If a king was found to be in violation of dharma repeatedly and did not want to step down voluntarily, what were the options for the prajā?

Did they demand the king be ousted? Was there an "impeachment" process?


4 Answers 4


No such thing as impeachment is found in the Smritis. But I've found something relevant in the Mahanirvana Tantra's 11th Chapter, which talks about Prayaschittas (expiatory rites), regarding what shall be the punishment for such a King.

[Lord Shiva says] O Kula−nayika! know that there are two kinds of sin−− that which contributes merely to the injury of one's own self, and that which causes injury to others (15). Man is released of the sin of injuring others by the punishment inflicted by the King, and from other sins by expiatory rites and Samadhi (16). Those sinful men who are not purified by either punishment or expiation cannot but go to hell, and are despised both in this world and the next (17). O Adya! I shall first of all speak of the Rules relating, O Maheshvari! to punishment by the King. The King who deviates from these himself goes upon the downward path (18). In the administration of justice, servants, sons, mendicants, friends, and foes should all be treated alike (19)

If the King is guilty of any sin himself, or if he should have wronged one who is not guilty, then he may purify himself by fasting and by placating those he has wronged by gifts (20). If the King should consider that he is guilty of any sin which is punishable by death, he should then abdicate his kingdom and go to a forest, and there labour for his liberation and penances (21). The King should not, without sufficient reason, inflict heavy punishment on persons guilty of a light offence, nor should he inflict light punishment on persons guilty of a great offence (22). But the punishment by which many offenders may be deterred from ill−doing, and (punishment) in the case of an offender who is fearless of crimes, should be heavy, although the offence be a light one (23).

So, the King has to punish himself. If he does not do that then that takes him downward, but that's in afterlife.

I have found no mentions of an impeachment.


Similar verses, like the ones given above, are also found in Vashishta DharmaSutras' Chapter 17.

By failing to inflict punishment on a thief, on a cursed wight, on a wicked person, on one [caught] with weapons in his hands, on a thief caught with stolen property in his possession, on one covered with wounds and a cheat, a king shall fast for one night ; and the priest, for three nights. If an innocent man is punished [the king shall perform] a Kricchacha penance, and the priest [shall fast] for three nights.

And, from the 18th Chapter of the same Smriti:

THERE is penance for a crime committed unwittingly ; some [say] also for [a crime] committed intentionally. The spiritual teacher corrects the learned; the king corrects the evil-minded, but Yama, the son of Vivasvat, indeed punishes those, who commit sins secretly.

So, a king, who himself is guilty, has two options - either he has to do the prescribed penances or get punished by Yama in afterlife. The subjects can not overthrow him or question him it seems.

  • If you are interested, you may check this answer hinduism.stackexchange.com/a/58681/24460, I have cited śāstras which support the action of subjects overthrowing an unjust ruler. Thanks🙏
    – Bingming
    Commented Mar 17 at 2:35
  • 1
    Thanks for the link @Bingming
    – Rickross
    Commented Mar 18 at 6:00

I have not seen any process of impeachment. However, the idea that an oppressive king should be removed is there in Hindu scripture. A king's plea that he is above the law is also rejected in Hindu scripture.

King and his duties

For fear of anarchy, Vena was made king, though he was not fit for it. Now that king himself has become the source of fear for the people. How can we secure the good of all beings?

Srimad Bhagavata Purana IV.14.9

A King will attain to joy in this world and the next, if he protects his subjects from oppressive officers and thieves, and collects taxes in accordance with the scriptural law.

Srimad Bhagavata Purana IV.14.17

Vena said: In the king is present all the Devas like Vishnu, Siva, Brahma, Indra, Soma, Agni, Varuna and all others who are supposed to bless and punish mortals. In fact the king is the embodiment of all the Devas. Therefore, O Brahmanas, without further ado, offer your worship to me, the King. Pay my taxes without stinginess. Who is there to be adored other than myself?

Srimad Bhagavata Purana IV.14.26-28

When the Rishis were moreover insulted by the pretentious scholarship of Vena, and when they found that their noble prayer for the welfare of the world as a whole was rejected, their anger was aroused, and they said: Let him be destroyed, let him perish. He is by nature a perverted monster. To let him live is to allow the worlds to be reduced to ashes. An evil person like him deserves not to sit on the throne.

