TEMPORARY ADMISSION TO ARISTOCRACY
YAYATI, ASHTAKA, PRATARDANA, VASUMANAS and SIBI
Indra however noticed that Yayati did not state anything about his own conduct and achievements. When asked about these, Yayati claimed that there was none equal to him in the larger core society of nobles (devas), commoners (manushyas), free intelligentsia (gandharvas) and sages (rshis) who was superior to him in achievements through constant and intense endeavour (tapas). He spoke contemptuously of his equals, and also of those who were superior to him or inferior to him without knowing their greatness or weakness and hence, according to Indra, he could not stay in any of these social worlds for all time.
Yayati's claim and the later Vedic social structure
Yayati was in fact rejecting the above later Vedic social structure that prevailed before the system of four socio-economic classes (varnas) as recommended by dharmasastra came into force. Indra interpreted it as a challenge to his authority as the head of the nobility (devas) and to the nobility as the controller of the expanded core society with a large middle class of free intellectuals (gandharvas) and sages (rshis). Indra did not envisage a constitution that cared more for commoners (manushyas) than for these intellectuals and nobles as Yayati was found to urge. Yayati lost the credit for his past noble deeds (punya) and fell in status. He requested Indra (the king of the nobles) to permit him to fall in the midst of those who were gentle and pious (sadhu). Indra agreed and said that proximity to the pious would help him to regain his status as an aristocrat. Indra warned Yayati not to disparage again any one whether his equal or superior or inferior.
Ashtaka's interpretation of Yayati's fall
Ashtaka, a great Rajarshi and protector of the practices of the pious (sadhus) as outlined in the principles of dharma asked Yayati who was losing his status, who he was. Yayati looked young and handsome like Indra and glowing like Agni but his fall was like that of the (setting) sun (Surya), according to Ashtaka (son of Visvamitra). It appeared as though an authority equal to Agni who headed the council of scholars, Brahmans and Surya (Aditya) who headed the soldiers and Kshatriya administrators was losing his status and falling rapidly. Yayati was stationed on the path of the nobles, devas and was great like Sakra Indra, Vivasvan (Surya) and Vishnu, the three great personages who fought relentlessly against the feudal warlords (asuras).
Ashtaka was eager to know what had led to Yayatis decline. He told the former ruler that he did not need to be afraid for even Indra who had killed Baka (an asura) would not be able to harm him as he was in the midst of the pious. Yayati was equal to Indra of Devas. The pious who have missed happiness get support only in the company of the pious, the annotator comments. The sadhus, the pious who guard the inanimate and animate objects as prabhus, overlords, stay together, Ashtaka pointed out to the guest, Yayati. A pious man, sadhu, is the protector (prabhu) of the guest, even as Agni (fire) is the lord who burns the guilty, Bhumi (earth) guards the seed sown and Surya (sun) enlightens, the annotator says.
Yayati on why he did not salute the pious
Yayati was welcomed by the pious though he had not saluted them. Was he arrogant even after he had been censured by Indra, the head of the assembly of nobles? Yayati explained that as he was older than the pious persons like Ashtaka who were in that resort, he did not salute them. He argued that among the twiceborn (dvijas) only one who had more formal knowledge (vidya) or had more practice and persistence (tapas) or was elder in age was to be respected by others. Ashtaka who had been a Rajarshi pointed out the flaw in Yayatis claim that had caused his fall from the cultural aristocracy (svarga). The code did not mention age as a factor to be taken into account in the case of the twiceborn. Only the other two factors were mentioned. Only with respect to the common workers who were not educated (in Vedas) and did not have knowledge of specific fields through study or through constant practice, age was to be taken into account while determining seniority.
Ashtaka wonderedif Yayatis stand differed from the code of conduct. Yayati could not be accused of arrogance and lack of humility. He knew that sin was an enemy of good deeds and that the sin, which resulted in one being pushed down to undesirable low social worlds, was present in one who lacked humility. The pious do not approve the sins of the scoundrels. The pious practise methods that would help them do good deeds. The wise man who realises that though he has lost his wealth and cannot get it back despite his efforts and yet is enthusiastic in seeking the welfare of his soul (atma) is one who knows.
According to Yayati, a social leader (purusha) who is wise and is rich and performs sacrifices and masters all disciplines of study, studies the Vedas and performs strenuous endeavour (tapas) in learning the truth gets free from ignorance (ajnana) and goes to the social world of aristocracy (svarga). While upholding the view that poverty by itself is not a restraining factor, Yayati says that one should never become happy with huge wealth. He has to study the Vedas and give up egotism.
