The Science of Kingship in Ancient India, Part 9



King Prthu receives the Four Kumaras 

The religious dictates that influenced kingship in Vedic culture.

CHAPTER VI. – Part One

The king as a deva and a representative of gods.

In examining the status of the ancient Indian king from the religious point of view we should never forget that he is called and considered a deva- 174), that is to say, not God, the sole Eternal Lord and Creator of all things, nor his Son 175) or representative, but one of a class of powerful beings, regarded as possessing supernormal faculties and as controlling a department of nature or activity in the human sphere. King Pariksit, the Atharvaveda for instance states, was "a god among men" 176). & 6

In particulars this deva-ship of the king is not always explained in the same way 177). A good example of the belief that the king is identical with all the gods or all the divinities is found in the Maha-bharata 178). That is to say: He is Sukra (Indra), Sukra (the propounder of morals), Dhata (the establisher or arranger) and Brhaspati (the purohita of the gods with whom he intercedes for men, also representing wisdom and eloquence). Is there therefore anybody who considers himself above worshipping the person to whom such appellantions as Prajapati (Lord of all creatures), Virat, Samrat Ksatriya, Bhupati (Lord of earth), Nrpa are applied in praise?

The monarch is further styled "the prime cause (to wit: of social order founded on dharma), the conqueror in battles (and hence the destroyer of calamities), the watchman, joyful well-being (mudito bhavah), the guide to heaven, the easily victorious, Babhru (i.e. Visnu)"; he is the one who abides in truth and reality (Satyayoni), who knows the events of former times, he is the originator of the norms of truth (satya- dharmapravartaka-) ; like the sun among the gods in the celestial regions which destroys darkness by its tejas (brilliance-and-energy), the king (among men) eradicates sin from the earth.

According to some authoritative texts, e.g. Manu 7, 4 ff., the king was in the beginning created from eternal and essential particles of Indra, and the seven other great devas, who in later literature are grouped as "guardians of the world" (lokapala-); as such they are believed to protect the eight main points of the universe. Hence he is sun and moon, fire and wind, Yama and Kubera, Varuna and Indra. Nobody on earth is able even to gaze at him. Even an infant king is no mortal being, but a great deity (devata) in human form. It is of course no matter of indifference that it is these main gods, protectors par excellence, whose essence constitutes his majesty (pratapa-) 180).

These divinities very significantly represent those functions and activities which are the essential characteristics of kingship. Manu himself already observed 181) that the king like the sun, burns (tapati) eyes and hearts, "nor", he adds, "can anybody on earth even gaze on him": the Sun indeed shines, dispels the darkness and its beings; he is the "lord of eyes", all seeing and the spy (or witness) of the whole world. Like a man of the military class the Sun slays. The earthly ruler has several qualifications and epithets in common with the great luminary: pratapa- is, in the king, his majesty, brilliance or energy, in the sun, the glowing heat or brilliance; the adjective pratapin- means "burning, scorching" as well as "glowing, shining; splendid, powerful, majestic".

It will be worth while to consider Manu's 'idea of the divine components of king-ship more closely 182).



174) For ancient Indian royal titles see also E. Kuim, in the Festschrift I Thomsen, Leipzig 1912. p. 217 ff. who inter alia observes: selbst scheint ein indischer Konig sich me devas genannt zu haben" The term deva- is as far as I am able to see not given to the king in the ancient literature. Compounds such as naradeva- or nrdeva- "god of men" are however often found in Manu and the epics.

175) In the Mathura inscriptions we find, inter alia, the royal title devaputra- which, according to E. Kuhn, o.c., p . 2I9 is "nichts anderes als eine Ubersetzung des sowohl die Arsakiden als den chinesischen Kaiser bezeichnenden Namens faghpur — altiran. *baghaputhra, einer unverkennbaren Nachahmung des chinesischen "Himmessohne" die ihren ostiranischen Ursprung nicht verleugnen kann".

176) AV. 20, 127, 7.

177) Attention may also be drawn to Bh. S. Upadhyaya, India in Kalidasa, Allahabad 1947, p. 74 ff.

178) Mbh. 3, 185, 26 ff.

179) These terms will be commented upon in the following pages.

180) Cf. the commentator Kulluka on Manu 7, 7 "because (the king) consists of the constituent particles (amsa-) of Agni and the other gods and because he does what is their task he is called pratapa ("majesty", the word implying also such ideas as "glowing heat, warmth, splendour, brilliancy, glory, strength").

181) Manu 7, 6 (ayam ca raja svatejasa surya iva pasyatam caksumsi ma-namsi ca samtapayati, Kulluka).

182) I also refer to my paper on The sacred character of Ancient Indian kingship; see n. 187. For the king = the eight lokapalas see also Manu 9, 303 ff.