The Science of Kingship in Ancient India, Part 5


BY: SUN STAFF - 5.7 2018

King Yayati Ascends to Heaven

The religious dictates that influenced kingship in Vedic culture.


Taxes; wealth and liberality of the king; sacrifices; purity and impurity; functions of the king.

The theorists emphasize that the king is only entitled to impose taxes because he affords protection 82). The subjects like cattle should be tended and milked at the proper time 83). A ruler who whilst taking taxes failed to protect the people was regarded as a thief, a balisadbhagataskara- 84).

"The conduct of a monarch who, without guarding his people like a father his son, collects the usual taxes, is most unjust and unbecoming" 85). Should he collect taxes or accept presents of fruit, vegetables etc.., whilst renouncing his duty, he would incur sin 86). As one of the aims of gifts to men and to gods is that of buying peace 87) it may be observed that the term bali- used for "tax" or "royal revenue" is also very often applied to any offering or propitiatory oblation to gods and semi-divine beings, household divinities, spirits and various creatures including even lifeless objects 88). Another word for tax, toll, or customs, sulka-, under other circumstances denotes the so-called marriage-gift or bride-price: the sulka-, in my opinion 89), is a transfer of property to which a mystic power is attached which establishes community, redresses a balance of power, or at least binds the recipient.

Another term, used in Kautilya's Arthasastra, likewise characterizes the ideas formed at least by those who introduced its use, of the taxes due to the head of government: "even the inhabitants of the forest throw down the sixth part of their gleanings". The verb ni-vap- used here should not make us believe that they really threw the gleanings into the king's treasury. The word occurs to denote the offerings to animals (birds) and to the deceased progenitors. We may, with Meyer 90), suppose these offerings, though intended for the king, to have been eaten by the birds. In this they share the actual destiny of other bali- offerings designed to be the food of various divinities 91).

It may be argued that the term bali- — to which we return in order to elucidate the character of the royal revenues — is in the Rgveda used in connection with a tribute to the god Agni (cf. I, 70, 9, where Sayana explains: "property in the form of a presentation"), in such a way that a relation of reciprocity is incontestable: 5, 1, 10 "To Thee, O Agni, the races of men offer a bali (homage characterized by being an oblation, Sayana), remember us with benevolence, extend to us your mighty protection!". The heads of the horses which are killed in the war are RV. 7,18,19 called balis, offered to Indra (upahara-, Sayana, i.e. offering to a god, or present to a king or superior, particular kind of alliance obtained through a gift, food distributed to a guest). To the vajra- (thunderbolt) with which Indra kills Vrtra (who keeps the waters back) the rivers bring their bali (upahdra-, Sayana: 8,100, 9). Atharvaveda 3, 4, 3 the same term is used to signify the tribute offered to a newly-consecrated king.

It seems important to notice that the verb upaharati, or simply harati, is usual to express, in combination with bali-, the idea of "to offer a bali-oblation" as well as "to pay tribute, to present a gift". In daily usage upaharati was especially used for "to dish up food" 92). In connection with this point it may be observed that the wielder of royal power is said to feed on the vaisyas, i.e. the numerous members of the third class. Like the deer that eats the corn-—the corn is the people, and the deer royal power—the king who does not rear cattle himself, lives at their expense 93).

The ruler is often described as wealthy, as a lord of riches. He is besought when "resting at the summit of the royal position, and possessed of creative energy (ugra-) 94)" to share out valuable objects to those who give allegiance to him 95). He should be ugra- and well-disposed or gracious (sumanas-) 96). His power ought to overflow. Consequently, the "increaser of his friends" 97) should bestow gifts 98); being a dispenser of bounty, he should delight and gratify his subjects: the title raja is in a significant way often derived from raj- ranj- in the sense of "to make glad, to delight" 99). Pleasing his subjects is emphasized as a principal trait and duty of the monarch. "He gratified the people protecting them in accordance with the dharma" 100). In bestowing gifts the monarch shows his vigour and prosperity 101).