Srimad Bhagavata Purana IV.14.30-32

King gets merits or demerits

The King derives his highest good by protecting his people. A King who protects his people well, will derive one-sixth of the merits of his subjects in the life hereafter. But a King who collects taxes from people without administering their affairs properly, will lose all the merits to his credit and will inherit the sins of his people to boot.

Srimad Bhagavata Purana iV.20.14


Concept of the divine king-Origin

The earliest evidence of the origin of kingship in India is found in the Aitareya Brahmana, a later Vedic text, which tells of a war between gods and demons .The gods were losing badly and needed someone to lead them in order to change the tide of the war.

It is through this legend, probably, that the concept of kingship arose out of military necessity and the need to have a king or a leader that could lead their subjects into battle. This suggests that for early Hindus in India the need for a king arose out of the need to protect their people and settle disputes between communities. Thus it is reasonable to believe that a king needed to be able to understand the art of warfare and have a strong military background to support his people.

Kingship must have been an important issue because not much later , the Taittiriya Brahmana, also told the same story,but, with a slightly different version.The high god Prajapati sacrificed himself to let his son Indra become king for the people of India. Although Indra was still tied extremely closely to the ideas of military leadership he was seen as the prototype for all earthly kings .This tie between the gods and the king, gave way to the idea that kings have a divine power and authority.

This concept of the divine king, placed the kings at a position above the rest of their people which also would have provided them with their authority.This concept would have needed to be constantly affirmed and therefore the king would need to maintain his Dharmic image in order to cement the relationship between himself and the Gods.

Answers to the specific questions

what were the options for the prajā?Did they demand the king be ousted? Was there an "impeachment" process?

As per the Manusmriti, the king was responsible/answerable only to God in the performance of his duties. Although, it was the obligation of the king to look after all the interests of his Praja(which was done as per tenets of the Dharmashastras), people had no power to impeach the king(or even criticize the king).

As per the Manusmriti Chapter VII:-

I will declare the duties of kings, (and) show how a king should conduct himself, how he was created, and how (he can obtain) highest success.

A Kshatriya, who has received according to the rule the sacrament prescribed by the Veda, must duly protect this whole (world).

For, when these creatures, being without a king, through fear dispersed in all directions, the Lord created a king for the protection of this whole (creation),

Taking (for that purpose) eternal particles of Indra, of the Wind, of Yama, of the Sun, of Fire, of Varuna, of the Moon, and of the Lord of wealth (Kubera).

Because a king has been formed of particles of those lords of the gods, he therefore surpasses all created beings in lustre;

And, like the sun, he burns eyes and hearts; nor can anybody on earth even gaze on him.

Through his (supernatural) power he is Fire and Wind, he Sun and Moon, he the Lord of justice (Yama), he Kubera, he Varuna, he great Indra.

Most kings were into worship rituals and yagnas,and did everything to please God. They were also very concerned of their reputation and building a good image amongst the people of their kingdom. And so, very rarely would a king violate any law.

Manusmriti, Chapters VII and VIII, gives an insight into the meticulous "justice delivery system" which existed in a king's court, during the vedic times. Mentioned below, are some of the cases/rules, where the king could incur sin/lose his kingdom/life:-

A king who properly inflicts (punishment), prospers with respect to (those) three (means of happiness); but he who is voluptuous, partial, and deceitful will be destroyed, even through the (unjust) punishment (which he inflicts).

Let him carefully shun the ten vices, springing from love of pleasure, and the eight, proceeding from wrath, which (all) end in misery.

For a king who is attached to the vices springing from love of pleasure, loses his wealth and his virtue, but (he who is given) to those arising from anger, (loses) even his life.

Through a want of humility Vena perished, likewise king Nahusha, Sudas, the son of Pigavana, Sumukha, and Nemi.

That king who through folly rashly oppresses his kingdom, (will), together with his relatives, ere long be deprived of his life and of his kingdom.

As the lives of living creatures are destroyed by tormenting their bodies, even so the lives of kings are destroyed by their oppressing their kingdoms.

Where justice is destroyed by injustice, or truth by falsehood, while the judges look on, there they shall also be destroyed.

'Justice, being violated, destroys; justice, being preserved, preserves: therefore justice must not be violated, lest violated justice destroy us.'

For divine justice (is said to be) a bull (vrisha); that (man) who violates it (kurute 'lam) the gods consider to be (a man despicable like) a Sudra (vrishala); let him, therefore, beware of violating justice.

