UTANKA AND TAKSHAKA
We notice hidden in the eulogy of this epic a comment that it refers to aristocrats (devas), intellectuals among them (devarshis), Brahmarshis noted for their chastity, plutocrats (yakshas) and technocrats (nagas). All of them were members of the new integrated assembly of aristocracy that was glad that Dhrtarashtra and his sons had failed in their vicious plan. The inclusion of the yakshas and the nagas in this aristocracy of Hastinapura indicates that it had a rich economy based on technology and utilisation of forest resources.
It was governed from Indraprastha by the Pandavas leaving King Dhrtarashtra in charge only of the traditional agrarian economy of the core society. Dhrtarashtra, himself a naga, had failed to gauge the enormity of the error that he committed in allowing the industrial economy to slip away from the control of the central authority. Economic and social integration that the nation-states created by Yayati cherished was weakened thereby. The revolt of the industrial workers, sarpas, against Parikshit was an offshoot of this failure.
The chronicler told the sages of the forest that the field where the battle between the Kaurava army and the Pandava army took place was called samanta-panchaka, a field with five ponds. They were filled with the blood of the Kshatriya warriors even as the samanta-panchaka, was filled with the blood of the Haihayas whom enraged Parasurama had killed. The chronicler recalled how Parasurama who repeatedly slew the Kshatriya communities ruled the agro-pastoral lands (prthvi) of the commoners. He avoids giving the impression that it was a conflict between Brahmans and Kshatriyas.
Parasurama did later regret his deeds and requested the elder members of his family, pitrs, to guide him to get free from the sin of having exterminated the Kshatriyas. It was a period of transition from one social order, which envisaged Kshatriya communities as ones engaged in protection of the people to one which envisaged them as rulers vested with coercive power over the commoners (vis, manushyas comprising both owners of property, vaisyas and propertyless workers, shudras). They were not sovereigns and would have no control over the Brahmans.
The new order recommended by Parasurama permitted the Kshatriya rulers to settle their personal rivalries through duels without involving the commonalty (prthvi). The battle of Kurukshetra too marked a transition from the order that subordinated only the commonalty to the provisions of the socio-economic code, dharma to a new one that while banning war as a means by which Kshatriya communities settled their dispute subordinated them too to the provisions of this code. Parasurama was alive even when this battle took place but did not help any of its actors.
The second chapter of the chronicle states that Bhishma led the Kaurava army for the first ten days and Drona for the next five days and Karna for the next two days. Salya was the leader on the last day. After he fell, Krpa and Krtavarma and Asvattama are reported to have killed the Pandava generals while they were resting. This allegation cannot be upheld. It should have been a later unauthorised interpolation. All the three along with Parasurama and Badarayana were taken on the council of seven sages during the tenure of Manu Surya Savarni, a contemporary of Parikshit.
What was narrated to Saunaka and the sages of the Naimisha forest was claimed to be what Vaishampayana, a disciple of Dvaipayana (Badarayana) had narrated to Janamejaya during the sarpayajna. The work was arranged in one hundred chapters and eighteen sections. The first section, Adiparva, covers the years that preceded the establishment of the second capital at Indraprastha with the Pandavas in charge.
The second chapter of this section introduces the reader to what each of the chapters and sections proposes to deal with. While Vyasa (Dvaipayana) personally narrated all the one hundred chapters, they were arranged in sections and proclaimed in the Naimisha forest by the chronicler who was a son of Romaharshana. The second chapter also presents a summary and theme of each of the remaining eighteen chapters included in the first section.
The third chapter, Paushyaparva describes the greatness of the sage, Utanka. The fourth, Paulomaparva deals with the greatness of the lineage of the sage, Bhrgu. The fifth chapter, Astikaparva deals with the sarpayajna (sacrifice of serpents, in common parlance) performed by Janamejaya and what was narrated to him about Bharata and other rulers who were his predecessors.
Janamejaya and his three brothers were performing a long satra-yajna at Kurukshetra when the latter beat and chased away a dog though it had not polluted the sacrifice. It complained to its mother, Sarama, who guarded the areas of the nobles. She told them that they would have to soon face an unexpected danger. Janamejaya who had earlier been a governor of Takshasila and had succeeded Parikshit to the throne of Hastinapura felt disturbed and went to his capital to search for a priest who would free him from his sin. He wanted to engage the services of a priest whose father was a noted sage and whose mother was a naga. This priest could chase away all paisacas and bhutas except those who were deputed by Mahadeva to punish the deflectors.
It is not rational to translate the terms nagas and sarpas as serpents. They were talented technocrats and industrial workers who operated the mines. Paisacas were members of the counter-intelligentsia who were pushed into the forests and the social periphery and the bhutas were the discrete individuals of these areas and they were not members of any social or economic group.
Most of them were under the protection of the famous socio-political leader and ideologue, Mahadeva. [Rationalism requires that Narayana, Mahadeva, Vishnu, Samkara, Vamana, Krshna, Samkarshana, Subrahmanya, Parasurama and Rama are recognised as eminent socio-political ideologues and activists of the final decades of the long Vedic era. They were deified only long after their times.] Janamejaya took advantage of the services of that priest who would surrender to any Brahman any useful object of his if the latter asked for it. He sent that priest with his brothers to annex Takshasila.
Sage Dhoumya who was a political counsellor of the Pandavas was a disciplinarian and demanded that his disciples should surrender to him and not retain any portion of the alms they collected nor earn anything without his permission. Uddalaka Aruni was one of his students who could bear all the sufferings inflicted on him. Uddalakas associate, Upamanyu had to obtain the support of the Asvins who were physicians (and were elevated as nobles by Manu Vaivasvata) to overcome his blindness caused by starvation. Dhoumya had forced him to almost end his life by drowning in a well. A third disciple of his was not required to serve his teacher as he was married and had his own group of disciples.
