The Science of Kingship in Ancient India, Part 15


BY: SUN STAFF - 25.7 2018

Kalayavana, King of the Yavanas 
Krishna lures King Kalayavana to the cave of Muchukunda 
Bhagavata Purana, Kangra, c. 1810

The religious dictates that influenced kingship in Vedic culture.


By presenting an offering to Varuna in the house of the suta (court-minstrel, chronicler and equerry) he secures the merits of a Varunasava, a particular rite which in the same bramana is identified with the rajasuya 278); the suta, the custodian of the ancient ksatriya traditions who in the epic tales is even credited with foreknowledge of the future, resembles Varuna in that both of them are savas"instigators, stimulators", Varuna — who is the god of law and order, who, inter alia, regulates the course of the waters and governs men and nature by his "observances" - the gods the suta of men 279).

The oblation to the Maruts in the house of the village headman put him in possession of food; since—at least at a later period the gramani—280) formed the channel through which the royal control was exercised and the royal dues received his post being emphatically declared to represent the summit of the ambition of a vaisya 281)— it does not seem unlikely that he was considered to maintain special relations with the Maruts who were Indra's allies and associates assisting the god in performing his function and accomplishing his exploits.

The Satapatha-brahmana 282) expresses this consideration in a few words: the Maruts are the third order, and the gramani is a vaisya or member of that order. The offering to Savitar is performed for the sake of procreation of offspring (prasutyai), the term being felt etymologically related to the name of the god, who is sometimes stated to be Prajapati, the creator of living beings 283). The doorkeeper or chamberlain may, I think, have been held a manifestation of this god, because the latter was believed to send men to sleep and was implored to protect their houses 284); both the god and the official are "impellers" (prasavitar-) the Satapatha adds 285). By the sacrifice to the Asvins—whose very name implies the possession of horses, by which their car is drawn (hence their connection with the charioteer 286)) and who are renowned as divine physicians—medicine is procured to the king.

The oblation to Pusan in the house of a functionary called bhagadugha- ("tax-gatherer, collector of the sixth part of produce", "headcook", "bailiff", or "distributor of portions" or "carver" 287)) is to secure food 288). Lastly the ruler should in the usual way appease Rudra by a special oblation 289). That this ceremony should be performed in the house of the man whose title, in too sonorous a translation, is "superintendent of dicing" becomes intelligible if we remember that, at least at a later period, Rudra-Siva was credited with the "invention" of gambling 290).

So the evidence furnished by the Taittiriya-brahmana seems to suffice to draw the conclusion that the ratnins, i.e. the above important persons belonging to the entourage of the ruler, were by their specific relations to divine beings considered able to enhance the ruler's power or potency in various respects. It does therefore not seem correct to assume that the ratnins formed the king's council in any modern sense of the word. That the queen and the king's favourite wife are invariably mentioned by all our authorities does not, I am sure, suggest that queens in the Vedic age were not merely the consorts of kings, but played some part in administration 291). The ratnins were, moreover, twelve in number; since there are twelve months in a year, they represent the totality of the year and by performing these sacrifices the priest secures, on behalf of the king, the totality of dominion 292).

According to the version handed down in the Satapatha-brahmana the eleven oblations which are to be offered first provide the king with virya- "manly strength and courage", because that number stands for virya-, the tristubh-verse consisting of eleven syllables 293). There are however varying accounts of this ceremony. The same brahmana 294) has also the "huntsman" (govikartana-) and the "courier" or messenger (palagala-) among the ratnins, while the Maitrayani-samhita 295) adds the carpenter (taksan-) and the chariot-maker (ratha-kara-) 296).

One further point may be touched upon in this connection. By performing two more sacrifices in the house of the sacrificer one can win blessings; the gods to whom the offerings are, in that case, to be presented are Indra sutraman- and Indra amhomuc-, i.e. Indra the protector" and "Indra who delivers from distress"; the formula pronounced on that occasion runs as follows: "may the king, the slayer of Vrtra, be our king and slay the enemy" (ayam no raja vrtraha raja bhutva vrtram vadhyat) 297).

Another list of 'officials' comprising eight persons which for the greater part belong to the above group of ratnins occurs in the Pancavimsa-brahmana 298). It is worth quoting in its entirety: "Eight persons of importance (virah, often translated by "heroes") sustain together the ruler's kingship: the king's brother, the king's son, the house-chaplain, the queen-consort, the master of the horse (suta-), the gramani 299), the chamberlain (ksattar-) and the charioteer 300). These are the persons of importance who together sustain the ruler's kingship. In the presence of these he is consecrated."



278) T. Br. 2, 7, 6, 1; similarly, S. Br. 5, 3, 4, 12; 4, 3, 2.

279) S. Br. 5, 3, 1, 5.

280) It has, probably rightly, been surmised that the curious singular of this word which clearly means: "village herdman" shows that only the most prominent among them, or the headman of the royal residence(?) was meant. Anyhow he seems to have been the representative of the "third order": cf. Shankhayana-stautasutra 2, 6, 5, where three men are considered to have reached the highest state of welfare, a learned brahman, a gramani and a ksatriya.

281) I refer to A. B. Keith, in The Cambridge Hist. of India I, Cambr. 1922, p. 131.

282) S. Br. 5, 3, 1. 6.

283) See A. A. Macdonell, Vedic Myth, Strassb. 1897, p. 33.

284) See R.V. 2. 38; 4, 53, 6; 6, 71, 2 f.; 7, 45, 1.

285) S. Br. 5, 3, 1, 7.

286) According to the S. Br. 5, 3, r, 8 the Asvins, who are of the same womb, stand side by side like the king and his charioteer who stand on one and the same chariot: they are likewise "of the same womb or standing-place".

287) For the explication of this title see J. Eggeling, The Satapatha-brahmana III, Oxford 1894, p. 63, n. 1; Caland, Das Srautasutra des Apastamba, III, p. 132; (R. C. Majumdar and H. C. Raychaudhuri, An advanced history of India, London 1948, p. 74).

288) Pusan, the S. Br. 5, 3, 1, 9 says, is the bhagadugha- of the gods.

289) See e.g. H. Oldenberc, Die Religion des Veda3, 4 Stuttgart-Berlin 1923, p. 217.

290) The Sat. Br. 5, 3, 1, 10 gives the following explication: Rudra is hankering after the cow which is killed in this hall; Rudra is fire, the gaming-board is fire, and the dice are its coals; it is therefore Rudra who is pleased.

291) This view was maintained by Altekar, State and gov., p. 114. The same author has (o.c. p. 115) misunderstood the direction that the king had to repair to the houses of the ratnins and not they to his palace in order to offer the ratnin oblations. These remarks are however not to deny that the allegiance or approbation of these persons was for the man on the throne in practical life an essential factor of success.

292) Cf. T. Br. 1, 7, 3, 6.

293) In this brahmana the oblation to Nirrti closes the list (5, 3, 1, 13).

294) Sat. Br. 5, 3, 1, 10; 11.

295) See Maitrayani Samh. 2, 6, 5, 6 ff.

296) I also refer to Eggeling, o.c., p. 58, n. 2.

297) T. Br. 1, 7, 3, 7 ; cf. T. S. r, 8 , 9, 2.

298) Panc. Br. 19, 1, 4.

299) Caland translated this title by "praefectus urbi".

300) According to Sayana's commentary: the treasurer.