MASSACRE OF THE INNOCENT INDUSTRIAL PROLETARIAT
Astika, the Believer
Why did Janamejaya perform the highly controversial sacrifice, sarpayajna? Why did the Brahman, Astika, save the sarpas, from fire? Whose son was Astika? Saunaka, an associate of Sunaka, a Vedic sage, wanted to be enlightened on these by the narrator, Upasravas, who had heard about the sacrifice from his father, Romaharshana (the thriller). The latter was a disciple of Krshna Dvaipayana who was a witness to that event. Dvaipayana had not authorised the Naimisharanya version unlike Vaishampayanas version of the events pertaining to the great war, and the battle of Kurukshetra that were narrated to Janamejaya by the latter. But it cannot be dismissed as mere hearsay.
The Sarpayajna, the sacrifice of serpents, was a historical event. It was not a killing of serpents for extracting antidotes nor was it a symbolic act of purification. It was a massacre (like genocide) but not of any ethnic groups. Nagas and sarpas were neither ethnic groups nor worshippers of serpents. They were technocrats and industrial workers of the Vedic times. Chroniclers have described Janamejaya as a cruel ruler, as Kautilya notices (in Arthasastra 1-6-6). Many rulers might have been described as Janamejaya, one who made the people tremble. But the one whom the chronicler deals with in Mahabharata and to whom Jayabharatam was narrated was Parikshits successor. Parikshit of Kurus lineage took over the reins of Hastinapura on Yudhishtiras retirement.
Kautilya, the author of a treatise on political economy, was a contemporary of Parikshit and Manu Savarni, of Dvaipayana and Bhishma. His work in couplets (slokas) was edited and cast in prose maxims (sutras) and annotated several centuries later by Vishnugupta who belonged to the decades of the Nandas and Mauryas.
The Astika who features only in the Adiparva of the Mahabharata was the son of Jaratkaru, a Brahman scholar who had spent most of his early life in rigorous austerity as a celibate, as a free (svatantra) person without any attachments. Such a person did not feel bound by any social or political code and was not bound to any state. He was described as a Brahman, an independent unperturbed intellectual who did not care for his personal needs either. Others might not have been patient with such a person who did not respond to any stimulus.
During the Vedic and early Upanishadic periods such independent intellectuals were treated as ideal Brahmans, as those who delved deep within while they searched for the ultimate truth. They were free from self and practised extreme self-denial. But they differed from Vratyas who too were noted for self-denial and austerity but held heterodox (not necessarily heretic) views on the existence of Brahman or Purusha (the Ultimate as some translate).
Not all Vratyas were nastikas, persons who did not believe in the existence of soul or in the existence of God. It is misleading to describe them as broken men. They were not outcasts or exiles though most of them were later declared to be not eligible to wear the sacred. Vratyas were Saivaites and socio-political ideologues and organisers. They were resolute and selfless in their mission but responsive to all and were not adamant. They however differed from the Vairagis who had withdrawn from all personal pursuits and social attachments totally and tended to be cynical, even misanthropic.
The Vratyas did not accept the initiation rites and rules outlined in the Dharmasastras but they had not rejected the four varna classification and the asrama stages as irrelevant and invalid or the four human values (purusharthas), dharma, artha, kama and moksha. Rites and rituals were but social prescriptions and were of no spiritual import, they held. Heterodoxy is not heresy.
Jaratkaru, the Desiccant
Jaratkaru was persuaded by his harassed elders (pitrs) to marry and beget a son who would perform his and their last rites and save them from their sufferings and uncertainties (about the future abodes of their souls). Begetting a son was a social and spiritual necessity, many thinkers held. This belief has seeped into the lives of the commoners and moulded all their social systems since the later Vedic times. During the early and middle Vedic times when the Gandharva way of life dominated there was little emphasis on marriage and family and on begetting sons and bringing them up in the traditional ways of the family. The above belief may be irrational but it is unwise to attempt to destroy these systems and disorganise the lives of the commoners (manushyas).
As a free Brahman, Jaratkaru was not required to or expected to adhere to this belief and these social systems and practices. Yet he agreed to marry provided he was gifted a virgin with the same nomenclature, that is, who too was a desiccant like him. (Jaratkaru was not a personal name.) This austere Brahman might have been afflicted by severe consumption and would marry only a similarly ailing girl. The Valakhilyas to which cadres his ancestors belonged and whom Garuda came across and who advocated technocracy too might have been severely afflicted. Jaratkaru was called so because self-torture had led to corrosion (jara) of his body and painful abrasion (karu). Like Vedic Brahmans he was a free individual and had no varna or gotra attribute or restriction.
Many scholars as intellectuals were in search of the Ultimate, Parabrahma but had not yet come to the conclusion that there was such an ultimate and that it could be attained. Astika was one who believed firmly in the existence of soul and in Parabrahma (that is, faith in God, in common parlance). According to Krshna a Brahman had to be an Astika, a positivist.
Jaratkaru's marriage with a Naga girl
As a Brahman, Jaratkaru could not ask for wealth or even for alms. Hence he would not seek a wife. But if someone realising his (spiritual) need gave his daughter in marriage to him as gift (kanyadan) he would accept her. In Jaratkarus view, fulfilment of sex urge need not be the purpose of marriage. Marriage, vivaha, was a duty connected with the code of right conduct, dharma, and not a fold for sex and pleasure, kama. Fulfilment of the obligations to ones ancestors, pitrs, calls for continuance of the male lineage (conceived and born within the fold of wedlock). One needs not only a son, but also a grandson and great-grandson at least, according to the rules governing sraddha rites and rnamukti orientation (freedom from debts to the nobles, sages and elders, devas, rshis and pitrs) instituted as such rites.
After Manusmrti came into force only Brahman fathers were permitted to follow the above pattern of Brahma marriage and give away their daughters as virgins to the grooms who were duty-bound to accept them. But the groom was not required to be a bachelor or even a Brahman. Till then, both the bride and the groom were required to be born to Brahmans to be eligible for this type of Dharma marriage. The girl should not have attained the age of consent, that is, three years after puberty. (The Kautilyan state however threw open all the eight types of marriages to all the classes, varnas.)
Jaratkaru would accept her not for economic (artha) considerations or for sexual pleasure (kama) but to fulfil his duty (dharma), to procreate a son and ensure a permanent place for his ancestors (pitrs). The term, pitr is not to be used indiscriminately to indicate the spirits of the deceased ancestors that had not yet obtained freedom from rebirth. The elders, pitaras, who have retired from worldly life and become vanaprasthas or sanyasis have to be distinguished from the ancestors who have given up their bodies and whose souls are on their way to their permanent abode, svarga, heaven in common parlance or anantya or endless cosmos.
As pointed out elsewhere, the retired feudal lords, asuras, after reformation in their outlooks and practices, were treated as pitrs or pitaras and as almost equal to the nobles, devas. While the pitrs stayed in the plains, their counterparts who lived in forests were known as pitaras.
Many ritualists believed that sonlessness resulted in non-fulfilment of this goal. But the first Manu, Svayambhuva, had discounted this fear and permitted lifelong celibacy. The importance and influence of this orientation is not to be overlooked, students of Hindu sociology should note. It may be irrational but it cannot be wiped out. The sex component of marriage was given a second place and not the first, which it occupies in unorganised mass societies or occupied in the ranks of the gandharvas and apsarases of the Vedic times.