Yayati's complaint against the nobility
In this social world of commoners many have ceased to be active and lost also their ability because the aristocracy (daivam) has overruled them, Yayati complains to Ashtaka. The brave thinks that the noble (deva) is more powerful than him and as a result he fails when he has to face both joy and sorrow. He experiences joy and sorrow that come to him by chance or fate (rather than by his endeavour or by the will of the nobility). One who realises that things happen not because of his might and hence nobility (daivam) is superior to him does not feel unhappy or happy in any way. A wise man (jnani) should not feel sorrow caused by sorrowful causes or happiness caused by happy causes. He must always maintain equanimity. The stoic calls on every man to recognise that fate is more powerful than him. (The term, daivam, is not to be interpreted as gods will.)
Yayati told Ashtaka that he knew that he had to certainly be as created by Brahma and so he was never disturbed by fear. [The concept that Brahma has created all beings and determined their respective ways of life and destinies has become popular later.] Yayati was referring to the socio-political constitution, Brahma, under which he was required to function. Both dharmasastra drafted by Bhrgu and other legislators and dandaniti outlined by Sukra accorded with the Atharvan constitution. Yayati took care not to transgress its limits.
The chronicler notes that every species has to function as predetermined and then merge in nature, prakrti. Yayati told Ashtaka that he had realised that joy and grief were transitory and so he had no need to feel pained by any event. What can save one from pain? Through pragmatic reasoning (viveka) he dispelled sorrow, Yayati explained to his daughters son, Ashtaka. [Chronicles have tended to ignore the roles played by women and have rarely mentioned the names of the daughters.] Yayati who had been shunted down from the rank of aristocracy and was in the intermediate stage of open society (akasa) was speaking as though he was still a member of that high aristocracy (svarga) and like a philosopher was explaining the duties (dharmas) of the people.
Yayati had the support of all the seven social worlds (lokas)
Ashtaka wanted to know from the senior king, Rajasreshta which social worlds he had experienced and for how long. Yayati recounted that he was first an emperor of the social world of the commoners of the plains (bhumi) and then brought in his favour the greater social worlds (lokas). Yayati meant that he secured the goodwill of the members of the other social worlds like the frontier society of the forests and mountains (antariksham), aristocracy (divam), legislators (maharshis), representatives of the native peoples (jana), community of researchers (tapasvis) and the members of the judiciary who stood by truth (satya). Yayati had the support of all the seven social worlds (bhu, bhuva, sva, maha, jana, tapa and satya). [The claim that he lived for a thousand years is nothing more than poetic exaggeration.]
Brahmaloka, community of intellectuals and jurists
After leaving his post as king and after going through the stage of retirement he went to another social world (loka), the city of Indra. Then he went to yet another social world, that of Brahma. The later annotator describes Brahma as lokanatha, head and guardian of that social world. Brahmaloka was the community of intellectuals and academy of jurists. After a long stint as a student of constitutional law he went to the abode of Brahma seeking to be personally instructed by that exponent of the socio-political constitution of the larger integrated society. That required his moving about amongst different communities and being honoured by all the nobles (devas). He lived in the grove attached to the abode of Brahma rejoicing in the company of the apsarases.
[Yayati does not seem to have met Brahma.] He was involved in sensual pleasures when a messenger of the nobles pronounced thrice his fall, expulsion from the aristocracy. Yayati claimed that he did not remember anything more than these about his past and that as he fell the nobles (of divam) said in sorrow and pity that the famous Yayati who had done many virtuous deeds was falling. Yayati asked them how he could fall in the midst of the pious. They told him that he could locate the place where they performed the sacrifices by the smell of the articles used in sacrifice. That trail took him to the abode of the pious, Yayati said.
The annotators of the later times treated Yayati as a ruler belonging to the Krtayuga, the first of the four mega-epochs. To be precise, his reign was treated as marking an epoch of new constructive activities based on the natural aptitudes of the individuals. He was one of the important rulers of that epoch. He might have stayed in the private garden of Brahma, the head of the academy of scholars and jurists for ten years performing different functions as he liked until he was found unfit to be admitted to the fold of the cultural aristocracy.
Ashtaka wanted to know why he had to return to the social world of the commoners (bhumi). Yayati explained that even as in the world of commoners kinsmen and friends deserted those who had no wealth, in the social world of aristocracy, Indra and other nobles (devas) abandoned the commoner who had been admitted to their company on the basis of virtues gained after those virtues (punya) lost efficacy and utility.
