The chief or the king in the Rig Vedic period did not exercise unlimited power, for he had to reckon administration with the tribal organizations like Sabha, Samiti, and Vidhata.
It is described in the Rigveda and Atharvaveda.
Just as ‘Arcopegus’ was the role of the Sabha and the Samiti in India, in the Greek people, in the ‘Curia’ Romans.
The Sabha was also called the “people and the council. In ancient Sanskrit texts, popular institutions like Sabha, Samiti, Vidath, Sangram, and Parishad have been mentioned.
ORIGIN AND DEVELOPMENT
Thinkers have different opinions about the origin and development of these concepts.
With the development of man’s political life, “Sabha and Samiti” emerged.
Altekar has mentioned three types of meetings – Sabha, Samiti, and Vidath– but said that it is difficult to give a definite meaning to these words.
In ‘Parashar Madhava’, Jupiter has described four types of meetings
Achal Sabha, which used to take place in the village,
Chal Sabha - The Sabha of learned persons who used to visit,
The Empowered Samiti—the Superintendent was its head,
Sabha as per command—The king was its head.
Bhrigu has also mentioned some simple meetings in this book which were of certain castes.
Charaka has also mentioned two types of meetings.
The first is the meeting of learned people, and
the second is the meeting of the public.
Shende has written that the word ‘Parliament’ has been used in place of the House in Atharvaveda and its members have been called corporators.
Ludwick believes that the meeting was attended by upper class people, such as priests and wealthy people.
Ordinary people were members of the Samiti.
Hillebrand believes that both the Sabha and the Samiti were the same.
The place where people gathered was called the Sabha, and the gathering group was called the Samiti.
In Vedic texts, the gathering is generally described in two ways, the first is the gathering of Vedic people, and the second is the place where people used to gather.
The reputation of the Sabha as a common institution was also similar, but initially its role was limited.
Both the “House and the Samiti” had the right to debate.
The term Sabha occurred eight times in the Rig Veda and seventeen times in the Atharva Veda.
In one instance, Sabha referred to a meeting hall. In other instances, Sabha referred to a “body of men shining together.”
Sabha was a select body of elders. The head of the Sabha was known as ‘Sabhapati’.
The Sabha advised the king on administration. It discussed pastoral affairs and performed judicial and administrative functions and exercised judicial authority. It functioned as a court of law and tried the cases of criminals and punished them.
The term Sabha denotes both the assembly (in early Rig-Vedic) and the assembly hall (later Rig- Vedic).
Women called Sabhavati also attended this assembly.
It was basically a kin-based assembly and the practice of women attending it was stopped in later-Vedic times.
Rig-Veda speaks of the Sabha also as a dicing and gambling assembly, along with a place for dancing, music, witchcraft, and magic.
The Sabha, situated outside of settlement, was restricted to the Vratyas, bands of roving Brahmins and Kshatriyas in search of cattle, with a common woman (pumscali) while the vidatha was the potlatch-like ritual distribution of bounty.
The term samiti occurred nine times in the Rig Veda and thirteen times in the Atharva Veda.
The Rig Veda stated that one could not rule without a samiti. One Vedic reference described a raja’s (ruler) presence in a samiti. Another reference described several rulers sitting together in a samiti.
The Rig Veda reported people in a samiti discussing their cattle. One Rig Veda prayer called for agreement and unity of thought in the samiti.
The Atharva Veda included the prayer of a Brahman priest on behalf of a samiti.
The references to samiti come from the latest books of the Rig-Veda showing that it assumed importance only towards the end of the Rig-Vedic period.
Samiti was a folk assembly in which people of the tribe gathered for transacting tribal business.
It discussed philosophical issues and was concerned with religious ceremonies and prayers.
References suggest that the Raja was elected and re-elected by the Samiti.
RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN “SABHA AND SAMITI”
In the beginning, there was no difference between the Sabha and the Samiti. Both were called daughters of Prajapati.
In the early Vedic Age, the Sabha and Samiti had a commendable role to play as the political organization of the Aryans.
Both were mobile units led by chiefs who kept moving along with the forces.
The only difference between Sabha and Samiti seems to be the fact that Sabha performed judicial functions, which the Samiti did not.
Later, the sabha became a small aristocratic body and samiti ceased to exist.
COMPARISON WITH EXISTING REPRESENTATIVE ORGANIZATIONS
“Sabha and Samiti” existed as a public representative institution in Vedic times.
First, if we look at the similarity of the Sabha and the Samiti with modern institutions, then like Parliament, the “Sabha and Samiti” are also used to do the work of convention, debate, control over governance, election of the ruler and control with responsibility.
But after so many similarities ,there were some differences too.
There is no evidence of the rules by which the House and the Samiti were governed or of which subjects they had jurisdiction.
The king was the head of both the rule and the judiciary.
Having public loving representative institutions is very important in the matter of Indian governance. “Sabha and Samiti” reflect the glory of the Vedic period.
Thus, in conclusion, it can be said that in the Vedic period, “Sabha and Samiti” were the major popular public-funded monarchical institutions.
The Sabha was a local body in the rural area, which was small.
The Samiti functioned as a central body which had a wider scope than that of the Sabha.
The influence and dominance of the priestly, the rich, powerful class over these institutions increased, making the king also autocratic.
Ultimately, it can be said that in the Vedic period, the “Sabha and Samiti” was the principal public body of social, religious, and political discourse.