Marriage and family were not institutionalised among the gandharvas and apsarases who constituted a free intelligentsia. Gandharva marriage was the most popular and most common of the eight types of marriage (Brahma, Arsha, Daiva, Prajapatya, Asura, Gandharva, Rakshasa, Paisaca). But it did not accept the orientation of begetting a son to fulfil ones duties to ones ancestors.
Marriage is not to be by choice but has to be predestined, Jaratkaru insisted. The donor must have already decided to whom he would give his daughter in marriage and must be waiting for the recipient of the gift to call on him. Of course, Jaratkaru would not ask for her hands but would accept the gift offered. This was not a meaningless ritual or deception or self-deception. [Later Brahmans were permitted and even required as brahmacharis, to ask for alms. But the householders and the retired, grhasthas and vanaprasthas could not ask for or accept alms or gifts. The monks, sanyasis, were not permitted to ask for alms but could accept alms.]
Jaratkaru's conduct was like that of a sanyasi. As Vasuki, a Naga chieftain, had a sister who met this description, Jaratkaru, desiccant, and had decided to give her in marriage to a Jaratkaru only, the alliance took place. Vasuki had played a notable part in assisting the nobles and the feudal lords to settle their dispute and claims for power through a friendly tug-of-war and in the process had suffered physically. He was a mariner and Krshna held him to be the best among the Nagas (vide Vibhuti-Yoga of Bhagavad-Gita).
Among the Nagas and Sarpas (as among the Gandharvas), who belonged to the class of mobile industrial workers, the brothers gave away their sisters in marriage. Among the commoners, manushyas, Brahmans gave away their daughters in marriage and that too before they attained the age of consent and often before they attained puberty. Other girls were free to select their spouses on their own terms. (Hindu sociology needs to be redrafted, rid of wrong stereotypes.)
The state law of marriage as instituted by Kautilya demanded that all marriages be approved by the fathers of the boys and the girls in the cases of dharma-type marriages (arsha, daiva, prajapatya and brahma) and by their mothers too in the case of the four non-dharma type marriages (asura, gandharva, rakshasa and paisaca) before the magistrate, Dharmastha, could grant certificates of validity. All the eight types were open to all the four classes (varnas).
Dharmasastra tended to keep the four dharma-type marriages limited to the Brahmans and the Rakshasa type (marriage by abduction) to the Kshatriyas. It banned the Asura type (sale and purchase of girls for marriage) and the Paisaca type (marriage by seduction) and allowed the Gandharva type (voluntary union of adults) to all. The Naga practice could not have been approved by the Kautilyan state, as permission of parents did not feature in it.
Gandharvas of the Vedic times followed a practice similar to that of the Nagas but the girls were totally free to accept or reject the grooms recommended by their brothers. The Naga practice had a tinge of coercion as well as seduction. The Nagas were not tribes nor were they worshippers of serpents. They were artisans, boatswains, etc. who had to give up the life of members of settled communities. Among the Nagas, the elder brother was responsible for the protection of his sisters. His influence over and responsibility for them continued even after their marriage. Among the Gandharvas, this responsibility ceased after the sisters got married and went away with their consorts. (Gandharvas were not celestial beings. They formed the free intelligentsia of the larger society.)
Saunaka, the Bhargava scholar, was told that Astika was born to Jaratkaru, the austere Brahman who was an independent thinker and was not attached to any school of thought or academy or attached to or obliged to any social group. Jaratkarus wife was a Naga and she too was a desiccant, Jaratkaru. She was not a Brahman by birth or by nurture. It was not an intra-varna marriage. She belonged to the class of boatswain. Rope-makers and bargemen who used ropes to haul the boats along the banks of rivers and along the seacoasts belonged to this class. Astika had to discharge his duties to his paternal relatives, dayadas, who were Brahmans and also to his maternal kinsmen, jnatis, who were Nagas. The latter were about to be thrown into the fire at the sarpayajna being conducted by Janamejaya.
t may be remarked here that it is wrong to translate the term, varna as caste and to use the terms, varna and jati indiscriminately to refer to the concept, community. Varna was a conglomeration of individuals and groups and communities who pursued vocations that called for application of intellect or coercive power or economic power or manual power. An individual or family or a group was selected and assigned to a socio-economic class, varna, on the basis of his or its traditional vocation and aptitude.
Later, as there were no authorities empowered to inspect, select and assign any one or group to a class, fresh recruitment to the class came to a halt and the offspring of those already selected continued to ply their traditional vocations and claim the privileges of the class to which their forefathers had been selected and assigned. Brahmans, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas and Shudras were classes, varnas, and their members were drafted from different social sectors (lokas) with distinct orientations. Most of them, especially the Vaisyas and Shudras, had earlier belonged to the unclassified agro-pastoral commonalty (manushyas). When the liberal aristocracy (devas) was dissolved its members joined the three higher classes and most of its loyal servants, dasas, were absorbed in the class of free workers, Shudras.
Most of the feudal lords (asuras) were accepted in the fold of kshatriyas as rulers and their employees (dasyus) were absorbed in the ranks of non-conformist militant ranks of rakshas most of whose warriors were associated with the plutocrats (yakshas). The gandharvas were a large independent middle class and its members who did not function as settled and organised communities and were free to move about in all areas joined one of the two varnas, Brahmans and Kshatriyas as independent intellectuals or as free warriors. Nagas were technocrats and directed the organised industrial proletariat, sarpas, and functioned under the plutocrats (yakshas) of the frontier industrial society of the forests and mountains. Both Nagas and Sarpas had developed orientations similar to those of the Gandharvas and Apsarases as they were all mobile cadres and were not engaged in agriculture or in pasture.
There was widespread support and sympathy for Vasuki who had spat off all his venom while helping the nobles (devas) to settle their disputes with the feudal lords (asuras) amicably in a tug-of-war. This game organised perhaps under the aegis of Manu Raivata and Ajita, a Kashyapan chief, however did not succeed in bringing about a permanent end to the feuds between these two antagonistic sectors of the ruling elite of the core society of the Vedic times. It was part of the legend veering round the tortoise (kurma, kacchapa, Kashyapa) incarnation (avatar) of Vishnu. For a proper appreciation of Janamejayas sarpa-yajna, it is necessary to first examine Parikshits misdemeanour and his death caused by Takshaka.
Parikshit who belonged to the Kuru lineage spent his time in hunting as his great-grandfather, Pandu did. For purpose of state records, Parikshit inherited Pandus throne after the Pandavas had left for their last journey. The postulate that Parikshit was the posthumous son of Abhimanyu (son of Arjuna by Subhadra) was advanced by later chroniclers to claim traditional legitimacy for his rule. Dvaipayana had not advanced this claim, as hereditary monarchy was not the norm then.
On Dhrtarashtras death, control over Hastinapura passed into the hands of Parikshit, the senior-most surviving member of the Kuru lineage which claimed Ajamidha as its founder, even as Pratipa-Santanu-Vichitravirya lineage did. Dhrtarashtra and Pandu were claimed to be sons of Vichitravirya. In fact they were born to Dvaipayana by Vichitraviryas wives, Ambika and Ambalika who had to submit themselves to the provisions of niyoga, impregnation by a nominee of their impotent husband. Vichitravirya was born to Santanu and Satyavati, daughter of a fisherman. Dvaipayana was born to Satyavati by Parasara, a Vedic sage before she married Santanu.
Dhrtarashtra was a Kuru. Though this blind ruler survived the battle of Kurukshetra, all his sons (Kauravas) and their associates had been killed and so too the sons of the Pandavas had fallen. The victorious Pandavas left for the Himalayas, never to return. (Abhimanyu's child by Uttara was never born.) Dhrtarashtra had been convincingly defeated and withdrew from the scene immediately after the battle of Kurukshetra.
