MARKANDEYA COUNSELS THE PANDAVAS
DISCONTENT, DEVIANCE AND DECLINE
After a brief halt in Dvaita grove, the Pandavas returned to their main camp in Kamyaka grove where Krshna visited them along with his consort. They were also visited by Narada and Markandeya. Krshna requested the great sage and chronicler, Markandeya, to acquaint the Pandavas with the unique knowledge that he had gained. Yudhishtira told him that his mind was confused over why he had lost his wealth and comfortable life while the sons of Dhrtarashtra who were given to evil ways were flourishing. A commoner (manushya) underwent the results of his good deeds (karma) as well as evil deeds (as predetermined).
If so, how was it correct to interpret that Isvara, the charismatic benefactor (god, in common parlance) of the social periphery was the person responsible for those acts (karta)? Yudhishtira asked the sage (jnani) who knew the socio-political constitution (brahma) whether in the matter of deeds that led to joys and sorrows the result followed the deed in the current position itself (that is, immediately in his career) or when he was to be adjudged and assigned to a higher or lower position or social group, sarira or deha (next birth, in common parlance).
Yudhishtira wanted to know from that great jurist how a member of a group (dehi) got united with the good or bad consequence (of an act). Did that attribute and qualification get associated with him after his moving to his new position (paraloka) or in the current social world itself? What happened to the awards and indictments if the persons with whose names they were tied gave up their lives (jiva) before they were assigned to a new group or detained in the same cadre? Would they be passed on to his offspring, Yudhishtira wanted to know.
Markandeya said that the first chief of the council of scholars and jurists who outlined the socio-political constitution (brahma) constituted all the living beings (pranis) who were then at the bare subsistence level into social groups (sarira) that were without blemish and treated abiding by the (then) social laws (dharma) as of prime importance. The commoners (manushyas) of ancient times were able to obtain exactly whatever they thought of and were committed to noble pledges and spoke what was true (satya) and were pure and as a result were approved by the constitution (brahma) as eligible to be members of the selfless intellectual aristocracy.
All of them were equal to the cultural aristocrats (devas) and could move freely in the open space (akasa) and return to their base in the commonalty. In other words, they were not barred from entering the realm of the nobles (devas) or that of the other society (akasa, antariksham) though they were but commoners. Markandeya posited that the ancient society was classless and even the dichotomies, nobles (devas) and commoners (manushyas) and core society (comprising these two) of the plains and the frontier society (antariksham) of forests and mountains were not in operation. A commoner could become a noble or move about in the open space (akasa) also.
The commoners (manushyas) could cease to function (to die) as members of specific clans or communities if they so desired or pursue any vocation and way of life they liked. They were free from social control on these matters. They led a life of contentment without sorrows or anxieties or hardships. The commoners of ancient times could directly meet the groups of nobles, the ruling elite (devas) and legislators (maharshis) and knew all the social laws (dharmas) and were submissive to the authorities and were not jealous of others for the privileges that they enjoyed. They led a long life and had several sons (prajas), a sign of prosperity. But later the commoners (manushyas) ceased to be settled communities and were wandering about in the plains (bhutala) and were given to lust and rage, deceit and arrogance, to parasitic life led by greed and ignorance. As a result they ceased to be patronised and protected by the nobles (devas).
Discontent, deviance and decline of the commonalty
Decline of the commonalty was marked by its members committing sins and evil deeds repeatedly and being shunted to social groups other than commoners (manushyas) of the earlier times and to the ghettoes (naraka) meant for fallen free men (naras). They were repeatedly taken to task for their deviant behaviour. Their desires for a comfortable life went unmet and so too their thoughts and knowledge (jnana) were of no avail in restoring them to their earlier positions. They became diffident and too covetous. They became atheists (nastikas) and destroyed the barriers erected by the social laws (dharma). They doubted the sincerity of every counsel and troubled others.
Most members of the commonalty were marked by evil deeds and they were born in undesirable clans. They became victims of disease and wicked persons causing fear to all. The decline led many to die early as frustrated individuals, reaping the seeds of evil sown by them. The future of a living person (jiva) who left his social body (deha) and joined another social world (lokantara) was determined by the results of what he had done while he was in the midst of the (previous) social world (loka).
Effects of deeds done continue in one's new career
Markandeya then offered to explain to Yudhishtira where the results of the deeds of an educated person and of an idiot were kept and where and how such a person would enjoy or suffer those results. According to his doctrine (siddhanta), the commoner (manushya) during the first stage of his membership of a social body that was formed by the charismatic benefactor (Isvara, god in common parlance) amassed the results of his good and bad deeds. At the end of his life he left that body which was mostly weakened and invariably got into another stage of his career (another birth, in common parlance). It is not to be construed that between the two stages he was not a member of any social group. The results of whatever one had done in the early days of his life followed him like a shadow when he entered a new career and would be influencing the latter. He could not have a new career uninfluenced by the previous one.
Hence even during the second stage (when he had migrated from an active life in the midst of the commonalty to the life of a recluse staying in the forest or wandering without home) he was eligible to enjoy the benefits accrued and liable to suffer the adverse consequences. That living person (jiva) was considered by the intellectuals who could through their knowledge notice the symptoms of what he had done, good or bad and had been ordered by the magistrate (Yama, god of death in common parlance) to go to a particular place to suffer those consequences or to a place where he could lead a comfortable life. He would not be able to get rid of these whether enjoyments or sufferings even if he became an ascetic. Markandeya was referring to the early Vedic social polity where Yama was the official who determined rewards for good deeds and awarded penalty for bad ones.
