The Science of Kingship in Ancient India, Part 18


BY: SUN STAFF - 31.7 2018

Krishna Preparing to Kill King Kamsa 
Ganjifa, 18th c. — Los Angeles County Museum of Art

The religious dictates that influenced kingship in Vedic culture.

CHAPTER IX. – Part Two

In the Brhadaranyakopanisad 351) eight divinities are enumerated which are considered to be "ruling or worldly power" (ksatra-) among the gods; Indra, Varuna, Soma, Rudra, Parjanya, Yama, Mrtyu, Isvara. As to the god of rain, Parjanya, it seems clear why he should be called a ksatriya: in the Rgveda he is described as a independent sovereign, who rules over the whole world — of course because without rain life is impossible —; he is, in an equally intelligible way implored to protect mankind.

Besides, he is a father, or "our divine father". His wife is by implication the Earth and, as the shedder of rain, he is a producer of plants. So he has much in common with Dyaus and what interests us most, with Indra. It is a significant fact that a god of this character should be described as a svaraj- 352).

Rudra was also considered a ruler 353), ksayadvira- "ruling man", a lord (isana-) of this vast world, a father of the world; by his rule (ksaya-) 354) and universal dominion (sumrajya-) he is aware of the doings of gods and men. Remarkably enough the above epithet ksayadhira- is followed by the wish to be protected by the god and to be favoured by his benevolence 355), This god is several times called "bountiful" (midhvas-) and beneficent. Although his anger and malevolence are very often mentioned, he is not seldom implored to preserve man from calamity, to produce welfare and to bestow blessings. — Mrtyu "Death" is in the Atharvaveda said to be the lord (adhipati-) of men 356).

The authors of the brahmanas make clear their conception of the relation between the earthly ruler and divine kings 357). The ksatriya has Indra as his deity, and is Soma with regard to kingship (rajya-), a rajanya-, i.e. a man of the royal class, with regard to relationship. Being consecrated he attains brahmanhood; then Agni is his deity, and he is brahman in relationship. Libations and formulas are needed to secure his former connection, quality, and relation.

In attempting to trace the further relations of ancient gods with kingship a study of the mitravindasacrifice should not be passed over. The Satapatha-brahmana 358) informs us that Sri, the goddess or principle of material prosperity and the outward splendour connected with it, who is intimately related to kingship, when deprived of her characteristic qualities or aspects — food, royal power, universal sovereignty, wealth, etc. — approached ten deities, imploring them to restore these to her. They were ready to do so. Whereas Agni, the eater and lord of food, gave her food, Soma, the king and lord of kings, restored her royal power (rajyam) to her; Varuna, the samrat or complete (universal) sovereign and lord of samrats, gave her the quality denoted by that term; Mitra, the ksatram (neuter!) and lord of ksatram (ksatrapatih) or nobility restored her that; Indra, the power (balam) and lord of power, restored her power to her; Brhaspati, the brahman and lord of brahman 359), the potency called brahmavarcasa- "holy lustre, preeminence in holiness and sacred knowledge, divine glory or splendour"; Savitr, the kingdom (rastram) and rastrapati-, kingdom; Pusan, who is fortune (bhaga-), fortune; Sarasvati who is "a well-nourished condition" (pusti-), that quality; Tvastar, the fashioner of forms, cattle with beautiful form.

Incidentally the title king is given to a variety of powerful beings or entities. But even if an amulet is called a keen king of mighty power, demon-slaying, ojas of the gods and formidable power 360), we learn something about the characteristics attributed to the ruler. The very function of an amulet is to preserve the wearer against evil, that is to afford protection.

In this connection attention may be drawn to the mantras pronounced during the rajasuya, that is the great sacrifice performed at the inauguration of a king. Savitar (the sun) should endow the king with energy and driving power, Indra with ruling capacity, Brhaspati with eloquence, Mitra with truth, Varuna with the capacity to protect the dharma.

