Social Justice in the Ancient World

By K. D. Irani; Morris Silver | Go to book overview

8
Social Justice in Ancient India: in Arthaśāstra

M. G. PRASAD


INTRODUCTION

The discussion of dharma, the basic theme of the Vedas, has influenced the life, literature, and culture of India. In particular, the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata written in the Sanskrit language, essentially express the theme of dharma through the personalities of Rama and Krishna, respectively. Although it is very difficult to define exactly the term dharma, it comprises laws of life, nature, and cosmos. In individual and social life, dharma is the system of rules for deciding between right and wrong. These rules touch on all aspects of decision making, including ideas, intentions, thoughts, speech, action, reaction, situation, effects and much more. In its fundamental nature, dharma is referred to as "sanatana dharma." This means that the dharma, or frame of reference, for values and laws has to be eternal (sanatana in Sanskrit) in its essence and universality. Based on (sanatana) dharma, at different times many codes of laws were formulated by philosophical authors, such as Narada, Yagnavalkya, and Manu ( Rapson 1955, 1: 247-63).

The concept of social justice is very much part of sanatana dharma, because in ancient India the mode of government was monarchic, so that the dharma for the king included social justice as a major duty. It is in this monarchic context that social justice is addressed in many literary and philosophical works of ancient India on sanatana dharma. In this chapter, social justice in ancient India is discussed with particular reference to Arthaśāstra written by Kautilya, also known as Chanakya or Visnugupta. This has been a pivotal work in understanding ancient India's systems of administration, law, and justice against the back-

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