Parikshit (who perhaps was then the sovereign of the Kuru territories and was away in the Northern Province, Uttarakuru) took over the realm of Hastinapura. It could pass into the hands of his sons, if any, or into the hands of his dayadas. Parikshit was the youngest son of Kuru and a grandson of Samvarana. Parikshit himself died sonless, though later chroniclers presented Janamejaya as one of his four sons.
According to the legends, Parikshit was searching for a deer that he had hit with his arrow, when he came across Samika and asked him whether he had seen it. But this sage was then observing silence and did not answer him. Parikshit was annoyed and threw a dead snake on the sages shoulders and went away. But the sage remained unperturbed and refrained from cursing the king as the latter ruled the forest area also.
Kuru-jangala was a vast uncultivated forest tract in the Kuru kingdom. The moors were known as Maru lands. [The Maruts belonged to them.] The Kuru territory was wooded. Neither was held fit for cultivation. A janapada was till then a mainly agro-pastoral region governed from a central city, nagara (whose residents were not on the move). The Kautilyan state reorganised the janapada and included the adjoining mountains and forests in it. (Kautilya was a contemporary of Parikshit and Savarni and witness to Janamejayas fall.)
Samika's son, Srngi, was urged by his companions to avenge the insult to his father. Srngi belonged to the local Kaurvya group of sarpas, forest workers. He engaged Takshaka, a sarpa chieftain and leader of woodcutters and carpenters, to get Parikshit killed within a week. (Ch.41) Samika did not approve Srngis move and sent his disciple (Kauramukha), perhaps a monitor of his academy in the Kuru forest, to warn the king to be on the alert and to seek pardon for his impetuous son. According to Samika, the subjects (prajas) should not harm the ruler of the country where they lived. He did not approve revolt and sedition. The people were able to perform their social and cultural duties, dharma, because their king protected them and it was the kings duty to protect his subjects. Samika told his son that according to Manu, a king was equal to ten Vedic scholars.
This guide of the proletariat of the forest, a sarparshi, must have been citing Pracetas Manu, author of an Arthasastra. Pracetas Manu was known also as Daksha Savarni who succeeded Surya Savarni as Manu by then. The king, a Rajanya, ranked superior to the Brahman, an intellectual. This is not identical with the claim that the secular, temporal state is superior to the ecclesiastical order. Dvaipayana, a Parasara, did not accept this claim. (Jaratkaru was an independent intellectual and so too was Astika.)
Srngi pleaded inability to hold back Takshaka. Sarpa revolt, i.e. revolt by the proletariat, had already begun. Parikshit had treated the industrial proletariat, the sarpas, with contempt though they had accepted him as their sovereign and hence they rose against him. But the older generation among them were sober and disapproved rebellion. Hastinapura was then weak and vulnerable with most of its troops slaughtered in the battle of Kurukshetra. Parikshits own troops had been sent on circumambulation to establish authority over the territories claimed by him. They failed to return. Perhaps they had perished in the Himalayas. He had not taken part in the feud between the Kauravas and the Pandavas. He secured himself in a closed tower on top of a single pillar. He kept physicians ready to treat him if poisoned.
Parikshit suffered from a siege complex. Even Indra, the chief of the house of nobles, felt that the king was at fault and refused to come to his help. Parikshit then sent for Kashyapa a great sage and expert in antidotes, aushadi, and offered him liberal gifts. But Kashyapa who had a good opinion about Takshaka (and Dhrtarashtra) did not come to his help. Kashyapa who headed the council of seven sages during the tenure of Manu Vaivasvata treated the two, Dhrtarashtra and Takshaka, as the true representatives of the socio-economic sector of nagas and sarpas as the Viraj allegory in Bk. VIII of Atharvaveda shows. Parikshits supporters accused Kashyapa of having accepted bribe from Takshaka and let down the king. They claimed that a woodcutter had secretly witnessed the deal between Takshaka and Kashyapa. But others refuted it.
The status of Takshas, carpenters, needs proper appraisal. Many Brahmans of later times disliked them as they claimed a status equal to theirs. They criticised Kashyapa, Bhrgu and Bharadvaja for their liberalism and support to the carpenters and smiths (who as artisans were treated by Kautilya as equivalent only to Shudras who were mainly agricultural workers). These artisans tried to rise in the social ladder by emulating the social practices and ways of life of the Brahmans.
Takshaka represented the class of workers whose vocation depended on timber. These workers resisted burning down forests. It was a period when new janapadas were being set up and the villagers shifted to upland areas and forests were being pushed back to bring more areas under cultivation, especially of cotton. These steps caused new social tensions and economic conflicts.
All the workers connected with the timber industrywoodcutters, carpenters, cart and chariot-makers, boat-builders, boatswains, rope-twisters, spinners and weaverswere classified under the pre-varna Vedic social sector of nagas and sarpas. So too, miners and metal workers, including blacksmiths, silversmiths, goldsmiths, jewellers and pearl-divers were included in this socio-economic sector. It also included masons, sculptors, architects and builders (who used stone for foundation and stone as well as timber for superstructure).
These workers had to be constantly on the move in search of new resources in forests and mountains and they manned the economy of the forests and mountains and their services were drawn upon to build a new urban civilisation. Takshaka was one of those leaders of carpenters who had assisted Parikshit and Janamejaya to build the city of Takshasila, which later became a great centre of learning. When the varnasrama scheme was first introduced, it was expected to cover only the agro-pastoral commonalty (bhumi, prthvi, manushyas). The patriciate, devas, who lived in urban enclaves were not brought under it. Similarly both the plutocrats (yakshas) and the technocrats (nagas) and proletariat (sarpas) who looked after the industrial economy of the forests and mountains were not brought under its ambit.
In the new integrated janapada advocated by the economists of the Arthasastra school, these industrial workers were given a status equal to that of agricultural workers who belonged to the commonalty. They resented it as they had expected that on the basis of their trait (guna) of dynamism (rajas) they would be given a status equal to that of Kshatriyas. The technocrats expected to be accepted as intellectuals and treated as Brahmans. Nagas and sarpas wanted to be treated as superior to the Vaisyas and Shudras who belonged to the commonalty (vis). These workers were organised, armed guilds and owned their tools of production and even capital needed for investment. Samghas and Srenis were such guilds and corporations.
But they were rudely shaken and disappointed when they were denied dvija, twice-born, status in spite of their intellectual acumen and independence and were instead clubbed with the Shudras, ordinary servants and agricultural workers. Dvija was one who was taken away from the family in which he was born and was selected and trained for the vocation of a (higher) socio-economic class (varna) for which he had the necessary aptitude. Those persons, who were not so trained, were free to be manual workers and they were referred to as Shudras.
The new state refused to treat the Nagas as Brahmans well versed in humanities, in Vedas, and the Sarpas as Kshatriyas entitled to bear arms for defending others. It called upon these workers to surrender their arms and merge in the commonalty as Vaisyas if they were not engaged in physical labour. The rest were assigned to the Shudra varna and denied membership in the local bodies. Under the samkara-varna (mixed classes) scheme they were described as Ayogavas. They rose against the Kuru state of Parikshit, which prevented their rise in the social ladder and denied them immunities which Brahmans and Kshatriyas had. Sociologists and anthropologists should not pass by the nagas and sarpas as primitive tribes who were confined to the forests and were worshippers of serpents.
