Democracy in Hinduism
In the Ramayana, Ayodhya Kanda, the first three chapters are about how Rama was chosen as the successor of Dasharatha to the throne of Ayodhya.
The first chapter of Ayodhya Kanda lists the various virtues of Prince Rama from verses 6 to 44.
Valmiki describes Rama as the repository of all virtues, and compares Kausalya to Mother Aditi (who shines by her son Indra's prowess). Rama is said to be Anupama Soonuh or "An Incomparable Son".
Some of his good qualities are:
- He was soft spoken
- He always saw only the good in others
- He was an excellent warrior
- He took interest in the welfare of the people
- He was an excellent orator
- He was very wise
- He was loved by the people
- He never spoke lies
- He was a good strategist
- He had a taste for knowledge and fine arts
- He was devoted to serving the people
- He was comparable to Brhaspati in wisdom, Yamaraja in justice and Indra in valour
Seeing these qualities of Rama, Dasaratha decided to coronate Rama as his successor. This decision was not influenced by Rama being the eldest son. Furthermore, Rama was supported by both the royal family as well as the common people as a suitable successor.
When Dasaratha decided to coronate Rama, the first thing he does is to call an assembly of people to present his decision.
Nananagaravaastavyan Prithak Jaanapadaan Api|
Samaaniyaaya Medinyaah Pradhaanan Prithiveepateen||
"Dasaratha called for other kings and officers staying in various cities and villages in his kingdom separately." (Ayodhya Kanda 1.45)
Dasaratha, in the assembly, states the reasons for his retirement, and announces his decision to coronate Rama as follows:
So'ham Vishramam Icchaami Putram Krtva Prajaahite|
Sannikrshtaan Imaan Sarvaan Anumaanya Dvijarshabhaan||
"I desire to take rest, entrusting the rule to my son for the benefit of the people, after obtaining consent from all those best Brahmans who are close to me." (Ayodhya Kanda 2.10)
Dasaratha then goes on to list the various virtues of Rama, and then asks the assembly whether his decision is fair:
Yadi Idam Me'nurupaardham Maya Saadhu Sumantritam|
Bhavanto Me'numantyantaam Katham Vaa Karavaanyaham||
"I am telling this after lot of thinking. Give consent to me if you feel this to be good and befitting. How else shall I do it?" (Ayodhya Kanda 2.15)
He further invites the assembly to debate his decision, presenting the pros and cons of Rama's candidature with a neutral viewpoint:
Yadyapi Eshaa Mama Preetih Hitam Anyad Vichintyataam|
Anyaa Madhyasthachintaa Hi Vimardaabhyadhikodaya||
"This is my desire. Yet, let there be thinking on any other beneficial way. Thinking by impartial neutral people will be distinctive and well developed through grinding of opposing views (i.e. Reviewing and rebuttal of negative points)." (Ayodhya Kanda 2.16)
Upon Dasaratha's proclamation, the whole assembly roared their assent, such that "The building appeared trembling by the sweet and reverberating sound made by the gathering of people there with their fond uproar." (Ayodhya Kanda 2.18)
The Brahmanas then discussed the matter and arriving at a consensus, told Dasaratha, "All of us want to see Rama, with long arms, the hero with great might born in the clan of Raghu , his face protected by a white umbrella, moving on a great elephant." (Ayodhya Kanda 2.22)
When Dasaratha receives such a welcome to his decision, he questions the assembly, as to why did they immediately give their consent without much thought, when Dasaratha himself is an able administrator.
The kings then reply, in no less than 29 verses (from verses 26 to 54) as to why Rama should be chosen as king, which shows that it was a people's choice as well as the fact that Rama was Dasaratha's son. That is, Rama being Dasaratha's son is a mere complementary fact to the real reason of him being the choice of the people of Ayodhya.
The third chapter consists of Dasaratha annoucing his decision to Rama (notice how this decision is told to Rama only after the assembly is dismissed) and informs him of his various duties.
Thus we can see that though the rule was that of a Monarchy, and though it was dynastic, it was very much with the consent of the people of the kingdom. Thus, we can find, (within the Ramayana at least) the concept of Democracy within a Monarchy.
EDIT: Also in the final chapter of the Yuddha Kanda Valmiki describes the rule of Rama from verse 95 to the end of the chapter, describing it as an ideal rule.
Furthermore, the decision to abandon Sita in the forest was also a decision taken due to the views of the citizens of Ayodhya, (regardless of our views of Rama) which shows how Rama respected the views of the people. Even when he has to accept Sita once more, he knows that Sita is the foremost woman among all, but he still urges her to demonstrate her chastity to the people so that they can accept her as their queen, which just illustrates that he was bound to the decisions of people, and could not make his own decisions about the kingdom without consulting his subjects. All this re-illustrates this concept of democracy within monarchy.
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