- "Do Justice, Do Justice, For That is Paradise":Middle Eastern Advice for Indian Muslim Rulers
The Islamic literary genre of advice to kings, or "mirrors for princes," as scholars increasingly realize, was not just the self-referential pastime of a frustrated scribal class but an influential expression of values widely held by ruling groups and populations in the Islamic world—and beyond, as suggested by this late twelfth-century quotation from a south Indian writer:
To acquire wealth: make the people prosper. To make the people prosper: justice is the means. O Kirti Narayana! They say that justice is the treasury of kings.1
This verse from the sixteenth-century Rayavacakamu was, according to its translator Phillip Wagoner, "quoted from the Telegu Niti of Baddena (ca. twelfth to thirteenth century)" and probably derived from an Islamic original.2 Both the quotation and its source were written in Vijayanagar, outside Islamic territory but apparently not outside the range of Islamic influences. Although as a student of Middle Eastern political thought I cannot pursue this quotation through the non-Muslim sources, I do want to explore the expression of this idea of justice in India during the Delhi and Mughal sultanates, its availability for use by rulers or subjects, and the institutional arrangements developed to enact it.
In Middle Eastern texts, the concept in this verse is called the "Circle of Justice" and is most frequently quoted in the following form:
There can be no government without men, No men without money, No money without cultivation [or, prosperity], And no cultivation [or, prosperity] without justice and good administration.3
Justice here must mean not only equality before the law or adherence to it, but whatever else is necessary to ensure the prosperity of agrarian society, such as protection, stable administration, a working infrastructure, or provision for peasant subsistence. The ruler who wished to govern securely had to provide this sort of broad-based "justice" to the cultivators, who in turn provided taxes to the treasury, in order that soldiers ("men") might be paid to protect the realm, put down unrest, enforce the ruler's decisions, and refrain from preying on those under their protection. There is even a sense in which justice could generate prosperity not only by making it easier for agriculturalists to be productive, but also by ensuring divine benevolence and the provision of rain.
This is clearly an ideology for an agrarian tributary state; it undergirded empire after empire in the Middle East and was the local understanding of relations characterized by moderns as oriental despotism, patrimonial-bureaucratic government, or the Asiatic Mode of Production. The autocratic ruler symbolized and upheld the hierarchical social order for whose benefit agriculture flourished and filled the treasury, but his justice was what made those at the bottom of the hierarchy able to continue providing material support to those above. This idea of justice acknowledged inequalities of power but sought to mitigate their worst effects. Although it has often been cited in reference to the granting of proper rewards to the powerful ("no men without money"), more interesting is its usefulness for reminding the powerful of their dependence on the productive groups in society and providing an ideology by which undue exploitation could be challenged. This study presents the ideological basis on which such challenges might be posed.
Middle Eastern Muslims attributed the Circle of Justice to the Sasanian Persians, but its traces can be found in Mesopotamian sources dating to the time of Hammurabi and before. As early as the third millennium BCE, the elements of the Circle of Justice appeared together in Sumerian royal inscriptions, such as this one from around 2350:
When Enlil, king of all lands, gave to Lugalzagesi the kingship of the nation, directed all the eyes of the land obediently toward him, put all the lands at his feet, and from east to west made them subject to him; then, from the Lower Sea, along the Tigris and Euphrates to the Upper Sea, he put their routes in good order for him. From east to west, Enlil permitted him no rival; under him the lands rested contentedly, the people made merry, and the...