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Jul 17, 2003
Pre-history of democracy

But wait a minute, says Muhlberger. There is a pre-Sanskrit history as well. Delving deeply into Pali sources he asserts democracy-like-societies precede even the Buddha to around 600 BC. One needs to make subtle changes to criteria, though: democracy is more than governments through elections-- it is governance by discussion. Although there was central authority and inheritance of power, Muhlberger nevertheless asserts that the core was democratic, because intermarriages and upward mobility was possible.  By the time Alexander arrived in India there were many sovereign republics in India.

Muhlberger’s very readable essay is also full of vibrant images of those times. Here is a sample: “The Pali Canon gives a picturesque description of the city of Vesali in the fifth century B.C. as possessing 7707 storied buildings, 7707 pinnacled buildings, 7707 parks and lotus ponds, and a multitude of people, including the famous courtesan Ambapali, whose beauty and artistic achievements contributed mightily to the city’s prosperity and reputation. The cities of Kapilavatthu and Kusavati were likewise full of traffic and noise. Moving between these cities were great trading caravans of 500 or 1000 carts—figures that convey no precise measurement, but give a true feeling of scale: caravans that stopped for more than four months in a single place,as they often did because of the rainy season, were described as villages. Religion, too, was taking to the road. The hereditary Brahman who was also a householder, as in later Vedic tradition, saw his teachings, authority and perquisites threatened by wandering holy men and self-appointed teachers “

Click this to read the full essay here.

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