Paita was pleased by the service that Janamejaya and his friend, Paushya, a Kshatriya ruler, had rendered to him and directed his disciple, Utanka to help them. Utanka was asked to offer to Paitas wife whatever she wanted as gift instead of to his teacher. She wanted that he should obtain the rings worn by the wife of Paushya for her. The latter readily parted with the rings but warned Utanka to take them safely as Takshaka, king of the nagas was eager to take hold of them.
The institution of gurukula by which unmarried students stayed with their teachers and served them is alleged to have developed serious flaws even by the times of revered Dhoumya (a teacher of Yudhishtira) and Uddalaka a noted Upanishadic scholar. Such a presentation seems to be an irresponsible attempt by later interpolators to hide their own weaknesses and to justify their giving up this system. This does not mean that the gurukula (where the teacher and the disciples lived together in the same campus) was free from flaws during the times the Upanishads were composed. Dhoumya did not deserve harsh condemnation though he might have been a merciless disciplinarian.
Paushya engaged Utanka to officiate at sraddha rites that he was due to perform. Utanka who went out to get purified was tested by Paushya to ascertain his calibre. It was in fact an attempt by a Kshatriya ruler and a Brahman counsellor at browbeating each other. The chronicler points out that the Brahman was soft hearted though he was acerbic in speech while a Kshatriya was polite in his speech though he might be harsh in his dealings. This stereotype has come to stay. Utanka who was dismissed by Paushya lost the costly rings.
They were stolen by a monk (sanyasi) who was indeed a woodcutter and carpenter (takshaka) and who hid himself in the cellars where these artisans including weavers plied their trade. With the help of Indra Utanka entered those areas and discovered how they were in fact palaces of rich rulers. The world of the technocrats, nagas, was a rich and mind-boggling one. Utanka returned to his teacher to understand the implications of his experiences.
Some of the technocrats and their followers had Airavata as their king (raja). He shone in battles and could shower missiles as well as wealth even as clouds showered lightning as well as rains and appeared in different forms wearing uncommon rings. These technocrats, nagas, who followed Airavata, led a splendid life like the nobles (devas) of svargaloka. There were many spots on the northern banks of Ganga where these rich jewellers had settled. Utanka eulogised these great nagas and their leader, Airavata. He eulogised also Dhrtarashtra, the senior naga chieftain who once led and directed from the centre a huge dispersed army (of 21800) during its march. Utanka also saluted the elder brothers of Airavata.
He also saluted Takshaka who had earlier resided in Kurukshetra and Khandava forest. Kurukshetra where the Pandavas and the Kauravas fought and which Krshna described as Dharmakshetra was earlier a wooded land, Kuru jangala, and Indraprastha, the new capital, was built after burning down the Khandava forest. Takshaka must have felt hurt by this deprivation of his followers who were woodcutters and carpenters of their source of livelihood. (Takshaka and a chieftain of a cavalry were then residing in Kurukshetra and on the banks of a rivulet, Ikshumati.)
The youngest son of Takshaka aspired to be a ruler of Nagas. Utanka could not get back the rings though he eulogised Takshaka and his son. He saw two women weaving a cloth on a loom and six boys operating a wheel and a man (purusha) seated on a horse. He must have been supervising these workers. We would not dwell on the interpretation that the teacher gave of his experiences. There is no need to introduce mysticism and allegory.
All artisans, woodcutters and carpenters, jewellers and makers of bridles and reins, weavers and manufacturers of oil were included in the class of nagas. This class of technocrats and industrial workers had its own ambitions and organisation. Utanka had a grouse against Takshaka who had stolen the rings gifted to him by Paushyas wife. He went to Hastinapura and requested Janamejaya to punish the thief that Takshaka was. Takshaka was accused of having caused the death of Parikshit by preventing Kashyapa from proceeding to give that king the needed antidote to serpent-bite.
The nagas and sarpas are not to be presented as elephants or as serpents. They were industrial workers who depended on forest wealth, including mines, timber and animals like elephants. The expansion of the essentially agro-pastoral state and economy of the plains and its intrusion into the forest and exploitation of its wealth and suppression of its technologically advanced population are not to be overlooked.
Parikshit fell at the hands of Takshaka. Utanka who nurtured a personal grievance against Takshaka instigated Janamejaya to avenge the killing of his predecessor. This account has been prefixed later, it appears, to defend Janamejaya who was guilty of a heinous genocide and to present the sarpayajna performed by that ruler of Hastinapura and former viceroy of Takshasila as a genuine religious rite intended to placate the souls of the dead ancestors.
THE PULOMAS AND THE NEW SOCIAL ORDER
It is noticed in the fourth chapter that the claim that instigation by Utanka who had lost the gold earrings that he had obtained from Paushyas wife to Takshaka led to the performance of the above sacrifice was not believed in full by the sages of the Naimisha forest. They were asked to wait for the arrival of the head of their academy Saunaka who was the head priest at that sacrifice to acquaint them with the correct reason for the performance of that sacrifice, what it meant and what happened during that sacrifice.
Saunaka asked the chronicler who was a disciple (and son) of the famous singer of ballads, Romaharshana, to narrate the legend of the lineage of the Bhrgus as he had heard from his father. The chronicler, Sauti, said that he would narrate to Saunaka, son of Bhrgu, the account given by Vaishampayana and other senior scholars about the Bhrgus who were held in esteem by Indra and other nobles, by the sages and by the Maruts.