Ashtaka wanted to know when the social world of aristocracy treated one as being no longer virtuous. For, it has been said that virtues once gained (punya) never fade. He was eager to know the qualifications necessary for being admitted to the different social worlds (lokas). Yayati explains that those who had lost their importance as virtuous men landed themselves in the ghettoes (naraka) that were in the midst of earth (bhumi, commonalty). [Hell (naraka) and heaven (svarga) are in this world and are not located elsewhere below or above in the cosmos.] Hence during ones life as a commoner, one should not do any low and despicable act.
Reemergence of the pious
Ashtaka wanted to be enlightened on the concepts of re-emergence of the pious after their sufferings in the hell on account of loss of efficacy of piety and of hell in the earth. Ashtaka and Yayati were not dealing with the concepts of paradiso, inferno and purgatario. Yayati pointed out that after freeing oneself from his social body one experiences an increase in his work (karma). Earlier his colleagues had shared the burden of work. Weakened by excessive work, the individuals functioning alone move about in this world as beings (pranis) struggling to survive.
They land in the ghettoes (naraka) driven by ill health and poverty. For several years they remain unaware of their plight and the causes thereof. The rich who had lived long in plenty and comfort (in svarga) and the intellectual who had lived free in the open space (akasa) when they have exhausted their wealth and virtues fell into these ghettoes on the earth and were torn to pieces by the rebel militants (rakshasas) who had been expelled from the civilised society.
Ashtaka wanted to know how the fallen rose again and where they were reborn and grew. He was not dwelling on the concept of the immortality of the soul and rebirth of men and other beings. The reply given to this question contains aspects that came to the fore during the era of decadence that followed the bright age of renascence reflected by the Upanishads. Yayati held that if a dynamic social leader (purusha) lived on fruits and flowers his potency increased and his seed when sown in the womb of a respectable woman (stri) produced a noble race.
The souls of the living beings (jiva) when they move in the various regions, like the vacuous stratosphere of the open space (akasa), the atmosphere of the open lands (vayu), the littoral areas (apa) and the plains (bhumi) emerge as bipeds and quadrupeds. While he iterated the concept of rebirth as contingent for the continuance of the species and diverse sectors of the larger society Yayati did not dwell on the concept of genetic ascent and decline. Only in the case of the dynamic individuals (purushas) there can be a conscious effort in creating a more efficient new generation.
Jivaloka lower than manushyaloka
Ashtaka wanted to know whether those who were in the subaltern struggling to keep their body and soul together (as jivas) led a different life and produced a better generation when they were absorbed in the social world of the commoners (manushyaloka). In other words would the children born to those persons in the subaltern after their admission to the commonalty and removal of bars on their mingling amongst the commoners really benefit and by nature be better than their fathers? Ashtaka was raising a question, which the sages were confronted with when they dealt with the concept of mixed classes (samkaravarnas) and anuloma and pratiloma marriages.
Can good nurture catered by a mother of a higher social class benefit the offspring of one born in the subaltern? Or will the offspring retain its fathers natural traits and has to be assigned only to the class of the latter? Experiments in genetics were going on under the aegis of the aged scholars and administrators of whom Ashtaka, son of Visvamitra was one. He asked Yayati to tell them what the norms to determine physical fitness and intellectual capacity were. They all held Yayati as a jnani.
Yayati says that after mans semen, which had its source in fruits and flowers is pushed into the womb of the woman by the wind there, that wind enters the invisible subtle organs of the seed and enlarges the foetus. [The comment that the term, flowers, indicates the fortune that one has gained through his work and that this aspect determines in which rank of the society the offspring would be born is unacceptable. Yayati did not deal with the issue of social differentiation resulting from ones acts.] It also results in the growth of the different separated organs and after gaining intellect the embryo becomes a human being. Thus a commoner is born in this social world.
The child with its ears hears the sounds of the world and sees the forms with its eyes, smells with its nose and knows the taste with its tongue and feels the touch with its skin. Its mind forms opinions about the various objects and men and events. Thus the soul, which is a great one, is connected with the different organs, indriyas, Yayati explained.
Social Progress and Social Ascent
Ashtaka then wants to know Yayatis views on how one who is dead and is no more can know oneself. One who has been expelled from his social group or has left it of his own may lose his social identity. How can he know his new status and the conduct pertaining to that new status? Yayati says that one does not cease to remember the status from which one has been removed. At first he grumbles even as one (a lion) who sleeps snores. He follows the trail of his smell to an identity and company that is suitable to his past experiences. The virtuous gain a new company of virtuous men and the vicious that of sinners.
Yayati would address Ashtaka as a Rajasimha to draw attention to the boldness with which he engaged in the disputation. Ashtaka then wanted to know by what means a commoner (manushya) who performed strenuous endeavour (tapas) and was talented attained higher social worlds. He also wanted to know the stages and order by which that person reached them.