Careers of the learned and the ignorant: jnani; ajnani
The ignorant (ajnani) were not aware that they were helpless in the matter of selecting their new career (rebirth, in common parlance). Then he offered to explain the advantages that the learned (jnani) had. The learned were engaged in strenuous endeavour (tapas) to know the unknown and adhered to all social codes (sastras) and were resolute in staying by their pledges (vrata). They gave primacy to the laws based on truth (satya) and served their teachers and were known for their good conduct. They were bent on getting knowledge (jnana) through their activities (yoga) and were patient and restrained their senses (indriyas).
The chronicler expected a king who was also a sage (a rajarshi) to follow his political counsellor (rajaguru) and control the organs of his state and become an influential (tejas) personage. Such a person entered a new career that was without blemish and as he had restrained his senses (five organs of the state) he was free to determine his course of action (svatantra). The results of the good deeds done by him had made him lead a life without fear and without personal desires and without sorrows.
Training needed for every stage in ones career
Markandeya told Yudhishtira that a ruler who obtained knowledge about the developments around him through the learned (jnana drshti)learnt how he and others leaving their current positions and after a temporary stay in the training camps entered their new careers. (As interpreted during the medieval times, the soul after leaving the present body enters the womb of some woman and then is born again elsewhere.) For every new stage in ones career, one had to undergo fresh training.
Status and role of the Maharshis
Markandeya told Yudhishtira, a prominent personage (sreshta) of the lineage of Bharata that the maharshis who were legislators and had seen how the social and economic codes (sastras) had been formulated joined the social world of executives of the commonalty (karma bhumi). They used their knowledge (jnana) to perform noble deeds (karma) and then rejoined the intellectual aristocracy (svarga). Markandeya visualised the legislators who originally belonged to the elite taking part in the activities of the commonalty by contributing their expertise and returning to the ruling elite composed of cultural aristocrats (devas) and sages.
Three ways for social ascent
Markandeya explained that the commoners obtained certain benefits from the generosity of the nobles (daivam) and some benefits by strenuous and persistent exercise that hatayogis engaged in. Some other benefits they got by their own deeds. Not all were capable of performing hatayoga to secure control over forces of nature and mastering the tough challenging situations. The hatayogis had spurned the comforts that the life of the ruling elite (daivam) offered and were not satisfied with the life of the commoner (manushya) who followed the rules and was satisfied with eking a livelihood.
Comforts in the life of commoners
These were not the only three options available to the commoners for social ascent, Markandeya counselled Yudhishtira. He deemed the comforts of life one had as a member of the social world of the commonalty (manushyaloka) as the best. One may lead a comfortable life at present but may not do so later or one may undergo sufferings now but lead a happy life later. Some may be happy now and also later and some others may not be happy now or later too. After considering all the four possibilities Markandeya had come to the above conclusion.
He told Yudhishtira that the commoners of the villages were wealthy and robust and happy. They would not be so happy if they were admitted to the other social world (paraloka), the nobility, he opined. Markandeya was commenting on the well-organised and well-administered commonalty comprising rich agriculturists, who might not be happy if they were promoted as visvedevas to the nobility, devas.
On the other hand the executives (yogis) and the researchers (tapasvis) who restrained the state organs (senses, indriyas) and who were enthusiastic in helping the living beings at the subsistence level (pranis) and were engaged in studying the Vedas (which dealt with social sciences and cultural history) and were exhausting their physical energy in the above social pursuits might suffer in their present life but would later lead a comfortable life in the social world of nobles, Markandeya said. He implied that a king who encouraged the rich of the commonalty and shared their ways of life would not become eligible for admission to the nobility. But if he led an austere life searching for new ways to help the subaltern out of their poverty he would be admitted to that nobility later though he might not lead a comfortable life in his early career.
Markandeya said that one who gave primacy to dharma and sought wealth through methods prescribed by the dharma codes and got married in order to perform sacrifices (rather than to meet their sex needs) and paid obeisance to the nobility (devas) would lead a comfortable life in his earlier career as an ordinary man (manushya) and also later as a member of the nobility. But the unfortunate fools who did not get educated and who did not engage in strenuous exercise (tapas) to know the unknown and who did not offer aid to others and who did not procreate sons who would discharge the liabilities of their parents and other ancestors, would not gain any benefits in their present career and would not have a place in the nobility later. Thus Markandeya distinguished the four types of persons among the commoners who sought to lead a comfortable life.
Encouraging the Pandavas, Markandeya said that they were all brave and strong and robust and had the might (sakti) of the nobility (devas) behind them and had mastered all skills and had come down from the social world of the nobility (paraloka) to that of the commonalty (bhumi) in order to carry out the objectives (karya) of the nobles (devas) to which they were committed. The chronicler suggested that the Pandavas were born to Pandus wives by officials who had the status of nobles but belonged to the commonalty. They were warriors and had performed strenuous exercise (tapas) to learn new methods and knowledge and had restrained their senses (indriyas, organs of the state).
They upheld the traditional practices (acara) and were by nature constantly on the move and communicating with one another. They would accomplish great tasks and would satisfy the nobles, the sages and the elders (devas, rshis and pitrs) who were not engaged in economic activities. By their deeds (karma) they would in due course attain the social world (svarga) of those who had done meritorious work (punya).
SANATKUMARA AND PRTHU CONSTITUTION
Markandeya's Counsel to the Pandavas
Arishtanemi: Sages and ascetics exempt from scrutiny by Mrtyu
Yudhishtira wanted to know from Markandeya how some Brahmans (scholars-cum-jurists) had become great. The sage told them about an incident where a prince of Haihaya and his men had killed an ascetic by mistake. To know who he was they approached Arishtanemi, a disciple of Kashyapa. When Arishtanemi and others went to the spot where the ascetic had been hit by the arrow cast by the prince they found that the ascetic had got up unharmed. Arishtanemi identified that tapasvi as his son. The Haihaya princes were surprised and asked Arishtanemi how the scholar had come back to life. Arishtanemi told them that the Vedic official, Mrtyu (god of death, in common parlance) was not competent to exercise authority over the sages. [Only the commoners were under the jurisdiction of Mrtyu.]
