The Science of Kingship in Ancient India, Part 3

BY: SUN STAFF - 28.6 2018

King Citraketu, Lord Sankarsana and the Four Kumaras 
 

The religious dictates that influenced kingship in Vedic culture.

 

CHAPTER II., Part One

 

The king as a mediator; manifestations of royal power; salvation expected from kingly potency.

In so-called primitive or semi-primitive societies the belief is widespread that the welfare and prosperity of the community depend on harmony with the invisible powers. The Indians shared with many other peoples the conviction that their rulers possessed supernatural power. One of the most striking characteristics of the Indian king is his role as a mediator. He is an intermediary between the powers of nature and society. As such he is an essential factor for the well-being of the people 48).

In this respect the ancient Indian ruler was also a worthy colleague of the kings and chiefs of many other peoples. "The impulse (furtherance) of that special power-substance which manifests itself in vegetative life and increase of possessions (vajasya prasavah) prevailed over all these worlds, in all directions; from days of yore the king goes about knowing, increasing the people, and the well-being (pusti-, "a well-nourished condition") amongst us" 49).

He is according to many descriptions in the epics and other documents the source and origin of all important events in the country. If the king is good, he is a blessing, if he is bad he is a disaster for his subjects. The sins of a king may even be the cause of the fall of the empire; drought, hunger, diseases, and battles will afflict the population 50). "As is the king so is his people" 51).

A good king should strive always to add to the prosperity of his people, bringing about a state of plenty and affluence 52). His first aim should be to seek his realm's happiness. Where the ideal king lives the people are prosperous, cheerful, healthy, pure in conduct, expert in works; there the sacrifices are performed and the clouds always pour waters 53).

Since there were indeed kings who behaved badly, it is not surprising to find many passages in which the king is a source of endless fear and adversity to his subjects. The king, thieves, robbers, fire, are all and sundry considered public calamities. The bad king's officers or favourites are put on a par with robbers and enemies. Snakes, enemies, robbers and the king, or the royal princes and concubines are said to oppress the people 54).

Above all, the sovereign is indeed responsible for rainfall 55) and this not only through his fitness as a ruler, but also by his presence itself. "Indra, seeing that all the ksatriya sovereigns ruled their kingdoms very virtuously, poured down vivifying showers of rain at the proper time and at the proper place, and thus protected all creatures" 56). Where there is no king rain will not fall 57). If he sins, that is to say transgresses the dharma in any respect, be it 'ritual', 'moral' or otherwise, or if his purohita ("chaplain") makes a mistake, rain can cease 58). In times of drought the subjects approach the ruler for the much desired water 56).

Incidentally a text prescribes that a ruler should consider as the highest of his duties reclaiming land for cultivation and fertilizing it, and protection of his subjects 60). Whatever the speculations in certain parts of the brahmanas may have meant to the general public, such identifications as "ksatra- (i.e. "power, dominion", the princely and military class as contrasted with the brahmans) is life" anyhow show that great importance was attached to rulership 61).

On the other hand, living in the realm of a bad king leads to destruction 62). There the cows will not yield milk, but kick over the milking-pails; the farmer will hurt himself when ploughing. In this light we may consider such wishes as are expressed in Vedic mantras: "be this king dear to kine, herbs, cattle" 63) as referring to an aspect of ancient Indian kingship not generally known nowadays. In an old Atharvanic text intended to promote the restoration of a king who had lost his realm, Indra is besought to call back the royal man for the benefit of his subjects, Varuna for the waters, Soma for the mountains 64).

Thus it becomes clear that not only lordly power, but also the essence of nutritious food, the essence of water and useful plants, any refreshing draught, a well-nourished condition, and generative power are expressly enumerated among the manifestations of royal power: ksatrarupam tat 65). An illuminating illustration of the character of these manifestations of ksatra- is also afforded by the inclusion of sura "spirituous liquor" among them 66). Spirituous liquor —which was forbidden to brahmans 67)—is often said to help love; stimulate the generative powers in nature 66). In illustration of this belief connected with spirits attention may perhaps be drawn to the prohibitions with regard to hot and strong drinks in magic. Among various peoples the avoidance of these liquids belongs to the special restrictions to be observed by magicians and other potent persons.