They were technologically and intellectually more advanced than most of the commonalty of the agro-pastoral plains. They constituted the technocracy and industrial proletariat that dominated the frontier economy of the forests and mountains of the dichotomous society of the Vedic times. This proletariat had successfully resisted all attempts by others to exploit the natural resources, timber, minerals and ores, fish, pearls and corals and gemstones and elephants. The sarpa revolt was a significant socio-economic event with political overtones. Takshakas act was not a personal vendetta. He was not a hireling either. (Later writers have failed to appreciate it in the proper light and in the correct context.) Most of the artisans, sarpas, were mobile groups and they had refused to abide by the rules of territorial loyalty demanded by the Kshatriya rulers. Samika was loyal to the king, but his son, Srngi, was not.
Parikshit had failed to recognise the importance of the independent industrial proletariat which had entered into a contract with the ruling elite and which refused to be treated as equal to docile servants and bonded workers. Parikshits successor, Janamejaya proved worse. He refused to recognise their rights as human beings. He let loose a reign of terror. It may be noted here that intellectuals, traders and artisans have always acknowledged only limited loyalty to the state in whose territory they lived. Rajabhakti is alien to them. They claimed to be citizens and workers of the world, temporarily resident in a particular kingdom. Only peasants were fully loyal to the state as they were attached to the soil, bhumi, and could not emigrate. Nationalism is native to the agrarian population.
The proletariat offered to abide by it but the Kshatriya state refused to accept the hands of loyalty extended by it. As a party to the new contract, the proletariat, sarpas, demanded recognition as kshatriyas, which the elite refused to extend. They did not want to share power with the workers and instead asked for their subordination and subservience to the state. The sarpa revolt has to be read in this light. The kshatriyas had already alienated the intelligentsia and been weakened by internal feuds.
After Parikshits death poisoned by Takshaka, a sarpa leader, the Rajapurohita selected as the king the lad who performed his last rites. Who was the Rajapurohita then? [Krpa was the Rajapurohita, the political counsellor, when Parikshit ascended the throne after the exit of Dhrtarashtra. Krpa had joined the council of seven sages convened by Manu Surya Savarni during the reign of Parikshit over Hastinapura.] The ministers and the people too supported this move.
Janamejaya was not Parikshit's offspring nor was he a usurper. He was a charismatic youth whose valour won him the rulership. He might have been the viceroy at Takshasila, a prominent educational centre and a strategic outpost when he was invited to take over the reins of the Kuru state. He knew very little about the intrigues that led to the battle of Kurukshetra. Parikshit became ruler, as Yudhishtira and the other Pandavas were sonless and were not eligible to rule though they had won the battle.
But Parikshit did not prove to be a wise ruler. (Of course courtiers have to praise their kings and patrons.) Janamejaya was left a difficult legacy. He had to punish his own supporter, Takshaka, for having led the revolt of the workers (sarpas) against his predecessor, Parikshit. He had to avenge Parikshits death and discharge his constitutional (dharma) obligation. It needs to be noted that the sarpayajna had no spiritual or theological importance. Utanka, an adventurist son of a Vedic scholar had advised Janamejaya to perform this sarpayajna.
The chronicler claims that this symbolic sacrifice had been instituted by the nobles (devas) and referred to in the ancient works. Perhaps an earlier Janamejaya, a despot and ancestor of Puru, had performed such a sacrifice. Whether it was revival of a forgotten tradition or setting up of a new precedent by the young despot, it was sheer vindictiveness and merciless suppression of the justly aggrieved and agitated proletariat, sarpas. Astika, the believer and a positivist thinker, opposed this massacre of the innocents.
Trisamdhi and Indrasamdhi
The commoners, manushyas, of the core agrarian society would not offend the workers, sarpas, and the sarpas would not harm those who did not disturb them. This agreement had been arrived at during the Vedic times under the Triple Entente, Trisamdhi, by Indra, Angirasa and Arbuda, I have pointed out in my critique on the features and provisions of the Atharvan polity.
The three chiefs represented the urban aristocracy (devas), the commonalty (manushyas) of the agro-pastoral plains and the proletariat (sarpas) of the frontier society (antariksham) respectively. This historical compact among the three social worlds (lokas) also required that those who were guilty should give themselves up voluntarily to Indra and not be provided asylum by any of the three sectors. Indra, the head of the nobility, was accepted as the head of this triple alliance. He would proceed against the guilty.
Sakra who had a hundred exploits to his credit was then Indra and Angirasa was one of the two major authors of Atharvaveda, which enshrined the socio-political constitution (Brahma) of the Vedic times. Arbuda was a sarparshi, an intellectual who guided the sarpas, workers of the forest. Sakra put to death even Arbuda for having aided Aurnabhava, a criminal and habitual defaulter. Brahmans too were warned against protecting the feudal lords, asuras, against whom this alliance of the three social worlds (lokas) was set up. The provisions of Trisamdhi and its corollary, Indrasamdhi, need to be borne in mind while examining the roles of Takshaka, Janamejaya and Astika. These two agreements of immense social import continued to be operative even after the scheme of four varnas came into force.
Takshaka and his men were indicted by the purohitas (who were political counsellors and not mere priests conducting religious rites) for killing their king, Parikshit. It was high treason and punishable with death. The sarpas, the industrial workers (proletariat) had consented to be the kings subjects (praja) as conceded by Samika. The war against the nagas and sarpas had ended long before the times of Parikshit, after the killing of Arbuda for helping the asura outlaw, Aurnabhava. It was recompensed by the installation of his sons, Arbudi and Nyarbudi, as autonomous rulers, Isvaras or Isanas. These were charismatic and powerful chieftains who were helpful to their devotees and controlled the social periphery and the forests and mountains nearby.
Indra and Brhaspati had taken this step on behalf of the agro-pastoral core society of nobles (devas) and commoners (manushyas). Brhaspati, an exponent of political economy, was a Brahmavadi, an ideologue-cum-activist of the Atharvan school. He had the status of guru or purohita and Indra had to consult him in the administration of the Vedic state comprising the capital town, pura, and its rural hinterland, rashtra or janapada. It may be noted that the agro-pastoral core society recognised the social, cultural, economic and political autonomy of the industrial proletariat of the frontier society.
This does not mean that the nagas and sarpas were ethnically or racially different from the population of the core society or were animists or were beyond the bounds of the varnasrama scheme that the commoners had adopted. They were about to be absorbed in the higher varnas (socio-economic classes) when the sarpa revolt was precipitated by the arrogance of Parikshit. Janamejayas act was dysfunctional to this wholesome process of integration of autonomous social units.
The concluding lines of Ch.50 Adiparva explain why Janamejaya performed the sarpayajna. In his view it was his duty to harm Takshaka, an evil person, for having killed his father (pita). Takshaka had killed the king (Parikshit, father of Janamejaya) to help Srngi. It was wrong and mischievous on Takshakas part to send back the Brahman, Kashyapa who could have saved Janamejayas father. With Kashyapas blessings and through the attention of the ministers, that king who had never suffered defeat could have survived, Janamejaya felt. This would not have been a loss to Takshaka.
Janamejaya accused Takshaka of arrogance. He accused Takshaka that he had bribed Kashyapa, a Brahman. He held Takshaka guilty of gross violation of the principles of justice. He told his ministers that he would please them and Utanka and himself by performing an act of revenge. He conducted the sarpayajna only after the ministers had agreed to it. It was a political act and not a religious one.
