The Science of Kingship in Ancient India, Part 13


BY: SUN STAFF - 19.7 2018

Sanjay advises King Dhrtarastra 

The religious dictates that influenced kingship in Vedic culture.


[Regarding a ruler who proved tyrannical] It does not seem necessary to explain these facts 238) by the hypothesis that this was the outcome of a different view of king-ship 239). As a rule the opinion prevailed that only good kings were truly devas 240). Only incidentally the view is pronounced that whatever a king does is right 241), that is to say that even a wicked monarch is inviolable because of his sanctity.

We should not forget to distinguish between king and kingship: the king is kingly power and dignity in human form 242). Hence no doubt the view that a man without distinction and also otherwise incompetent, if he were to come into possession of a great and mighty kingdom, would soon be deprived of his glory (yasas) because of the greatness of rulership 243).

As might be expected a priori, it is not only sinful conduct, but also disease and disability which disqualify a ruler. Devapi who suffered from skin disease was, the brahmans declared, not acceptable; Dhrtarastra was not eligible because he was blind 244). It is a well-known belief that 'sacredness' can reside only in able-bodied men.

Being formed of the tejas of all the gods 245), the king outshines all beings in tejas 246), the lustre or fiery energy 247), the brilliant principle of supranormal might and dignity 248). This possession of tejas entitles him to respect 249) and enables him to perform great exploits 250). Mahatejas- "of great lustre or majesty", amitatejas- "of boundless l. or m." etc. are frequent epithets of eminent kings 251). The same epithets are also given to the great gods and to illustrious religious men 252) Mention has already been made of his "majesty, splendour, power, or energy" (pratapa-) which properly is the glowing heat of the sun, to which it is often compared 253).

One of the detailed descriptions of the terrors of anarchy — in a kingless country there will be neither rain nor seed, neither wealth nor wife, neither sacrifices nor festivals — culminates 254) in the statement that, if there is no king who separates good and bad, this world is wrapped in darkness, so that nobody can know what to do.

(To be continued)



238) In the Pancavimsa-brahmana (6, 6, 5) a sacrifice is described which should lead to the destruction of a king; in pursuing this object vaisyas and brahmanas co-operated.

239) Kane, o.c. III, p. 27 maintains that the ruler was raised to divinity because the writers on dharma, addressing the people in general, wanted a strong king to preserve the social order. Bad kings and ministers were on the other hand threatened with destruction and death.

240) Altekar, State and gov., p. 62.

241) Naradasmrti 18 (17), 21.

242) Cf. Meyer, Das altind. Buck vom Welt- und Staatsleben, p. LXV f.

243) Milindapanho, p. 249 f. T. The same thought is elaborated p. 357 f.: if a man who is unfit for royalty, and unworthy of it, should receive the consecration, he would suffer mutilation, or he would be tortured..., in short, be subjected to various punishments, because being unfit and unworthy, he had placed himself in the seat of sovereignty, and thus transgressed beyond his right limits.

244) Mbh. 5, a. 149; 147.

245) Manu 7, 11.

246) See e.g. Mbh. 1, 171, 17. Many authors make mention of this royal tejas, see e.g. Bhagavad-gita, 10, 41 f. ; 15, 12; Kalidasa, Raghuvamsa 3, 15; Katha-saritsagara 121, 21 ; 45. For a detailed description: P. V. Kane, Hist, of Dharmas, II, 1941, p. 1206 ff. See in general: J. Ph. Vogel, Het Sanskrit woord tejas in de beteekenis van magische kracht, Amsterdam 1930, p. 7 ff.

247) Cf. e.g. Kalika-purana 31, 93 tejas ... suryatulyam "t. similar to the sun"; 27, 20 pavakopamatejas- "whose t. is comparable to that of fire"; 24, 14 t . samidhyate "t. is kindled, inflamed" (the verb is usually applied to fuel and fire).

248) In illustration of the concept mention may be made of Kalika-purana 31, 40 f. where the body of Visnu-the boar is said to lose its strength when the tejas is withdrawn from it.

249) Cf. Bhagavata-purana 4, 13, 23 "The protector of creatures, even if he is sinful, may not be disregarded by his subjects, because he, by his own tejas bears the ojas of the guardians of the quarters".

250) See e.g. also Mbh. 7, 39, 7 (together with pratapavant-); 100, II (ugram t.); Ram. 3, 21, 14. On Ram. 5, 1, 34 Rama's commentary explains tejas by parabhibhavasamarthyam "the ability to overpower others".

251; See e.g. Ram. 3, I, 10; 3, 2; 5, 35 (Rama); diptatejas- "of radiant l. or m." 3, 5, 2 (his brother Laksmana).

252) Cf. e.g. Mbh. 3, 99, 64; 107, 29; 14, 3, 4.

253) Cf. also Mbh. 1, 171, 19; 3, 52, 2.

254) Ram. 2, 67, 36 with the commentary.