There have been intense debates on themes relating to early Indian history ever since the publication, especially, of Professor R.S. Sharma's work on Indian Feudalism. A wealth of questions has come up: to what extent are we justified in calling the social formation, prevalent at the time, 'feudal'? Was there a 'free peasantry'? What was the role of religion in society and the polity? Is the State more appropriately described as a 'segmentary State' rather than a feudal State? And so on. These, needless to say, are not mere esoteric questions which are of concern only to the experts in the area. Since our current attitudes and our perceptions of the past are always, and necessarily, inextricably linked, these are questions which are of much wider interest. And the interest is even greater today than it has ever been in the recent past.
Some of these questions are taken up in the current number of Social Scientist. The lead article by^Sibesh Bhattacharya, which is the text of his Presidential Address to the Ancient India section of the Indian History Congress argues that the nature of the process of State formation in early India was such that the 'political domain' had to be viewed essentially in non-religious terms. True, the king performed a number of rituals; and politics and administration could not be considered totally free from the contact of religion. But the primary concerns of the State were stability and order, and these usually demanded deference to a variety of local traditions, rather than the imposition of one overarching religion. The State consequently did not take on any direct religious role, and operated by and large in a distinct domain.
The weight of opinion among political thinkers of the time was to favour this distinction between domains, whose necessity sprang from the very process of State formation. In early India, State formation, the author argues, was a product of the growth of agriculture. But the horizontal expansion of the State, starting from a nuclear, agriculturally-rich area, entailed two contradictory tendencies. On the one hand, there was a certain amount of homogenisation over the territory covered by the State; on the other hand, since this territory included a mass of heterogeneous cultures which the State had to bind together into a single polity, this necessitated a degree of
Social Scientist, Vol. 21, No. 12, December 1993