Yayati says that for commoners (manushyas) strenuous endeavour (tapas), generosity (danam), restraint of senses and organs, conquest of the mind, humility, openness and compassion for all living beings are considered to be the seven great entrances to the social world of nobles (svargaloka). Elders say that men who have the traits (guna) of tamas, that is, are ignorant and uneducated get ruined by their egotism (ahamkara), he points out. If an educated person thinks that he has mastered the subjects (is a pandita) and uses his knowledge to destroy the fame others have, even if he is in good social groups (lokas) that will prove his undoing. Even the knowledge of jurisprudence (brahma) that is the exclusive privilege of the other (para) social world of nobles will be of no avail. Even a jurist like the wrangler may fall in reputation and status by adopting a negative approach. One may live free from the fear of committing sins by indiscretion or acts of omission and commission if he performs his civic duties well.
He has to honour the civil judge, agni, in the sacrifice known as agnihotra by his perfect conduct as a host. He has to observe silence (mouna) when he is not required to speak. He must constantly study and regularly perform the yajnas. If these four duties are performed only for prestige they lead to fear, that is, to committing major sins. One who is honoured with rewards should not delight and if he is dishonoured should not feel sad. He has to maintain equanimity.
Yayati was telling the pious what he had learnt when he was amongst the uneducated masses and then among the nobles and then amongst the scholars and jurists. He noticed that in the community (loka) of the pious (sadhus), every one revered the others. The impious did not have the intellect (buddhi) of the pious and gentle sadhus. Donating (dana) or sacrificing (yajna) or studying (vidya) or striving (tapas) with a particular intent will have horrid results Yayati warns. One must give up such intents and such motivated acts.
Liberation from worldly duties
Those who have controlled their minds, and have known the ancient basic (sanatana) socio-political constitution (Brahma) through mind (manas), obtain in this social world (loka) of the pious the greatest peace of mind (santi). Yayati was urging that the constitution as approved by (the first) Manu should be followed. After giving up the (social) body they become one with the highest intellectual (Brahma) and enjoy the comforts of the stage of liberation (moksha) from worldly duties and attachments, Yayati points out. After he had completed his two tenures as king, Yayati retired to his forest abode.
While there he aspired to join the intellectual aristocracy of jurists. But he had not become free from worldly attachments and was hence expelled from their academy and was required to be in the midst of the pious which included some of his grandsons like Ashtaka. Ashtaka wanted to be briefed on the duties that the sages had prescribed for the different stages of life (asramas).
Four stages of life
It was an era when the commonalty (manushyas) had not yet been classified into four varnas, Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas and Shudras. But there were some educated persons who were known as dvijas (twiceborn). Most of them were sober Brahmans. A few were administrators and soldiers and were known as Kshatriyas. Both of them had earlier belonged to the vast middle class of free intelligentsia, gandharvas. The sages (rshis) stayed in the forests while the ruling class of devas lived in fortified towns (puras).
Yayati presents a simple outline of the conduct of the student at the home-cum-school of his teacher. He had to be humble, contented and enthusiastic and studious. Yayati does not state what he had to study. It was a period when the Vedas had not yet been compiled. There is no mention that the students should seek alms to maintain their teachers. There is no mention of which class and rank of the society the teacher and the student should belong to. Nor is there any mention of the age limits. The student, Brahmachari, was an asset to the society.
The older social code (sastra) required the householder (grhastha) to obtain wealth (dana) by one of the ways prescribed in the dharmasastra. This code was known only to a few and was kept confidential. [Arthasastra had not yet been outlined then.] He was required to regularly perform sacrifices (yajna) and to donate (dana) (wealth to the needy). He had to feed the guests and should refrain from taking what had not been given to him by others. [It may be noticed that the emphases in the older code differ from the ones in the later smrtis.]
One who lives on his personal resources and stays away from acts whose purposes are sinful and who gives to others (but does not accept assistance or payment from others) and who does not harm others and is restrained in his food and economic relations (vyavahara) and lives in the forest as a muni is called a vanaprastha, Yayati explains. He attains higher objectives (siddhi). Once again the emphases are different from the ones in the later smrtis. A sanyasi does not live by work and has all good traits and has conquered his senses and organs forever and has given up all attachments and desires and does not sleep in any house. He has nothing in his hands and does little and constantly moves about alone in all countries.
The night a learned person gives up the happy noble communal life that he had desired and earned (as a grhastha) he should control his mind and try to become one living in the forest. One who lives in the forest (vanaprastha) leaves the constituents of his body like flesh and blood, that is, his kinsmen and companions in the forest itself and establishes on a sound footing the interests (punya) of his and those of his ten ancestors and ten successors (that is, of twenty-one generations).