The ascetics led a pure life and observed celibacy and followed the laws based on truth (satya). They were committed to upholding the provisions of the socio-political constitution, Brahma, and followed the dharma meant for ascetics, those in the fourth stage of life. They were not afraid of Mrtyu as they had immunity granted by that constitution, Brahma. The ascetics like Arishtanemi told the scholars and jurists what was best for them and extolled their good conduct. The ascetics stationed in their forest abodes entertained their guests with food and drink and their dependents with plenty of food and then ate what remained. Hence, they were not afraid of being taken to task by the official, Mrtyu, for acts of omission and commission.
They had peace of mind and restrained their senses and by nature they were patient and tolerant. They visited various centres of culture and education and were generous to all. They lived in countries where the people were known for noble deeds (punya). Hence they were not afraid of Mrtyu. They resided beside the siddhas who had become perfect by following the rules of action (yoga). This proximity helped to live without fear of Mrtyu. Arishtanemi asked the princes not to be jealous of the fearlessness of the austere ascetics.
Sages on Prthu Constitution
Markandeya asked Yudhishtira to learn from him further about the influence of the Brahmans. He was not dealing with those who were born to Brahman parents or with those who officiated as priests at religious rites or were mere school teachers. He described to the Pandava the career of Prthu, who succeeded the much disliked ruler, Vena. Prthu like the king of Anga (who was overthrown by his son, Vena) followed the Rajarshi constitution by which the king himself a scholar would be guided by the state political counsellor, Rajapurohita, who was an expert in the socio-political constitution, Brahma. Prthu had got initiated to perform the sacrifice (yajna) called asvamedha where his acquisitions through conquests and fresh enterprises would be sanctified.
Markandeya referred to the rumour that the legislator (maharshi, great sage), Atri, approached Prthu for wealth. (He however did not agree with that interpretation.) Atri, a highly talented scholar, had given up all his wealth (artha) as he was pursuing the path of dharma and preferred to stay in his forest abode. He had asked his wife and sons too to accompany him as he opted for vanaprastha as he proceeded on his mission to obtain the endless benefits of salvation (moksha) which were more than what wealth (artha) could offer and which unlike wealth would never diminish.
But Atri's wife who preferred wealth (artha) did not agree with him and asked him to approach the Rajarshi who she was sure would give him the wealth he sought. After distributing that wealth among his dependents and sons he might go wherever he wanted. She was pointing out the rule that one should resort to the forest (vanaprastha) only after carrying out his duties as the head of a household (grhastha). This was the best legal procedure and duty (dharma), according to those who knew the social laws (dharma).
Atri replied that the great sage, Gautama, had told him that Vainya Prthu followed both the codes, socio-cultural and politico-economic (dharma and artha), and was committed to the laws based on truth (satya). When Prthu ruled, the puritanical laws of the later Vedic period based on truth (satya) had not yet been replaced by the more considerate and more pragmatic laws based on dharma. Atri did not try to approach Prthu for gifts and assistance because in his court there resided some Brahmans who were inimical to the former. They would dispute his stand that one should have followed all the three values of life, dharma, artha and kama (before seeking salvation, moksha) and treat his words as meaningless (that is, as underestimating the importance of wealth, artha). Still he agreed to call on the king as his wife was equally learned and he agreed with her views.
Disputation between Atri and Gautama on Prthus powers
Atri attended the asvamedha yajna and extolling the king said that no other king of the agro-pastoral commonalty (bhumi) knew the social laws, dharma, as well as Prthu did. Gautama, a great sage and tapasvi, cut him short with the declaration that Mahendra was to be considered as the greatest ruler in the social world (loka) of commoners and as the protector of the subjects (prajas) of the enlarged commonalty. Atri contended that Prthu was an emperor (chakravarti, head of the confederation of states) and had a status and role equal to that of Indra as a protector of the subjects. He said that it was Gautama who was confused in thought and was not clear in his knowledge.
Gautama refuted the stand that Atri had taken and accused him of extolling the king in the assembly of the native people (jana) to attract the kings attention and that Atri did not know the highest dharma and spoke like a child. Gautama implied that a king might have influence over the native population of his country but did not have the means and strength and authority to protect the natives as well as the newly inducted subjects (prajas). The disputation between the two sages who occupied the front seats in that hall made the other members of the gathering wonder why the two quarrelling scholars were admitted to the hall and what they were debating on.
Then Kashyapa introduced his colleagues to the audience. [The council of seven sages convened by Manu Vaivasvata was headed by Kashyapa and had Atri, Gautama, Vasishta, Visvamitra, Bharadvaja and Jamadagni as its other members.] Gautama explained to them, especially to the scholars assembled there, that according to Atri, the king, Vainya Prthu, was a ruler who issued orders to others, that is, was the supreme dictating others and that the former disputed it.
Sanatkumara interprets Prthu Constitution
The scholars and ascetics then approached the sage, Sanatkumara, who knew all the social laws (dharma) requesting him to explain what the position was according to the constitution. Atri had implied that the king alone had the authority to direct the commoners and the sages while Indra might have authority to do so with respect to the nobles. Did the constitution accepted by Prthu envisage such a diarchy or did it make the king (rajan) subordinate to Indra, the head of the nobility? In the Rgvedic constitution, the king had to seek funds from the nobility for his enterprises and could not preside over the sabha (assembly of nobles) or the samiti (council of scholars). They were presided over by Indra and Agni respectively.
