The Science of Kingship in Ancient India, Part 20


BY: SUN STAFF - 2.8 2018

King Ambarisa worshipping Sri Sri Radha-Krsna


The religious dictates that influenced kingship in Vedic culture.

CHAPTER X. – Part Two

In order to illustrate the parallelism between kings and gods it may be of some use to mention also some of the ideas fostered by the early Buddhists, which may reflect popular opinions on devaship and kingship 403). Inda, i.e. Indra, is in Pali texts called devaraja "king of the gods", and as such he is the most revered of the gods. He is free from old age and death, and is, therefore, the happiest type of king, a condition which could be attained by sacrifice.

Indra is the embodiment of the greatest valour and considered the lord of victors (jayatam pati-). He is also represented as punishing people guilty of heinous crimes. The gods with Indra as their chief (indrapurohita-), seek to promote the welfare of gods and men. Sakka, the other divine figure related to the Vedic Indra, though represented as a king, was a primus inter pares rather than an absolute monarch. He surpasses his companions in length of life, beauty, happiness, renown and power; besides, in the degree of his five sense experiences. These characteristics are also attributed to the rulers of the other deva-worlds. He is always ready to help and rescue the good, and, being the guardian of moral law he appears to frighten the wicked.

The Buddhists 404) increased the prestige of the sovereign by their theory of the wheel-turning king 405). It has been a fiction among them that the kings who favoured them lived more or less up to the ideal conception pictured in such descriptions as the following 406): he is victorious at the head of his troops, a conqueror, a guardian of the people's good, just (dharmiko), a king of dharma, endowed with the seven treasures, i.e. a chariot (wheel), an elephant, a horse, a jewel, (the best) wife, (the best) treasurer or minister, and (the best) adviser. The treasurer is in possession of divine vision which he loses at the death of the emperor. Then also the woman loses her beauty and the adviser his efficiency. He will have a hundred sons, brave and handsome heroes, destroyers of the armies of the enemies. He shall conquer the whole wide earth to the limits of the ocean, and then he will remove from it all the causes of tyranny and misery. He will rule without punishing, without using the sword, through dharma and peacefulness. Cakkavattis—as is the Pali form of the title—are rare in the world; they have marvellous figures; they live longer than other men, and enjoy good health and popularity with all classes of their subjects.

The sanctity of such an emperor is evident from the belief that the perfume of sandelwood issues from his mouth… Moreover, like saints in general and like the Buddha 408) in particular, a cakravartin possesses on his bodv divinely characteristic attributes, in casu the thirty-two marks of a great being 409). From the Mahapadana Sutta it would appear that his birth is attended by the same miracles as that of Buddha 410).

When in later times Mahayanist Buddhism elaborated a pantheon of deities of its own, Buddhist monarchs received part of the reflected glory. Kings in those parts of Greater India in which, under Buddhist influence, real theocracies were being built up—Tibet, Java, Indo-China—came to be regarded as Bodhisattvas. Thus king Jayavarman VII of Cambodia (12th century) had a statue of his mother erected as the "Mother of Buddha", and Chengis Khan was in 1326 considered to be a 'Bodhisattva in his last birth'. In the beginning of the 9th century the first king of the Angkor dynasty of Cambodia had a cult of the devaraja- constituted. In Khmer this divinity was called "the god who is the king, or who is the kingdom".

This devaraja- is not the deified sovereign but rather the permanent principle and essence of kingship (rajyasdra-) 411); this essence was conceived to be concretized in, and to identify itself with, the "subtle soul" (suksmantaratman-) of each successive ruler, and it might even be symbolized by an idol or image. Thus the devaraja- is renewed every time a new king accedes to the throne. To the idol in which the king's 'subtle self' was believed to reside a sacrosanct character was attributed; it had to be animated by a special rite. Originally this cult was Sivaite in character but in the course of time it was adapted to Visnuism and Buddhism. Thus a great many images of kings and queens in the outward appearance of Siva, Visnu, a Bodhisattva, Laksmi, or Parvati give evidence of this conception of divine kingship.

The essence of kingship or subtle self of the ruler was also believed to reside in a linga-, a sort of palladium of the kingdom, which was regarded as a presentation of Siva himself. This linga (phallos) was placed on the top of a pyramid, in the very centre of the royal residence which was supposed to be the spot where the axis mundi 412) reached the earth. On this, natural or artificial, mountain the communion between god and king took place. The kings who had entered into this communion considered themselves entitled to the respect due to a cakravartin.



403) See, in general, G. P. Malalasekera, Dictionary of Pali proper names, London 1937-8, I, p. 308 ff.; II, p. 957 ff. I. J. Masson, La religion populaire dans le canon bouddhique pali, Louvain 1942, p. 39 ff.

404) For the origin of the cakravartin conception see also E. Senart, Essai sur la legcnde du Bouddha, ch. I.

405) See also the brief survey given by E. Conze, Buddhism7 , Oxford 1953. p. 74 f.

406) Divyavadana, 548 f. C. N.

407) Van der Leeuw, Religion, p. 236 (Euripides, Hipp. 1391 ff.); E. Lohmeyer, Vom gottlichen Wohlgcruch (Site Ber. Heidelberg 1919, 9).

408) Hence the well-known episode in Buddha's life, when he was born—I quote the words used in (Asvaghosa's) Buddhacarita 1, 27 ff.—the world became exceedingly peaceful, as if, being in a state of disorder, it had obtained a ruler... The brahmans, after having considered the tokens said to the king...: "According to the signs found on this excellent one, he will certainly become either an enlightened seer or a cakravartin monarch...".

409) They are enumerated by G. P. Malalasekera, Dictionary of Pali proper names II, p. 533 f. numen.

410) In Buddhist texts the cakkaratana-, i.e. the wheel-shaped gem of dominion is conceived as an independent and material object appearing when an emperor is born. The emperor asks it to travel to the various quarters of the world, winning them for him. This the cakkaratana- does, carrying with it through the air the emperor. Having returned it remains fixed as a sort of palladium in the royal palace. When an emperor leaves the world, the cakkaratana- disappears. It also gives warning of his impending death by slipping down from its place some time before the event. So the conclusion may be that this most precious and most honoured object in the world is dominion, connected in a mystic way with the emperor.

411) See G. Coedes, La divinisation de la royaute dans I'ancien royaume khmer a I'epoque d'Angkor, in the Proc. of the VIIth Congress for the History of Religions (1950), Amsterdam 1951, p. 14 1 f. Cf. also the same, L'apntheose au Cambodge, Bull. Comm, archeol. Indochine igu, p. 28; Les etats hindouises d'Indochina et d'Indonesie, Paris 1948, p. 171 ff.; p. 207 etc.; Th. H. Gaster, Myth and Story, in the Numen, I, p. 188 f.

412) See Aspects of early Visnuism, p. 81 f.; 128; 173.