After listening to this description of the four stages (asramas) of life, Ashtaka wanted to know about the different types of silence (mauna) and the different types of munis. Yayati says enigmatically, that one for whom when he resides in the forest the village community retreats and when he lives in the village the forest retreats, is a muni. As Ashtaka requests him to explain the enigma, Yayati says that one who lives in the forest should not use anything, which is used by the villagers. The village life goes back in his case. He leaves behind his domestic fires (agni), house and clan (kula) and gotra identity (that is, the identity of the academy whose teachings he was expected to continue). He has to wear minimum of clothes and consume minimum of food. The grhastha has left behind his life as a student, brahmachari, in the abode of his teacher, which is located in the forest. There he was not required to keep the domestic fires burning as he had no home and no house and was separated from the clan (kula) and had not yet been given the name of the gotra of his teacher. He had minimum clothes and lived on minimum of food.
Yayati explains that a muni who has given up desires and vocational activities (karma) and restrains his senses and observes reticence (mouna) attains the stage of perfection (siddhi). He is not an unkempt recluse. Even if he is required to be clean and wear ornaments on certain occasions he is not attached to them. The muni (vanaprastha) has to perform certain pure societal duties and is worshipped.
By his strenuous endeavour (tapas), which leaves him weak, he conquers this loka (social world of commoners) and also the other loka (social world of aristocrats). He has to give up the two, pleasure and pain. When he seeks food through his mouth, that is, when he earns his livelihood by teaching rather than through manual labour this entire world (of pious men) becomes his and he becomes fit to attain final liberation (moksha).
The annotator says that one has to give up enmity and vindictiveness, arrogance and deception and finding fault with and complaining about others, rage and passion, to be treated as one who knows dharma. Ashtaka then wants to know how the persons who are in the first three stages of life (asramas) would not be guilty of sin even though they have to regularly eat food. Yayati recommends that a sanyasi should eat only eight mouthfuls of food, a vanaprastha sixteen and a grahastha thirty-two. He points out that nothing is prescribed for a student (brahmachari). It is implied that he has to live on what his teacher gives him. Yayati asked Ashtaka and others to learn from this briefing what was good for them and what was not. (Ch.85 Adiparva)
Ashtaka followed the Upanishads on Aditya and Chandra
Ashtaka followed the sages of the early Upanishads when he held Surya (Aditya) as the head of the administration of the predominantly rural but urban-controlled core society of the plains and Chandra (Soma) as that of the frontier society of the forests and mountains. Which of the two was closer to the cultural aristocracy (devas), he wanted to know.
Yayati pointed out that even amongst the householders (grhasthas) of the village some might lead an austere life restraining the tendency to function according to ones desire, that is, they might follow the path of dharma rigorously without giving free scope to lust for sex and wealth. Such persons, yatis, are equal to devas, Yayati said. Yayati felt it proper to draw attention to the distortions and weaknesses in the asrama codes.
One who became distracted in early life and took to aimless wandering and then regretted his actions should perform tapas, that is, should be engaged in prolonged concentration on achieving specific goals, like acquisition through intuition of the knowledge that eludes empiricism. The interpretation that regret for the past errors and fear of further errors help one to attain liberation (mukti) from worldly life is not to the mark.
Yayati was a pragmatist but did not compromise on ethics
Yayati was a pragmatist. But he did not dilute his commitment to high ethical standards. A commoner (manushya) who always dreads to commit sins but constantly seeks his own comforts does rise to higher positions of comfort, he assures. Yayati would not dub him as a despicable hedonist. He was for the culture of the gentle and not for that of the painful austere. The social code, dharma, upholds both ahimsa and satya. The laws of the later Vedic period were based on satya. They were uncompromisingly puritan and harsh. Yayati pleaded for gentleness while implementing those laws. He says that himsa, causing pain, is against the principles of truth, satya. The code of dharma recommended that one should not treat any object as his personal property or hold oneself as its owner (svami). He should perform his prescribed duties (dharma) without expecting any reward. That alone is proper and devotional. Yayati seems to put forward a stand that Krshna took later.
Yayati expelled from intellectual aristocracy
The later annotator is carried away by the stereotype that cast the nobles (devas) as all young and handsome. Yayati who was admitted to the intellectual aristocracy and was expelled from it for spending his time in the company of apsarases, looked young though he was old having ruled as a king for two tenures (twenty to twenty-four years) and then spent a few years in his forest abode as a senior philosopher and political guide. Ashtaka thought that he had been sent on some mission and wanted to know from where he had come and who had sent him and whether he had any other place to stay in the plains (bhumi). [This query must have been accommodated in an earlier chapter and made when Ashtaka came across Yayati for the first time. But the reply to this query is pregnant with meaning.]
