The Science of Kingship in Ancient India, Part 14


BY: SUN STAFF - 20.7 2018

The religious dictates that influenced kingship in Vedic culture.


Paraphernalia; officials

The paraphernalia or emblems of royalty were supposed to represent the sovereign authority 255). The five ensigns of royalty were a white umbrella, fly-whisks, shoes, turban 256), and throne (the pancakaku-dani: this term literally means: "the five summits": we shall see further on that the same term for "summit" is also given to the king himself). Besides, there was the sword of state.

In other sources the five are: the sword, umbrella, crown, shoes and chowrie. The umbrella 257), i.e. the white sunshade of state, a residence of Laksmi (the goddess of fortune 256) and the pair of fly-whisks were absolutely indispensable, constituting the emblems par excellence.

The sun should never be allowed to shine directly on the sacred person of the ruler, that is to say to bring its power into contact with his power, otherwise the state of tejas or pratapa- "heat" of the ruler would be neutralized by contact with a power possessing excessive "heat". The shoes were to become representatives of the ruler himself; in old Javanese paduka "shoe or slipper" was used in other expressions for "His or Your Majesty" 259).

A remarkable statement is found in the Mahabharata 266) ; If a ruler be disregarded by his enemies all his subjects become unhappy. Therefore umbrellas, vehicles, garments, ornaments, palaces and all utensils for use and show should be accorded to the ruler. By such means he will better discharge his duties of protection and be irresistible. Here the outward splendour of kingship combines with the awe-inspiring nature of the paraphernalia to establish the ruler's prestige and reputation.

Like the great gods, Indra, Agni, Soma, Rudra, and in Buddhism, the Bodhisattva, a cakravartin or emperor is considered to be in the possession of seven treasures. These ratnani, which are mystic in nature, are: the wheel, the elephant, the horse, the gem, the woman (queen), the minister of finance, and the adviser or general in chief. When a sovereign conducts himself aright they appear to him of their own accord 261).

The wheel, as we shall see further on, denotes universality, the cakravartin being the hub or centre of the universe; the elephant, the ancient royal mount, and the milk-white horse, the sun-steed, carry the monarch on his world inspection; the magic jewel (cintamani- "thought-jewel") fulfills every desire the moment it is uttered; the perfect queen-consort is the ideal woman, the minister of finance, the perfect administrator who is never short of funds for purposes of lavish generosity.

These power-bearers were, as ratnins "possessors of ratnas", already known to the brahmans who described the rajasuya (consecration of a ruler) 262). In elucidation of this point reference may be made to the well-known fact that in India as well as elsewhere, a great magic value is attached to gems and jewels. Whoever wears a wonderful stone is proof against all fear and danger; hunger and want, sickness and weapons, even gods, spirits and demons have no hold on him. Even gods are said to be in possession of such priceless objects: the syamantaka- jewel, for instance, which is worn by Krsna on his wrist, yields daily eight loads of gold and preserves the wearer from all dangers. So the kings' ratnas may be compared to the so-called royal ornaments (the so-called upacara 263)) or holy heirloom of the Indonesian kings and chiefs (called pusaka in Javanese). These are bearers of a special power, which they transfer to the man who possesses them, enabling him to prosecute his royal occupations in the right way. These feudal kings also possessed living power-bearers, especially hunch-backed persons 264).

In former and later times the word ratna- plays an important role in connection with Indian king-ship 265). The theory underlying the practice of the ratnins and the belief in the ratnas seems therefore to have been that the above persons, animals and objects by their very presence and qualities add to the power of their royal master. In the Nitivakyamrta 266) it is expressly taught that the amatyas, i.e. "companions", usually translated by "ministers", have to concern themselves not only with revenue and expenditure, but also with guarding the body, dharma, and family of the ruler.

Now, particular oblations in the rajasuya are called the ratnahavis "jewel-oblations": they are offered in the houses of twelve (or eleven) persons (called ratnins) who may be considered to be the king's most valuable "treasures" 267). According to the Taittiriya-brahmana 268) etc. these persons are those who "bestow kingship upon (the king)".

In the house of the purohita or brahman priest an oblation is presented to Brhaspati (the priest of the gods), in that of the royal prince (rajanya-) an oblation to Indra; in that of the chief queen one to Aditi, the great mother, the representative of freedom and broadness; (in some texts) in that of the favourite queen one to Bhaga, the distributor of wealth who also presides over matrimonial happiness; in that of the discarded queen one to Nirrti, the goddess of destruction; in that of the general one to Agni "who occupies the foremost rank"; in that of the suta, the very sacrosanct charioteer who at the same time was a bard, a herald, a physician and the king's intimate friend, one to Varuna, because, I would suppose, this god was believed to be omniscient and to have the disposal of the special craft or mysterious power called maya 269); in that of the gramani- or "village headman (governor)" one to the Maruts, Indra's associates who, being associated with wind, rain, etc., dwell in the mountains; in that of the ksattar- "doorkeeper or chamberlain" one to Savitar, the god who, inter alia, makes people arise and sends them to sleep; in that of the samgrahitar- or charioteer one to the Asvins, who drive in a famous car which, touching the end of heaven, extends over the five countries; in that of the bhagadugha- "superintendent of cattle or (and?) of the kitchen" one to Pusan, the protector of herds and flocks who brings an abundance of food; in that of the "superintendent of gambling" one to Rudra-Siva, the god who invented the game of dice 270).