Sanatkumara had the status of Brahma, the chief interpreter of the socio-political constitution. Even the nobles had to acknowledge the authority of Brahma. After ascertaining what Atri had actually said, he told the audience that the influence (tejas) of the jurists (Brahmans) along with that of the administrators-cum-warriors (Kshatriyas) who constituted the executive destroyed the enemies even as fire and wind together burnt down the forests. It was not wise to debate on which wing of the state, judiciary or executive was superior to the other.
The king had attained fame and instituted dharma and was chief of the subjects (prajas) of the larger commonalty and was rakshaka, the person expected to protect the people and he alone knew the political policy (niti) to be adopted. He was janaka, the head of the native people and counselled them on what was in their interests. Sanatkumara implied that Prthu did not behave like a dictator or a director and was but a counsellor voicing the views and protecting the interests of the native population (jana). Prthu constitution was modelled on the Janaka constitution which required that the king should function as a Rajarshi and not as an authoritarian ruler.
As the ruler of the larger and integrated commonalty which comprised, the jana of the plains, the itara jana of the forest society and the punya jana, the sages and ascetics, the king was prajapati, the chief of the prajas comprising all these sections who had agreed to be under his protection and pay taxes for that purpose. Sanatkumara was pointing out the powers and duties of the king as specified in the Prthu constitution after the overthrow of Vena. He was described as Virat, the head of the federal social polity which accepted all the eight large sectors of the society (as described by Kashyapa).
Prthu was also a samrat, interpreting and enforcing common social laws, dharma, over all the states and areas that had accepted his suzerainty. Prthu was an agriculturist before he was made king. Sanatkumara explained that with Prthu becoming a ruler he had to be assigned to the class of Kshatriyas.
With respect to bhumi, the social world of commoners engaged in agriculture and pasture, he had the status of a noble (deva) and hence had certain immunities. He alone had the responsibility to protect the commoners. Sanatkumara rejected the suggestion that Prthu as king had to share his duties and powers with respect to the commonalty (manushyas) with Indra who had exclusive control over the nobility (devas). One who was extolled as above deserved to be praised by every one including scholars, sages, ascetics and nobles, Sanatkumara declared. Atri was justified in extolling Prthu, he implied.
As the king carried out the duties prescribed in the socio-cultural code (dharma) his directives were the first cause (karana) that initiated the activities of the people. As he got victory in battles he was treated as one who removed the sufferings of the people. The king was permitted to launch ventures in every direction for the benefits (kshema) of the native population (jana) of his country. The Prthu constitution did not debar him from going on conquests.
This constitution granted him the status of a charismatic benefactor (Isvara) of the people of the social periphery and as one who enabled all the subjects of his enlarged state to rise to the level of the aristocracy. It also envisaged that the king would not be required to enter the actual battle-field and his march against the enemy was enough, to make the latter surrender and accept the king as conqueror. Sanatkumara was explaining the concept of dharmavijayi, a status permitted by the Prthu constitution. That constitution noted that Prthu was a follower of Vishnu. [Elsewhere he was treated as a noble belonging to the group of Haris who belonged to the dark horizon.]
This constitution deemed the head of the state as the source of the laws based on truth (satya), that is, as one who implemented the later Vedic puritanical laws based on truth. It expected him to be aware of the ancient social laws, dharmas, of the clans (kulas) and communities (jatis) [and ensure that they were honoured]. It required him to administer the country on the basis of the puritanical and rigorous laws based on truth (satya) and the new liberal social laws, dharma, based on consensus.
Sanatkumara explained that the sages (rshis) were afraid of the hold that adharma might secure in the absence of coercive power of the state and instituted the might (bala) of the state under the king, that is, made him the head of the army. As a result the influence (tejas) of the judiciary (brahma) and the influence of the army (and administration) (Kshatriya) supported each other, he pointed out. It was not proper to interpret that the judiciary that upheld dharma was subordinate to the king.
Sanatkumara explained that even as the Vedic official, Surya, who belonged to the nobility (devas) removed the ignorance of the scattered people of the open space (akasa) who were not part of the nobility, the king who had a status above that of the commoners of the plains (bhumi) removed all the adharma (doers of illegal activities) from among their midst. Hence according to the authority (pramana) depended on by the codes (sastras), the king was the chief of the predominantly rural state, Sanatkumara pointed out. The case of Atri who asserted that the king deserved praise was established as a doctrine (siddhanta), he said. This was in accordance with the socio-cultural code (dharma) as well as the politico-economic code (artha) he replied to the question that the scholars put to him.
Prthu welcomed the success of the point of view of Atri and the approval given to his claim that the king according to the Prthu constitution was the best among the commoners (manushyas) and was equal to the nobles (devas) and was a sreshta (a respectable status that a rich member of the commonalty as well as a plutocrat of the frontier society had).
Sanatkumara who was the socio-political guide and head of the constitution bench defended the stand taken by Atri and Kashyapa, the chief of the council of seven sages under Manu Vaivasvata that the king need not be a kshatriya by profession or a rajanya, born in a royal family. He might be an aristocrat or a commoner-agriculturist or a rich plutocrat. He had jurisdiction over all the sections of the commonalty. Prthu thanked the Brahmarshi, a sage who expounded the constitution for declaring so in the assembly of the people and sages and offered him huge wealth and servants to attend on him.
MARKANDEYA COUNSELS THE PANDAVAS
Sarasvati on the duties of the intellectual
Markandeya narrated to the Pandavas the conversation between Tarkshya, a sage of the later Vedic times and Sarasvati, the head of the academy of scholars of the Sarasvati basin. That sage wanted to know what was good for the commoner (manushya) and performance of which activity ensured that one did not deviate from his svadharma, the duty that he had opted for on the basis of his personal aptitude (svabhava). When should he pay homage to Agni (the Vedic official who represented the commonalty, manushyas, and the scholars of the core society of the plains and also functioned as the civil judge) and in what manner?
