The Science of Kingship in Ancient India, Part 11


BY: SUN STAFF - 13.7 2018

Lord Indra, King of Saudharmakalpa

The religious dictates that influenced kingship in Vedic culture.

CHAPTER VI. – Part Three

That Indra is among the eight divinities whose particles constitute the king is self-evident. Indra's concern with growth, vitality, rainfall, vegetation and fertility is too well known to be in need of comment. Energetic action is characteristic of him. Representing, in the belief of Vedic man, force, energy and vitality in nature, he was believed to be intimately connected with atmospheric phenomena and with various forms of fertility and vegetative life. 196) He is the bestower of wives, sons and riches I97). Like other gods of this character, Indra was also credited with a warlike temperament, and with a natural bent for the annihilation of evil powers and enemies of gods and mankind.

The Vedic Indra is a demon-slayer, a helper, friend and deliverer of his worshippers. Hence he is the god of battle par excellence, and an irresistible warrior, whose mighty arm gains innumerable victories. He may be regarded as the representative of the dynamic aspects of leadership. In the ancient literature Visnu is his friend and assistant, in later texts this god, assuming a superior position, becomes the typical fighter of the gods. Hence also the remarkable change in the relation between kingship and these gods. In later times it is Visnu who maintains intimate relations with the royal dignity on the earth.

The Vedic poets are lavish in their praise of Indra's power and greatness; no one is like to him; he is the leader of gods and men, the universal monarch (samraj-) l98). He is Sakra, "the mighty one".

He is, more than others, in the possession of ojas, the creative vital energy; he is the ugra- one and able to achieve mighty deeds. So, it is clear that Indra is the prominent helper of fighters, of warriors, the friend and companion of kings and noblemen. The possession of ojas, the potency natural and peculiar to Indra, is very often considered distinctive of kingship. Like Indra the king was to protect his subjects, and to combat the wicked; for these purposes he needed physical strength, force and victorious power. He was also the bearer of lustre and majesty. He was a divine being of Indra-like character. He also was expected to secure the prosperity of his people, inter alia, by regulating the powers of fertility, by causing rain, welfare, and the growth of crops. It may be suggested that the connection between ojas and kingship does not only hint at the authority and impressive personality of the ideal king, but also at his command of a creative energy which was considered a source of prosperity 199).

Appearing and receiving honour as a tree — Indra's tree or banner, which is a counterpart of the 'Maibaum' in European countries—, Indra is the central figure of popular festivities which constitute a fertility ceremony par excellence. As we shall see further on it was part of the personal task of the king, whom we know to be Indra's representative on the earth 200), to have these festivities celebrated.

Yama, the ruler of the deceased, is the gatherer of people, because at the appointed time he subjects both friends and foes. In later times he became the god who punishes the wicked, and his name was understood to mean "the restrainer". Like Yama, Manu states, the king is to control all his subjects. When acting as witness and judge the ruler represents Yama.

We may conclude this pericope on Manu's theory of the lokapalas as constituents of the royal person by observing that at a later period the title lokapala- is also given to the king 201).

Kalidasa in his Raghuvamsa 202) refers to this belief in saying that the queen bore an embryo formed by the weighty 203) essences of the lokapalas; the commentator Vallabha quotes the following sloka: from Indra lordship, from Fire brilliancy (majesty: pratapa-), from Hara (Siva) anger, from Kubera wealth, from the Moon the faculty of causing delight. Narada 204) gives expression to the view that the king is Indra in visible form; disobeying him means man's destruction; even a weak and undeserving king must be honoured and obeyed. The ruler must be served like a god (devavat), because he is a divinity 205). No one should disobey the king by taking him for a man, for he is a great god in human form 206) in poetical descriptions the above gods are said to enter the body of the mother of a future king 207).

Elsewhere, however, the king owes his position to the fact that he is the sthana-, i.e. the abode, support or receptacle of gods, especially of Indra, the lord of aid, and Yama, the ruler and judge of the deceased and Lord of justice (dharmaraj-): Kautilya, Arthasastra 9 (indraya-masthanam) 208) ; hence he is anger and graciousness in visible shape, Yama representing the former, Indra the latter. Or he is spoken of as incorporating many gods, Dharma, Brhaspati, Prajapati, Siva and Visnu 200). He has fivefold form: that of Agni, Indra, Soma, Yama and Varuna 210). It may be observed that these gods are often called kings. Sometimes the ruler is declared to contain or comprehend (the essence of) all gods 211).

In other sources 212) the idea of divine kingship finds expression in the belief that the ruler puts on five different forms according to five different occasions. Thus he alternately becomes Agni, Aditya, Mrtyu, Vaisravana, and Yama. When he consumes with his powerful energy (ugrena tejasa) the offenders before him, he is said to put on the form of Agni; when he sees through his agents the acts of all persons, giving them security, he is the Sun; when he kills in anger hundreds of wicked men with their families, he is Death; when he suppresses the evil-doers by punishing them severely and favours the righteous by giving them rewards, he puts on the form of Yama; when he pleases with profuse gifts those who have rendered him valuable services and takes away the wealth of those who have offended him, he is said to put on the form of Vaisravana (Kubera) on earth.

