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Democracy Thrived in Ancient India


India’s democratic heritage predates the very inception of democracy itself, standing out not only for its early establishment but also for its meticulous organization and inclusivity compared to Western counterparts.



  • Ancient Indian History
  • Salient Features of Indian Society


  • Indian Constitution
  • Parliament

Mains Question:

India’s democratic legacy extends far beyond the very origin of democracy itself. Analyse by drawing illustrations from the Kudavolai electoral system of the Chola Dynasty. (10 marks, 150 words).

Kudavolai Electoral System:

The ancient Kudavolai electoral system, employed from the 9th to the 16th century, exemplifies this tradition.

Working of the System:

  • In this system, villagers gathered, wrote the names of eligible candidates on palm leaf slips, collected them in a pot, and selected representatives through a shuffle, showcasing thoughtful planning and inclusiveness.
  • Evidence of the Kudavolai system’s practice is found in inscriptions from the 12th regnal year of Parantaka Chola, specifically in Uttaramerur and Pallipakkam village, Thanjavur.
  • This system is often cited as an illustration of Tamil Nadu’s democratic heritage, illustrating how the principles of Manu Smriti were applied during the Chola period.
  • The Uttaramerur election provides insight into the qualifications for candidacy, the electoral process, and ethical considerations during the Chola era.
  • The constitution, clearly articulated in the Chola period, specified that each village, or “Kudumbu,” equivalent to a modern-day ward, would select one person from 30 families.
  • Candidates had to meet basic qualifications, and there were parallels between Chola-era practices and modern-day electoral requirements, including the declaration of wealth.
  • The inscription uses the term “Perumakkal” to refer to the elected representatives, and notably, no payment was made for their roles.

Prevalence and Extent of the System:

  • The inscription discovered in Uttaramerur provides intriguing insights into the resolution of the general assembly and the Kudavolai system, which was employed to elect representatives to the village assembly or Sabha.
  • The inscriptions on temple walls also attest to the prevalence of village assemblies in other parts of the state.

Disqualification of Members:

  • Furthermore, if an individual faced disqualification, neither they nor their close relatives were eligible to participate in subsequent elections.
  • Strict prohibitions against misconduct, including accepting bribes or misappropriating others’ property, were in place.
  • If villagers were aware of such illegal activities, the member involved would face disqualification within a year. Those proven guilty of misconduct were barred from participating in future elections.
  • Individuals who advocate for the elimination of corruption while accumulating significant sums, often referred to as “sagasam,” face scrutiny. Even protectors of such individuals are barred from standing for election.
  • To counteract malpractices like breaches of ethical conduct, the entire electoral process was designed to be transparent and conducted in the presence of the community.

Working of Committees:

  • Following the formation of election committees, the functions of the Sabha were diverse. Among the 30 elected members, 12 were appointed to the Annual Committee, another 12 to the Garden Committee, and 6 to the Tank Committee.
  • These committees were responsible for overseeing the administration of their designated areas of authority.
  • In addition to managing communal land, they held exclusive responsibility for tax collection. The tax collection process was meticulously carried out by these committees, aiding central officers in land surveying and tax assessment.
  • They also played a crucial role in recording property transfers and resolving land disputes.
  • The planning of irrigation was conducted with utmost efficiency, leading to the regular maintenance of ponds and other water bodies. Consequently, this meticulous approach fostered flourishing agricultural practices.


While electoral malpractices and misconduct persist in present times, the Chola-era system offers lessons in transparency, ethical conduct, and community involvement. The inscription suggests that the democratic process could be tested in villages or colleges to explore its relevance for the current era. Comparisons between the dedication and sacrifice of historical leaders and present-day counterparts invite contemplation.

February 2024