Sarpayajna was an act of self-purification by Janamejaya according to the purists. He was expected to give up all that he had inherited or acquired whether by good means or by foul means and was to start a new career in a new post. (The serpent sheds its skin periodically.) But it was not so in reality. It was a summary trial of all suspected criminals and rebels, flushing out the dangerous members of the proletariat and burning them to death. It was a slaughter of the innocents, an Austerlitz.
The nagas and sarpas, as mobile artisans who had to seek employment and customers for their goods in different parts of the country, had only secondary residentship rights in the primarily agro-pastoral plains and their cultural and political, civil and civic rights were not honoured by the rulers and even by the commoners. They were not culturally or intellectually or even economically backward though they were not allowed to settle down in the villages and towns of the plains. They controlled the industrial economy of the newly integrated janapada and had by Parikshits times given up their nomadic lives and been guaranteed certain economic concessions and political immunities in return for their making available to the kingdom, rajyam or janapada, where they had settled their expertise and labour, to the exclusion of other kingdoms.
Janamejaya failed to honour the terms of this agreement and proceeded to destroy the entire proletariat. His move was a threat to the integrated janapada and the new economy. Extermination of Sambara and Namuchi and deposing and exiling of Vairochana Bali (a contemporary of Parikshit) had ended the threat to the agro-pastoral core society of nobles and commoners, devas and manushyas, from the feudal lords, asuras. Death of Ravana of Lanka and installation of Vibhishana as the new ruler ended the threat posed by the rebellious guards, rakshasas, to the frontier society, especially to its rich rulers, yakshas. Kusasthali conclave had led to the acceptance of these plutocrats as devatas, by the liberal aristocrats, devas, and to the emergence of more broad-based socio-cultural (dharma) and politico-economic (artha) codes, I have pointed out.
But these efforts at the creation of a just and peaceful larger society were set at nought from time to time by impetuous elements. These elements have to be identified correctly and put down. Sober thinkers cannot approve Takshakas act of sedition and Janamejayas destruction of the rebels but such sober thinkers imbued with foresight have not been many. Was Janamejayas campaign directed against the independent intelligentsia, Brahmans, also? He was not popular with them as Kautilyan Arthasastra (1-6-6) shows. Kautilya was a witness to the careers of Parikshit and Janamejaya, Ambarisha, Kartavirya and Parasurama. According to the chronicler the priests pronounced that performance of sarpayajna was valid and that Janamejaya was eligible to perform it. He belonged to the Bharatas and was functioning under the provisions of the Rajarshi constitution. But when he hosted this yajna, he conducted himself not as a sober (satvik) intellectual that a Rajarshi was expected to be but as an ordinary king, Raja, who was noted for aggressiveness and rage (rajas).
The architect, sthapati, of the hall where the sacrifice was to be performed was said to have had a premonition that it would not be completed and that it would be stopped by a Brahman. He must have noticed resentment against Janamejayas move. Architects and engineers were intellectuals even as the physicians were. But they were not admitted to the Brahmana varna. The physicians were treated as Ambasthas and were assigned a status equal to that of the Kshatriya administrators. In the samkaravarna scheme they were treated as the offspring of Brahmans by Vaisya wives, an anuloma stain by two steps, which lowered their social status considerably and kept them at a distance as napitas.
The government officials who manned the bureaucracy were assigned a similar low status. They were not accepted on par with the independent intellectuals, Brahmans. Architects and engineers who were not engaged in physical work were assigned to the cadre of sutas. Charioteers and chroniclers too were assigned to this cadre. They were ascribed a pratiloma stain by one step and described as the offspring of Kshatriyas by Brahman wives. They however ranked higher than the ordinary kshatriya soldiers and also higher than the ambastha physicians. But they were not given dvija status and were debarred from studying or teaching the Vedas, the works on socio-cultural heritage including metaphysics and theology. Ambasthas too were kept out of these. The cadre of sutas covered several groups of intellectuals and professionals who were closer to Brahmans.
Janamejaya had directed that no unauthorised person should be allowed entry to the hall. He must have banned entry to all Brahmans other than the official priests, lest they should interrupt the sacrifice, which they perceived to be a slaughter of the innocents. Hundreds of snakes were hypnotised by the chants, caught and cast into the sacrificial fire, the narrator told the credulous listeners. Bhargava Chanda, a disciple of Chyavana (an expert in medicine) was the chief priest at the sacrifice. He might have collected snake poison for medicinal purposes. (Other Bhrgus might not have approved his role.) Vyasa (Dvaipayana), Kutsa Jaimini (a rival of Dvaipayana), Uddalaka (son of Aruna), Asita, Devala, Narada, Parvata and Mudgalya (son of Mudgala) were present at the sarpayajna, Saunaka was told. (Ch.53 Adiparva)
As Kautilyan Arthasastra (Bk.14 Ch.3) indicates Galava, Devala and Narada were associated with Manu Surya Savarni. They were also participants in the academic conclave held under the aegis of the Gandharva chieftain, Hu-Hu during the tenure of Manu Chakshusha. Narada and Parvata were brothers. Asita and Devala were Kashyapas disciples. This sarpayajna became a controversial event. For, though it was agreed that the assassins of Parikshit needed to be punished with death, Parikshit himself was guilty of gross misdemeanour. Indra and other nobles (devas) were not willing to pardon his offence and contempt for sarpas. Dvaipayana and other sages gave respectability and legitimacy to the slaughter of the innocents by their presence at this sacrifice. Whether they too were guilty of abetting genocide may be debated for Dvaipayana (and Jaimini) had evinced keen interest in drawing an outline of the neo-Vedic socio-political constitution that is described in the main Upanishads.
Takshaka sought and was given asylum by Indra, the chief of the house of nobles (devas). But many innocent workers, sarpas, were not so fortunate and were being burnt to death at Janamejayas orders. Later chroniclers were misled and misled others when they tried to present this as killing of poisonous serpents. Janamejaya, the immature and rash successor to the thoughtless and arrogant ruler, Parikshit, failed to identify correctly who among the five groups of workers, sarpas, were guilty and who were not.
Takshas were carpenters. Theirlivelihood depended on timber that they procured from forest. They contributed to the housing and transport sectors of the integrated economy of the expanded janapada and were hence patronised by the nobles and were depended on by the commoners. Sages like Kashyapa, Bhrgu and Bharadvaja encouraged them and they were given dvija (twiceborn) status, which made them eligible to study Vedas and perform domestic sacrifices. They were artisans but became equal to Vaisyas. Kautilyan state was prepared to recognise the artisanscarpenters, blacksmiths, goldsmiths, silversmiths, jewellers, spinners, weavers, mariners, boat-builders, cart makers etc.only as Shudras though it gave all the Shudras the same social, economic, civil, civic and political rights as Aryas, free citizens, that the Brahmans, Kshatriyas and Vaisyas had.
Chariot-makers and architects who were builders of palaces, temples and dams were known as rathakaras. They had to ply their trade from their factories located in the forests and mountains on the outskirts of the city. They were warned against mingling with the chandalas who had been cast out of the core society for violating sex codes. Rathakaras, Sutas and Magadhas were offered a social status equal to that of dvijas. Chariot-drivers and chroniclers were included in the class of sutas. The ruling class of Magadha was rich and politically influential though it did not adhere to the norms of governance prescribed for kshatriya rulers. Takshas were ambitious but were not as assertive as these groups were.