Adityas, Vasus, Rudras and Maruts were treated as four sections of the traditional nobles (devas) of the Vedic social polity. But by the end of the Vedic times the Maruts appear to have lost their status as devas and were treated as daityas, equal to the feudal lords, asuras. The Rudras had withdrawn into the forests leaving the Adityas and the Vasus to govern the core society of the agro-pastoral plains.
According to the chronicler, Brahma who rose to that position by himself, Svayambhu, created a new authority from the Agni of the sacrifice performed by Varuna. In other words, the head of the judiciary that interpreted the socio-political constitution, Brahma, had risen to that position (designated as Brahma) by his own merit. He nominated Bhrgu as Agni, as the head of the council (samiti) of intellectuals and as civil judge to assist Varuna who was an ombudsman and chief magistrate with the power to ensure that every one performed his duties and fulfilled his obligations and liabilities. Varuna could take into custody any one who failed to discharge his duties and social obligations.
Chyavana was Bhrgu's protege and successor (to this post of Agni). Pramati, who was in charge of the departments that ensured dharma was followed, succeeded Chyavana to that post. Ruru was the son of Pramati by an Apsaras. It is implied that Pramati was not fit to hold that post as he had fallen to her attractions and was not duly married to her. But Rurus successor, Sunaka was held in high esteem as a scholar and expert in Vedas and as an upholder of Satya and Dharma, that is the puritanical laws of the later Vedic times based on truth (Satya) and the new liberal laws based on the principles of Dharma. Saunaka was a brother of Sunaka.
The fifth chapter then offers to present the birth of Chyavana. When Bhrgus wife, later known as Pulomi, was pregnant with Chyavana, an Asura (feudal lord) who had loved her and expected to marry her came to Bhrgus abode when he was not present. One of Bhrgus predecessors was then officiating as Agni. The Asura, Puloma, claimed that she belonged to him but had been forcibly married to Bhrgu by her father. Bhrgus disciple was unable to give a definite opinion on whether Puloma was entitled to take Pulomi away. But as he took her away she left behind the infant in her womb.
While a woman who was no longer a virgin could opt to go away with her man, she was not entitled to get married while she was pregnant by another man. If who had impregnated her could not be determined her father who was responsible for her protection had to look after that child growing in her womb until it was born and after that too. This social law, dharma, was then in force. Pulomi had to recognise this rule and go away with her spouse only after the child was delivered. (Bhrgu was the proponent of the laws based on Manava Dharmasastra).
The then official, Agni, however followed the laws based on truth, Satya. He conceded that Puloma, the Asura chieftain, had indeed married Pulomi before Bhrgu married her by Brahma marriage, which according to the new code based on principles of Dharma allowed the father to determine who would be the best groom for his daughter. Her father had rejected Puloma and preferred Bhrgu. It would have been wrong on his part to give her away as a virgin to Bhrgu when she was pregnant.
Puloma tried to carry away a married woman by force and resorted to Rakshasa marriage. Bhrgus code had rejected it though only Asura marriage (that is sale and purchase of girls without ascertaining their views) and Paisacha marriage (by enticement) were banned by the earlier rules based on Satya. Puloma was a feudal (asura) chieftain who had scant respect for scholars, Brahmans, and for Brahma marriage. The scheme of four classes (varnas) had not yet been implemented fully amongst the commoners even of the plains. The residents of the forests and the higher strata of the society and the vast mobile population were yet to be brought under it.
On seeing the child slip out of the mothers womb Puloma let them free, it is said. He must have tried to abort the birth of the child but only caused premature delivery leading to his discovery that the child resembled Bhrgu and not him. Pulomi was happily reunited with her husband, Bhrgu, but only after Chyavana had grown up. The official who functioned as Agni hid himself from Bhrgu who learnt that the former had erred in concluding that Puloma had sexual contact with Pulomi before or after her marriage with Bhrgu. Only Pulomis (the mothers) version on who Chyavanas father was should be given credence and not the claim of any man.
The new liberal code based on Dharma, promulgated by Bhrgu deprived Agni of the authority to function as civil judge, a function that official was performing under the earlier empirical and puritanical code based on Truth, Satya. That official protested that he had been impartial and had adhered to the principles of both Satya and Dharma and that if a witness gave wrong evidence he and his lineage would suffer for failure of justice caused thereby and that the official could not be held responsible.
The laws of the later Vedic age based on truth had cast the responsibility for miscarriage of justice on the witnesses. The judge was not expected to examine whether the witness spoke the truth or not. Only when the codes based on dharma came into force superseding the earlier ones, the rules regarding verification of facts and endorsement by three independent witnesses came into force. Ordeals and faith in the honesty of those who had taken the pledge to speak and abide by the truth yielded place to rational enquiry and establishment of truth through logical process. Bhrgus predecessor who occupied the position of the civil judge, Agni, belonged to the period of transition when the laws based on satya and those based on dharma, were both in force resulting in the judges being perplexed and justice not being rendered.
Bhrgus predecessor to the post of Agni asked him to realise that the former who officiated in different capacities for different types of rites treated the pitrs and the nobles (devas) on par, in accordance with the ancient Vedic practice. He implied that the feudal lords, asuras, who had given up authoritarian ways, were on par with the pitrs who adopted gentle persuasion to make others, especially the youngsters to be on the right path, and that they had been granted a status equal to the liberal nobles, devas. Varuna was treated as an asura. The asura marriage was no longer held objectionable and had to be honoured even as the will of the noble who organized the social welfare marriage (daiva type of marriage) of the girls under his care was honoured. It is wrong to interpret daiva marriage as one intended by God.
As Agni kept away from officiating at sacrificial rites, that is, with the role of the civil judge and endorser of the validity of social rites taken away from him, the new generation of subjects (prajas) who had been taught to utter the holy aumkara and seek acceptance of their offerings by members of the governing elite, to remain as accepted members of the organised society, were discomfited. The sages and the nobles then approached Brahma, the chief of the judiciary and the interpreter of the socio-political constitution to restore to Agni his role.
