The Science of Kingship in Ancient India, Part 29


BY: SUN STAFF - 22.8 2018

The Arrest of King Bali 

The religious dictates that influenced kingship in Vedic culture.


As to the royal consecration as known to the poets of the great epics, it was performed by a bath and baptism of water as an accompaniment of a religious service. From the Ramayana 575) it may appear that the recitation of Vedic mantras with the application of water at the hands of the priest was sufficient to consecrate a son who succeeded a deceased father. The consent of the people was necessary. A form of consecration was, however, needed: "to be consecrated, to sacrifice, and to protect the people are the chief duties of the king", the same epos says 576).

The formal rite of the royal consecration which serves to confirm the imperial power is also in epic times preliminary to the horse-sacrifice to which we shall have to return further on. The latter ceremony as a religious rite absolves from sin. Politically it proclaims the successful ends of the emperor's desires. It may also be performed by any king, merely as a religious rite and without any claim to the imperial title. After the cohabitation part of the entrails of the horse are dragged out; they are kissed or smelled by the king and his followers. The sixteen priests present burn its limbs.

In the coronation ceremonies of the cakravartin, as at a later period (6th-8th c. A.D.) described in the important work on architecture, the Manasara, four stages are distinguished, the prapta- or prathama-, the mangala-, the inra- and the vijaya- 577). The abhiseka- proper consists in anointing the king with various auspicious substances. The monarch—whose empire reaches as far as the four oceans—is then adorned with the royal robes, the sacred thread, and various ornaments. He is led to the consecration hall, which is furnished with the emblems of empire, such as the throne, the wish-yielding tree (kalpavrksa-), the ornamental arch (torana-).

After having been garlanded, anointed, and sprinkled with substances of good augury the king mounts an elephant and circumambulates the city amidst acclamations of felicity. It was customary to lead the emperor after the inauguration blind-folded and to make him pick up anything he chose. The object taken pointed to victory or prosperity, or to the opposites. It may be noticed that a cakravartin is a sovereign who conquered surrounding kingdoms or brought them under his authority. In puranas and Buddhist texts his ideal characteristics are often explained 578).

The puranical accounts hold that cakravartins are born on earth as a partial incarnation (amsa-, inherent portion) of Visnu. Their power, dharma, fortune and wealth are marvellous; all the aims of a successful life, fame and victory fell to their share without being mutually incompatible; in supranormal power (aisvarya-) and supranormal lordly abilities (prabhusakti-) in Vedic learning and asceticism they even surpassed the great sages, in force the gods, demons and human kings. Their bodies are characterized by the thirty-two auspicious marks of a great being.

Among these outward tokens of the status of mahapurusa- i.e. "great man" or cakravartin- is also the srivatsa-, a particular curl of hair on the breast. This sign also belongs to Lord Visnu, the Jinas and other mighty beings. This figure—the name of which means in my opinion "Sri's favourite (abode)" or something to that effect 579) has nine angles: the number nine often occurs in connection with auspicious objects, powers and ceremonies related to material welfare. Some of the other signs are also worth mentioning: on his feet he wears the marks of a wheel (cakra)— which, being especially characteristic, was held to be animated by the spirit of Visnu and of a fish, a well-known representative of fortune and fertility, symbolizing the penis and causing trees to blossom 580) on the palms of his hands the conch-shell, an auspicious emblem par excellence, representative of (female) fertility, a means of warding off evil, of destroying demons, of strengthening and delighting the divine powers 581), and a lotus, which, representing water is, as is a matter of common knowledge, extremely frequent in rites and ceremonials for the benefit of fertility and vegetation in general.

We cannot pass over in silence some other interesting features in the numerous descriptions of 'coronations' found in post-Vedic literature 582). In picturing the ceremonies in honour of Rama the poet relates, inter alia, that as auspicious signs gold, cows, maidens, brahmanas and men with sweetmeats in their hands passed in front of Rama 583); the citizens had raised banners on their houses. Sea-water and water of no less than five hundred rivers was brought in jars. Vasistha and other great priests sprinkled the hero with the holy and scented waters like Indra in the days of yore. The denizens of heaven, especially the lokapalas co-operated in this act.



575) Ram. 2, 12, 11.

576) Ram. 2, 113, 23.

577) Manasara, ch. 49; see also P. K. Acharya, Manasara Series, vol. 6, Oxford 1946, p. 132 f.

578) Cf. e.g. Va. Pur. 57, 68 ff.; Matsya Pur. 142, 63 ff. For the Buddhist conception see G. P. Malalasekera, Dictionary of Pali proper names, II, London 1938, p. 1343 ff.

579) See my Aspects of early Visnuism, p. 100.

580) See Meyer, Trilogie III, p. 296.

581) Aspects of early Visnuism, p. 100 f.

582) For a more detailed account see Kane, o.c., III, p. 77 f.

583) Ram. 6, 128, 38 ff.