Whatever the particular reason why each of these functionaries was entitled to belong to this body of ratnins, it seems beyond doubt that they contributed to the king's power; they were no doubt believed to exert a salutary influence on the occupant of the throne. The character of the objects gained by the above sacrifices fortify us in this conviction: the first oblation in the house of the priest who of course is identified with Brhaspati is to "whet (sharpen)" brahman for the king's sake; by offering in the royal house 271) to Indra — who is ksatra- "dominion" 272) — he gains indriya- "the specific power or quality which belongs to that god"; by that to Aditi he becomes firmly established on the earth, "for Aditi is the earth" 273) and also the wife of the gods.

The king himself apparently represents Indra; Aditi is also in other ancient works the wife of the sacrificer (yajamana-) 274) : she is the wife of the gods and the queen is the wife of the king 275). The next sacrifice put him in possession of bhaga- fortune and happiness": it is clear that the favourite queen could easily be considered a representative of matrimonial happiness (bhaga-). By sacrificing to Nirrti "he satisfies her who is evil"; apparently the discarded queen is a manifestation of evil 276).

The ceremony in the house of the general helps the king to "whet" (i.e. to make ready or faithful) the army, Agni being the great slayer of demons and other inimical powers, and a conqueror of thousands with warlike qualities, both Agni and the general are "a front", the former of the gods, the latter of the army 277).



255) A somewhat detailed description may be found in Bh. S. Upadhyaya, India in Kalidasa, Allahabad 1947, p. 77 f.

256) A turban of honour is e.g. mentioned in the Kathasaritsagara 12, 190 f.

257) After performing the Vajapeya the king becomes "one who is entitled to the white umbrella": see e.g. Apastamba-srautasutra 18, 7, l8.See also C. H. Tawney-N. M. Penzer, The Ocean of Story, London 1924 ff., II, p. 267 and V, p. 175.

258) Visnu-smrti 99, 12. She also resides in the royal consecration: Vi. sm. 99, 16.

259) See Gonda, Sanskrit in Indonesia, Nagpur 1952, p. 333 f.

260) Mbh. 12, 67, 36 ff.

261) I refer to T. W. Rhys Davids, Buddhist Suttas, III. p. 251 ff.

262) We shall have to return to this point.

263) The Jav. upacara "insignia of the royal dignity, regalia exerting a strengthening influence" comes from the Skt. upacara- in the sense of "ornament or decoration". In the south of Celebes these objects were often considered to be the real bearers of the kingly power and authority.

264) For magic in connection with gems see e.g. H. Webster, Magic, Stanford Cal. 1948, p. 121 ff. For Indonesian beliefs: J. Ph. Duyvendak, Inleiding tot de Ethnologic van de Indische Archipel, Groningen-Batavia 1940, p. 135 ff.

In ancient India the horse, the animal of the ksatriva, and the elephant were highly appreciated animals. Elephants were, according to the Indian legend, clouds sentenced to walk upon the earth. But the real clouds like to visit them. Hence it is important for a king to have these animals in his palace. Because they guarantee rain, in the period of the monsoon they are called "the king's clouds". See also H. Zimmer, Myths and symbols in Indian art and civilization, N. York 1946. p. 92; 107 ff.

265) See also Meyer, Das Buch v. W. u. S., p. 38, n. 4 and p. 680 (with references to other publications).

266) Kane, History of Dharmasastra III, p. no. Cf. also Kamand. NS. 13, 23 f.; Agnipur. 241, 16 ff.

267) For particulars see Kane, Hist, of Dh., II, p. 1215 f.; Macdonell and Keith, Vedic Index, II, p. 199 ff., J. Eggelinc, Sacred Books of the East, 41, p. 58, n. 2; Caland, on Apast. sr. s. 18, 10, 12.

268) Taittiriya-brahmana 1, 7, 3: ete vai rastrasya pradatarah. They are enumerated somewhat differently.

269) For maya see my paper in: Tijdschrift voor Philosophie, 14, Louvain 1952.

270) I refer to Meyer, Trilogie II, p. 145 ff.

271) According to the Sat. Br. 5, 3, 1, 3 this offering is prepared at the dwelling of him who is being consecrated (suyamanasya grhe).

272) S. Br. 5, 3, 1, 3.

273) See also my Aspects of early Visnuism, p. 115.

274) Cf. e.g. AV. II, 1. 11.

275) Sat. Br. 5, 3, 1, 4.

The Sat. Br. 5, 3, 1, 13 observing that this is a childless wife states that she is seized by in the power of Nirrti.