Bhrgu had declared that no one was necessary to function as Agni at the sacred rites. The sages, the elders and the nobles were the three cadres who received the offerings made by the commoners at the sacrifices performed by them. Agni received these offerings on behalf of these three non-economic cadres and arranged to meet their interests. If in the middle Vedic polity, the civilised feudal lords, asuras, were treated as pitrs, Bhrgu refused to grant them that status.
Only the elders who had retired to the forests giving up their worldly interests had the status of pitrs. It was not necessary to have an official as an intermediary to secure for the three cadres the shares due to them. Brahma, the interpreter and upholder of the new socio-political constitution declared that the post of Agni (civil judge and head of the council of intellectuals) might be retained but he be authorised to receive only his wages and the shares of the nobles (devas) on their behalf.
Agni was no longer authorized to accept any contributions on behalf of the sages (rshis) and the elders (pitrs). This was a major change in orientation and social practices introduced by the socio-cultural code, dharmasastra that Bhrgu proposed. No civilian officer would have failed to hand over to the nobles (devas) the shares due to them. Thus a compromise was arrived at.
There was a major shift in the role of the official designated as Agni. Agni had earlier been the official in charge of the commonalty of the plains and the spokesman of the intelligentsia. Now he was authorised to look after the interests of all the three social worlds (lokas), commonalty, aristocracy and the other society of the forests and mountains. He would have the status of an Isvara, that is, a charismatic chieftain of the social periphery who aided his followers he chose to aid.
The new social order brought all the three social worlds (lokas) under the jurisdiction of this official of civilian affairs while at the same time not requiring the nobles, the sages and the retired elders including the feudal chieftains to be present personally at the rites performed by the commoners and instead allowing this official, Agni, to accept on behalf of and convey to the nobles their shares. [Some modern scholars who claim to be rationalists and condemn these rites are ignorant of the changes that had taken place by the end of the Vedic era with respect to the role of Agni vis--vis the three non-economic cadres, devas, rshis and pitrs.] Of course Agni was entitled to his wages. He was however no longer the keeper of the conscience of the individual that he was during the later Vedic times under the laws based on Satya.
Ruru is said to be a grandson of Chyavana, the famous physician, who had married Sukanya, a daughter of Saryata, a protg of Manu Vaivasvata. Young Ruru loved Brahmatvara, a girl born to Menaka, a famous Apsaras, and Visvavasu, a Gandharva, and brought up by a sage in the forest. Gandharvas and Apsarases had not developed the institution of marriage and family. They constituted a mobile population (jagat). Sages (rshis) brought up, educated and arranged for the marriage of girls who were left unprotected by their parents. Such marriages were known as Arsha marriages and had the same force as Brahma marriages had.
The educated (Brahmans) were expected to marry the virgins (kanyas) offered to them by their parents. There was no place for personal choice or love or considerations of wealth and gifts and status in such marriages though in the case of Arsha marriage, the grooms, mostly students, had to offer a cow and a calf in return to the sage who had brought up the girl in his abode. Ruru, a follower of Krshna, was upset when the bride fell unconscious after snakebite. According to the legend, an envoy of the nobles advised him to offer half of his scheduled duration of life so that she might get revived. This needs a rational appreciation.
The nobles (devas) knew that commoners (manushyas) did not live for more than the length of life prescribed. The latter were not allowed to lead a life of retirement. They had to work till the end. It was possible for an individual to share with his wife the total quantum of work assigned to him and the two might live in retirement after completion of the entire assigned work.
If Ruru was agreeable to let Brahmatvara share equally his work and earnings with her as common workers did he could be permitted by the official in charge of implementation of the new code, dharma, to marry her. [Such workers were known as share-croppers, ardhasitikas.] She was not to be treated as but a daughter of a sage and kept away from manual labour or as the free daughter of a Gandharva who might function as an artiste but not forced to be a common worker. The rules governing the relations of the man and his wife as prevalent among the common workers would become applicable to those who were married under the new provisions of Arsha marriage.
According to the legend Ruru turned against all serpents (sarpas) including those, which lived in water. The counsel that he received from a sage (rshi) who resided near waters and belonged to the mobile working class (sarpas) may be attended to. He expected that the Brahmans would not harm any being and would be calm and peace loving. They should give asylum to all beings (pranis), (which were at the bare subsistence level). Besides adherence to non-violence (ahimsa) and truth (satya) they were expected to be patient according to the code of dharma. Brahmans should never seek to follow Kshatriyadharma. The kshatriyas were empowered to punish the guilty and were required to protect the subjects (prajas) and may be harsh. That sarparshi then asked Ruru to hear from Brahman scholars what took place at the sarpayajna conducted by Janamejaya and the part played by Astika,a great intellectual.
PRIVILEGES OF THE TECHNOCRATS
KASHYAPA, ARUNA, GARUDA AND THE NAGAS
Later editors of the great epic were carried away by the impression that Janamejaya was justified in exterminating the sarpas, the industrial workers who were constantly on the move and operated the industrial economy of the forests and mountains. The editors of later medieval times lost sight of the features of the social polity of the Vedic times and put forth interpretations that defied reason. They misinterpreted the stand that Kashyapa took on behalf of a macro-society that covered not only all human beings but also other living beings.
