The Science of Kingship in Ancient India, Part 4


BY: SUN STAFF - 29.6 2018

King Pariksit 

The religious dictates that influenced kingship in Vedic culture.




Kings as well as priests were associated with the regulation of the meteorological processes and other natural forces. It is therefore easily intelligible that the king's main duty, always emphasized by the authorities, consists in protecting his subjects 72). That is the very reason of his existence 73), of his being created from particles of the eight lokapalas or divine protectors of the quarters of the universe.

The duty of protecting mainly consists in meeting external aggression which involved fighting—the gods, when about to join battle with the asuras wanted Indra to be their chief, for it ill becomes a people to wage war without a king 74)—, and in punishing the guilty, which primarily meant administering justice; besides the king has to save his subjects from calamities 75). Should the king be remiss in this duty the creatures would perish 76).

Authors writing at a later period never tire of emphasizing the same points. King Yayati for instance is described in the Vayu Purana as having pleased (atarpayat) the gods with sacrifices, the ancestors with sraddhas, the poor with favour (anugraha-), the brahmans with what they desired, the guests with food and drink, the vaisyas with protection, the sudras with equity (anrsamsa-) and the dasyus with due control (samni- graha-).

Thus he gratified and entertained (anuranjayat) his people according to dharma as a second Indra himself. Hence also the explication of the term rajarsi- "a kingly rsi" i.e. "an inspired sage of kingly descent, a king who at the same time is an rsi-": "he moves his subjects (unto their welfare?) through their welfare" 77).

Since kingly potency is no personal capacity, all conceivable salvation is expected of it. Consequently, a ruler is often supposed to be able to heal. The power of the "king's touch" 78) was also known: "at the touch of the king's hand, which was fragrant and auspicious, the iold man regained his consciousness" 79).

Traditions are not wanting in which the people beseech their ruler to rescue them from every grief and misery, from all pains and diseases 80). To quote a single instance of a successful reign: when Rama was king, the epic narrates 81), no widow mourned; neither beasts of prey nor diseases were to be feared; there were no enemies; the younger generation did not die before the older; all men were delighted and observed the dharma; the trees, always flowering, bore fruits without interruption; it rained when rain was desired; the wind was agreeable to the touch; everybody was content.



72) The term ksatriya- "a member of the military or reigning class" was by way of 'popular etymology' explained as "who saves (tra-) from destruction (ksata-) : e.g. Mbh. 12, 29, 138.

73) Manu 7, 3.

74) Taitt. Br. 1, 5, 9, 1.

75) In the smrti literature (dealing with dharma) the king or his officials were even supposed to make good losses in case they were not able to recover stolen property.

76) Narada 18, 14.

77) Vayu Pur. 61, 87 rsanti ranjanad yasmat praja rajarsayah smrtah; see Monier-Williams, Dict, s.v. rsi

78) Which until fairly recent times was regarded in England as a cure for scrofula: G. van der Leeuw, Religion, p. 117.

79) Mbh. 15, 3, 68.

80) See e.g. Meyer, Trilogie II, p. 124.

81) Ram. 6 , 128, 97 ff.

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