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  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: February 2013

The “Ambassador” in Ancient India




In Brussels the author of the present paper often visits a building, at the gate of which, in beautiful Devanāgarī characters, the words “Bhāratīya Dūtavāsa” have been inscribed on a copperplate. It is, literally translated, the “Residence of the Indian Dūta,” i.e., the “Ambassador,” as can be derived from the English words added below: “Embassy of India.” The well-known fact that the word dūta has been selected as the modern Hindi equivalent for the English Ambassador needs no further comment, but, since the word ultimately belongs to Sanskrit vocabulary, it may be asked whether the dūta in ancient India was in any way the forerunner of the present-day Indian ambassador.

Of course, diplomacy and the diplomatic agents, one of whom is the present Ambassador for India in Belgium, are quite modern institutions. “…The word [sc. diplomacy] was first used in England as late as 1796 by Burke. The need for such a term was, indeed, only then beginning to be felt; for, though in a sense as old as history, it was only in quite modern times, even in Europe, that diplomacy developed into a uniform system, based upon generally recognized rules and directed by a diplomatic hierarchy having a fixed international status” (Encyclopedia Britannica 7, 1947: 404). Nevertheless, in the following pages a brief attempt will be made to collect and to interpret a number of references to the ancient dūta, in order to show that the practice of the king's sending an envoy to another monarch was definitely not unknown in ancient times.