Historical Background of Mediation in India: A Tapestry of Ancient Wisdom and Modern Progress

 Mediation is one of the modes of alternative dispute resolution and it has deep historical roots in India. Drawing inspiration from ancient traditions and indigenous practices, mediation has played a pivotal role in resolving conflicts and fostering harmony in Indian society. This article explores the historical background of mediation in India, from its origins in ancient times to its evolution and legal recognition in the modern era.

Historical Origins of Mediation in India

The historical origins of mediation in India can be traced back to ancient times when indigenous practices and cultural traditions emphasized the peaceful resolution of conflicts. These early forms of mediation were deeply rooted in the social fabric of Indian society and played a significant role in maintaining harmony and justice.

Likewise, mediation in ancient India was prevalent in various forms. The principles of non-violence and compassion, central to Hinduism and Buddhism, laid the foundation for resolving conflicts through peaceful means. The concept of "Ahimsa," meaning non-violence, encouraged individuals to seek resolution through dialogue, understanding, and reconciliation.

Ancient Indian texts and scriptures, such as the Vedas, Upanishads, and epics like the Mahabharata and Ramayana, and also Arthashastra and Manusmriti provided guidance on mediation and showcased instances where mediation was employed to settle disputes. These texts presented mediation as a virtuous and noble act, promoting the restoration of harmony and justice.

Examples of Trace of Mediation in Ancient India

One notable example is the epic of Mahabharata, where Lord Krishna acted as a mediator during the Kurukshetra war. He attempted to prevent the war by offering alternative solutions and facilitating dialogue between the warring parties. His role as a mediator demonstrated the significance of peaceful negotiation and mediation even in times of great conflict.

Another historical development in Indian mediation was the establishment of village panchayats, which were local self-governing bodies responsible for resolving disputes within their communities. Panchayats acted as mediators, bringing together conflicting parties and facilitating discussions to reach mutually agreeable solutions. These community-based mediation practices thrived and continue to exist in rural areas, preserving the ancient traditions of conflict resolution.

Mediation During the Medieval Period

Medieval India was marked by political upheavals, regional conflicts, and changing power dynamics. As various rulers and dynasties sought to expand their territories, disputes and conflicts were inevitable. In such tumultuous times, mediation provided a way to address conflicts without resorting to violence or costly legal battles. It served as an essential mechanism to preserve social cohesion, foster reconciliation, and maintain a semblance of order amidst the chaos.

During this period, mediators, known as "Panch" played a crucial role in the mediation process. They were individuals respected for their wisdom, impartiality, and ability to navigate complex disputes. Often drawn from scholarly, religious, or influential social backgrounds, these mediators acted as neutral facilitators, guiding the parties towards a peaceful resolution.

Furthermore, mediation in medieval India extended beyond the immediate parties involved. It often involved community members, elders, and respected individuals who acted as witnesses or advisors during the process. Their presence ensured transparency, legitimacy, and a sense of collective responsibility for upholding justice and harmony.

Mughal Era and Mediation Practices

During the Mughal era, mediation continued to hold prominence. The Mughal courts, known as "Adalats," employed mediation techniques to settle disputes, particularly in matters of land and property. These courts emphasized the importance of negotiation and facilitated dialogue between disputing parties, seeking resolution without resorting to lengthy and costly litigation.

Mediation in Colonial India

With the advent of British colonial rule, indigenous mediation practices in India experienced a decline. The British administration introduced a formalized legal system based on English common law, emphasizing adversarial litigation over consensual resolution methods. As a result, traditional forms of mediation lost prominence, particularly in cases involving British subjects or disputes falling under British jurisdiction.

Though the British colonial courts became the primary mechanism for dispute resolution, indigenous mediation continued to exist alongside the new legal system. In certain cases, especially those concerning local customs, property matters, and interpersonal disputes within Indian communities, British officials recognized the value of mediation and allowed parties to engage in the process voluntarily.

Besides, Indian intermediaries, known as "Mukhtiars" or "Vakils," played a crucial role during the colonial era. They acted as intermediaries between British authorities and the Indian population, assisting in the resolution of disputes through negotiation and mediation. These intermediaries often possessed knowledge of both the British legal system and local customs, enabling them to bridge cultural and legal gaps.

Influence of British Arbitration Practices

While mediation faced challenges, arbitration gained traction in colonial India. British arbitration practices, which involved a neutral third party making binding decisions, were adopted in commercial disputes. The British introduced the Bengal Regulation Act of 1772, which recognized and regulated arbitration proceedings. This shift towards arbitration had an impact on the perception and practice of mediation.

Revival of Mediation During the Nationalist Movement

As India's nationalist movement gained momentum, there was a renewed interest in reviving traditional Indian practices, including mediation. Prominent nationalist leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi advocated for mediation and emphasized the importance of non-violence and peaceful conflict resolution. Mediation was seen as a means to address social and political conflicts, contributing to the broader goal of India's independence.

Post-Independence Development of Mediation Practices

After independence, efforts were made to revive and strengthen traditional dispute resolution mechanisms, including mediation. The formation of the Law Commission of India and subsequent reports highlighting the advantages of mediation laid the foundation for recognizing and promoting mediation as an effective means of resolving conflicts.

Post-independence developments in mediation in India witnessed a significant shift in focus and recognition of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. The country recognized the need for efficient, cost-effective, and accessible means of resolving disputes outside the traditional court system. This led to various developments and initiatives that have shaped the landscape of mediation in contemporary India.

Furthermore, various mediation institutions and centers were established across the country to promote and facilitate mediation services. These organizations, both governmental and non-governmental, provide training, accreditation, and mediation services in various domains, including commercial disputes, family matters, labor disputes, and community conflicts. Some notable institutions include the Mediation and Conciliation Project Committee (MCPC), the Indian Council of Arbitration (ICA), and the International Center for Alternative Dispute Resolution (ICADR).


The historical origins of mediation in India reflect a deep-rooted cultural and philosophical understanding of conflict resolution. From ancient texts to indigenous practices and contemporary developments, mediation continues to evolve, bridging the gap between traditional wisdom and modern progress.


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