In New South Wales it was believed that those who were supposed to have the power of calling up spirits did not drink any sort of liquid which would heat them internally. Elsewhere medicine men are careful not to drink anything hot. The avoidance of hot and fiery liquors would seem to be explained by the conviction that the potent person is himself in a state of permanent 'hotness' which would be neutralized by contact with anything possessing a greater heat 70). The state or grade of 'hotness' of these drinks, though dangerous to brahmans 71), was apparently believed to be congenial to members of the ksatriya order.

In all this we can see the Indian form of the widespread veneration for authority.

 

FOOTNOTES

48) See e g. also J. J. Meyer, Dandins Dasakumaracaritram, Leipzig 1902, p. 344 f.

49) Vaj. Samh. 9, 25; Sat. Br. 5, 2, 2, 7.

50) See e.g. Jataka 194 and 213.

51) Mbh. II, 8, 32.

52) Cf. Kalidasa, Raghuvamsa 8, 6; 9, 2: 17, 41. We are almost tempted to regard the reference made by the same poet, ibid, 4, 20, to women who whilst keeping watch over the rice fields sang the praises of the king as a piece of evidence of a fertility rite (cf. e.g. N. Adriani, Verzamelde gcschriftcn, II, Haarlem 1932, p, 299 ff.; 392 ff.).

53) Mbh. 4, 28, 15 ff.

54) Cf. e.g. Mbh. 2, 5, 76; 12, 228, 77; 13, 125, 9; Dighanikaya 1, 85 ff.; Kamand. NS. 5, 82 = Agni Pur. 239. 46. This double aspect of royal power and behaviour is commented upon also in the literature of other peoples. Often however the terrible and wicked behaviour of the king is said to inspire terror in the internal and external enemies. Thus for instance in a — corrupted — Sanskrit stanza in the beginning of the Javanese version of the Virafaparvan; see A. A. FOKKER, Wirataparwa I, The Hague 1938, p. 1.

55) Instances of this belief are very numerous in the Indian literature; see e.g. Jataka 194 and 276. — Cf. e.g. also Vajas. S. 22, 22.

56) Mbh. 1, 64, 16, the poet adding a detailed picture of a prosperous reign.

57) Particulars which have often been discussed may be found in J. J. Meyer, Sexual life in ancient India, London 1930, p. 286 f.; the same. Trilogie II, p. 255 f.; III, p. 268; Gonda, Zur Frage nach dem Ursprung und Wesen des indischen Dramas, Acta Or. 19, p. 362 ff, and passim.

58) Cf. e.g. Mbh. 3, no, 42 ff., discussed by H. Luders, Philologica Indtca, Gottingen 1940, p. I ff.

59) See e.g. also Jataka 547; Cowell's translation, VI, p. 252.

60) Mbh. 12, 65, 2. C£. also Rgveda 1, 73. 3 "all-nourishing... like a king".

61) Brh. ar. Up. 5, 13. 4 = Sat. Br. 14, 8, 14, 4.

62) Mbh. 3, 1, 21.

63) See e.g. Atharvaveda 4, 22, 4. Cf. also 3, 4, 3.

64) Atharvaveda 3, 3, 3.

65) Aitareya-brahmana 8, 7, 10.

66) Ibidem 8, 8, 5,

67) I refer to J. J. Meyer, Das Wesen der altindischen Rechtsschriften, Leipzig 1927, p. 25 f.; 352; Buch v. Welt- und Staatsleben, Leipzig 1926, p. 186; 718 f.; Zus. 190, 24. See also Kamasiitra 54, 3 ff.

68) Mentioned in Gobhila's G.S. 2, 1, 10.

69) I refer to Meyer, Trilogie II, p. 5; 109 f.; III, p. 178.

70) See H. Webster, Magic, Stanford Cal. 1948, p. 237 ff. For magic 'heat' see also M. Eliade, Le chamanisme, Paris 195 1, p. 412 ff.

71) The main reason why brahmans should abstain from drinking ardent spirits was the fear that they would expose the Veda, of which they were the repositories, to profanation by reciting it out of season.

Source: Ancient Indian Kingship From the Religious Point of View by J. Gonda, Utrecht