Administrative System that Prevails during the Age of Buddha!

In this period, only Koshala and Magadha emerged as powerful. Both of them became mature states ruled by the hereditary monarchs belonging to the kshatriya varna.

The Jatakas or tales relating to the previous births of the Buddha tell us that oppressive kings and their chief priests were expelled by the people and new kings installed. However, instances of expulsion were as rare as those of election.

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The king enjoyed the highest official status and special protection of his person and property. He yielded ground only to great religious leaders of the stature of the Buddha. The king was primarily a warlord who led his kingdom from victory to victory. This is well illustrated by the careers of Bimbisara and Ajatashatru.

The kings ruled with the aid of officials, both high and low. Higher officials were called mahamatras, and performed a variety of functions such as those of minister (mantrin), commander (senanayaka), judge, chief accountant, and head of the royal harem. Probably a class of officers ayuktas also performed similar functions in some states.

Ministers played an important part in administration. Varsakara of Magadha and Dirghacharayana of Koshala proved to be effective and influential ministers. The first succeeded in sowing seeds of dissension in the ranks of the Lichchhavis of Vaishali, enabling Ajatashatru to conquer the republic. The second assisted the king of Koshala. It seems that high officers and ministers were largely recruited from the brahmana priestly class. They do not in general seem to have belonged to the clan of the king. This substantially undermined the kin-based polity of Vedic times.

In both Koshala and Magadha, despite the use of the punch-marked coins made of silver, some influential brahmanas and setthis were paid by the grant of the revenue of a cluster of villages. In doing so, the king did not have to obtain the consent of the clan, as was the case in later Vedic times, but the beneficiaries were granted only the revenue and not any adminis­trative authority.


The rural administration was in the hands of the village headmen. Initially the headmen functioned as leaders of the tribal regiments, and were therefore called gramini which means the leader of the grama or a tribal military unit. As life became sedentary and plough cultivation well- established, tribal contingents settled down to agriculture. The gramini was therefore transformed into a village headman in pre-Maurya times.

The village headmen were known by a variety of titles such as gramabhojaka, gramini or gramika. The title gramini prevails in Sri Lanka to this day. Eighty- six thousand gramikas are said to have been summoned by Bimbisara. The number may be conventional, but it shows that the village headmen enjoyed considerable importance and had direct links with the kings. The village headmen assessed and collected taxes from the villagers and also maintained law and order in their locality. Sometimes oppressive headmen were taken to task by the villagers.