People’s Government in the 10th Century

India History

Uttaramerur Inscription

“We, the members of the assembly of Uttaramerur Caturvedimangalam, made this settlement for the prosperity of our village in order that wicked men may perish and the rest may prosper”, reads the inscription which details how village government would be elected from among the people and what tasks it would perform.

The inscription even carries the name of the scribe who wrote it. “At the order of the greatmen, sitting in the assembly, I the Arbitrator Kadadippottan Sivakkuri Rajamallamangalapriyan, thus wrote this settlement”, it says.

As India moves forward to create an Indian building for the Indian Parliament, we recall the nature of government by the people that existed in in pre-British, pre-Muslim India. Such government forms were especially prevalent in the dakkan, more so in the region of Tamilnadu that was far more developed than the rest of the country in terms of trade, industry and commerce. Governance was in the hands of people, detailed rules and regulations were in place to elect representatives of the people. Here is a sampler from the rules and regulations to be found in the ‘Uttaramerur Inscription’. This was inscribed on the walls of the assembly hall of the temple at Uttaramerur. Uttaramerur or Uthiramerur as it is known, is today a small panchayat town in Kancheepuram district in Tamilnadu. This was originally a brahmin settlement, established through a brahmadeya grant in about the year 750 of the current era by the Pallava king Nandivarman 2. The brahmins of the Shrivaishnava sect lived here. The name of the settlement, as mentioned in the inscription from the 10th century current era is ‘Uttaramerur Chaturvedi Mangalam’.

This inscription is divided into short paragraphs, duly headlined to ensure ease of reading. It talks of ‘We, the members of the assembly of Uttarmerur-caturvedimagalam’. The inscription talks of having drawn up a ‘settlement…for choosing once every year …members for the ‘“Annual Committee”, “Garden Committee”, and “Tank Committee”’.

It says that the settlement of Uttaramerur-caturvedimangalam was divided into thirty wards.

Residents of each ward would assemble and choose. Then it lays down the qualifications of the candidates that were to be chosen. The candidate had to have the following qualifications:
-own tax paying land,
-live in a house build on his own site,
-be of less than 70 years of age but above 35,
-must be capable of teaching the Mantrabrahmana,
-should be conversant with business and –should be virtuous,
-possess honest earnings.

The inscription also lists ‘disqualifications’ in someone standing for elections. The conditions were strict and a person suffering from such disqualification would also disqualify a host of his relatives— essentially his entire family. The list of disqualifications included:
-a person who has not submitted his accounts and his relatives. The relatives who would be disqualified because someone had not submitted his accounts included
-sons of the younger and elder sisters of his mother
-sons of his paternal aunt and maternal uncle
-utrine brother of his mother
-utrine brother of his father
-his utrine brother
-his father in-law
-utrine brother of his wife,
-husband of his utrine sister,
-sons of the utrine sister et cetera et cetera.
Also disqualified was someone who had committed incest or ‘the first four of the five great sins’.
-Being ‘foolhardy’ was also a disqualification
-Someone who was a thief was disqualified
-A person who had eaten forbidden things was disqualified.
-All such disqualifications were for ever.

Mode of Election
The election was to be held by placing the names of the candidates in a pot. The pot would then be brought before the assembly at a particular time when all priests of the settlement were instructed to be present as also all members. The eldest of the priests would then stand up so as to be clearly seen by everyone. A young boy would then be asked to shake the pot, pick out one of the names, hand it over to the priest. The priest would take it in his hand, clearly showing to the assembly that he did not hold anything else in his hand. Then, holding it aloft for everyone to see he would open the ticket, read out the name of the candidate thus chosen. A similar procedure would be followed for all the 30 wards.
Duration: the committees thus formed would endure for 360 days and then retire.

We have republished this post, which is being read with interest on social media.

Click for Uttaramerur Inscription

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