The Science of Kingship in Ancient India, Part 19


BY: SUN STAFF - 1.8 2018

Jada Bharata instructs King Rahugana

The religious dictates that influenced kingship in Vedic culture.

CHAPTER X. – Part One

Prasada; parallelism between kings and gods; Buddhism on the cakravartin.

It is worth noticing that the term prasada- which has the widest application to denote the temple as the seat and dwelling of divine power, is also used in the sense of residence of a king. Whether this palace is magnificent or small is a matter of indifference. The Amarakosa explains: a prasada- is the residence of gods and kings. The true sense of the word is still larger: it can denote a sacred building or monument, a seat of divinity 372). In puranical texts 373) it is emphasized that the whole prasada- is to be understood as Purusa (All-soul); Lord Hari himself is visibly established in it.

The house of God, Miss Kramrisch observes 374), is the concrete manifestation of Siva or of any other name under which the supreme Principle that is Brahman is beheld 375). As to the original meaning of the word, Monier-Williams regarded it as a variant of prasada- which does not occur in this sense, literally meaning: "sitting forward", i.e. sitting on a seat in a conspicuous place, and hence, a lofty seat, platform, terrace, palace, temple 376).

It may however be objected that this meaning cannot be paralleled by a similar connotation of the verb pra-sidati. The usual sense of this verb is "to settle down, to become bright, placid, pleased, gracious." If we further remember that the term prasada- already occurs in the texts on Vedic ritual, mentioning prasadas on all sides of the ahavaniya fire 377) which may have been sacred constructions, "seats", but certainly no terraces to sit upon in a conspicuous manner, and in inscriptions from the and century B.C., referring inter alia to a prasada of the Bhagavat 378), that it denotes great temples as well as small pavilions where a deity or emblem (Siva's linga) is installed, the explication given by Miss Kramrisch may be considered more accept able: "It denotes a settling down (pra-sad-) and a seat made of that which has settled down and acquired concrete form, the form of a dwelling, a residence, the seat of God."

In substantiation of her view the learned authoress quotes a passage from the Isanasivagurudcvapaddhati 379). "The prasada is made up of the presence of Siva and Sakti, and of the principles and forms of existence (tattva-) from the elementary substance Earth and ending with Sakti; the concrete form of Siva is called house of god (devalaya-)". Of course, a house of God is the concrete manifestation also of any other name under which the supreme Principle is beheld.

Another point of interest is touched upon by the authorities on dharma 380). As is well known the shadow is one of the most important forms of human representation 381). Among many peoples the belief was held that the shadow is a semi-detached 'soul'; fear of losing one's shadow is therefore widespread. So it was earnestly dissuaded to step intentionally on the shadow of images of the gods, of the guru, the king, the snataka, or a diksita- (a man who has been initiated to the .performance of a srauta sacrifice). One should avoid coming into intimate contact with these powerful beings 382).

In this respect, too, a king was completely put on a par with other sacrosanct persons. Manu and other authorities on dharma 383) in giving rules of conduct for the snataka (the Veda student after having finished his studies) do not allow him intentionally to step on the shadow of images of the gods, his guru, the king and some other beings which apparently belonged to those persons and animals contact with which should be avoided. …

The honour shown to a sovereign is, in Hinduistic times, in many respects similar to the marks of veneration conferred on the images of the gods. When proceeding, on an elephant, through his capital, he was accompanied by musicians. As is well known music was, in descriptions of religious ceremonies, a means of warding off evil influences 384). The solemn acclamations of the bards, citizens and brahmans, and the festive sounds of tabors, horns and other musical instruments are not seldom said to annihilate, also for the king's sake, all evil. The roads and houses were decorated with banners and triumphal arches. Women threw fried rice on him, whilst expressing blessings.

Speaking ill of the king and the government, a charge brought against them, or public scandal on account of them were on the other hand undesirable acts. Though he knew his wife to be innocent Rama even, preferred abandoning her to giving rise to rumour and public scandal; and the worth of a kingdom which is liable to public scandal is explicitly questioned. As is well known a charge or accusation is a magically potent act which affects a person like a disease. It is therefore considered a crime to accuse supernormal or divine beings 385). "No person who is intelligent and unwearied in action, and who wishes to acquire virtue should ever spread evil reports about the monarch. By acting against him nobody can ever make himself happy" 386). A king should always be smilingly addressed by others, and he should speak to others sweetly 387).

"Men who know the eternal natural norms (dharma) affirm that acts giving offence to the king ought not be done" 388). Reigning kings are always to be forgiven whatever they do 389), for their touch is like fire 390) and ordinary men are helpless in their presence. The Mahabharata even goes so far as to state that the food offered by a man who insults the king is not accepted by his ancestors. The gods themselves do not disobey a virtuous king who is a god (devabhuta-) and eternal (sanatoria-) 391). Those who look at Rama with evil eye are smitten by Yama's rod and go at once to hell (niraya-, the region of destruction) 392).

How deeply the belief in the innate divinity of the ruler had taken root may also appear from a remarkable passage in the great epic 393), where feelings of deep respect for the king's property are inculcated. Everything that belongs to the sovereign should be avoided from a distance; one should even turn away from his property as one would from death itself. By taking the possession of the king a person soon meets with destruction like a deer upon touching a trap. An intelligent man should therefore protect as his own what belongs to the king.

