Functioning of Guilds Guilds played a prominent role in the conduct of
trade and commerce in the pre-Gupta period. Gautama (one of the earliest
writers on polity) declares that traders and merchants, among others, had the
authority to lay down rules for their respective classes. Contemporary
evidence shows that occupations were generally hereditary and localised.
Jatakas, for instance, mention the 18 guilds, and several instances of—
industries localised in particular towns and villages, of separate guilds each
having a pramukha or jetha as president, and a judge from among themselves
settling disputes among the guilds. Jatakas also tell us of the sarthavahas
(caravan leaders) whose directions were obeyed by caravans along the trade
    The guilds, according to the Smritis, were headed by high executive
officers, known as adhyakshas or mukhyas who in turn were assisted by
committees of two, three or five persons called samukahitavadins (advisers
for the public good) or karya-chintaka (advisers for the public business). The
adhyakshas, according to Brihaspati (though assigned to the fourth century
AD, his comments are relevant even for the pre-Gupta period), were permitted
to punish wrong doers by reprimand and censure as well as by
excommunication, and their judgements in the discharge of their duties were
required to be respected even by the king. In the opinion of Narada (fourth
century AD), the opinion of the advisers was to be respected by the guild
leaders, and in case of differences between the two, the king might settle
them. Both Narada and Brihaspati provide us with several examples of
conventions or compacts known as samvitpatras. Katyayana, another
prominent law giver, calls them by the name of sthitipatras and defines them
as deeds of convention made by the guilds for preserving their usages intact.
These conventions were to be enforced by the king, unless they were adverse
to the king’s interests, or were disapproved by the people, or were
detrimental to the public good. The members of the guilds, for their part,
were bound to follow their respective conventions, subject to their obligation
of performing their individual duties and to obey the king’s order not
conflicting with the same. A member who failed to perform his share of the
convention, though was capable of it, would be awarded different penalties,
including the extreme penalty of confiscation of property and banishment.
    The above law givers also      tell us about the rights and duties of the