The Science of Kingship in Ancient India, Part 40


BY: SUN STAFF - 13.9 2018

King Drupada, Father of Draupadi

The religious dictates that influenced kingship in Vedic culture.


May we, by analogy with this ritual, which probably is much older than our sources, infer from the above data that a cakravartin- originally was a king who participated in the conquering efficacy of the 'wheel', i.e. of the sun, of the vaja winning and 'imperialistic' chariot, of a power centre of universality, of universal dominion?

Some importance may perhaps be attached to the epithets added to the cakravartin's cakra- 751): it spreads abroad, is brilliant, heavenly, invincible. The central and dominant position of the person who occupies a place in a 'wheel may also be illustrated by a passage in an upanisad 752): like the spokes on the hub of a wheel, everything is established on (in) life, the Rgveda, the Yajurveda, the Samaveda, nobility (ksatra-) and the brahmanical class. So the term cakravartin- might have come to denote a universal king, a king who according to Buddhist sources rules the earth surrounded by the ocean or the pathavamandala. "the circle of the earth" 703): "he who is placed in the cakra-" is he who like the sun is the centre, lord and sustainer of the world, its eye and life-giver; coinciding with the axis mundi the sovereign could reside only in the middle.

It must, however, be emphasized that the cakravartin idea was largely theoretical and perhaps even utopian in character. In contra-distinction to the many authors who liked to dwell on this ideal of kingship the politicians, who based their doctrines on worldly interest, developed the theory of the vijigisu- or conquerer, i.e. the king who is desirous of victory and desires to conquer his neighbours. According to Kamandaka 8, 21 the vijigusu- occupies a position at the head, or in the centre, of a group of 'states' or kingdoms. This group of states is called a mandala-. Although this term in this connection is usually translated by "circle of a king's near and distant neighbours with whom he must maintain political and diplomatic relations", the number of these relations varying from 3 to 9 or even 11, it is clear that it is identical with the same word mandala- as used in other contexts.

It is, however, also plain that the whole conception of mandala- in this connection stands or falls with the belief that one of the petty rulers of a certain area—whose aim it is to render tributary those whose kingdoms lie on the borders of his own territory pretends to be its centre. This ruler, the vijigusu-, is accordingly considered the mandalanabhi- or "centre (chief) of a circle of neighbouring princes." This term actually occurs in Kalidasa's Raghuvamsa 9, 15.

It may be parenthetically noticed that the same poet in the same canto (9, 2) of this work uses the word mandala- in the sense of the circle of his own subjects. From these and similar passages it may therefore be inferred that the idea of the central character of the king, whether he ruled his own country or enjoyed the position of a paramount sovereign, here again, underlies a whole complex of ideas connected with sovereignty. These considerations may perhaps be an argument in favour of the above supposition with regard to the original sense of the term cakravartin-.

Another explication of the term has recently been proposed by Zimmer 754) who regards it as deriving from cakravarta- "the circumference of the mighty mountain-range that surrounds the world, beyond the enveloping world-ocean, like a rim". The cakravartin- would, then, be "he the rim of whose 'wheel' (cakra-) is the universe", the king himself being the hub of the earth. To this view there are obvious objections, first that cakravarta- in the above sense does not appear in our texts, the word for that range of mountains being cakravala-, and in the second place that "owner of the circumference of mountains at the extremity of the universe" does not necessarily imply "ruler of the universe" 755).



751) Cf. Mbh. l, 74, 127 tasya tat prathitam cakram pravartata mahatmanahi bhasvaram divyam ajitam lokasamnadanam mahat.

752) Prasna Up. 2, 6.

753) See also W. Kirfel, Die Kosmographie der Inder, Bonn u. Leipzig, 1920, p. 11*.

754) H. Zimmer, Philosophies of India, New York 1975 p. 128 ff.; cf. also the same, The Art of India, New York 1955, I, p. 245.

755) For a description of the Buddhist cakravartin see Digha Nikaya, 17, 7 ff.; 26, 4 (translated by T. W. and C. A. F. Rhys Davids, Dialogues of the Buddha, II and III, London 1910 and 1921). As is well known the ancient Cambodian king was at a later period not only the centre of the world but also identical to the main god. His "symbol", the linga-, was established and revered on a high mountain which was considered the centre of the universe and a copy of the world-mountain. See e.g. P. Mus, Cultes indiens et indigenes du Champa, Bull, de I'ecole franc, de I'Extr. Orient 33, p. 406 ff.; Ph. van Akkeren, Een gedrocht en toch de volmaakte mens. Thesis Utrecht 1951, p. 12 f. During the reign of a cakravartin the earth will extend to 100 000 leagues and all people will be wealthy and prosperous.