Origin of Separation of Powers: Traces In Hindu Mythology

Origin of Separation of Powers: Traces In Hindu Mythology

Origin of Separation of Powers: Traces In Hindu Mythology

A Comparative Analysis of Origin of Separation of Powers Between Montesquieu’s Concept & Hindu Mythology.

In the present world where “Rule of Law” is being practiced under instructions and guidelines of the supreme law of the land namely “Constitution,” the separation of powers is the most essential element of such governance (system). However, I cannot say that all the countries that have been practicing the principle of ‘rule of law,’ they must have three branches of governance, but yes, most of the democratic countries have clearly defined and divided the powers among three organs of the government namely:

  • Executive (put the law into action);
  • Legislature (change or make a new law); &
  • Judiciary (interpret the law and give the judgement on law).  

The purpose of such division and decentralization of powers into three branches is to limit the arbitrariness of any one branch.
Origin of Separation of Powers: Traces In Hindu Mythology
So, the integrity of this principle implies that each branch or organ of the government shall be independent and no organ shall interfere in the functioning of the other organ. 

The Constitution of India explicitly defines and gives directions in reference to the organization of the federal structure of the government. It has divided the duties and responsibilities of the government among three defined organs. Constitution, further, also clearly enlists the specific powers of each organ. The most interesting part of such separation is to establish the fundamental terms by which one organ’s claim to authority may be deemed valid or invalid and also provides the very basis for deciding whether the exercise of such power by an organ of the government is allowed or prohibited.

The separate and independent responsibilities and duties also ensure the checks and balances built into the constitutional structure of the government and at the same time, it preserves the independence of the separate departments and provide each organ with the capacity to protect against the usurpations of power by the other organs.

However, the guidelines of the constitution in reference to separation of powers do not disable any branch of the government from functioning effectively, nor impede any of the organs of the government from developing innovative solutions to new and challenging problems, nor mandate government insensitivity to the changing needs of the State.

So, in gist, it can be said that the constitutional provision of separation of powers does not preclude any such experimentation (beneficial for the society at large) rather it merely instructs that each organ of the government function within the limits of its defined powers to attaining the common goals.

Origin of Separation of Powers

The concept of separation of powers can be traced in the work of Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) Aristotle in his work (treatise), which is entitled as the ‘Politics,’ described the three forms of government namely: deliberative (i.e. General Assembly, the executive (i.e. Public Officials), and the Judiciary. However, he did not mention clearly the term separation of powers.

But in 14th century, Marsilius of Padua (1275 -1342), the Italian thinker clearly stated the distinction between legislative and executive functions of the government. Further, in 16th century, Jean Bodin (1530-1596), the French philosopher stated that the judicial functions must be performed by the independent magistrate, which must be free from Monarch’s interference. In the 17th century, John Locke (1632-1704), the British political thinker further explained the concept and divided the English political powers among several bodies. According to him, the ideal form of government is civil government with limited powers.

However, in the 18th century, the most original, systematic, and scientific form of concept of separation of powers has been conceptualized by the French philosopher Baron De Montesquieu (1689-1755). And, his theory of separation of powers became the model for governance of many of the democracies across the world.  The doctrine of separation of powers was published in his book namely “Esprit Des Lois” (The Spirit of Laws), published in 1748. 

Likewise, Montesquieu clearly defined the three organs of government namely, Legislature, Executive, and Judiciary. He, in his book ‘The Spirit of the Laws says that:

“By virtue of the first, the prince or magistrate enacts temporary or perpetual laws, and amends or abrogates those that have been already enacted. By the second, he makes peace or war, sends or receives embassies, establishes the public security, and provides against invasions. By the third, he punishes criminals, or determines the disputes that arise between individuals. The latter we shall call the judiciary power, and the other, simply, the executive power of the state.”
Origin of Separation of Powers: Traces In Hindu Mythology

The Indian Concept of Origin of Separation of Powers

Though we have discussed above that the concept of separation of powers in India is derived from England, which was actually based on the concept of Montesquieu, the French philosopher; however, if we go back and try to explore a little the Hindu mythology, we can very well appreciate the concept of separation of powers, which is embedded in Hindu mythology right from the beginning itself.