In other texts the king is said to perform the task of the gods or is instructed to imitate them 213), or also said to act like Yama, to be like Visnu, or god-like 214), Thus people call a virtuous king, according to Kalidasa 215) the fifth of the guardians of the quarters. Just as Indra nourishes the people on earth with showers of water, so should a king nourish them with largess 216). In a long passage Manu 217) describes the ruler's functions or observances (vrata-): let him shower benefits on the kingdom as Indra sends rain; let him draw taxes as the sun the water; let him penetrate everywhere through his secret agents as the wind moves everywhere; let him control his subjects as Yama subjects all men; let him punish the wicked as Varuna binds them with his ropes; let him be welcomed with great joy like the moon; let him be ardent in wrath (pratapa-) and endowed with brilliant energy (tejas), destroying the wicked like Agni; let him support his subjects like the Earth.

But this view of kingship does not prevent the same texts from identifying the ruler with the god 218) or from stating that he is Yama 219), that he is Dharma, i.e. Justice, i.e. Yama, Sakra, i.e. Indra, Brhaspati, i.e. the priest of the gods, representing also wisdom and eloquence, and other deities — which, according to the commentator Nilakantha means that he is an establisher of justice, a protector and an instructor of what is salutary — but owes his powers to the inspired and holy men of yore (the rsis), because they were afraid to transgress the dharma 220). It is not possible to quote the numerous passages in which the king is in this way identified with a greater or lesser number of deities.

Now his five great functions are compared to those of Agni, of Aditya, — when he watches all beings through his spies —, of Mrtyu, Vaisravana (i.e. Kubera), and Yama, then again he is called a father, mother, guru, herdsman or one of the great gods 221). Another view again is that expounded in the Mahabharata 222): the king has something human, being only one quarter Indra; on dying he shall obtain (complete) divinity. Some great kings of older times are held to have been either incarnations of devas or asuras — e.g. Yudhisthira is a son of the god Dharma and the queen Kunti 223), or of other than ordinary mortal parentage. King Trasadasyu, who R.V. 4, 42, 8f. is called a demi-god (ardhadeva-) was born, by divine intercession, in a supernatural way.

In the puranas all the royal lineages are traced back to Manu, the son of the sun. Evidence of another view of the divinity of the ruler is found in the Prthu legend, to which we shall have to revert. Visnu himself entered into this first king, for which reason people began to adore him 224).

Or the ruler is described as bearing a portion of Visnu, e.g., in puranic conceptions 225), Rama: Dasaratha's son represents, according to the Ramayana, half of Visnu's personality 226). Anyhow the functions of the ruler for a large part coincide with divine powers. Examples of this parallelism are also afforded by the ritual texts. "By Agni the sacrificer discerns the world of the gods, by Soma the world of the pitrs; in the north part he offers to Agni, in the south to Soma... Agni and Soma are the kings of the gods. They are sacrificed to between the gods, to separate the gods. Therefore men are separated by the king..." 227).



196) For details see my Aspects of early Visnuism, ch. 6.

197) I refer to Macdonell, Vedic Mythology, p. 63; Meyer Trilogie III, p. 302.

198) See e.g. RV. 4, 19, 2.

199) See my Ancient Indian ojas, p. 18 ff.

200) Kaut. AS. 9, 10.

201) See e.g. Kal. Ragh. 6, 1 naralokapala-; Kalh. Raj. 1 344.

202) Kal. Ragh. 2, 75.

203) For the magico-religious sense of weightiness see my paper A propos d un sens magico-rcligieux de Skt. guru-, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, London 12/1947, p. 124 ff.

204) Naradasmrti, Prak. 20 ff.

205) Mbh. 4, 4, 22; cf. also14 , 63, 24. This reminds us of the Homeric "honour him as though he were a god" (Iliad 9, 155- Od 5, 36)

206) Mbh. 12, 68, 40.

207) See e.g. Kalidasa, Raghuvamsa, 2, 75; 3, II. The essences of the gods are called "heavy": see my paper A propos dun sens magico-religieux de Skt guru- (see n. 203), London 1947, p. 124 ff.

208) See also Meyer, Altindischcs Buch , p. 26, and n. 2.

209) Mbh. 3, 185, 28.

210) Ramayana 3, 40, 12. Hence they are characterized by heat (severity fierceness), heroism, gentleness, control (authority including punishment), and purity.

211) See e.g. Pancatantra 1, 120 (sarvamaya-).

212) See Mbh. 12, 68, 41 ff.

213) Mbh. 12, 91, 44.

214) See e.g. Mbh. 2, 5, 88; 1, 68, 13; 74, 33/

215) Kalidasa, Raghuvamsa 17, 78.

216) Markandeya-purana 27, 22.

217) Manu 9, 303 ff. Cf. also Narada-smrti 18, (17), 26 ff. Stanza 26: "Kings endowed with immense power (amitaujasah) appear in the five different forms of Agni, Indra, Soma, Yama and Kubera".

218) Mbh. 12, 91, passim.

219) Mbh. 12, 91, 42.

220) Mbh. 3, 185, 26 ff.

221) For particulars see N. Ch. Bandyopadhyaya, Development of Hindu polity and political theories, I, Calcutta 1927, p. 290 f.

222) I refer to E. Washburn Hopkins, Epic Mythology, Strassburg 1915, p. 64.

223) Cf. also Th. H. Gaster, in Numen I/1954, p. 197.

224) Mbh. 12, 59, 128.

225) See e.g. Patil, Cult. hist, from the Vayu-purana, p. 47; 162.

226) Cf. Ramayana 1, 5. 16.