One quarter of (the guilt of) an unjust (decision) falls on him who committed (the crime), one quarter on the (false) witness, one quarter on all the judges, one quarter on the king.

Neither the king nor any servant of his shall themselves cause a lawsuit to be begun, or hush up one that has been brought (before them) by (some) other (man).

Unjust punishment destroys reputation among men, and fame (after death), and causes even in the next world the loss of heaven; let him, therefore, beware of (inflicting) it.

A king who punishes those who do not deserve it, and punishes not those who deserve it, brings great infamy on himself and (after death) sinks into hell.

A king who (duly) protects (his subjects) receives from each and all the sixth part of their spiritual merit; if he does not protect them, the sixth part of their demerit also (will fall on him).

A king who does not afford protection, (yet) takes his share in kind, his taxes, tolls and duties, daily presents and fines, will (after death) soon sink into hell.

But that king who pardons the perpetrator of violence quickly perishes and incurs hatred.

A king who thus brings to a conclusion. all the legal business enumerated above, and removes all sin, reaches the highest state (of bliss).


The kings of yore had a unique relationship with God, as also their Praja(subjects).They always endeavoured to uphold Dharma as laid down in the Manusmriti. And, in a few exceptional cases, when Dharma was violated, kings did suitable Prayaschittas(atonement, penance, expiation) as advised by Maharishis and other advisors.

References:-1. Manusmriti, Chapters VII and VIII

2.Valmiki Ramayana and 3.Mahabharata

Reference link:-http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/manu/manu08.htm


As others have mentioned, there isn't really a formal impeachment procedure mentioned in śāstras afaik but they (śāstras) do mention circumstances in which the prajā might take an action against a Rājā or situations when they do take action.
Firstly, the paragon of dharma, venerable Manu states -

taṁ rājā praṇayan samyak trivargeṇābhivardhate /
kāmātmā viṣamaḥ kṣudro daṇḍenaiva nihanyate //
~ Manusmṛti (7.27)

When a Rājā administers daṇḍa with propriety/due deliberation (as detailed in Manusmṛti 7.26), he flourishes w.r.t trivarga, but the Rājā who's kāmī (acts upon kāma), viṣama (partial or prejudiced), & kṣudra (krodhana), is destroyed by that very same daṇḍa.

daṇḍo hi sumahattejo durdharaścākṛtātmabhiḥ /
dharmād vicalitaṃ hanti nṛpameva sabāndhavam //
~ Manusmṛti (7.28)

For daṇḍa is yukta with immense teja, and it cannot be wielded by those with uncultivated selves (untrained in daṇḍanīti). It assuredly destroys a Rājā who deviates from dharma, alongwith his relatives.

Yājñavalkya smṛti (1.355-357) follows and states similar to Manusmṛti (7.27-28). In Manubhāṣya on Manusmṛti (7.27b) , Medhātithi adds that such a Rājā is either detroyed by prakṛtikopa i.e. the kopa arising out of natural dissatisfaction & unrest within the prajā, or some adṛṣtaphala. (prakṛtikopenādṛṣṭena vā doṣeṇa). In Manvārthamuktāvalī on Manusmṛti 7.27b, Kullūka Bhaṭṭa add similarly that such a Rājā is destroyed out of anger (caused by dissatisfaction) by mantris, etc. (nṛpaḥ sa prakṛtanaiva daṇḍenāmātyādinā kopādadharmādvā vināśyate). In support of this, Kauṭilya in Arthaśāstra (1.6.4-11) and Vātsyāyana in Kāmasūtra (1.3.34-36), state some famous negative examples of Rājās such as Dāṇḍakya, Rāvaṇa, Kārtavīrya Arjuna, etc. who got destroyed due to their actions (under the sway of indriyas or kāma, etc., and against dharma).