Kings are regarded as friends or companions of Indra 361) who is implored to "increase" them to whom they should be dear 362) and whose human counterpart they are 363). The same god is also considered the divinity who "maintains the kings fixed" 364). That there exist special connections between the earthly ruler and Indra also appears from such incidental information as for instance the statement that the ruddy cow, which belongs to Indra, is chosen by "the king here" for himself after winning a battle 365): the red cows are compared with the red clouds which appear after the thunderstorm.

It is not without interest to quote a passage from the Atharva veda 366), where Mrtyu, Death, in the form of the deceased ancestors, is said to wait upon the earthly ruler. As the king, the sole chief of all people, this text continues, approaches the throne, all beings wait upon him, that is to say, they perform the process indicated by the verb pari-bhus- which in my opinion rather means something like "to strengthen, make fit, bestow favour upon a person or an object by a circumambulation or by surrounding him or waiting upon him" 367). The monarch, the passage quoted continues, clothes himself in fortune; himself prosperous he puts vigour into his friends (mitravardhana-). Having all forms and bearing the great name of asura, he approaches what is immortal. Becoming superior to all, he is the object of the longing of all people and the divine water. Thus it is not surprising to find that the monarch is called "the crown" or summit of mankind (kakun manusyanam) and "complementary companion" (ardhabhaj-) of the gods 368). In him mankind and divinity actually meet and combine.

The samnayya offering which — being an oblation consisting of milk taken from a cow on the evening of the new moon, and offered with clarified butter — is a part of the ceremonies on the day of new moon, is mystically identified with royal dignity 369). This oblation is offered to Indra. The man who knows that the samnayya is royal dignity gains royal dignity; besides, he gains all that can be gained by royal dignity. The accompanying texts make mention of Indra's victory over Vrtra, adding that the god should be chosen in order to conquer enemies 370).

We hear also in the Parisistas of the Atharvaveda 371) of a ceremony for the king's janmadina- in the first half of the year. This birthday ceremony, which was probably a rite at the return of the asterism under which the king was born, served to increase or strengthen His Majesty. FOOTNOTES:

351) B. ar. Up. I, 4, 11.

352) Here (RV. 7, 101, 5) Sayana's explication of svaraje, to wit svayatta-diptaye is doubtless inadequate.

353) Cf. RV. 1, 114, 1 ff.; 2, 33, 9; cf. 6, 46, I; 7. 46, 2. The epithet ksayadvira- is also given to Indra and Pusan.

354) If Sayana is right in explaining ksayena by aisvaryena.

355) RV. 1, 114, 10; 3. Cf. also 10, 92, 9.

356) AthV. s, 24, 13.

357) The reader may turn to Ait. Br. 7, 23, X ff.

358) Sat. Br. 11, 4, 3, 1 ff.

359) I refer to Notes on brahman, p. 66 ff.

360) Atharvaveda 19, 33, 4.

361) See e.g. Atharvaveda 4, 22, 5 ff.; 3, 3, 2; Mbh. 2, 31, 63.

362) Atharvaveda 4, 22, I; 4.

363) Cf. e.g. also Atharvaveda 3, 4, 6.

364) Atharvaveda 6, 87, 3; 88, 2 where this function is also allotted to Varuna und Brhaspati.

365) Sat. Br. 3, 3, x, 14.

366) AV. 4, 8, 1.

367) See my brochure The meaning of Vedic bhusati, Wageningen 1939, p. 12 ff.

368) AV. 6, 86, 3. For the sense of ardha- see Reflection on the numerals "one" and "two" in ancient Indo-European languages, Utrecht 1953, p. 29 f. The commentary, though applying the adjective to Indra, rightly understands it to mean "having a share equal to that of all other divinities together". The sense seems to be that the king is on one hand on a par with the devas, on the other hand their complement.

369) Sat. Br. 11, 2, 7, 17; ti, 2, 6, 6. I also refer to Sacred Books of the East 44, p. 41.

370) See Apastamba-srautasutra I, 11, 10a.

371) See The Parisistas of the AV., edited by G. M. Bolling and J. v. Negelein I, 1, Leipzig 1909, p. 104 ff.