The Science of Kingship in Ancient India, Part 28


BY: SUN STAFF - 17.8 2018

King Nabhi and Queen Marudevi 
Khajuraho Museum, Madhya Pradesh


The religious dictates that influenced kingship in Vedic culture.


The simplest of all inaugural performances is the abhiseka-, the consecration of a king by sprinkling water 558). The monarch is supposed to be re-born as the son of the sages who act as priests; now he is vested with sanctity and inviolable. An abundance of prayers are said for granting him "greatness" or "extent" (varsman-) and the most important "breadth" or "expanse" (variman-), and for giving to those praying, in a safe and sound condition 559) an abundance of cattle.

Thereupon the king is asked to be the guide and protector of men. Next there are prayers for the prosperity of cattle, the various components of the population etc. It is worth while to examine some of the formulas more closely: The king is inter alia said to have become prosperous, to have entered the beings, to have become their lord. Death (Mrtyu) who likewise is a king, is through formulas stimulated to 'favour' the sacrificer with the realm (sa raja rajyam anunmnya-tam idam) —the same verb is used elsewhere 560) in connection with the gods: visve deva anv amanyanta hrdbhih"all gods expressed their favour and approbation", and in a collection of magical formulas and prayers, intended to prolong a person's life 561) "let all gods express their favour and approbation, not showing enmity".

The god Agni is invoked to anoint the ruler with the splendour-and-vigour (varcas) which was also present in the power with which Prajapati fixed the earth after she had been extended (paprathandm adrmhat) and which enabled him to fashion the expanse of the sky, by which the sun shines etc. The king is to illumine by his prowess (valour, heroic superiority: savasa) the five races of men, i.e. the whole human race, to be like Indra pre-eminent (jyestha-) and rich in 'creatures' (prajavan); the wish is formulated that he may be gifted with abundance and splendour; that he will fill or pervade heaven and earth, and the space between these (upastham).

Kasyapa 562) is invited to place the sacrificer as a king in his splendid, powerful, illustrious handicraft (silpa-) in which are put together seven suns. After having been called a tiger the ruler is addressed as follows: "Spread over (visrayasva) the greater quarters; let all the people (visah) want you; let kingship not go lost to you. The waters of heaven which are united with milk, those in the atmosphere and also those on the earth, with the splendour of all these (waters), with their varcas I anoint you. Let me anoint you with heavenly varcas, and with milk, that you will be an increaser of the kingdom. So shall Savitar make you.

All sacred songs have magnified Indra who is expansive as the sea, the best car-fighter of all charioteers, the lord, the true lord of vajas. The Vasus, Rudras, Adityas, Visvedevah shall anoint you in the east etc. with the gayatri and other metres, Brhaspati in the upper region."

Thereupon the priest after reciting the stanza: "Thou, the tawny, mighty (utjra-) wolf, who causest the din of battle—an epithet given to Indra in the Rgveda 563)— who art splendid at the foremost point of the light (lustre) of the Maruts, Thee, Indra who art related to the sun, bountiful and victorious, we will invoke at our liturgical ceremonies calling Thee by name", causes the king to raise his arms 564) whilst pronouncing the formula: "Do ye, both of you, stretch out your arms for us to live (that we may live) 565); do ye bedew our pasturage with ghee; make us famous among the folk, O ye young ones; hearken, O Mitra and Varuna, to these my supplications".

Moving down the arms the priest says: "I move down your arms who are Indra who performs manly deeds." The king also ascended a chariot—in the meanwhile the purohita pronounced the verse: "mount, conquering your enemies 566); let the gods intercede for you (favour you"—and after having invited the charioteer to mount vajra (Indra's weapon) in hand" uttered the prayer that the country might not hear the sounds of the bows of enemies.

After having been anointed and embraced— embracing, like kissing, is a means of transferring, acquiring a share in, exchanging, "power" 567)—by friends, relations, and brahmans, he is invited by the purohita to speak as follows: "Let yonder sun rise and here my word shall rise; rise, o god sun through my word; ... let the rivers be full, the clouds rain in time; let the useful plants bear good berries; may I be king and the lord of a people that is well provided with food, rice and curds (i.e. of a country flowing with milk and honey)" 568).

Although it is not my intention to deal with the various forms of inauguration exhaustively 569), attention may also be drawn to the description of the rajabhiseka as presented in the Apastamba-srauta-sutra 570), in which the above-mentioned formulas are used to accompany the rites. The ritual acts again express the desire to make the king a sovereign and victorious monarch, healthy, long lived, heroic, possessed of an abundance of cattle, of powerful arms and of various other desirable qualities.