These prescriptions are no doubt founded on the belief that the special power of royalty which like all power is dangerous as soon as it comes into contact with objects or persons who are unable to bear or to contain it (who are "unworthy vessels"), attaches also to the king's property. In Javanese traditions the ruler's sekti (the term for special supernormal power, or 'mana', deriving from the Skt. (sakti-)) likewise inhered in his possessions, so that for instance the man who violates a royal concubine brings upon himself the most awful consequences.

From incidental references 394) we know that it was usual to offer water to a king when he visited a place. This custom will no doubt also relate to the arghya- or paying honour to special guests, to whom water is offered to wash the feet, and to cleanse the mouth 395). A corollary of these beliefs in connection with the head of government is also that his person must be protected, because he is the protector of the realm 396). He must be adored because he is the delighter of the people (bhoja-), inrat, samrat, ksatriya-, bhapati- (lord of the earth), and nrpa- 397)

The man who is intent upon his own welfare should therefore always be attached to the king. The divine character of the king may also appear from such phrases and savings as "the king is like the Lord himself"; the seers declare that the king partakes of the nature of all the gods; therefore "a wise man shall look upon him as a god and shall speak no falsehood before him." In this world there are, Narada states 398), eight sacred entities: a brahman, a cow, fire, gold, clarified butter, the sun, water, and a king.

Although the omniscience attributed to the king by Kautilya is a political concept — the ruler should for instance be informed (of course through secret agents) of the worth of imported merchandise and pass this information to the custom-officers in order to make people believe that he is 'omniscient' — yet the very belief that the ruler knows all about his subjects and their doings had a religious aspect: Varuna and other Vedic gods are said to possess knowledge of that sort 399). The idea that the king was well-informed through agents and so-called spies no doubt reached back to ancient times 400), because the spasah "spies" of the gods, especially of king Varuna 401), were known already to the poets of the Rgveda 402).



372) References to prasadas may be found in P. K. Acharya, A dictionary of Hindu Architecture, Oxford 1927, p. 420 ff. and St. Kramrisch, The Hindu temple, Calcutta, p. 135.

373) See e.g. Agnipurana 61. it; 26.

374) Kramrisch, o.c., p. 136.

375) It may be added that with the Buddhists a prasada- is the monks' hall for assembly and confession.

376) Cf. Panini 6, 3, 122. If the explication, which was already given by commentaries on this authority, be correct the 'a' may be due to the tendency to differentiate homonyms.

377) Sankh. Sr. Su. 16, 18, 13 ff.; cf. also Patanjali, Mahabhasya 2, 2, 34. See also Macdonell and Keith, Vedic Index, II, p. 44 and 51.

378) See especially S. Kramrisch, o.c., p. 135 f.; P. K. Acharya, An Encyclopaedia of Hindu architecture, Oxford 1946, p. 343 ff.

379) Isanasivagurudevapaddhati 3, 12, 16.

380) See Manu 4, 130; Yajfi. I, 152; Visnusmrti 63, 40.

381) The reader might consult J. V. Negelein, Bild, Spiegel und Schatten im Volksglaube, in the Archiv fur Rclig. Wiss. 5, p. I ff.

382) In Yajfi, it follows (in the same stanza) : one should avoid stepping on blood, excrements etc.

383) Manu 4, 130; Yajfi. 1, 152; Vi. 63, 40.

384) See e.g. Varah. 131, 48, 49.

385) See J. J. Meyer, Altind. Rechtsschriften, p. 118; 382 cf.; Trilogie I, p. 138 f.

386) Mbh. 12, 68, 48 f. The author adds that unlike fire which may leave a residue, the king's anger leaves nothing to the person who happens to incur it.

387) Mbh. 12, 67, 38.

388) Mbh. 3, 161, 11.

389) Cf. Mbh. 1, 41, 23 ff.

390) Mbh. 3, 41, 20.

391) Mbh. 12, 65, 28 f.

392) Ram. 7, 82, 11.

393) Mbh. 12, 68, 30 ff.

394) Cf. Sat. Br. 3, 3, 4, 31.

395) For particulars see e.g. A. B. Keith, Rel. and Phil., p. 363.

396) Kautilya, Arthasastra 13, I. See also Manu 7, 217; Meyer, Trilogie II, p. 129.

397) Mbh. 12, 68, 54 f. Here Nilakantha's commentary runs as follows: raja ranjakah bhojah sukhanam bhojayita vividham rajata iti virat sriman samrad iti rajnam api rajety akunthitaisvaryah.

398) Narada 18, 54; Vikramacarita (ed. Edgerton) Introd. 2, 6 and 7.

399) R. Pettazzoni, in discussing the ideological complex of divine omniscience (Numen, 2/1955, p. 1 ff.) emphasizes his conclusion (p. 22) that the subject of this omniscience is a determinate category of divine beings; its object not the whole range of knowledge, but man and his doings. It would be an interesting theme to study the omniscience attributed to the king from a comparative point of view. We need not dwell here upon the other omniscience, to wit that of the successful yogin.

400) See H. H. Schaeder, Das Auge des Konigs, Abhandl. Gotting. Ges. d. Wiss. 10/1934, and IT Luders, Philologica Indica, Gottingen 1939, p. 462.

401) See also H. Luders, Varuna, I, p. 35.

402) See e.g. RV. 10, 10, 8; 7, 87, 3.