Dhrtarashtra was an expert in architecture. Like Takshaka he too was a protg of Kashyapa. The rulers of Hastinapura were Nagas who tamed elephants (hastis) for transporting timber and for the army. In my thesis, Foundations of Hindu Economic State based on Kautilyas treatise, Arthasastra, I have pointed out that the expanding Kautilyan state preferred to acquire elephant-forests to timber-forests, as the disputation between Kautilya and his deuteragonist, the unidentified teacher (acharya) indicates. I have wondered whether this teacher was Krpa who guided Parikshit and whether Kautilyas treatise was first outlined during their times. The Kautilyan state preferred to acquire iron and copper mines to gold and diamond mines.
Kautilya's was an industrial state and not a capitalist state. It was dominated by the technocrats (nagas) and depended on the proletariat (sarpas). Kashyapa patronised Dhrtarashtra, a technocrat, and Takshaka, a leader of the proletariat. Both of them contributed to the development of urban civilisation utilising the resources brought from the forests and mountains. He encouraged Prthu too. Prthu headed an agrarian state, which however did not hold the industrial proletariat in esteem. Kautilya was a witness to the regimes of Dhrtarashtra, Parikshit and Janamejaya and also of Prthu and to the tenures of Manu Vaivasvata and Manu Surya Savarni. He was a contemporary of Dvaipayana, Bhishma and Krpa. Dhrtarashtra was a hasti, and the hastis who were technocrats suffered at the hands of young Janamejaya. Parikshit was a Kuru.
A third sector of the sarpas, workers who suffered is identified as the kaurvyas. Srngi was a Kaurvya. He was expected to be loyal to his king, Parikshit but he was annoyed with that king who had insulted his father, Samika, who was a loyal subject of the expanded janapada of the Kurus. Dhrtarashtra did not have effective control over the forests around Hastinapura. But Parikshit (who succeeded the Pandavas) had brought them under his control through promise of equality of treatment to their denizens with that for the native commoners (jana) of the plains. Sarparshis like Samika (Srngis father) were sober intellectuals who guided the workers.
The fourth group to suffer at the hands of Janamejaya was led by Airavata who was Arjunas son by the Naga princess, Ulupi. The Yaksha plutocrats who controlled the wealth and economy of the industrial areas of the forests and mountains encouraged this group. Janamejaya was against the followers of Dhrtarashtra and those of Pandu as well. He openly retracted on the assurance that Parikshit had given to the workers of the forests that they would be treated on par with the natives.
The fifth group to suffer at his hands was the one led by Vasuki. This mariner enjoyed the support of Vasudeva Krshna. He had shed all his venom, his animosity against the nobles (devas) and also his partiality for the feudal lords (asuras), the two rival sectors of the ruling elite of the core society. This group had become docile and was highly respected in later times for its attachment to the Vaishnavaite devotionalism sponsored by the Satvatas who followed Vasudeva Krshna and Samkarshana.
Astika stops the sacrifice
Parikshit-Takshaka conflict seems to have been a Hastinapura-Takshasila conflict, which Parikshit had inherited and was entangled in. Janamejaya had to realise that Parikshit did not enjoy the support of the elite (devas) and had antagonised the artisans of the frontier society who had consented to become subjects of the rulers of Hastinapura. He failed to identify the culprits and launched a campaign against the entire working class (sarpas) and the relatives of Vasuki, the most docile of the above five groups, were getting killed. Vasuki was distressed and asked his sister, Jaratkaru, to prevail on her son, Astika, to intervene and save her relatives.
Vasuki felt that the sarpayajna was being conducted to destroy him and his kinsmen. He had to face the ordeal of fire, the test proposed by Agni, the civil judge of the commonalty and meet Yama, the magistrate who punished the violators of the orders of prohibition (yama). [The comment that the sarpas were required to undergo this punishment for disobeying the instructions of their mother, Kadru, and for not protecting Ucchasravas, the pure king if the Asvas (a branch of Gandharvas) from the trick played by Vinata may be a later interpolation intended to provide credible chronological sequence to the episode of the churning of the ocean.]
Vasuki recalled how Brahma (the jurist) had told him earlier that Astika would stop this sarpayajna. We must get free from the stereotypes that present Dhrtarashtra, Asvattama, Drona and Airavata as elephants (hastis) and Takshaka, Srngi, Vasuki, Purukutsa as serpents (sarpas or nagas). These were social and political leaders of the communities of artisans, it needs to be recognised.
Astika might have had a hand in the installation of Janamejaya on the throne of Hastinapura, as Parikshits successor. Parikshit himself was guided by Krpacharya, a member of the council of seven sages of Manu Surya Savarni. Krpa was one of the few leaders, who did not get killed in the battle of Kurukshetra. Both Kauravas and Pandavas had been his students. His sister had married Drona, the military counsellor of the king of Hastinapura. Drona however got killed in that battle but his son, Asvattama, survived and joined Savarnis council. I have posited that the Acarya with whom Kautilya had valuable disputations on political economy and political affairs must have been Krpa.
Who was this highly influential Brahman, Astika? We do not come across him in any other context. He must have enjoyed the respect of the ideologues of his times and been revered as a flawless personage. He must have been an outstanding jurist and perhaps the head of the constitution bench of the judiciary whose members Janamejaya had not (to be precise, did not want to be) invited to witness the sarpayajna. Belief in the existence of an imperishable soul, atma, is the hallmark of an Astika. This belief governs his conduct. He is not necessarily a ritualist nor is he a mere ritualist, a stickler to rules of procedure.
According to Krshna, a Brahman must be an Astika. It was not necessary for members of the other social cadres and classes to entertain this positivist thinking that there is an indestructible and imperishable soul in every living being and that there is no difference between the soul of one person and that of another or even of that of a member of another species. Only such positivist thinkers were entitled to be members of the judiciary, which interpreted and invoked the provisions of the socio-political constitution of the larger society.
Others too could be Astikas but their lives were not governed to the same extent as those of the Brahmans by the belief that the soul, which is within every being, that is, jivatma, is the same as the great soul, paramatma or Brahma or Isvara or the Ultimate and endless (anantya) with which one should strive to become one. An Astika is not a pessimist or a fatalist. He believes in the ability of the individual to rise to the highest level and become one with the divine, in the possibility of the jivatma becoming one with paramatma. (Some Astikas have reservations on this issue.)
He believes that all beings have souls. In the cycle of births and deaths, it is not necessary that the soul enter only a human body. One may be reborn as an animal or as a bird, as fish or as an insect. It is not necessary that it is reborn in the same family. Hence birth in a particular social class or family is the result of the totality of vices and virtues, papa and punya, which have attached themselves to the soul concerned in his previous birth. Very few are able to attain freedom from rebirth. This belief moulds the conduct of the Astika who endeavours his best to be free from sins and attain the highest stature of an impartial and just executive or a jurist representing the causes of all sectors and ranks of the larger society. Mere worship of a personal god does not make one an Astika.
Astika, unlike his father Jaratkaru, did not believe in self-torture. Unlike his father he was a believer in the importance of performance of ones duties. He was a karma-yogi. Ones duty is not only to ones self or to ones ancestral family, clan or kula only or to ones spouses and offspring alone. It extends to the entire humanity and to all living beings, to the macro-society and to the environment.
The sages of Naimisharanya do not seem to have come across this positivist thinker who enjoyed a good rapport with the industrial workers, especially with the Vasukis. After accomplishing his mission he returned to them. He was not an invitee to the sarpayajna but none dared to stop him. Astika brushed aside the guards and entered the hall where many persons who had the influence (tejas) of Surya and Agni had assembled and praised the king before seeking a boon. These personages were powerful administrators (Kshatras) and judges (Brahmans) in the neo-Vedic social polity (bearing the designations, Surya and Agni).