Tarkshya also wanted to know what would ensure that dharma would never wane. He was a scout, charana, belonging to the class of gandharvas and was eligible to move about in all the social worlds but his freedom was being hampered by his aggressiveness (rajas). He wanted to know from the teacher, Sarasvati, how he could overcome that aggressiveness without losing the dynamism required to move amongst all peoples.
The teacher said that studying and teaching of Vedas was the first of the duties prescribed that had to be performed to enable one to enter the cultural aristocracy (devaloka) and to be personally waited on as a social leader of the class of blessed peoples (punya purusha) by an apsaras. This class, punyajana, comprised several cadres of the free intelligentsia like gandharvas, apsarases, siddhas, tapasvis, vidyadharas and charanas. Next in importance was the duty to offer gifts like cows, bulls, gold, cloth, utensils and virgins. These enabled the donor to gain a place in the cadre of administrators (surya loka) or the class of bourgeoisie and landed gentry (vasu loka) or the class of aristocrats (Indra loka).
Sarasvati told Tarkshya that a commoner who constantly paid homage to Agni by his deeds (karma) exonerated his predecessors as well as successors from offences caused by their acts of omission and commission. Sarasvati, the head of the early Vedic academy, was explaining how the duties (dharma) prescribed enabled one to rise in social ladder and protected him and his clan from being hauled up by the civil judge for offences against the social laws. The scholar wanted to know from her the methods followed by the ancients while paying obeisance to and appealing to the Vedic official, Agni. He wished to follow the earlier practices that had later been diluted resulting in Agni losing his importance as the authority controlling the commonalty (manushyas) and being replaced in several areas by Brhaspati, the civil administrator and exponent of economic activities.
Sarasvati who upheld the traditional and ancient system was against impure persons whose hands were not clean and who did not know the contents of the Vedas or even after knowing their implications did not follow their directives approaching the official in charge of sacrifice (agni) to convey their offerings to the nobles (devas). She warned that the nobles who desired to know the minds of others, that is, the purposes that they had while making those offerings and who were for purity did not approve of acts that lacked sincerity and dedication (sraddha). It was wrong to appoint as official and intermediary between the nobles and the commoners any one before knowing his character (sila) and descent (gotra) that is, to which school of teachers he belonged.
Sarasvati objected to appointing one, who had not studied the Vedas as an official (rtvik) for offering homage in the sacrificial pit to the devatas, that is, to the liberal chiefs of the frontier society who had a status almost equal to the nobles (devas) of the agro-pastoral society. An official who had not studied the Vedas was one whose clan and conduct were not approved. He was not eligible to be appointed as an official conducting the legal proceedings for getting certain acts sanctified (agnihotra), as a priest for offering homage to the nobles through and in the presence of Agni. Only one who was dedicated to his duties as a priest and who had taken the pledge of truth was eligible to be appointed as an official of the civil judiciary represented by Agni or become the host paying his tributes to the nobles (devas).
The host and his priest might accept as their share (of food) what remained after making the offerings to the nobles through Agni. Such hosts and their priests were eligible to be admitted to the social world of protectors of cattle (goloka). These appellants after proving their sincerity could approach Brahmadeva, the head of the constitution bench for approval that they had acted in accordance with Brahma, the socio-cultural constitution of the Vedic times, Sarasvati explained. Sarasvati was drawing attention to who could be elevated to the highest judiciary. [Brahmam may not be interpreted as being equivalent to God or to knowledge in general. In later days, Sarasvati has been presented as goddess of knowledge and as the consort of Brahma, one of the trinity, with four heads representing the four Vedas.]
Tarkshya, a wrangler who could destroy the standpoints of his adversary in any debate knew that Sarasvati, the head of the academy that dealt with jurisprudence, was an intellectual who in the form of a lady of the aristocracy spoke out the expectations and approach of the nobility as a whole. The expression, paramatma svarupi, needs to be presented in a rational manner. Sarasvati had attained high level of intellect (buddhi) on the issue of how the individual (atma) standing apart from his social group and accepting the approach of the nobility could flourish. She also knew which act (karma) of a person led to what result.
Tarkshya praised Sarasvati as jnanasvarupi (knowledge incarnate) and as one who knew the principle of an individual functioning independent of his social group (atma tattva) and of a person carrying out the duties assigned to him by his group (karma tattva) and who could shed light on them. Tarkshya wanted to know who she was, whether she was a commoner (engaged in the duties assigned to him or her by his or her group) or a member of the cultural aristocracy or a member of the intellectual aristocracy.
Sarasvati replied that she had emerged from the proceedings of the civil judiciary (Agnihotra) presided over by the Vedic official, Agni in order to remove the doubts of the respected Brahman scholars (of the frontier society). She had come near Tarkshya in whose mind she was and explained to him the implications of those proceedings. He extolled her as one whose form was like that of a person associated with the nobility (deva). Sarasvati had hinted that she was not associated with either the nobility or the commonalty.
She praised Tarkshya as a leading commoner (manushya) and intellectual (Brahman) and said that she was satisfied when she was reared by well-pronounced formulae (mantras). The form and status of a noble and the awareness (prajna) of that status had been obtained by her as in the judicial proceedings (agnihotra) only vessels made of wood or iron or clay were used. It would appear that Sarasvati claimed that she had risen from humble beginnings and was not a born aristocrat accustomed to wealth (gold and silver vessels). She might belong to the agrarian commonalty (bhumi, earth and clay) or to the forests (wood) or to the industrial sector (iron). Agni had authority over all these three sectors of the commonalty.