Kashyapa had clarified that all the eight sectors, liberal nobles (devas), feudal lords (asuras), sages (rshis), elders (pitrs) commoners of the plains (manushyas), the vast free intelligentsia (gandharvas, apsarases, etc.), the plutocrats and their guards (yakshas and rakshas) of the frontier society and its technocrats and proletariat (nagas and sarpas) were approved by him and that they were all to be treated as born to him and Aditi. But some critics classified this vast society as Adityas (those born of Aditi), Daityas (asuras etc. those born of Diti) and Danavas (yakshas etc. those born of Danu). Kashyapa did not approve this classification.
Some claimed that he had thirteen wives and that animals, birds, etc. were born of some of them. The fifteenth chapter of the first section, Adiparva, is a later interpolation intended to establish that the nagas and sarpas were a cursed group from the earliest times and that the massacre of the sarpas, serpents, was intended to free them from that curse. Legends have to be interpreted rationally.
Kadru and Vinata were said to be two of the several wives of Kashyapa. Kadru prayed to him for giving birth to a thousand nagas of the same form and Vinata for two sons who would be more powerful than them. Kashyapa was a creator of an inclusive macro-society and the later editors compared him to Brahma (the creator). According to the chronicler who was narrating to Saunaka and other sages of the Naimisha forest the circumstances that led to the performance of the sarpayajna and its failure, the era of domination by the nagas, that is, by technocrats would last five centuries and would be ended by the second son of Vinata.
Aruna, the chariot-driver of Surya, had influence comparable to the latter. He was considered to be the first son of Vinata and the vulture, Garuda, her second son. While the creed that veered round Surya or Aditya and upheld the supremacy of devas, the politico-cultural aristocrats, honoured Aruna, Garuda was visualised later as the highly revered vehicle and transporter of Krshna, in one of the ten avatars or incarnations of Vishnu. Most of the events covered by these avatars or incarnations did take place during the last decades of the long Vedic era. It is irrational to treat them as exploits of God Vishnu or as fiction.
Aruna was visualized during the early medieval times as bailiff, an official functioning under Varuna, the Vedic official who was an independent ombudsman and rigorous implementer of the provisions of the Atharvan socio-political constitution. Varuna had a status on par with Indra, Agni, Vayu and Surya, in that set-up. As Surya took over the leadership of the nobility the importance of Varuna waned. Aruna became the official who communicated to the masses and the officials and forewarned them about the wishes and plans of Surya to enforce the rigorous provisions of the amended constitution as a benevolent authority.
Aruna was redder than Surya but less hot. He was given the status of a devata, which was marginally but definitely lower than that of a deva, which status Varuna had though he was described by some as an authoritarian figure, an asura. In the early post-Vedic polity, Surya (Aditya) was recognized as a social guide par excellence, a jyoti. He guided all the social worlds (lokas). [It indicates the recognition, that the movements of all the planets are dependent on the sun.]
It may be noticed that neither Aruna nor Surya nor Varuna had any influence over the technocrats, nagas, who had definite say in the economy for over five centuries immediately before the neo-Vedic constitution of the Upanishads came into force. The later editors of the great epic were enthusiastic about the role of Garuda in controlling the influence of the nagas. The chronicler told Saunaka and other sages of the forest about the dispute between Katru and Vinita over the colour of Ucchasravas, the famous horse of the nobles (devas) which had made its appearance during the churning of the sea of milk by the devas and the asuras, the liberal nobles and the feudal lords to get hold of eternal (amrta) authority to rule over the commoners.
When the nobles assembled at Mount Meru to deliberate on ways and means to secure this permanent power, the sage Narayana was said to have recommended that the dispute be settled peacefully by churning the sea. In fact it was a game of tug-of war between the two classes. The nobles were asked to stake all that they had for their health and wealth, medicinal herbs and jewels. The pole that was used for churning the bowl of yoghurt is visualised as the tall mountain, Mantara, full of herbs and costly minerals and jewels. It would stand on the turtle (kurma, kacchapa). That is, Kashyapa undertook the responsibility of bearing the cost of this friendly game.
Vasuki is presented in this allegory as the rope used for churning. Vasuki was a devotee of Krshna, a Vasu chieftain. He was a mariner who used ropes to pull the barges along the river from the banks or along the seacoast. Mariners and rope-makers were a sector of the Nagas (serpents, as understood later) even as several sections of artisans including architects and chariot-makers, woodcutters and carpenters were treated as belonging to the class of Nagas and assigned to the frontier industrial society. Vasuki like Kashyapa would adopt a stance of neutrality between the nobles and the feudal lords in their struggle for power and immunities and privileges (amrta).
The events behind the allegories have to be unravelled and put forward in a rational manner. While the rich and senior feudal chieftains (asuras) caught hold of the face and neck of Vasuki, the ruler (raja) of the Nagas, the nobles stood near his rear. According to the legend the ocean was poisoned by the venom spurted out by Vasuki as the asuras pressed his neck. In other words, the evil intentions that artisans were believed to have always entertained got expressed and vitiated the social atmosphere as the feudal lords coerced them. Both the nobles and the feudal lords fled the scene, as the rage of the coerced artisans was unbearably violent.
The nobles and the revered sages reported to Brahma, the chief judge and upholder of the socio-political constitution that violent events reminiscent of the fire and lava seen at the time of flood caused by eruption of sub-oceanic volcanoes were seen everywhere. Coercion of technocracy had affected all the social worlds adversely. They requested him to find out a remedy for the disaster that threatened all.
Brahma, the upholder of the constitution, then approached Rudra (consort of Parvati) who had the status of Lokesvara, the charismatic and beneficent leader of the social world (of commoners), and was known as Hara for a solution. For the welfare of the social world of the commoners Rudra drank the poison, according to the legend. In other words, he absorbed all the evil outfalls on the commonalty on behalf of the nobles. He was hence known as Nilakanta, one with the blue neck.