As one peruses the chronicle he would be reminded of the three boons that the dwarfish Brahman, Vamana, sought from the asura emperor, Bali. These three boons deprived the latter of his improper acquisitions. Vamana was a disciple of Kashyapa and Bali was under the guidance of the great political thinker, Usanas.
Astika addressed Janamejaya as Parikshits son, thereby assuring him that he did not intend to question Janamejayas authority to function as Parikshits successor to the throne. Astika also addressed him as Bharatasreshta indicating that Janamejaya belonged to the high cadre of Bharatas. In fact, Janamejaya was a brother of the great emperor Chakravarti Bharata. Parikshit, on the other hand belonged to the Kurus while Dhrtarashtra belonged to the Purus.
Astika seems to have found fault with Dvaipayana for leading a group of priests who were eager to receive the rich gifts offered by Janamejaya. He agreed that Janamejaya was an efficient administrator and protector of the subjects (prajas) in the social world (loka) of commoners (manushyas). In Astikas view, the King, Varuna and Yama were treated as rulers (rajas) who upheld dharma. He held and pointed out to Dvaipayana and other sages that the king (raja) was not entitled to function as the sole judge.
He had to sit along with the two traditional officials, Varuna who functioned as ombudsman during the Vedic times, and Yama who functioned as the chief magistrate having authority over the commonalty (but not over the nobles or the frontier society). Only persons with the trait (guna) of dynamism and assertiveness (rajas) could be appointed to the posts of head of the state (Rajan), ombudsman who ensured performance of ones duties (Varuna) and magistrate who enforced the orders of prohibition (Yama).
The court was not constituted properly. The assembly of nobles and intellectuals who were loyal to Surya and Agni respectively could not function as a court of enquiry. It did not have the right to pronounce judgement against the leader of the artisans who was accused of treason. Only the smaller group comprising the three officials mentioned above had this right, according to the jurist, Astika. Only these three officials were entitled to determine whether any socio-cultural legislation, dharma, was violated by Takshaka.
In the post-Vedic polity, the king functioned as the Indra of manushyas, that is, exercised economic and political authority over the commonalty even as Indra did over the nobles (devas). Astika implied that Janamejaya had authority only over the social world of commonalty and not over the other two social worlds (lokas). Takshaka who as a sarpa belonged to the frontier society had been recognised by Indra of the nobility as Nagendra, as Indra of Nagas and hence Janamejaya could not proceed against him unless Varuna agreed that the constitution permitted punitive action against him. [It is wrong to presume that Surya, Agni, Indra, Varuna and Yama were gods of the polytheistic and pantheistic Vedic society. These were designations of certain officials of the Vedic polity.]
Astika, the diminutive Brahman compared Janamejaya with those rulers who had performed sarpayajna earlierIndra, Rantideva, Gaya, Sasabindu, Kubera, Nrga, Ajamidha, Rama, Yudhishtira and Vyasa. All of them must have been guilty of some major sins and tried to purify themselves by performing this sacrifice. Not all of them were rulers though they all wielded political power. Sarpayajna was not objected to if it was an act of self-purification, shedding ones sins, wrongly acquired wealth and bad traits. Astika was not against a symbolic sacrifice. He compared Janamejaya to Nabhaga, Dilipa, Yayati, Mamdhata, Dambhodva and Parasurama and also with Vasishta, Valmiki, Aurva and Trta.
Yet Astika was afraid that Janamejaya was doing a wrong in performing this sacrifice. He was politely challenging an established tradition and the precedents set up by eminent thinkers and rulers. These personages did not belong to a forgotten past and were on the scene only a few decades earlier. Astika, son of Jaratkaru, was an influential rebel.
Astika and Indra
Astika first persuaded Indra to withdraw his protection to Takshaka who was guilty of killing Parikshit and to produce him before the king (Janamejaya). Indra had proposed to grant Takshaka the status of a noble, deva, and thereby enable him to enjoy immunity against prosecution for any crime including treason. Indra said that he had already sought permission from Brahmadeva, that is, from the noble (deva) who functioned as the chief judge (Brahma) and counsellor on provisions of the socio-political constitution (Brahma) to give asylum to Takshaka who was required by the head of the state for murder of Parikshit and treason against the state.
Only the commoners (manushyas) of the agro-pastoral plains and the residents of the forests included in the state were the kings subjects. According to the constitution introduced by Manu Vaivasvata they had to pay one-sixth of their income as tax to entitle them to be protected by the king. The non-earning members of the society were not required to pay taxes and would be given protection even though they did not pay tax (kara). During the Vedic times, the nobles (devas), the sages (rshis) and the elders (pitaras) were three non-earning cadres maintained by the rest of the society through the system of voluntary sacrifice (yajna).
The forest-dwellers, particularly artisans (nagas and sarpas) had only recently then consented to become the kings subjects. Gandharvas, kimpurushas (vanaras) and kinnaras who formed the retinue of the plutocrats (yakshas) had opted to stay outside the jurisdiction of such newly formed integrated janapadas. They preferred freedom to subjugation though they had to be constantly on the move, homeless, I have pointed out. They too were all human beings even as nagas and sarpas were. But the latter had become subjects (prajas) of the king, though they were permitted to enter the villages and towns only when they were required to assist their natives (jana). They did not have primary citizenship rights.
The opening lines of Ch.56 Adiparva indicate that Janamejaya was not willing to go all the way with the priests who were officiating at the sarpayajna. He would be satisfied if action was taken against Takshaka alone. But the priests, especially the chief hotr priest wanted Indra to be punished for giving asylum to Takshaka. Indra, the chief of the nobles (devas) had offered him protection from Agni, the head of the council of intellectuals and civil judge.
The priests (judges) felt his offer was an affront to their authority. They demanded that Indra too should be tried and punished by the civil judge, Agni. But the king had no jurisdiction over the nobles, devas. Only the house of nobles (sabha or divam) could indict any of its members for an offence. It could also admit new members. Nahusha, a mobile artisan had been admitted to its ranks and even appointed as Indra when the incumbent of this post had been suspended for violation of social codes. Indra had the authority to admit Takshaka to the nobility.
As Indra, following Astikas directive, refrained from recognising Takshaka as a deva (noble), Takshaka had to be presented, as a common citizen, but as one superior to other commoners, manushyas who were manual workers. He had a status in between those above (in akasa, sky, open space) and those on earth (bhumi, prthvi). Takshaka was saved from being thrown into fire (agni) as he was a Naga chieftain and had the status of a devata (slightly but definitely lower than that of a deva).
He could not be subjected to examination and punishment by the civil judge, Agni, who had jurisdiction only over commoners (manushyas). Indra, the head of the assembly of aristocrats (devas) had recognised Takshaka as Indra of the technocrats (nagas) while Astika recognised Janamejaya as Indra of the commoners (manushyas). But the scholars like Dvaipayana refused to treat Takshaka as superior to other nagas. He was but a naga who had no special privileges or immunities, according to them.
Both devas and devatas as chieftains with personal followers ranked higher than the commoners (manushyas). Devas and devatas have later been wrongly described as gods and demigods. Kusasthali conclave convened by the great thinker, Samkarshana (brother of Vasudeva Krshna), granted the plutocrats (yakshas) of the frontier industrial society (antariksham), the status of devatas, benefactors, a status almost equal to that of devas, the aristocrats of the core society who were liberal donors.