Yayati said that though he knew the correct conduct and had sharp intelligence and had honourable intents he had lost his moral assets (punya) and had been expelled from the higher social world and sent to the ghettoes (naraka where the fallen among the free men, naras, lived) on the plains (bhumi). He had all the achievements and skills in work (karma) that were necessary for a place in the higher social stratum (aristocracy). After replying to the queries of Ashtaka and his companions he would be going down to the ghettoes, the stoic ruler said. The governors of the social worlds (lokapalas) who had been appointed by Brahma, the chief of the constitution bench were prodding him to move ahead towards his penitentiary. He told Ashtaka (and the governors) that he had received permission from the chief of the aristocracy, Indra, to spend some time with the pious (sadhus).
Could Ashtaka ascend in social ladder?
Ashtaka and his colleagues had a few more doubts, which they wanted Yayati to clear. Ashtaka wanted to know from Yayati who knew the philosophy of virtue (punya) whether the former could get access to the social worlds (lokas) included in the concept (akasa, open space, stratosphere as interpreted by some) and to the social worlds of autonomous nobles (svarga).
Yayati replied that as long as the then obtaining socio-economic arrangement by which pastoral economy (cattle) and the individuals who did not have personal property (asvas, gandharvas) were included in the social world of commonalty of the agrarian plains (bhumi), and the people of the forests and mountains were dependent on meat of other wild animals (having been denied a share in grains and milk), the pious who stayed on the periphery of the agrarian lands but not in the deep forests or on distant barren mountains had the opportunity to enter the higher social worlds (of the nobles and intellectuals of the towns that were built generally on hilltops or in the centre of the plains). [The ghettoes too were near where the pious had their simple abodes.]
Yayati declines Ashtaka's offer
Ashtaka impressed by the scholarship of Yayati, an eminent king (rajasreshta), offered to give him all the higher social worlds that were earmarked for the former, a pious retired Rajarshi. Instead of going down (to the ghetto of the fallen) Yayati would soon fearlessly attain them whether they were in the open space (akasa) (and were meant for the free intelligentsia, gandharvas) or in the excusive areas (svarga) of the autonomous nobles.
Yayati pointed out that ones like him and Ashtaka who were kings and were not born in the community of Brahmans but had the knowledge (jnana) of the socio-political constitution (brahma) were not prescribed accepting gifts as a means of livelihood and progress. They were always expected to give to others, especially to the Brahmans. He had done so in the past. One who is not born a Brahman and the wife of a brave warrior (vira) (who hence does not belong to the community of Brahmans) should never live by seeking alms. He would not do what he had not done earlier, Yayati said. Would he become a Brahman by seeking alms? (No.)
Pratardana's request to Yayati
Pratardana, another famous ruler (also known as Alarka) who ruled over Kasi for several decades, identified himself to Yayati and wanted to know whether there were chances of his gaining access to the social worlds (lokas) in the open space (akasa) and the ones superior to them and if so Yayati could tell him the philosophy and principles behind the virtuous (punya) acts that would give him entry to them. Yayati said that Pratardana could experience the comforts and joys that each of the many resorts there gave, provided the visit was for one week. It was implied that Pratardana did not have the qualifications necessary for longer duration of stay in those communities.
Yayati: King had the right and duty to disobey the directives of the nobles if they were against Dharmasastra.
Pratardana asked Yayati to stay there in his stead but Yayati declined the offer. A ruler who is as powerful as another would not seek the gains and comforts and virtues of the other ruler, Yayati pointed out. He said that a king who knew the rules should not do a despicable act even if ordered by the nobles (daiva) and even if he was in danger. The king (the head of the state) had the right and duty to disobey the directives issued by the house of nobles (devas) if he found them to be against the directives issued by dharmasastra as social legislation. A king might be deposed by the house of nobles for such an act of contempt of its authority. He should refer to the codes of dharma and zealously endeavour to regain the position he had lost through methods that would give him merit (punya) and fame, Yayati advised.
A ruler like Yayati who was devoted to and knew the provisions of the code of dharma, should not follow the method of seeking alms to promote his interests. Pratardana too should not seek help of others for any purpose, it is implied. Yayati was against following any method, which was not followed by others and was new. He held that no good would result by seeking to set new precedents like a king accepting donations (dana) from his subjects in place of tributes (bali) due to him as the head of the state. Pratardana must have been accused of setting up such an undesirable precedent.