When the nobles and the feudal lords continued the struggle after it was ensured that it would no more affect the commoners adversely, the rage of Vasuki, the chief of the technocrats (nagas) who were affected the most in that struggle, was directed against both the nobles and the feudal lords. The churning harmed all animals and other living beings of the sea but benefited the nobles (devas) who gained all immunities (amrtva,).
The Vaishnavaites of the later days were upset by the neglect of Narayana (Vishnu) in the earlier versions of the legend of the churning of the sea. They claimed that Brahma wanted only the nobles (devas) to be favoured and strengthened (with the nectar) but Narayana proposed that all who took part in the task of churning the sea (nature), that is, the nobles as well as feudal lords and also the technocrats should benefit from the use of the resources of nature (hidden in the sea). The churning resulted in the recognition of the three cadres, feudal lords, nobles and commoners represented respectively by jyeshta, lakshmi and sura. The feudal lords were accepted as senior (jyeshta) to the rich nobles and the commoners were declared to be eligible to administer the state treasury (sura). [It is not sound to interpret sura as liquor. Jyeshta, the elder sister of Lakshmi (goddess of wealth) signified misfortune, while her younger sister, Bhudevi, represented patience.]
This churning also resulted in the recognition of the asvas or gandharva cavaliers as a special cadre that was supported by the nobles and supported them. Ucchasravas, the horse that neighed aloud represented this class. The famous cow, Kamadenu, the sacred flower tree, Parijata and the great elephant, Airavata too are said to have emerged and joined the nobles (devas) along with the artistes known as Apsarases.
The physician, Danvantari, who had the status of a devata is said to have taken the medicated and enriched milk, amrta, in a pot to the spot, where it would be distributed to the eligible cadres. But he was chased by the asuras who suspected foul play. The later Vaishnavaites have claimed that it was the detractor, Mohini, who had in the form of Narayana, served that nectar to the nobles (devas) and kept the feudal lords (asuras, daityas) and the plutocrats (danavas) deprived of the benefits of the churning of nature. These later editors had to concede that some followers of Vishnu (Narayana) had not acted justly.
The attempt to settle peacefully the dispute between the two rival cadres of the ruling class, the liberal nobles (devas) and the feudal lords (asuras), failed. For, some detractors ignored the interests of the feudal lords and the plutocrats (danavas). The feudal chieftains took to arms once again and the two leaders, Narayana and Nara, ensured that only the nobles secured the immunities (against death sentence) associated with the concept, nectar (amrta).
All those who were offered the drink and accepted it whether they were great social leaders (purushottama) like Narayana (Vishnu) or highly talented free men (narottama) like the sage Nara, fought along with the nobles (devas) against the feudal lords. Vishnu (Narayana) wielded the powerful weapon, Sudarsana wheel. It was meant to protect the pious and noble persons who were his followers as in his career and role as Krshna it was used. Of course this weapon could be used to injure the very powerful of the vicious opponents.
In his roles as Parasurama and Rama, Vishnu had used only the bow indicating that he was but the best of free men, a status substantially lower than that of a great social leader. These great personages could not mobilise the people of the social periphery (chakra) whose services were drawn on by the villagers and people of the towns for purposes of sanitation and guidance (sudarsana) when they wanted to enter the forests infested by wild animals. Parasurama and Rama have been lauded as Purusha and only Krshna was referred to as Purushottama. Some have claimed that his trainee, Arjuna, was at the level of Narottama and that Krshna and Arjuna were like the two famous sages, Narayana and Nara.
Narottama the best of the free men who was entitled to act on behalf of the state and the commonalty (manushyas) and Narayana who as Purushottama was a great social leader, put down the asuras, the feudal lords. The nobles did not fight as they were overwhelmed by the might of the feudal lords and could not engage the services of the commoners to fight on their behalf. [Later they could not fight, as the immunity from death (amrta) that had been granted required that they should not take up arms.] It was left to those among the commoners (manushyas) were free men (naras) or social leaders (purushas) to battle against the feudal lords, asuras.
Until the armed free man, Nara, entered the scene the feudal lords had domination over the forests and the mountains and the commonalty (bhumi) and also the open space (akasa). That is, the nobles (devas) could not exercise coercive power over the frontier industrial society (antariksham) of mountains and forests and the open space (akasa) occupied by the insignificant, unorganised and mobile and powerless individuals. Nara (Narottama) ensured that the open space (akasa) of these individuals was made secure against intrusion by the feudal lords (asuras) and their allies, the plutocrats (danavas, sreshtas).
While Nara used the bow, Narayana used the authority he had acquired as the wielder of the Sudarsana, the good guide, to exercise the powers of Agni, the enlightened civil officer with authority over the commonalty. The enemies hid themselves in the depths of the earth (bhumi) and the sea. That is, they were allowed to control the deep mines of the earth and the seas. The nobles (devas) were allowed to dominate the population of the open space (akasa). Indra, the head of the social world of nobles handed over to Nara the charge of amrta, that is, ensuring that the state administered by the free men, naras, did not violate the immunities and privileges that had been given to the aristocrats (devas) alone.
The friendly dispute between Kadru and Vinata, two wives of Kashyapa on Ucchasravas, the horse (gandharva chieftain), who appeared on the scene during the churning of the sea of milk that is the struggle between the nobles (devas) and the feudal lords (asuras) for powers, immunities and privileges as the ruling class is a titillating episode obviously interpolated later.
Was this Gandharva chieftain unblemished and hence eligible to be admitted to the company of the nobles (devas) or did he despite the enormous freedom that he enjoyed in choosing his vocation and career as an intellectual or as a warrior or as an artiste, carry the blemish of unreliability in affairs and functions that required his services? The technocrats, Nagas, were considered to be unreliable though they were honoured for their expertise. Did the free intelligentsia (gandharvas) who were superior to the free men (naras) qualify to be admitted to the ranks of the cultural aristocracy (devas)?
