Social and Political conditions under which Buddhism and Jainism Emerge in India

Essay on the Social and Political conditions under which Buddhism and Jainism Emerge in India.

The sixth century B.C. has left a permanent impress on Indian history mainly because it witnessed an intense preoccupation with philosophical speculation. Among the various thinkers contributing to this unique phase were the Mahavira and Buddha, who more than any other historical personages born in India have compiled the attention of the world as the most humane thinkers, the Indian tradition has produced.

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Jainism and Buddhism represent the most serious and most comprehensive attempt to analyze the rapidly changing society in which it originated and to provide an enduring social philosophy for mankind. Buddhism created the vision of an alternative society, the possibility of organizing society on different principles from the hierarchical and in egalitarian ideology and practices that had begun to gain ground.


The roots of Mahavira’s and Buddha’s social philosophy can be clearly traced back to the society of the sixth century B.C. politically it was situated in the context of state formation and the emergence of certain institutions.

(1) The Political System:

The political system at the time of Mahavira and Buddha was characterized by the existence of two distinct forms of government:

(i) Monarchical Kingdoms, and


(ii) Clan oligarchies or gana-sanghas.

The monarchical kingdoms occupied the Ganga-Yamuna valley. The gana- sanghas were located near the foothills of the Himalayas. The gana-sanghas were inhabited by either one or more Khatriya clans such as the Sakyas or Mallas, or the Lichcchavis.

There was constant conflict between the various political units. It was a period of expanding horizon which ultimately ended with the establishment of the Mauryan empire.

Bimbisara, the 5th century B.C. Magadhan ruler, began a systematic and intensive phase of state organization.


(i) The earlier pastoral-cum-agricultural economy was replaced by a more settled agrarian-based economy which became a major factor in state formation.

(ii) It made possible the support of a large standing army needed for expanding frontiers of the kingdoms of the Ganga valley and to work as an instrument of coercive control within the kingdom.

(iii) The agrarian based economy encouraged the formation of an impressive officialdom which is an indispensable aspect of state formation.

(iv) The standing army replaced the tribal militia of the earlier society and became and instrument of coercion directly in the control of the king.


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