Tarkshya told Sarasvati that famous ascetics adopted this method as advantageous and tried to rise to the highest level from their humble beginnings. The intellectuals attained freedom from worldly ties, moksha, the highest level free from all sorrow. He did not know that ancient status which the scholars who upheld samkhya dialectics and followed the methods recommended by the science of systematic effort (yoga) considered to be the best of all knowledge. Tarkshya requested Sarasvati to acquaint him with the method of achieving liberation (moksha) through both knowledge (samkhya) and work (yoga).
Sarasvati explained to him that the highest level was attained by the pious social leaders (satpurushas) who had studied the Vedas and who had strenuous endeavour to obtain knowledge of the unknown, tapas, as the wealth (artha) that they had gained. They were free from sorrows and from bondages to their families and clans (samsara). That status was superior to the one attainable by study of Vedas, offering gifts, observing austerities (vrata), good and noble (punya) deeds, systematic work (yoga) and valuable objects.
According to the ancient scheme this place was the origin of all great rivers. It was where the nobles (devas) performed sacrifices along with Indra and the cadres of Maruts under the supervision of Agni (the civil judge). [Sarasvati flowed through the semi-desert land (Maru).] Tarkshya implied that the abode of Brahma, the chief interpreter of the constitution, was the spot that Sarasvati recommended as the one to be reached.
MARKANDEYA ON MANU VAIVASVATA
Then at Yudhishtiras request, Markandeya narrated the biography of Manu Vaivasvata. This Manu was said to be the son of Vivasvan (Surya) and to be equal to Brahmadeva (the head of the constitution bench) in influence. He was a legislator (maharshi, great sage) before he became Manu. By his valour (sourya) and influence (tejas) and charisma (kanti) and by his strenuous effort (tapas) to know the unknown he became superior to his father, Vivasvan and to his grandfather, Brahma. Manu Vaivasvata acquired a status superior to those of Prajapati (chief of the people) and Brahma (chief of the constitution bench of the highest judiciary).
When he was a king he performed tapas standing in the waters of Visala (at Badari) for many years. Once when he was performing tapas on the banks of Sirini, (an overflowing branch of a river at its estuary) a small fish was said to have accosted him and told him how he was afraid of the bigger fish. Markandeya must have meant that a fisherman living on his small catches must have complained about those who had large catches. While appealing to the king to save him from the fishermen with larger catches he said that the stronger (fish) lived on the weak (fish).
The fishermen could not abandon their permanent vocation and means of livelihood. The small fisherman was in danger of being drowned in the flood. On behalf of his group of small and weak fishermen he promised to help the king in return for the protection that he would give them against the stronger and larger ones. The weaker sections of the population prayed to the king to protect them against the powerful ones and promised him support in return. According to the legend the king who later became Manu Vaivasvata took under his care a small fish which in due course grew large and the pot where it was kept became too small for it. He left in a pond which too in due course proved to be too small for the gigantic fish. It had to be left in the big river, Ganga, and then in the sea.
The legend says that it warned the king of the impending flood (to be precise, revolution, pralaya) that would wash away all the social worlds. He was asked to get ready a boat and get into it along with seven sages with all seeds. The matsya (whale?) would come in the form of a horned fish and tow the boat across the roaring waters of the sea. According to the legend it took him to the Himalayas which were safe from the floods of the sea. It introduced itself to the sages and the king as Brahma and Prajapati, the chief of the people.
Brahma declared that Manu Vaivasvata was entitled to constitute the cadres of liberal nobles (devas) and feudal lords (asuras) and commoners (manushyas) and declare who would be entitled to be treated as subjects (prajas) of the expanded social polity and also all the social worlds and settled populations (cara) and mobile groups (acara). According to Markandeya, Manu Vaivasvata introduced the concept of prajas and declared who would be eligible for the status of prajas. Legends and myths have to be interpreted in a rational manner without being carried away by stereotypes. Manu Vaivasvata advocated the policy of the state protecting the weak against the mighty and extending the eligibility for protection to all those who consented to be the subjects (prajas) of the king and pay the prescribed taxes.
Total Revolution and Manu Vaivasvata
Manu Vaivasvata was the product of a total revolution (pralaya, deluge) that overcame the larger society. He was required to bring to an end the social system by which the stronger sections of the population lived on the weaker and the weaker sections had been given freedom to emerge stronger and similarly exploit those who were lower than them in the socio-economic ladder. He was asked to explore the possibility of creating a larger commonalty and establishing a contractual state where all those who agreed to be its subjects and paid taxes became eligible for protection by the state. However, he would not remove the two sectors of the ruling elite, the liberal nobles (devas) and the feudal order (asuras).
Yudhishtira wanted to know from Markandeya how the social order went through different stages of a major social change. Markandeya who moved in the third social world (antariksham), the frontier society of the forests and mountains had none equal to him except Brahmadeva who was the head of the judiciary (satyaloka) that was committed to the laws based on truth. The nobles (devas) and the feudal lords (asuras) had no influence over the third social world (antariksham), the industrial frontier society of forests and mountains. This legislator had approached Brahma for constitutional immunity to him and for raising him to the permanent constitutional bench.
Yudhishtira drawing the attention of Markandeya to this aspect pointed out to the Brahmarshi that the latter, at the end of that social revolution by which the weak became stronger than the mighty with the protection of the state, had also noticed the formation in the social world of commonalty, four classes of living beings (pranis). Brahma, who interpreted the constitution, brought the provinces (in the different directions) under the jurisdiction of the Vedic official, Vayu. Littoral regions (apa) were excluded from the ambit of this social reorganisation.
Yudhishtira was referring to the application of the scheme of four classes (varnas) to the commonalty of the plains. Markandeya was the only witness to this social reorganisation effected by the incumbent to the position of Brahma, the head of the constituent assembly convened when the laws based on satya were pronounced and right became might and might was no longer right. Markandeya had accepted that Brahma was his teacher in the matter of study of the constitution, Brahma.