As pointed out earlier the technocrats (nagas) were expected to hold sway for five centuries. The culture that they promoted left a mark on the outlook of the free intelligentsia (gandharvas) that was closer to the cultural aristocracy (devas) rather than to the free men (naras) among the commonalty (manushyas). These free men ran the affairs of the integrated state.
The chronicler interprets that the sarpas who were singed by Agni, the chief of the intelligentsia in the sarpayajna that the ruler, Janamejaya, conducted were those technocrats (nagas) and members of the industrial proletariat (sarpas) who refused to adversely infect the free intelligentsia (gandharvas) with the lure of the advantages that industrial economy offered them and the common people who were natives of the soil (jana).
The head of the judiciary, Brahma, and the gatherings of nobles were uneasy as the working class of sarpas was increasing in numerical strength in the integrated janapada without contributing to its cultural and social development. They endorsed the approach of Kadru (a follower of Kashyapa) that the members of the industrial proletariat who did not make positive contribution to the native community of the region were a liability to it.
The nobles (devas) imposed even death penalty on the workers who proved harmful and destructive to the rest of the living beings. The chief judge, Brahma, approved this step. He requested Kashyapa who had recognised and promoted the interests of the industrial proletariat (sarpas) not to feel offended with this step that was first proposed by Kadru. The latter may be visualised as having been a protg of Kashyapa who was against treating any sector of the larger society as persona non grata. He (Brahma who was later lauded as the god of creation) also instructed Kashyapa on how to ensure that those who were harmed by (the bite of) the workers (sarpas) were cured.
In order to save the class of nagas and sarpas, Karkotaka, a rich technocrat (naga) offered to become the black tail of Ucchasravas, that is, be part of the retinue of that Gandharva chieftain who was held in respect by the nobles (devas). The two wives (sections of followers) of Kashyapa (represented by Kadru and Vinata) were satisfied that the free intelligentsia (gandharvas) would not come entirely or be even prominently under the influence of the technocrats (nagas) but would not be totally free from their influence. Unless we present a rational outline of the contradictions faced by the society during the later Vedic era we would be drawn into presenting fantastic interpretations about the events and personages of those times.
Garuda (visualised as the offspring of Vinita and Kashyapa) assumed the position of Agni and influenced the entire larger society (visva) even as Agni controlled the agro-pastoral commonalty (prthvi). Agni told the nobles (devas) who were enemies of the feudal chiefs (asuras) that the powerful Garuda was not he (Agni an approved civil judge and head of the intelligentsia) and that the nobles hence need not fear Garuda.
Garuda was an enemy only of the technocrats (nagas) and of the feudal lords (asuras) and the rebel militants (rakshasas). The sages and the nobles eulogised him as having the powers of Indra and Surya, Agni and Vayu and Yama, (the Vedic officials) and Vishnu, Siva and Brahma (the post-Vedic Trinity), according to the chronicler and prayed to him not to harm them in any way. The chronicler says that when Surya thought of burning down all the social worlds (lokas), Garuda and Aruna intervened to protect them from the wrath of that official. Rahu, one of the Nagas had managed to secure immunity (from death) that was granted to the nobles (devas) and this incensed Surya, the chief of the nobles and head of the administration. Kashyapa had prevailed on this official (through Aruna and Garuda) not to blame the nobles for this.
The powers of Surya were eclipsed but only for a short duration. They were however reduced. Kadru (that is, one of the sections following Kashyapa that encouraged the technocrats) appealed to Indra, the head of the traditional aristocracy (devas) who controlled the huge army, to save the technocrats (nagas), from the cruel treatment meted out to them by Surya, the head of the new political authority (kshatras). In the traditional Vedic social polity Indra was honoured and obeyed by all the sectors of the larger society. A return to that arrangement was expected to restrain the new political authority, Surya, from indulging in excesses.
Garuda, son of Vinata, was required to carry out the instructions of the nagas and sarpas, the technocrats and the industrial proletariat as she had lost to her sister, Kadru who was their guardian (mother). They expected him to secure for them through his prowess the immunities that the nobles had been granted. The vulture Garuda was permitted to kill the trappers and hunters who were enemies of the birds and live on their flesh. The hunters did not belong to either the agro-pastoral commonalty (ihaloka) or the nobility (paraloka) and were pitiless sinners.
Garuda was however warned against harming the Brahman who had more powers than Agni and Surya, the civil judge and the chief of the civil administration had. The chronicler implied that the Brahman who was the head of the judiciary was more powerful than the two and hence he should not be antagonised. It was in the nature of the Brahman to be like the sarpas vindictive.
The statement that Garuda should realise that the Brahman belonged to the best of the varnas (social classes) is obviously a later interpolation. During the pre-varna Vedic times, Brahman was said to have emerged before all other living beings did and was visualised as the intellectual who conducted himself like a father (a status that Brahma, the chief judge had as Prajapati) and as a teacher (guru). It was implied that Brhaspati often referred to as Guru should be given precedence over other officials belonging to the different social sectors.
Garuda wanted his mother to advise him on whether as intellectuals the Brahmans belonged to the commonalty of the core society and were headed and directed by Agni or as sober sages and elders of the forest who were guided by Soma. She did not enlighten him on this issue but counselled him not to harm a Brahman in any way or for any reason. She prayed to Vayu, Surya, Chandra, Agni and the eight Vasus who were governors of the eight regions of the larger post-Vedic polity to protect Garuda. Garuda was in later times feared as a second Yama (god of death, in common parlance). He had to live on the hunters on whom he pounced. [Later he did not hunt the hunters nor did they hunt him.]