Anuśāsana Parva (61.32-33) solemnly sanctions the slaying of a Rājā in certain circumstances.

arakṣitāraṁ hartāraṁ viloptāramanāyakam /
taṁ vai rājakali hanyuḥ prajāḥ sannahya nighṛṇam //
ahaṁ vo rakṣitetyuktvā yo na rakṣati bhūmipaḥ /
sa saṁhatya nihantavyaḥ śveva sonmāda āturaḥ //
~ Anuśāsana Parva (61.32-33)

That Rājā who doesn't do rakṣā of prajā, simply plunders wealth, and who has no leadership. That Rajā is like Kali, and should by the prajā united, be slain. (32) That Rājā, who after declaring, "I will do rakṣā of you people", doesn't do rakṣa (of prajā), that Rājā must be slain like an unmatta & ātura dog, by the prajā combined. (33)

Aligning with Anuśāsana Parva (61.32-33), there's the following śloka

asaptapāpiṣṭhasacivo vadhyo lokasya dharmahā /
sahaiva parivāreṇa kṣipramevāvasīdati //
~ Śānti Parva (92.9)

That Rājā who with the aid of duṣṭa & pāpiṣṭha mantris goes against dharma, he becomes vadhya (one worthy of being slain) of all subjects, & endangers himself alongwith his family.

So, Śānti Parva (92.9) and Anuśāsana Parva (61.32-33) seem to be in favor of deposition (deposing the Rājā) and even regicide (particularly) of an adharmī & ayogya Rājā.
Manusmṛti (7.27-28) at least justifies deposition of such a Rājā, if not regicide.

Śukrācārya explicitly supports deposition of such a Rājā-

guṇanītibaladveṣī kulabhūto'pyadhārmikaḥ /
nṛpo yadi bhavettaṁ yu tyajedrāṣṭravināśakam //
~ Śukranīti (2.274)

Even a Rājā from great kula (or vaṁśa), who is a dveṣī of guṇa, nīti and bala (senā) and adhārmika, then considering his conduct would lead (or if it really leads) to the destruction of rājya, his tyāga (deposement) should be done.

tatpade tasya kulajaṁ guṇayukta purohitaḥ /
prakṛtyanumatiṁ kṛtvā sthāpayedrājyaguptaye //
~ Śukranīti (2.275)

And in place of that Rājā, the purohita, with the consent of prakṛti (mantris, etc.), should do sthāpanā of another Rājā from that Rājavaṁśa, who is endowed with rājaguṇas.

In the śloka below, Śukrācārya states that it's not a pāpa for Brāhmaṇas to slay really wicked, tyrannical, etc. Kṣatriyas.

sudurvṛttaṁ yadā kṣatraṁ nāśayeyustu brāhmaṇāḥ /
yuddhaṁ kṛtvāpi śastrāstrairna tadā pāpabhājinaḥ //
~ Śukranīti (4.7.332)

If there's an atyanta durācārī Kṣatriya, the Brāhmaṇas may slay him. Even if the latter used śastras-astras (to execute the said karma) in a yuddha, there's no pāpa borne by them.

And there have been instances in itihāsa, which support Śukra's statement.
For e.g. the tyrannical & adharmī Rājā Vena was slain by the Ṛṣis. (Śānti Parva 59.93-94 ; Bhāgavata Purāṇa 4.14-15), and later his guṇavāna son Pṛthu (avatāra of Viṣṇu) succeeded as Rājā (was one of the greatest), who was acknowledged by Brāhmaṇas, siddhas, etc.

In fact, even the Mahābhārata war fought by Pāṇḍavas, was (from one perspective) their rebellion against the unjust regime of Rājā Dhṛtarāṣtra Kaurava, who was not upholding rājadharma. This is because, technically until Dhṛtarāṣtra was the Rājā of Kauravas, Pāṇḍavas were part of his prajā. And since all peace negotiations and entreaties proposed (to Rājā Dhṛtarāṣṭra) by the Pāṇḍavas failed, even Kṛṣṇa (who is dharmasvarūpa and ādarśa of ahiṁsā) supported the Pāṇḍavas in fighting against the Kauravas in a dharmayuddha. As Bhīṣma states, "Where there is Kṛṣṇa, there is dharma, and where there's dharma, there is jaya." (yataḥ kṛṣṇastato dharma yato dharmastato jayaḥ - Bhīṣma Parva 66.35). It's just that the Pāṇḍavas didn't indulge in deposing Dhṛtarāṣṭra or committing regicide, but the former attaining victory in the war and slaying all the sons of Gāndhārī (including adharmī Yuvarāja Duryodhana) left him no choice but to abdicate the siṁhāsana. Thus, here prajā takes action (via rebellion) against an unjust Rājā, and leaves him no choice but to abdicate the siṁhasana.

The numbering of ślokas from Mahābhārata follows the Gītā Press version.

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