Yudhishtira referred to how Markandeya had witnessed the periodical restructuring of the social order by successive incumbents to the position of Brahma, the head of the body of jurists who implemented the socio-political constitution of the larger society. Markandeya had been a member of that body and by his strenuous effort (tapas) had scored over the Brahmas, heads of that body and made them accept his views on several occasions. Yudhishtira noted that the sage was known to be a devotee of and close to Narayana, a member of the elite (paraloka). The chronicler claimed that Markandeya who was endowed with determined detachment (vairagya) and training (abhyasa) by his special skill in yoga (creative activity) had seen Brahma in the act of reorganisation of the society. Rationalism requires that Brahma is not presented as the God of Creation and as the determiner off the destinies of different individuals, cadres and species
As a result of Brahmas favour Markandeya, a Brahmarshi, was kept out of the jurisdiction of Yama (god of death, in common parlance) (who could assess the works of a commoner and pronounce when he should die). Markandeya had been allowed to always remain a young scholar (kumara-brahmachari) and not get aged, that is, not be required to go through the last three stages of life. His mission would be completed when a mass society without social differentiation marked by distinct sectors, administrators and warriors, intelligentsia of the plains, intelligentsia of the forests and mountains, free intelligentsia-cum-warriors who were not confined to either of the two societies, dispersed population of the open space and agro-pastoral commonalty represented by the officials designated as, surya, agni, soma, vayu, akasa and prthvi was established as a result of the massive social change initiated by the deluge (pralaya).
The formation of an undifferentiated mass society was expected to bridge the gap between the settled communities (sthavara) and the mobile groups (jangama) (that is, between lokas and jagats) and result in the disappearance of the sections of the ruling elite like liberal nobles (devas), feudal lords (asuras) and great technocrats (maha uragas). Yudhishtira seems to have taken into account the merger of the plutocrats (yakshas) in the aristocracy.
At that stage only Markandeya would approach Brahma, the chief of all living beings (pranis) at the subsistence level and head of the constitution bench to ensure that the new classless society did not undermine the values cherished till then by recreating the social atmosphere of intense struggle for existence and survival of the fittest that prevailed during the early Vedic times and which Markandeya had noticed personally. Yudhishtira wanted to hear from him an authentic report on these developments for that sage knew all the developments in the different social worlds (lokas).
Markandeya began his narration after saluting Krshna who had come to visit the Pandavas. The later chroniclers had adopted the stand that Krshna was an incarnation of god who had neither birth nor death and who knew all events, present, past and future, and was considerate and benevolent, and had no traits other than sattva, gentleness and who was both creator and destroyer.
Markandeya drew attention to Krshna's role as Bhagavan, head of the academy, who exhibited himself as Visvarupa. The head and the feet of this gigantic figure representing the entire macro-society (visva) comprising all the social worlds (lokas) could not be seen by anyone. Krshna was the creator of that large society and was not its creation. According to Markandeya, Krshna was a thinker who induced the commoners (manushyas) to do the duties assigned to them and the vocations opted for by them and not to depend on the elite (devas) for aid. [It is not sound to interpret the term, devas as gods.] According to Markandeya not even the nobles (devas) knew all the talents of that great social leader (purusha), Krshna.
Markandeya's description of duration of the four epochs
Addressing Yudhishtira as a respectable (sreshta) king (raja) and as a dynamic social leader (purusha), Markandeya said that the total reorganisation that Brahma of the earlier times introduced when all the social worlds (lokas) faced ruin, was a remarkable one. According to his scheme krtayuga, the first of the four epochs lasted four thousand years. The preceding four hundred years were known as the formative years when the orientations characteristic of that epoch gained definiteness. During the succeeding four hundred years it lost its identity slowly with the traits and orientations of the second epoch, treta yuga, setting in.
This epoch lasted three thousand years with three hundred years of formative period preceding it and three hundred succeeding years of shedding identity through admixture. The third epoch, dvapara yuga, lasted two thousand years with two hundred preceding years of formative period and two hundred succeeding years when it would lose its distinguishing traits through admixture.
The chronicler however did not dwell on the distinct features of these three epochs. However it might be noticed that he considered that growth of civilisation was a slow process while its decline was rapid. The fourth epoch, kali yuga, would last one thousand years, with one hundred years required for formation of its traits and one hundred more for that epoch to vanish completely and the krtayuga making its appearance again and the cycle continued. The four epochs thus lasted twelve thousand years, according to the chronicler.
Markandeya's account of social disorganisation
The chronicler explained that according to scholars who knew what had happened in the past (jnanis), Brahma was not alert and awake when the major disorganisation (pralaya) of the macro-society took place. In the opinion of Markandeya when the kali yuga was about to end most of the men (manushyas, commoners) would have become liars. That is, the laws based on truth, satya, would have lost their force. The yajnas performed and the gifts offered and the pledges taken would all reflect lack of honesty and sincerity.
Markandeya predicted that by the end of the fourth epoch, kali yuga, the scheme of socio-economic classes (varnas) would have failed with the Shudras who were expected to be workers seeking wealth (artha) by resorting to the vocations of Kshatriyas as administrators and soldiers and controlling the state while the intellectuals, Brahmans, would have been constrained to eke their livelihood through physical labour as Shudras. He visualised the virtual extinguishing of the class of intellectuals and the existing class of workers (proletariat) capturing political power in its pursuit for wealth.
The Brahmans were required to perform sacrifices and officiate at sacrifices (yajnas) performed by the rich. They would give up these functions and also that of studying Vedas. They would be eased out of their roles as jurists implementing the provisions of dandaniti. They had been required to spend their later life in the forests wearing deer skin. This stage of life would cease to be gone through by them. They would not observe diet restrictions, as social decline set in.