As he lived on fishes he could not get any food while in the areas of the commoners (manshyaloka). According to the legend, Garuda who was on a mission to procure the nectar for the nagas and sarpas was advised by Kashyapa to seek strength by living on the elephant and the tortoise that lived near a lake and were trying to kill each other. We may overlook such statements, which are obviously later interpolations intended to attract the attention of the gullible commoners.
Kashyapa advised Garuda to secure the blessings of the Brahmans (that is, to secure the approval of the members of the judiciary) to be able to score over the nobles (devas) and accomplish his mission. In a grove belonging to the nobles Garuda, the missionary, came across some Valakhilya sages who were hanging upside down from the branches of a banyan tree and were engaged in meditation in a difficult yogic posture. He did not want them to be harmed by any indiscreet action of his.
They were pleased with him and in fact they named him as Garuda as he carried a huge weight of responsibility while flying in the sky, that is, while going up towards the abode of the nobles (devas). Garuda who had the status of Agni and directed all the social worlds transported the Valakhilya sages to the academy whose head (bhagavan) Kashyapa was. Kashyapa had reservations on the nobles (devas) being granted special privileges and immunities.
He wanted to know Garudas assessment of the attitudes of the Valakhilya sages who were believed to be in favour of encouraging technocracy. He advised Garuda whom nobles (devas), feudal lords (asuras) and their associates (rakshasas) could not subdue, not to harm or antagonise these sages in any way. He told the Valakhilya sages that the post of Garuda had been instituted for the welfare of the (native) people, jana and that the latter had undertaken a great mission. Kashyapa requested them to permit Garuda to carry out that mission.
We would bypass the pictures created by the fancies of the later poets and point out that the Valakhilyas who were engaged in study of theoretical science were requested to permit Garuda to use their knowledge for the benefit of the commoners of the janapada. The technocrats (nagas) would be in a position to help the commoners if they were granted the same privileges as the nobles (devas) had.
The recognition granted to the utilisation of science of technology and to the technocrats led to unrest and internal conflicts among the different groups of nobles (devas) like Vasus, Rudras, Maruts, Adityas and Saddhyas. These conflicts proved more harmful than the wars between devas and asuras, the two rival sections of the ruling elite.
Indra, the head of the assembly of nobles (devas) wanted to know from Brhaspati, the chief administrator and controller of the economy of the commonalty (prthvi) why the power and authority of the nobles (devas) had weakened. Brhaspati explained that Garuda who enjoyed the patronage of the sages known as Valakhilyas and was a protg of Kashyapa planned to secure the immunities and privileges (amrta) that the nobles had and would succeed if Indra erred and was not cautious. Indra mobilised the armies of the nobles (devas) to guard the nectar that they had obtained bypassing the feudal lords, asuras. The chronicler says that Kashyapa had created Garuda to punish Indra and other nobles who had treated with contempt the weak and dwarfish Valakhilya sages.
Kashyapa appealed to the Valakhilyas who advocated and followed the laws based on truth, satya, not to dethrone Indra who had been appointed by Brahma (who implemented the provisions of the socio-political constitution) as the head of all the three social worlds (divam, prthvi and antariksham, nobility, commonalty and frontier society) but to instead permit him to appoint Garuda as the chief of the sector of birds (messengers). In the new social order outlined by Kashyapa, Aruna and Garuda were nominated as brothers (associates) and assistants of Indra. This reduced the powers of Purandara who was then (that is during the tenure of Manu Vaivasvata) Indra. [Kashyapa was the head of the council of seven sages during the tenure of this Manu.]
The nomination of Aruna as the chariot-driver of Surya implied instituting of checks on the powers of the administration-cum-army (kshatras) headed by Surya or Aditya. Nomination of Garuda as the head (Indra) of birds meant checks on the powers of the nobility to control the free movement of persons belonging to other sections of the larger society. Garuda succeeded in confusing the armies of the nobles, make them lose unity and flee in different directions.
The immunity from death penalty and privileges (amrta) that the nobles (devas) had secured for themselves were approved and guarded jealously by Agni, the head of the intelligentsia (samiti) and civil judge (of the Vedic times). But Garuda silenced him too. He skilfully managed to enter the spot where the nectar was kept and carried it away. The later Vaishnavaite chronicle describes how Vishnu was pleased with Garudas exploits and appointed him as his transporter and adopted him as symbol on his flag.
Indra was able to curtail the powers of Garuda but not defeat him fully. He instead sought permanent peace and friendship with the latter. In other words, Garuda, the advocate of the cause of the technocrats, nagas, was able to come to an agreement with the nobles, devas, on the issue of privileges for the latter along the lines the nobles enjoyed. Indra did not want that the immunities (amrta) granted to the nobles (devas) should be granted to others lest they should injure the interests of the former. Garuda assured him that he was only conveying the knowledge of the availability of the immunity to all including the Nagas, the technocrats but would not make it available to any one other than the nobles.
Though he had authority over all social sectors, Garuda prayed that he permitted to feed on the sarpas, that is, utilise the services of the industrial proletariat for his exclusive purpose. It meant that no sector of the ruling elite, aristocrats or feudal lords or plutocrats would be free to utilise the services of the industrial proletariat. Only technocrats (nagas) would have access to these services.
Technocrats (nagas) would control the services of this proletariat but Garuda would oversee them on behalf of the Valakhilya sages who were advocates of a culture based on technology. The legend refers to how the sarpas, that is, the mobile working class, were tricked and the nobles (devas) took away the immunities (amrta) promised to them. Of course irrational statements introduced by later annotators and narrators of this episode that pertained to the times of Manu Vaivasvata, Kashyapa and Purandara Indra are not to be allowed to cloud our vision.