The Science of Kingship in Ancient India, Part 10


BY: SUN STAFF - 12.7 2018

King Satyavrat receives Lord Visnu 

The religious dictates that influenced kingship in Vedic culture.

CHAPTER VI. – Part Two

Like the sun the king dispels the beings of darkness, and slays enemies. He outshines all rivals in wealth and splendour. Like the sun he possesses pratapa- and tejas, the supranormal principle of might, which enables him to perform great exploits.

The identification of the Moon with the "king of the plants". Soma, is a commonplace already in the brahmanas 183). The moon is gentle and a benefactor of men, and, moreover, a god of vegetation and fruitfulness. The use of the epithet saumya- is of interest: meaning "resembling, or relating to the moon" it is very often said of gentle, mild, placid persons" 184); although it is the proper mode of addressing a brahman 185) and it is often employed in connection with other beings or objects – also expressing the idea of "bringing luck, faustus" – kings are often given this epithet: a saumya- king is, in the epics, likened to the Moon 186). On the following pages we shall have to revert to the other lokapalas 187).

The Wind is a god who, according to the Ramayana 188), cannot be bound; he serves as the type of the freed saint. He is typical of freedom, being able to go in all directions, and to wander where he desires. Although in the ancient texts the epithets belonging to Vata, the divine element wind, are chiefly expressive of swiftness and violence, he is stated to have been generated for the sake of wealth, which he grants, giving horses, gold, offspring. In the epics he is described as the strongest god, who smashes the demons.

The god of Fire, Manu states, 'burns a man if he carelessly approaches the flames'; the king's anger however not only destroys the evil-doer himself, but also his family, cattle and property. Besides Agni, the Fire, is a benefactor, a dispeller of demons. In the Rgveda he is called a monarch (samraj-) 189), strong as Indra. He is greater than heaven and earth. When he was born he filled all the worlds 190).

Like the king in performing the nirajana- ceremony fire is able to cleanse from sin, guilt and impurity in purificatory ceremonies. Agni is brought into close relation with the daily life of man in the sacrifice. He is an intermediary between heaven and earth, transmitting the oblations to the celestial. Hence the belief that he is the divine counterpart of the earthly priesthood: he is the "priest", the chief priest, the most adorable of priests, being constantly invoked to worship the gods. So priesthood may be said to be the most salient feature of his character. To sacrifice is, as we have already seen, one of the king's duties, "worshipper" one of his common epithets. Since he not only conveys the oblations to the gods, but also brings the gods to the sacrifice, knowing the paths between heaven and earth, Agni is constantly and characteristically styled a messenger or intermediary. He is the protector who leads men to happiness; in that capacity he is a leader of men. Gods and men made him the mighty lord of their community (vispati-); promoting the welfare of both parties in accordance with the sacred ordinances (vrata-) he visits both parts of the universe 191).

The king on the other hand was often considered a mediator, who by his mere presence promotes the prosperity of the kingdom and causes or allows the blessings of heaven to reach the inhabitants of the earth. Agni is often called suci- "glowing bright, pure", and the same quality belongs to the king, who is not liable to impurity (asauca-). This detail and other features in Agni's character which may be of interest have already come up for discussion.

Kubera, the lord of the North, is especially worshipped because of his wealth. His are the treasures, in the first place gold. He is the norm of inexhaustible wealth; being united with his wife Rddhi "prosperity" he possesses sri- i.e. material prosperity; his happiness and generosity are proverbial. He is also a god of productivity. Since all kings are under his command, he is called "king of kings" 192).

Varuna, the god personifying the static aspects of dominion, is the lord of punishment, who holds the sceptre even over kings 193). As he binds a sinner with ropes, even so, Manu observes, the king must punish the wicked. The man, however, who desires to expiate sins, can become pure by worshipping this god 194). He is the great lord of dharma, the famous protector of rta-, "truth", of Vedic times, the upholder of order, the ruler of the laws of nature, by whose ordinances the rivers flow, and the moon shines.

With his eye, which is the sun, he always observes mankind. He is omniscient. His spies and messengers behold and traverse the two worlds. Besides Varuna established the broad heaven and earth, keeping them apart (vistambh-). Together with Mitra he stretches out his arms. According to the Satapatha-brahmana 195) Varuna, conceived as the lord of the Universe, thrones in the midst of heaven. We already know that he is a king and a samraj-. Sovereignty is in a striking manner appropriated to him. Neither the birds nor the rivers can reach the limit of his dominion.



183) See e.g. Ait. Br. 7, II; cf. also Hopkins, Epic Mythology, p. 90; Meyer Trilogie III, p. 311.

184) "(Wie der Mond) durch ein mildes Wesen wohlthuend auf die Sinne oder das Gemuth einwirkend, ansprechend" (Petr. Diet.).

185) Manu 2, 125.

186) Cf. e.g. Ram. 6, III, 124 ramah sa saumyatvam upagatah.

187) This identification of the king and the eight lokapalas was amply discussed in a paper read in the Indian section of the VIIIth Congress for the History of Religions: Rome 1955; see n. 182. It will be published in the Acta of the Congress.

188) Ram. 3, 55, 24. Cf. also Mbh. 1, 119, 19; Sat. Br. 8, 2, 3, 5; RV. 7, 90, 2; 3; 6; Hopkins, Epic Mythology, p. 96.

189) RV. 6, 7, 1.

190) See Macdonell, Vedic Mythology, p. 98.

191) Cf. RV. 2, 9, 2; 3, 6, 5; 6, 15, : f. There are more passages in which Agni is described in the same way as the earthly monarch: e.g. 1, 36, 3 his flames extend and his rays reach the sky.

192) Thus Mbh. 5, 139, 14; see also Hopkins, Epic Mythology, p. 142; 144 f.

193) Manu 9, 245.

194) Manu 11, 253; 255.

195) Sat. Br. 11, 6 , 1.