state, government, and kingship meant the same thing. As the state was well established in the age of the Buddha, thinkers began to speculate about its possible origins.
The Digha Nikaya, one of the oldest Buddhist texts in Pali, points out that in the earliest stage human beings lived happily. Gradually they began to own private property and set up house with their wives, and this led to quarrels over property and women. In order to put an end to such quarrels, they elected a chief who would maintain law and order and protect the people. In return for protection, the people promised to give the chief a part of the paddy. The chief came to be called king, and that is how kingship or the state originated.