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A History of Sanskrit Literature by MacDonell

Some of the tribes mentioned in the Rigveda


Some

of the tribes mentioned in the Rigveda, however, maintained their individual identity under their old names down to the epic period. These were the Ucinaras, Srinjayas, Matsyas, and Chedis.

It is interesting to note that the Rigveda refers to a rich and powerful prince called Ikshvaku. In the epic this name recurs as that of a mighty king who ruled to the east of the Ganges in the city of Ayodhya (Oudh) and was the founder of the Solar race.

It is clear from what has been said that the Vedic Aryans were split up into numerous tribes, which, though conscious of their unity in race, language, and religion, had no political cohesion. They occasionally formed coalitions, it is true, but were just as often at war with one another. The tribe, in fact, was the political unit, organised much in the same way as the Afghans are at the present day, or the Germans were in the time of Tacitus. The tribe (jana) consisted of a number of settlements (vic), which again were formed of an aggregate of villages (grama). The fighting organisation of the tribe appears to have been based on these divisions. The houses forming the village seem to have been built entirely of wood, as they still were in the time of Megasthenes. In the midst of each house the domestic fire burnt. For protection against foes or inundations, fortified enclosures (called pur) were made on eminences. They consisted of earthworks strengthened with a stockade,

or occasionally with stone. There is nothing to show that they were inhabited, much less that pur ever meant a town or city, as it did in later times.

The basis of Vedic society being the patriarchal family, the government of the tribe was naturally monarchical. The king (raja) was often hereditary. Thus several successive members of the same family are mentioned as rulers of the Tritsus and of the Purus. Occasionally, however, the king was elected by the districts (vic) of the tribe; but whether the choice was then limited to members of the royal race, or was extended to certain noble families, does not appear. In times of peace the main duty of the king was to ensure the protection of his people. In return they rendered him obedience, and supplied him with voluntary gifts--not fixed taxes--for his maintenance. His power was by no means absolute, being limited by the will of the people expressed in the tribal assembly (samiti). As to the constitution and functions of the latter, we have unfortunately little or no information. In war, the king of course held the chief command. On important occasions, such as the eve of a battle, it was also his duty to offer sacrifice on behalf of his tribe, either performing the rites himself, or employing a priest to do so.

Every tribe doubtless possessed a family of singers who attended the king, praising his deeds as well as composing hymns to accompany the sacrifice in honour of the gods. Depending on the liberality of their patrons, these poets naturally did not neglect to lay stress on the efficacy of their invocations, and on the importance of rewarding them well for their services. The priest whom a king appointed to officiate for him was called a purohita or domestic chaplain. Vasishtha occupied that position in the employ of King Sudas; and in one of his hymns (vii. 33) he does not fail to point out that the victory of the Tritsus was due to his prayers. The panegyrics on liberal patrons contain manifest exaggerations, partly, no doubt, intended to act as an incentive to other princes. Nevertheless, the gifts in gold, cows, horses, chariots, and garments bestowed by kings on their chief priests must often have been considerable, especially after important victories. Under the later Brahmanic hierarchy liberality to the priestly caste became a duty, while the amount of the sacrificial fee was fixed for each particular rite.


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