Remember the Trimūrti (three forms) that defines the triple deity of supreme divinity in Hinduism. The term Trimurti defines three supreme divinities namely Brahma (the creator); Vishnu (the preserver), and Mahesh (the destroyer).


Also, known as Svayambhu (self-born), Vedanatha (god of Vedas), Gyaneshwara (god of Knowledge), Chaturmukha (having Four Faces), etc. is one of the divinities of Trimurti. He is more prominently mentioned in the post-Vedic Hindu epics and the mythologies in the Puranas. In the epics, he is conflated with Purusha. Several Puranas describe him as emerging from a lotus, connected to the navel of Lord Vishnu. Other Puranas suggest that he is born from Shiva or his aspects, or he is a supreme god in diverse versions of Hindu mythology.

Origin of Separation of Powers: Traces In Hindu Mythology

Brahma is traditionally depicted with four faces and four arms. Each face of his points to a cardinal direction. His hands hold no weapons, rather symbols of knowledge and creation. In one hand, he holds the sacred texts of Vedas, in second he holds mala (rosary beads) symbolizing time, in third he holds a sruva or shruk — ladle types symbolizing means to feed sacrificial fire, and in fourth a kamandalu – utensil with water symbolizing the means where all creation emanates from. His four mouths are credited with creating the four Vedas. He is often depicted with a white beard, implying his sage-like experience. He sits on lotus, dressed in white (or red, pink), with his vehicle (vahana) – hansa, a swan or goose – nearby.

Brahma is the God of “creation” who creates the life on earth.

Now, in the present context, if I compare Brahma and his role with the Parliament, I found that there are number of similarities between both of them. Brahma’s four faces, four arms reflect the two houses of Parliament and the majority sign. Further, his hands hold no weapons, rather symbols of knowledge and creation. Similarly, parliament has nothing to do with the weapons rather it is center of amending and creating the new laws and acts to ensure peace and security in the society.  So, Brahma creates the life and Parliament creates the law.


The "preserver" in the Hindu triad (Trimurti), Vishnu is admired as the supreme being In Vaishnavism, and identical to the metaphysical concept of Brahman (Atman, the self, or unchanging ultimate reality). He is popular and know for adopting various incarnations (avatars such as Rama and Krishna) to preserve and protect dharmic principles whenever the world is threatened with evil, chaos, and destructive forces.

In Hindu mythology, Vishnu is described as:
Origin of Separation of Powers: Traces In Hindu Mythology

  • A dark blue to black complexion;
  • Earrings in the shape of sharks;
  • A garland of flowers hanging from His neck;
  • The shrivatsa mark on His chest (in the form of a curl of hair);
  • The Kaustubha gem on His chest;
  • Yellow-coloured silk trousers; and
Four arms:
    • Upper-left hand holding the Panchajanya shankha (conch)
    • Lower-left hand holding a Padma (lotus flower)
    • Upper-right hand handing the Sudarshana Chakra (discus)
    • Lower-right hand the Kaumodaki Gada (mace)

Vishnu is the god who preserves the life and maintains the peace and security on the planet earth. 

Now, if I compare Lord Vishnu with today’s executive, I found many similarities; executive’s duties are to preserve and maintain the peace and security in the society; to ensure that nothing wrong happens with any one; no one dies out of starvation or by any other such means, etc., same as of lord Vishnu.

Vishnu has four arms, and in two arms, there are weapons, it can be very well symbolized with our defence forces, paramilitary forces, and police forces who are employed to maintain the peace and security in the state. There is lotus flower in one hand, symbolizing the peace; in the present context, the administrative department, health department and all other such departments are there to ensure the good health and prosperity of society. 

Interestingly, the different avatars (incarnations) of Lord Vishnu, which he exercised only with the purpose to thrash the growing anarchy and lawlessness during that time, are very much similar to today’s strict actions of the Executive especially during the emergency period of any sort. Lord Vishnu took different avatars to kill the devils and monsters; today, the different forces also take strict actions and in fact kill any such monster trying to create nuisance in the society.

