How the king should sit for discussing the matters of governance Shukraniti (1:353-360)
Layout is important not just for production and operations. The dynamics of communication and interpersonal behavior are also impacted by the sitting arrangements. Wedding receptions are a good example of social dynamics as created by sitting orders. At work, subtle signals such as th shape of the table around which people sit are given high importance by the scholars of organization culture, climate and group dynamics.
Hence, it could be interesting to see how the layout of the royal assembly was prescribed by Shukracharya, the author of post-classical Sanskrit text on governance.
The verses 353-360 of the first chapter titled “Raja Krtyadhikara” seem to suggest as under (figure-1):
The throne, as prescribed in the Shastras should be in the center of the Western half of the assembly. To the left and right sides of the king behind him, should sit those who are in the inner coterie (1-353). King’s sons, grandsons, brothers, and sons of sisters and daughters should sit by the king’s right behind him (1-354). To the king’s left behind him should sit respectively, starting with the father’s brothers, the most prominent people of the king’s clan, assembly members and the generals (1-355). To the assembly’s east, in front of the king to his right, separately sitting should be the prominent men from the clan of his maternal grandfather, ministers, king’s relatives, fathers in law and wife’s brothers respectively. To the king’s left should be his officers (1-356). On the king’s left his son-in-law should sit, and to his right would sit his sister’s husband. King’s friend should be sitting on the same seat as the king next to him or on a seat similar to his (1-357). Adopted sons may sit with sons of daughters and sisters. Sons of sisters and daughters may take the seats of sons (1-358). Father and Acharya (Guru) would have the same or higher seat than the king either by his side or in front of him. All writers would sit behind the ministers (1-359). Servants and assistants would remain behind everyone. At the doors of entry, two doormen would stand with staffs of gold. They would convey information about entry and Vandan (when coarsely translated, it means a form of greetings) being conveyed by visitors (1-360).
However, another rendition is also possible, since the description i not made from drawing point of view and it does not specify whether people from all these categories sit in concentric fashion:
I share some quick observations based on these guidelines:
- Barring the Acharya, who would definitely not be a family member, it is a family dominated assembly. Ministers, writers, officers – these could also be family appointments. Of course, the servants, assistants and door-keepers are non-family.
- It is known that marriages were political in olden times. Hence these ‘relatives’ are associates and co-stakeholders as well.
- Question: This might seem like the board meeting of a large family business. If the relatives mentioned here are attending the assembly, then the king in question also would be attending their assemblies. How would they have arranged for the amount of coordination and quick information-sharing required simply for scheduling a well-attended assembly?
- Question: Why are the members of assembly and generals sitting behind the king?
- Officers have a whole side to themselves and they are in front of the king. I guess that primarily the flow of communication would be between the ‘family’ and the officers and ministers. This could suggest reporting as a major purpose of the assembly, or review or something like that. Strategic decision-making could be taking place separately.
- Question: no women? By now, they seem to have been already eliminated from the power dynamics of the society. The maternal clan of the king, his wife’s brothers and fathers in law and other non-close relatives are separated from the ones who sit in the ‘inner coterie’ of the king. They are with the ministers and officers.
- Question: Is it not possible that these ‘in-laws’ are also the tribute-paying and conquered kings whose daughters the king has married?
- It is possible that the king has different sessions with the ‘inner coterie’ and since they have reached consensus there, they sit as one group and discuss matters – perhaps more operational in nature – with other people.
- The king’s throne is located at the center of the West side of the assembly hall. I guess the only reason is that it is traditionally believed to be desirable to build structures that are east-facing.