Yayati explained that only one who had understood what was virtue (punya) and what was vice (papa) and scrupulously did what might be done and refrained from what might not be done was one who had knowledge (jnana). He follows the laws based on satya and is pure in mind. He becomes a king who protects all the social worlds through his greatness. [Yayati was dilating on the guidance given by the great social and political thinker, Mahadeva.]
Dharma vis-a-vis Artha and Kama: Priority for Dharma
While functioning under the laws based on dharma (which is less puritan in approach) there might be doubts about the utility of the methods that are advocated and about the two fields, artha and kama, economic benefits and pleasure. The later Vedic laws based on satya condemned materialism and hedonism while the post-Vedic laws based on dharma, were accommodative with respect to artha and kama. Yayati demanded preference and precedence for dharma over artha and kama.
The corollary: Yayati, a liberal pragmatist
He added a corollary. What does not ruin artha and kama is dharma. True economic benefit and true joy should not be disturbed while following the code of dharma, Yayati suggested. Yayati was a liberal pragmatist, who however upheld the principles of ethics (dharma). (Ch.86 Adiparva)
Higher place only through ones own merit: merit not inherited
Vasuman, a grandson of Yayati, wanted to know whether there was a place for him in any good community that was under the concept, open space (akasa) or was superior to it. Ushadasva, his father, was a harsh-speaking gandharva. Would Vasuman be rejected because of the fault in his father? Yayati must have known the truth about what was in store for his grandson who was a pious person (sadhu) but whose father was not a gentle person.
Yayati considered that all the communities of the open space (akasa) and of the plains (bhumi) and of the different directions were under the guidance of the Vedic official, Surya (who was hot but enlightening). A similar number of communities were above them (in divam, amongst the aristocracy), he said. They were awaiting Vasumans arrival. Vasuman offered them all to Yayati and if the latter did not want to accept gift he might give a piece of straw in exchange and make it appear as buying a benefit.
Yayati treated it as a childish offer. He had since his childhood been afraid of adharma and did not remember to have indulged in false sale and false purchase even in play. He would not do something others had not done earlier. He would not be an honest person if he intended to do so. Vasuman thereupon asked him to accept on his behalf what was gifted to the former and declared that he would not go to those social worlds and Yayati could have them instead. Obviously this too did not fall within the code of acquiring a higher place on ones own merit.
Sibi superior to Ashtaka, Pratardana and Vasumanas
Sibi, another grandson of Yayati, introduced himself as the son of Usinara. [Usinaras were a community of free men of central India who lived by hunting. The naras were the lower ranks of gandharvas] He too wanted to know from Yayati whether he had a place in those communities as Yayati knew the subtleties of the code (dharma) of social ascent. Yayati noticed that that king did not think low of or speak in a despicable manner to the pious who sought his help. Hence there were several communities above his to which he could ascend and they were eager to welcome him. Sibi said that if the king did not want to buy those places he could accept them as gifts made by the former. He would not take back what he had given. Intellectuals who went to those communities lived there without sorrow, he said. Yayati noticed that Sibi was behaving like Indra who had greatness, mahima. Many communities of virtuous men were under his aegis. Yayati too had been so and he could not accept what Sibi had offered as one could not feel comfortable in a position offered by another.
Thereupon Ashtaka said that if Yayati did not accept what they had offered individually they feared their being sent to the ghetto (naraka). Yayati comforted them saying that they had not digressed from the laws of satya and were pious persons. They should try to do for him what he deserved. He would not accept what he had not accepted earlier. Yayati implied that the new code based on his interpretation of what was dharma and what was not did not set aside the validity and importance of the earlier code based on satya which Sibi was bound to.
Ashtaka noticed that there were five chariots meant for those who wanted to go to the higher worlds. He wanted to know whose they were. Yayati said that the chariots that were shining like flames were meant for them (Ashtaka, Pratardana, Vasuman, Sibi and another person). When they were performing asvamedha sacrifice in the grove to sanctify that event of their social ascent, Yayatis daughter, Madhavi arrived there and saluted her father. She introduced to Vasuman and her sons Yayati as her father. She told them how he had handed over his kingdom to her brother, Puru, and went to join the company of the nobles in svargaloka. She wanted to know what caused the fall of the famous king, Yayati.
On hearing that he had fallen because of certain lapses that led to loss of his virtues, Madhavi offered her gains too to enable him, to regain his place in the aristocracy. She had gained certain virtues by her noble and prolonged and concentrated efforts (tapas). According to the sages the wealth one earned in accordance with the provisions of the code of dharma belonged to the offspring. Similarly the grandfather had a claim over the wealth of the children of his offspring, that is, they were required to maintain him. This was the counsel given by the sages on dharma in this community (of the pious located in the periphery). The pious need not feel shy of receiving aid from their grandsons. Vasuman, Ashtaka and Sibi were his grandsons by his daughter. Hence Yayati should receive what she and her sons had given him and use them for regaining his place in the community of autonomous nobles (svargaloka). Yayati accepted her offer setting a new precedent.