It was a then recent event. This step brought together the two societies, agro-pastoral core society of the nobles and the commoners and the other industrial society of the forests and mountains. The implications of the step that Astika took need proper appraisal. While the ordinary workers were subordinate to the state (king) and had no immunities, their chieftains had certain privileges. The state had to honour them. [Arbudi and Nyarbudi had the status of Isvara or Isana. They were autonomous administrators of the frontier regions.]
Astika was following the provisions of Indra-samdhi, the agreement between Indra and Brhaspati on behalf of the nobles and the commoners, devas and manushyas. It gave the chieftains of the third social world (loka), the frontier society (antariksham) the right to protect their followers and subjects and punish those who harmed them. Was Astika, son of Jaratkaru and nephew of Vasuki, a Rajapurohita (equivalent to Brhaspati) guiding Parikshit? Was he in that capacity involved in the selection of Janamejaya as Parikshits successor?
Parikshit followed the traditional Rajarshi constitution by which the successor to the reigning king was selected by a committee of three members from among the eligible candidates. The political counsellor (Rajapurohita) appointed by the assembly of nobles (sabha) and the council of scholars (samiti), the incumbent head of the state (Rajarshi) and the prime minister (which post also was held by Indra in addition to control over the army and the treasury) were the three members of this committee. When Dhrtarashtra was the king of Hastinapura, Drona was Rajapurohita and Vidura was Indra. But Vidura had little influence over the affairs of the polity.
Kautilya amended this constitution, I have pointed out in Ch.8 of Foundations of Hindu Economic State. He empowered the two officials, Indra and Rajapurohita to select the successor to the throne in an emergency. Normally they had to, along with the retiring ruler, nominate the Crown Prince and train him. Such a nominee was not necessarily a son of that ruler. Hereditary monarchy was not the norm. During the later Vedic era, Indra and Agni and then Indra and Brhaspati functioned on behalf of the nobles and the commoners, devas and manushyas. Under these systems, an electoral college of chieftains who excelled in aggressiveness, rajas, selected the Rajan. But he did not have sovereign authority over either the nobles or the commoners. Under the Rajarshi constitution, the ruler was a sober (sattva) intellectual rather than an aggressive (rajas) chieftain. He had to function with the aid of Indra and under the guidance of Rajapurohita.
Astika was unable to defend Parikshits misdemeanour or the gruesome act of genocide about to be conducted by Janamejaya. This episode shows the sages who were present at the sarpayajna in a poor light. Theirs was blind loyalty to the crown. They were helpless witnesses to the slaughter of the innocents. Astika was a socio-political force to reckon with, like Kashyapa, Aurva and Vamana. Vamana, a Kashyapan, had forced Bali to surrender his ill-gotten wealth and go on exile. He had the status of Upendra and was backed by the troops of Indra and Vishnu, which poured in when those of Bali resisted his steps. Aurva stopped Parasaras virulent campaigns against the militants, rakshasas. Kashyapa stopped Parasuramas campaigns against the kshatriyas who formed the regular troops of the states. Like them, Astika, a yet unidentified Brahman jurist stopped Janamejayas campaigns against the industrial proletariat, sarpas. He must have been well known to Kutsa Jaimini, Dvaipayana and others who had assembled at the sacrificial arena. He was a charismatic personality who could not be resisted by any one there.
According to Bhagavatam (9-22-35), Parikshit had four sons, all great warriors, of whom Janamejaya was the chief. The chronicler notes what took place after Parikshits death caused by Takshaka. These lines must have been later additions as the Bhagavata chronicle was narrated to Parikshit soon after he became king after the battle of Kurukshetra, while the Mahabharata was narrated to his successor, Janamejaya and to still later generations. Janamejaya would burn all sarpas, it says. It adds that Janamejaya performed an Asvamedha sacrifice under the priesthood of Tura (a horse-trainer), son of Kalasha. (9-22-36)
This priest must have belonged to the Turvasus one of the five peoples (pancajanas). Shatanika, son of Janamejaya, is said to have learnt Vedas from Yajnavalkya and Saunaka. (9-22-38) Yajnavalkya, a jurist and counsellor of the Janaka of Videha, was acquainted with the tragedy that struck Parikshits soldiers and horse sent on circumambulation to legitimise his conquests. (Brhadaranyaka Upanishad 3-3-2) [Yajnavalkya was the brother-in-law of Katyayana, an expert in political economy and counsellor of Dasaratha of Koshala.] Only an archer (Sudhanva, son of Angirasa) who accompanied these soldiers returned alive. Sudhanva was a rival of Virochana, son of Prahlada and father of Bali. Parikshit might have been unprotected when Takshaka who led the sarpa revolt killed him.
Ch.63 Adiparva is considered to be an authentic version of the Puru lineage as narrated by Vaishampayana to Janamejaya. Janamejaya, the son of a Puru chieftain by a Koshala princess, is said to have performed an asvamedha sacrifice and also the visvajit yajna to establish him as a conqueror of the entire world (visva) before he retired to the forest. Was this Janamejaya a son of Dushyanta, a Puru ruler, by Lakshi, a daughter of Bhagiratha, a ruler of Koshala?
Chakravarti Bharata was a son of Dushyanta by Shakuntala, a daughter of Visvamitra. Shakuntala was also known as Visalakshi, a student of the great socio-political thinker, Visalaksha. Janamejaya must have been a brother of Bharata. Janamejaya married a Magadha princess and had several sons for whom he secured the princesses of the countries he conquered. One of his sons married a daughter of Takshaka, it is added. After the sarpayajna was put to an end by Astikas intervention, Janamejaya must have arrived at a compromise with Takshaka and this marriage signalled cessation of hostilities. Another of Janamejayas sons is said to have married a daughter of Trishanku and a third one is said to have married a daughter of Kartavirya Arjuna. Janamejaya a contemporary of Bharata, Trishanku and Kartavirya could not have been the great-grandson of Arjuna.
Antyanara, the chieftain of a border post in the western region, once performed a sacrifice on the banks of Sarasvati before that river dried up. His son, Trasnu, married a girl from the Kalindi (Yamuna) region and moved eastwards. Their son, Ilila (Ilina) was the father of Dushyanta. It would appear that Duryodhana and Yudhishtira alone were not the claimants to the throne of Hastinapura. Bhishma was the son of Santanu by Ganga, a daughter of Bhagiratha (who had tamed the flow of the river Ganga) while Janamejaya was the son of Dushyanta by Lakshi, another daughter of Bhagiratha. This would make Santanu, Dushyanta, Ganga, Lakshi, Shakuntala, Satyavati and Parasara contemporaries and senior to Bhishma, Vicitravirya, Bharata, Janamejaya and Dvaipayana. Jahnu (who assisted Bhagiratha in taming Ganga) and Parikshit were sons of Kuru and were dayadas of Santanu, Devapi and Bahlika.
After the disastrous battle of Kurukshetra, Parikshit, the eldest among the surviving dayadas took over Hastinapura. On his death, Janamejaya, a half-brother of Bharata stepped in. Dvaipayana guided him, while Bharadvaja guided Bharata. The Kaurvyas, a group of artisans loyal to the Kauravas resented Parikshits reign. According to Ch. 101 Adiparva, Janamejaya was one of the five sons of Kuru while Parikshit was held to be Kurus grandson. It is obvious that later chroniclers had lost grip over chronology of those times. However, the presence of Dvaipayana and Devala at the sarpayajna indicates that Janamejaya had a valid claim. Astika who stopped this massacre still remains a mysterious person.