The Science of Kingship in Ancient India, Part 36


BY: SUN STAFF - 6.9 2018

King Yayathi

The religious dictates that influenced kingship in Vedic culture.


As the Asvamedha is the king of sacrifices 701), and as on the other hand the sacrificer, i.e. the king, is identical with the asvamedha, certain peculiarities of this ritual are stated to correspond to certain qualities of the king. Thus he is disposed to be "strong in arms", because the front legs of two goats sacrificed during the asvamedha are tied—-"he thereby lays strength into the front legs" 702) and strong in thighs, for similar reasons. Before we leave this point we should call attention to an important statement made in the Visnudharmottara-purana 703).

On every anniversary of the first 'coronation' the king should repeat the rites; this leads to welfare, to increase of the country, to the destruction of the enemies and so on. Then the 'inauguration' has become cyclic, annually carrying the ruler and his realm beyond a difficult stage, and recreating the beneficial power inherent in kingship.

The central and dominant position of the ruler is also illustrated by the incidental identification 704) of rulership or nobility with the lokamprna istaka, i.e. one of the bricks used for building the sacrificial altar and set up with the formula lokam prna "fill the world": these bricks are therefore considered to fill the world, or to penetrate—- like the ruler—everywhere. The ksatriya is also called aparimita- i.e. "unlimited, unbounded" 705).

Coming now to a short note on the significance of the term virdj-, which is a very frequent title of a sovereign who "rules far and wide", we first quote some texts 705).

Viraj is not infrequently coupled with names of very high divine powers: Atharva V. 4, 11, 7 Indra, Agni, Prajapati, Paramesthin ("Supreme Being") 706) Viraj; 8, 5, 10 the same powers (devah) and Visnu, Savitar, Rudra, etc.; n, 5, 7 the brahmacarin or Veda-student is described as generating brahman, the water, the world, Prajapati, Paramesthin 707) and Viraj. AV. 11, 5, 16 Prajapati is related to "extend himself" or to "bear rule" (vi-raj-), this Viraj becoming the controlling (vasin-) Indra. AV. 7, 84, 1 Agni is invoked to shine unassailable, 'immortal', being viraj- ("wide-spreading or ruling") 708), bearing dominion (ksatrabhrt).

In AV. 8, 9 and 10 viraj- is extolled as the first and creative principle. AV. 8, 9, 8 f. It is a very high power, existing in the highest firmament, being breathless, but going by the breath of breathing ones; it (or she) touches everything; if it should fall, the sacrifices fall with it; it (she) goes unto svaraj- from behind. AV. 8, 10, I Viraj is unequivocally identified with the universe: "V. was this (universe) in the beginning"; after having ascended and descended in various ritual fires (st. 2 ff.) etc. it (she) is said to stand striding (vikranta-) in the atmosphere (st. 8).

Thereupon the gods and men, convinced that she knows that upon which the members of both classes may subsist, and addressing her with names like Refreshment (urja), Youthful vitality (sunrta) etc.., milk her—she appears in the shape of a cow—; she yields herbs and waters, expansion (vyacas), and the sacrifice. From her ensuing migrations through the trees, the fathers, the gods, men, and from the account of her producing agriculture and grain, brahman and tapas and various other important entities, her universal and pervasive character distinctly emerges. From the at first sight paradox 8, 9, 7 "they call Viraj the father of Brahman" we may also conclude that she was conceived as the universe or, rather, as the 'idea' of expansiveness 'before creation'.

What this signifies becomes also evident from a well-known stanza 709) where Viraj is said to have been born from the original Being or Purusa, who in His turn is born from Viraj. Here Viraj is the female principle of creation 710). But when He was born, the Purusa was greater than the earth behind and in front. As is to be expected a priori, the female principle of creation was believed to be present in a young newly-married woman; in the Atharvaveda the bride is considered a viraj-, with good progeny, and as such she "has conquered or gained the victory" (atyajaisit); another passage in the above collection of stanzas describing the viraj- runs as follows: "great might is in her: the young woman, the fruit-bearing generatrix, has gained the victory".

These texts probably shed light on a third passage: siva syona patiloke vi raja which, though translated by Whitney and Lunman: "do thou, propitious, pleasant, bear rule in thy husband's world", may perhaps rather be taken to imply the sense of: 'prove to be a worthy representative of the female principle of expansion. i.e. generation" or "spread thyself and be productive" 711).

But this is not all. Viraj also was the hypostatization of the conception of the universe as a totality. It is the all as the totality of things, the sum of all existence. "The body of the Viraj is made of the material objects in their aggregate. He is the manifested god whose senses are the directions, whose body is the five elements, and whose consciousness glows with the feeling "I am all" 712). AV. 8, 9, 1 "whence were the two (young of the Viraj) born? out of what world? out of which earth?" points in the same direction.

Here may especially be noticed the part played by the ideal first king Prthu or Prthi. In the above account of Viraj's migration he is completely put on a par with the other figures who milked her successively: when she came to the gods Savitar was the milker, when she came to the serpent, the serpent-king Dhrtarastra, when she reached the fathers, Antaka (Death). The conclusion must be this that Prthi, who milked her when she came to men, is the representative of mankind in the same way as Death is the representative of all the deceased, as Kubera's son Rajatanabhi represents the 'spirits' (a class of supra-normal beings), and so on. He represents a province of the universe, a class of beings, to wit: mankind.

Accordingly, AV. 9, 10, 24 identifies Viraj with speech, the earth, the atmosphere, Prajapati, and death; besides, he (for here the name is masculine) is the emperor of those who are accomplished; in his control are what was and what is to be (the author adding: "let him put in my control what was and what is to be"); 10, 7, 19 viraj- is called the udder of the frame of creation (skambha-), brahman being its mouth. This must anyhow mean: a very extensive source of nourishment. This trait is in harmony with the frequent identification of viraj- with food (anna-, annadya-), emphasized by Renou 713). FOOTNOTES:

701) Sat. Br. 13, 2, 2, 1 ff.

702) Sat. Br. 13, 2, 2, 5.

703) Visnudh. Pur. 2, a. 162.

704) Cf. Sat. Br. 8, 7, 2, 2; 9, 4, 3, 5. See also Eggeline, o.c. IV, p. 132.

705) Ait. Br. 8, 20.

706) I also refer to L. Renou, Journal Asiatique 240 (1952), p. 141 ff., and to my Aspects of early Visnuism, p. 187 etc. The geographic distribution of the terms viraj, samraj etc. which is taught by the ancient tradition need not detain us here.

707) Paramesthin-, a "divinity" which is sometimes identified with Agni, sometimes with Prajapati.

708) Whitney-Lanman.

709) RV. 10, 90, 5; cf. AV. 19, 6, 9.

710) Brhadar. Up. 4, 2, 3 Viraj is the female partner of Indra.

711) AV. 14, 2, 74; 8, 9, 11; 14, 1, 64.

712) See S. Radhakrishnan, Indian Philosophy, I, London 1948, p. 171 f.

713) L. Renou, l.c.; see also M. Mauss, Melanges-Levi, Paris 1911, p. 333; Gonda, Early Visnuism, p. 187.