On top of this, the complexion (or color) of Lord Vishnu very well symbolizes different uniforms of different forces.

Mahesh (or Lord Shiva)

Also, known as Mahadeva (''the great god''), Lord Mahesh or Shiva is one of the principal deities of Hinduism. He is the supreme being within Shaivism, one of the major traditions within contemporary Hinduism. Shiva is known as "The Destroyer" within the Trimurti, the Hindu trinity, other two are Brahma and Vishnu. Shiva is one of the supreme beings who creates, protects and transforms the universe.

Origin of Separation of Powers: Traces In Hindu Mythology

The iconographical attributes of Lord Shiva are the Snake around his neck, the adorning crescent moon on his head, the holy river Ganga flowing from his matted hair, the third eye on his forehead, the trishula or trident, as his weapon, and the damaru (drum). He is usually worshipped in the iconic form of lingam.

 Lord of Lords, the Great Lord Shiva is symbolized as “The Destroyer” within the Trimurti. So, now if I compare Lord Shiva with the Judiciary, I found many similarities. In the present era, one of the most significant roles of judiciary is to remove and destroy the criminals and criminal acts from our society in the form of giving the punishment of different sorts.

Lord Shiva has the snake wrapped around his neck; similarly, judiciary has the same features in the form the Constitution and other laws and acts. Lord Shiva has damaru (drum); similarly, judges have the gavel in their hands. Lord Shiva has trishula (trident); similarly, there are police forces who remain ready to take command of judiciary to do the needful.

Origin of Separation of Powers: Traces In Hindu Mythology
Origin of Separation of Powers: Traces In Hindu Mythology
On top of this, Lord Shiva is being worshiped in the iconic and symbolized form of lingam; similarly, judiciary is symbolized with the Lady Justice.

Moreover, if we further go into the detail and research, we will definitely find much more details on this account. There are many such concepts and practices those were prevalent in the ancient India, but the paradox of today’s time is, we need to adopt such concepts from foreign lands.


  1. In the given article, three different organs of the government has been defined i.e, Executive, Legislature and Judiciary. Origin of these three organs has also been been explained. Here Executive is the President, Vice president, prime ministers, Cabinet ministers etc. Legislature is the parliament and Judiciary is the Courts and Judges. This article has also taken origin of seperation of powers into consideration. In this article, Bramha, Vishnu and Mahesh has been compared to legislature, executive and Judiciary respectively.

  2. It is interesting to see how Bramha, Vishnu and Mahesh have been compared to legislature, executive and Judiciary respectively. It can ve deduced that the best aspects of the Hindi Mythology have been used to build the strong pillars on which the country stands.

    1. @LEGALPOET Thank you Very much for your comment and we're glad that you like our article. So keep reading, we will upload more interesting articles.

  3. This article not only explains the origin and development of separation of powers but also relates the concept back to ancient India. Even the smallest of details like weapons, snake, drum, etc are given utmost importance to explain and relate the concept of law with hindu mythology with understandable examples.

  4. We appreciate your explanation. Please keep reading

    I should applaud the writer for its eclectic approach to the topic.
    the highlights of the article being comparison of separation of power with hindu mythology is fresh thought though already understood and is in the conscience of people of India what i see here is " TIP OF THE TONGUE" phenomena i.e everybody knows but the writer has beautifully expressed it in words and brought the understanding from sub-conscious to the consciousness.
    keep the good work going . Eagerly waiting for next.

    for improvements, some examples if could be inserted so that the expressions and the meaning could be more clear and understood by global citizens.

    1. Thank you for your precious feedback. We will try to add more examples in upcoming articles for better understanding.

  6. The well explained comparison of bramha, Vishnu, and Mahesh with execute, legislative, and judiciary covering all aspects and made it very interesting for reader to understand both the mythology and separation of powers concept.

    1. Thank you very much, we're glad that you like it.

      We merely tried to see law from completely different perspective.