While the Brahmans (scholars) would lose importance as political counsellors (mantra), the erstwhile workers, Shudras, would occupy those positions. The Shudras would consider acquiring this position as their main goal. According to Markandeya this change in and reversing of duties, statuses and powers might be viewed as a sign of the impending doom, total collapse of the social order and civilisation. The plains (bhumi) would come under the rule of exploitative and cruel foreign (mleccha) kings who would not adhere to the laws based on truth (satya). Addressing Yudhishtira as the best of the commoners (manushyas) and thereby cautioning him against this lurking danger, the chronicler referred to Andhras, Sakas, Pulindas, Yavanas and Kambhojas, Bahlikas and Abhiras as some of the groups that threatened to take over power from the traditional warrior groups.
The term, mlecchas, was used to indicate those peoples who were outside the areas which had been brought under Aryavarta. The civilian population of the areas south of the Himalayas and north of the Vindhyas covering the Sindhu and Ganga basins and the areas in between them had taken the vow to abide by the laws based on truth (satya) and to remain unarmed and not to resort to violence. This population was later brought under the scheme of four classes (varnas). The mlecchas were not covered by this scheme or by the laws based on truth and non-violence. [First the Vaisyas and then Brahmans and Kshatriyas and later Shudras too became eligible to have personal property as Aryas.]
As such groups came to power no Brahman would be able to earn his livelihood by a vocation permitted for him. Not only Brahmans, but Kshatriyas and Vaisyas would be forced to resort to vocations not prescribed for them. They would become weak and would give up their adherence to laws based on truth (satya). Most of the agrarian countries would be deserted and the provinces in the different directions would be inhabited by animals and beings living on meat, it was feared.
As the end of that epoch approached those persons, Brahmavadis, who claimed to be proponents of the constitution, would be so only in name. The spirit of the constitution would have been lost sight of. The earlier ways of addressing those of higher ranks with respect would cease and the intellectuals would have to be submissive while addressing members of the lower classes. The impending social revolution would be characterised by reversal of roles and statuses, the chronicler warned.
Markandeya was drawing a bleak picture of the times ahead. He feared that women would be given to lack of restraint in sex resulting in their giving birth to several children. While earlier the countries were self-sufficient and food was free for all, in the new economic order, they would be selling food, a despicable act and so too the scholars (Brahmans) would be selling their knowledge and women their bodies, he feared.
He feared that the pastoral economy would decline with the cows yielding little milk and that the orchards would cease to yield good crop of fruits. The scholars (Brahmans) would become guilty of speaking ill of the impartial judges (offence of Brahmahati) and would cease to assert their freedom of speech and action and would become servants of the states headed by rulers who did not follow the laws based on truth and were given to lying. Markandeya feared that poverty would force the alms-seeking scholars (Brahmans) to pester the native population (jana) of the agro-pastoral plains who were greedy and ignorant and followed irreligious and dishonest rituals only for personal fame. The householders (grhasthas) would be harassed and terrorised by high incidence of taxes. Thieves would increase and traders would flourish under the guise of ascetics.
The students would be staying in their residential schools only out of greed for the economic benefits they gave. Their conduct would be despicable and they would be tempted to entice the wives of their teachers. They would be given to drinking. The peoples (jana) would like to have food and drink that would improve their physique, flesh and blood, and would be useful only for their current life. They would not be enthusiastic about activities (karya) that would elevate their calibre and social status. They would be atheists (nastikas) and many of them would be associated with heretics (pashandas) lauding the traits of the food given by others.
Markandeya predicted that by the end of the fourth epoch, kali yuga, the scheme of four stages of life (asramas) would have vanished. The elite headed by Indra would have ceased to favour the people with grants needed for every season, a practice that had emerged when the laws based on Rta (the scheme of rights under natural laws) were in force. The crops would fail for want of water. Everywhere the fruits of noble and generous deeds (dharma) would be found to be decreasing. At the same time the native peoples (janas) would be found to be eager to resort to violence and would be guilty of violation of the rules of purity. As a result of adharma sorrows would increase, Markandeya warned Yudhishtira, addressing him as a respected senior king (rajasreshta).
Addressing him as a protector of the agro-pastoral commonalty (bhumi), he cautioned Yudhishtira that under the changed system of values a commoner (manushya) who did noble deeds of generosity (dharma) would be deemed to be but one having a brief life ahead of him. During the last stage of the kali epoch, there would be no noble deeds (dharma) and people (jana) would cheat on weights and measures while selling the goods that were permitted to be sold. While the king (rajan) stayed in his capital the agro-pastoral areas were under bhumipati or prthvipati. The latter would have to be alert against the fraud committed by the landlords.
The rural administration was under the chief of the free men (naras) who manned the rural bureaucracy. Markandeya asked that chief (nara sreshta) to be aware that most of the traders resorted to deceit. Those who followed the social laws, dharma, became less and the native peoples (jana) who committed serious crimes increased in number. Dharma would become weak and adharma would become strong as a result, he warned. By the end of that epoch, the commoners who followed dharma would become poor and die early while those who no longer adhered to dharma would become rich and live longer.
When the epoch was on the wane, the subjects (prajas, citizens of the expanded social polity) would abandon the path of dharma (settling disputes on the basis of truth, satya) and in public forums in the towns they would argue their cases through methods that were against the principles of dharma. Markandeya implied that in the villages, dharma could survive as there were witnesses who could not be manipulated. But the cover of anonymity that towns provided led to success of adharma.
You can use this area to showcase additional text or photos. Try to reinforce the message on the rest of this page, or simply ask your visitors to contact you, as in the sample below.
Still have questions? Please contact us anytime! We look forward to hearing from you.
Hint: Be sure to include a link to your contact page!