The earlier social laws had held that one got immortality only when he had a son and that son a son. They would relieve him of his duties by taking over the responsibility to discharge the debts he had incurred and free him from social debts, rnamukti. As a corollary one who did not have a son or a grandson was not entitled to hold any position in the social polity. He could not be the head of a family and could not transact economic deals on its behalf. He had no place in the aristocracy or in any other higher cadre.
But these social laws ignored the presence of daughters. Yayati pointed out that if his daughters efforts would be of avail in his efforts at regaining his status as an aristocrat, then it could be concluded that not only sons and their sons, but also daughters and their sons could help one to discharge his debts. He declared that henceforth while performing the sraddha ceremonies of the departed ancestors both offspring, son and daughter, would have equal responsibilities.
Sibi had gifted away all that he had earned
Yayati then hastened Ashtaka and others to depart for their higher social world. But Ashtaka urged Yayati to go ahead. The others would await their due time, he said. Yayati insisted on taking all the four, Ashtaka, Sibi, Pratardana, king of Kasi and Vasumanas of the Ikshvaku lineage along with him. Ashtaka expected to go ahead of others as he was a friend of Indra but was surprised to find that Sibi had overtaken all others. Yayati explained that because Sibi had gifted away all that he had earned he was the best among them.
In the opinion of Yayati, Sibi was an unparalleled intellectual who excelled in generosity, endeavour (tapas), humility, halo, patience, kindness and enthusiasm in performing his duties (karma). He followed both the rigorous laws based on the principles of truth (satya) and the liberal laws based on consensus as incorporated in the dharma codes. The chronicler implied that Sibi and his colleagues belonged to the transitional period when both the laws, the middle Vedic based on satya and the later Vedic based on dharma were in force. As he was humble in spite of his excellent traits, he overtook Ashtaka and others, Yayati said.
Ashtaka wanted to know all the truth about Yayatis career for he noted that in the social world of commonalty there was no other Kshatriya or Brahman who could do such great deeds. When the conversation between Yayati and Ashtaka took place both these classes had been given definite structures and distinct roles but Yayatis career spanned a period when such a distinction had not yet become obvious.
Did Yayati emerge from the ranks of the free intelligentsia (gandharvas) or from those of the cultural aristocrats (devas) or of the plutocrats (yakshas) or of the technocrats (nagas)? The intellectual who escorted Ashtaka and others to their assigned place amongst the intellectual aristocrats introduced himself as Yayati, son of Nahusha and father of Puru and as their mothers father and a former emperor of the commoners of the plains (bhumi). Yayati did not belong to any section of the aristocracy when he became an emperor. Yayati said that those persons who conquered all the plains (bhumi) and gave away them and a hundred handsome highborn horses (asvas) to Brahmans (jurists) and retired to the forest as vanaprasthas obtained the benefits of doing virtuous deeds (punya) and became nobles (devas).
The aged former emperor said that one who conquered the plains (bhumi) that were inhabited by commoners (manushyas) engaged in economic activities and handed them over along with their asva cadre of administrators and intellectuals who had no personal property, to the judiciary of Brahmans to render justice and regulate the activities of all according to the provisions of the Vedic constitution (Brahma) and retired from the scene was deemed fit to be absorbed in the liberal aristocracy (devas).
He followed the laws based on truth, satya, and brought the unorganised mobile population of the vast open space and social universe (akasa) and the organised communities of the plains (bhumi) under those laws. The provisions of dharma code had not yet come into force then. The laws of the middle Vedic period (which continued into the later Vedic era, a period of transition to the new order) were based on truth (satya) and were implemented by Agni, the Vedic official who was civil judge and also the head of the council of scholars. He asserted that his word never became falsified and claimed that the elders in the society honoured truth.
Principles of laws based on Truth
Yayati told Ashtaka and Pratardana that according to his view the principles behind the laws based on truth held that all commoners who were natives (jana) of the country, sages (rshis) and nobles (devas) who followed them deserved to be honoured. Yayati, Ashtaka, Pratardana, Sibi and Vasumanas had gained a place in the aristocracy (svargaloka) by following the above method of surrendering the conquered areas and all the native lands to the constitution bench of jurists (Brahmans) and retired to pursue their higher goals. One who narrated this without making the jurists of the other society (Brahmanasreshta) jealous would attain a place on the threshold to that of these intellectuals-cum-achievers.
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