On festive occasions intended to promote the general welfare, the king gave satisfaction to the poor and the misshapen with gifts of gold 102). One of the titles conferred on the king in the Aitareya brahmana is that of bhoja-, a term which in the sense of "the liberal or bountiful" occurs in the Rgveda.



82) Cf. e.g. Mbh. 12, 69, 25; 71, 10.

83) Kamand. NS. 5, 84.

84) See Mbh. 1, 213, 6 ff.; 12, 139, 100; see also N. Ch. Bandyopadhyaya, Development of Hindu polity and political theories I, Calcutta 1927, p. 280 ff.

85) adharmah sumahan: Ram. 3, 6, 11.

86) Mann 8, 307. See also e.g. Manu 9, 254.

87) I refer to M. Mauss, The Gift (Engl. Transl.), London 1954, p. 12 ff.; p. 58.

88) I refer to E. Arbman, Rudra, Uppsala Univ. Arsskrift 1922, p. 64 ff., who for bali- proposes the translation "Deponierungsopfer". It might perhaps be remembered that bali- offerings are not seldom made in a place which is related to the recipient: oblations to Parjanya, the waters, and earth are e.g. offered in a water-pot etc. (see A. B. Keith, Rel. and Phil, of Veda and Upan., Harvard 1925, p. 213 f.). So the price for protection was offered in the person of the king. Attention may also be drawn to Kaut. AS. 9, 9 where the ascetics inhabiting the woods are said to throw down (ni- vap-, often used in connection with a bali-oblation) the sixth part of their gleanings—which are no doubt actually consumed by birds and other animals—; they belong to the one who protects them, i.e. the king.

89) I refer to my relevant paper in Sarupa-bharati (L. Sarup Memorial Volume, Hoshiarpur 1954) p. 223 ff.

90) Meyer, Buch v. Welt- und Staatsleben, p. 26, n. 1. See also H. Hoffmann, Die Begriffe fur "Konig" und "Herrschaft" im indischen Kulturkreis", Saeculum 4/1953, p. 331 ff.

91) For an enumeration of divinities see A. Hillebrandt, Ritualliteratur (Grundriss), p. 74 f.

92) See e.g. Taitt. Br. 1. 4, 9. 2. Many instances were collected by Arbman, Rudra, p. 67 f.

93) See e.g. Sat. Br. 13, 2, 9, 8.

94) I now would in many passages prefer this translation to that of "vital energy" which, beside other English terms was proposed in Anc. Indian ojas..., Utrecht 1952.

95) Atharvaveda 3, 4, 2; cf. 4.

96) Atharvaveda 3, 4, 7.

97) Atharvaveda 4, 8 ,2 (mitravardhana-).

98) For his duty to make gifts to learned brahmans etc. sec Kane, o.c., II, 2, p. 856 ff.; III, p. 44. See e.g. also Mbh. 3, 293, 2.

99) I refer to Kane, o.c., III (Poona 1946) p. 28. The Nirukta (2, 3), however, derives rajan- from raj- "to shine"; cf. Upadhyaya, o.c., p. 81; K. P. Jayaswal, Hindu Polity, II, p. 3. For ranjayati see e.g. Mbh. 12, 59, 125. See also A. Hiixebrandt, Allindische Politik, Jena 1923, p. 9 ff.

100) Mbh. 3, 56, 44. aranjayat praja viro dharmena paripalayan, the very essence of the kingly functions. Similarly, Ram. 1, 52, 7; Markandeya-purana 119 (116), 1 etc. Cf. also Vikramacarita 3a (ed. Edgerton, p. 13) "he satisfied the requirements of the gods, the brahmans, the poor...; he gave complete protection to his subjects... won the hearts etc."; Kathasaritsagara 51, 19; Bhagavata-purana 1, 12, 4 etc.

101) See also N. J. Shende, The foundations of the Atharvanic religion, Poona, p. 185.

102) See, e.g. Vikramacarita, 16th story (Egerton, p. 134): here the festival is in honor of the spring and intended to make all seasons well-disposed and to bring about prosperity to all people. See also Meyer, Trilogie II, p. 6 f.