Another example of the establishment of a royal person in sovereignty is found in a collection of stanzas which occurs, with variations, in the Rg- as well as the Atharvaveda 571). According to the Anukramanika, or index of contents, of the Rgveda this text constitutes "a praise of the king". The commentator Sayana adds that this praise relates to an anointed king, observing that it was to be used in a magical rite directed against the enemy (abhimantrana-) on behalf of a king who prepares for battle, and quoting a sutra text 572). There are other ritual applications which however need not detain us for the moment 573).

In this short series of stanzas the word dhruva- "immovable, fixed, firm, lasting", is repeated many times and it was no doubt the intention of the poet to compose a text which could help a prince to maintain his royal position. "I have brought Thee near (to be king in our country) ...; stand Thou firm; let all clans (all the people) want Thee; let not the kingdom fall away from Thee. Be Thou just here, do not move away; like a mountain not unsteady... Firm is the sky, firm the earth, firm these mountains, firm all this world of living beings; firm (is, be) this king of the clans (people)." It is however also expressly stated that Indra had established this king and had preserved him from being driven from his throne. The same god is invoked to make the people pay tribute, and with Agni, Varuna and Brhaspati he is also expected to keep the kingdom "fixed" for the king.

A few lines may be devoted to a more coherent survey of the function of the songs and other spoken words in consecrating a royal person 574). He is sprinkled, i.e. inaugurated, by the voice, because the opening stanza of one of the important parts of the rite is an invocation of Vayu, the god of wind, wind and voice being identical. By using verses addressed to different deities, these are yoked, i.e. set to work or made active. The prsthasamans are manly strength (virya-); by sprinkling him with that they help him to be fixed on strength.

The utilization of the Aditya verses secures him the advantage of being inaugurated in the midst of these divinities; that of the tristubh, which is strength virya-), that desirable quality. By the dasapeya-rite which is mystically connected with the year he obtains the force and strength (indryam viryam) of the year. By the samans of the kings of the gods (god kings: devarajnam) he thrives in yonder world, by those of human kings in this world.



558) We have a description of this solemnity in the Taitt. Br. 2, 7, 15 f.

559) For sarvatata see my relative observations in the Festschrift S.K. Chatterji, Indian Linguistics 16 (Madras 1956), p. 53 ff.

560) RV. I, 116, 17; cf. also 6, 72, 3; 10, 37, 5.

561) AV 8, 2, 21.

562) In the Ath. V. (8, 5, 14) Kasyapa "the tortoise" is mentioned as a creator; in the Sat. Br. (7, 5, 1, 5) Prajapati in creating assumed the form of this reptile. This cosmogonic being was to have a great future at a later period.

563) RV. 6, 18, 2; 7, 20, 3 etc. Geldner iibersetzt: "streitbar".

564) See Apast. Sr. su. 22, 28, 14.

565) pra bahava sisrtam jivase nah. This line and the rest of this stanza is taken from RV. 7, 62, 5 (cf. also Vajas. Samh. 21, 9; Taitt. Samh. 1. 8, 22. 3 etc.): the Rgvedic hymn is addressed to Surya, Mitra, and Varuna: the outstretched arms of these gods mean life for men; elsewhere it forms part of the stanzas to be recited in performing the sautramanisacrifice, which being a ceremony in honour of Indra sutraman- "the good protector" is used to secure the sacrificer the success for which he is anxious in whatever sphere of life he may live: for instance victory or recovery of kingship if he be a king, wealth if he be a vaisya— or it belongs to the rajasuya.

566) The text has vrtrahantamah the superlative of the epithet, so frequently given to Indra: "Vrtra-slayer".

567) Embracing, with or without kissing, expresses love, veneration, intime spiritual or mental contact, protection or desire to be protected; it moreover helps to form a magic circle and to transfer power. Thus women often embrace trees to make them fertile. See e.g. Weinkopf, in H. Bachtold-Staubli, Hdwtb. d. deutschen Aberglaubens, VIII, 1302 ff. With us it has sometimes survived in the ceremony of conferring knighthood; the term accolade originally even meant "embracement".

568) Cf. also Apast. Sr. su. 22, 28, 15 ff.

569) I refer to the thesis on the rajasuya by Mr. J. C. Heesterman which, being in course of preparation, will appear before long.

570) Apast. Sr. su. 22, 28. For a translation see Y. Caland, Das Srautasutra des Apastamba, III, Amsterdam 1928, p. 359 ff.

571) RV. 10, 173, 1-6, where they form one continuous passage, and AV. 6, 87; 88, 1-2; 7, 94, 1.

572) Asval. G.S. 3, 12, 2: (samgrame samupolhe rajanam sannahayet) a tva-harsam antar edhiti pascad rathasyavasthaya.

573) See Whitney-Lanman, Ath. V.S., p. 345; see RV. 10, 173, 1; AV. 4, 8, 4.

574) See Pane. Br. 18, 8 ff.