BHISHMA AND RAJADHARMA
BHISHMA ON THE NEW STATE AND THE DUTIES OF A KING
Yudhishtira wanted to know how the governor of an agricultural tract (mahipala) should conduct his duties so that the manavas (who followed the Manava Dharmasastra and the Arthasastra of Pracetas Manu and belonged to one of the four new classes, varnas, and considered themselves to be citizens of the world and not subjects, prajas, of any particular state though its residents for the time being) flourished and he might thereby secure a place in the ranks of the cadres of blessed people (punyaloka) like gandharvas, vipras and tapasvis.
The mahipala was essentially a rich agriculturist and commoner (manushya) and was inferior to a noble (deva) and had to first be admitted to the ranks of the free middle class of gandharvas before being admitted to the nobility. Yudhishtira was raising an issue pertaining to social ascent of the commoner-ruler which was vexed by the claims for special privileges that themanavas who refused to be treated as manushyas demanded.
A king (raja) who governed (pala) his subjects (prajas) should be generous (offer gifts, dana), perform the prescribed sacrifices (yajnas), observe the restrictions (upavasa) meant for the domiciles (not natives or janas) and be engaged in voluntary strenuous endeavour (tapas) to discover new means which practices were appreciated by the manavas who consented to be his subjects if his practices were in tune with their orientations. The king (raja) should govern (pala) all the subjects (prajas) whether permanent residents like the manushyas and natives (jana) or temporary domiciles like the manavas in accordance with the state laws (dharma) which deemed them all to be his permanent subjects. He should revere those who followed the social and state laws (dharma) and were members of the legislature (dharmika) by giving (pradana) them high status (uttana), Bhishma said.
A social and legal system (dharma) that was revered by the king (raja) was revered by every section of the population and what the king practised was to the liking of his subjects (prajas). Bhishma was emphasizing the value of this theorem of charisma that a king should bear in mind. The enemy (ari) should be kept under the fear of death (mrtyu) by the king always maintaining the superiority of his army and coercive power (danda). He should destroy all the brigands (dasyus) who were terrorising the areas on the periphery and never have the improper desire (kama) to pardon (kshama) them. One-fourth of the benefits that the subjects (praja) thus protected (suraksha) by the king (raja) performed as social welfare (dharma) activities went to the share of the king.
Bhishma was drawing attention to the ideal Vedic state where the practice of yajna (offering one-fourth of ones earnings to maintain the non-economic classes including the governing elite of nobles) was in force and the systems of levy or coercive extortion (bali) and tax (kara) or charges agreed upon under the new contract between those who needed state protection and the state had not come into force.
One-fourth of whatever the subjects (prajas) offered in their socio-religious activities could be taken over by the king (raja) who governed (pala) in accordance withRajadharma. The other three portions were according to the traditional practice meant to support the three sections, nobles (devas), sages (rshis) and elders (pitaras) who were not engaged in productive economic activities. The king was the new beneficiary in this scheme of voluntary sacrifice (yajna).
If on the other hand, the king (raja) did not protect (raksha) the subjects (prajas) and if consequently the people of the country (rashtra) (especially of the rural areas) had to go through unfavourable (akusala) times, for this sin, the king would have to bear one-fourth of the responsibility and pay that reparation from his personal wealth, Bhishma said. Bhishma pointed out that according to some thinkers the entire blame for the sufferings and wrong deeds of the people was to be laid on the king and he was required to bear the losses in full. Some others blamed both the king and the subjects and required him to bear half of the losses. Such a ruler was deemed by the ancient laws of nature (rta) as functioning against it in an inhuman way (nrsamsa). The new laws based on dharma were more liberal and more rational than the earlier laws based on rta.
Bhishma suggested a pragmatic solution. If the king (raja) was unable to recover the wealth (dhana) of one who was under his protection, from the thieves, he should compensate his loss by giving (pradeya) him from his personal treasury (svakosa) what was required for his livelihood (upajivata). All the classes (varnas) were required to protect the personal property of the Brahman (jurist) even as they protected the life of the Brahmana.
This rule was applicable whether they were domiciles and subjects of a particular state or not. In the latter case the king could not be hauled up for not protecting them when they were residing in his state but did not accept his authority to punish them for their acts of commission and omission. This rule was applicable with respect to theft of personal property. He should however not permit any one who harmed the dvijas (Brahmans, unarmed scholars who had as jurists constitutional immunities and privileges) to stay in his country.
By protecting the personal property of the Brahman (jurist), every thing was protected. For when the Brahman (jurist) was content and placid (prasada), the civil administrator (nrpa) was deemed to have performed his duties properly. Even as the trees depended on rains, the discrete individuals (bhutas) (especially of the social periphery) depended on the Brahman jurists (dvijas) who had re-entitled them to all the rights and duties that they had enjoyed in the past before the new social and state laws (dharma) had come into force.
The free men (naras) (who like these individuals were not members of any social group and hence were not protected by any clan) eked their livelihood by depending on the nrpa, the civil administrator and chief of free men (nrs) who provided them all their means of livelihood and activities (sarvartha-sadhakam). A king (raja) who was given to lust (kama) and was inhuman (nrsamsa) (especially towards the free men, nrs) and was greedy would not be able to govern (pala) the subjects (prajas), Bhishma pointed out.
Yudhishtira told Bhishma that he had never for a moment desired to have a state (rajyam) for the comforts and happiness that possession of a state offered. Because he was interested in dharma he took interest in rulership but he had found that rulership was not connected with social and moral laws (dharma). He had lost interest in the kingdom (rajyam). He would go to the forest to gain social, moral and spiritual gains (dharma). Giving up coercive powers (danda) he would stay in the forest having conquered his senses (jitendriya) serving the cause of dharma like a monk (muni) who lived on roots and fruits. Bhishma said that he knew that Yudhishtiras intellect (buddhi) was influenced by the concept of humanitarianism (anrsamsa). But the state (rajyam) could not be served by pure humanitarianism, he pointed out.
He agreed that Yudhishtira was soft, wise and intensely devoted to dharma but thinking that he was a coward, the social world (loka) of commonalty did not respect him much. He advised him to desire to follow the same methods (vrtta) as his father and grandfather did. The ways that Yudhishtira wanted to follow were not those meant for a king (raja), Bhishma said. It was not possible through cowardice to take a constructive position (samsrshtam) on issues oertaining to humanitarianism (anrsamsa) and govern the subjects (praja palanam) successfully (sambhuta) and gain the fruits of following the path of dharma.
Bhishma exhorted him to pay attention to personal valour (sourya), military strength (bala) and principles of truth (satya) as he was expected by his parents to excel in. He should everyday present such offerings as would please the commoners (manushyas) as well as the nobles (devas). The elders (pitaras) (including the retired reformed feudal lords, asuras) and the liberal nobles (devas) always expected this of the sons. He told Yudhishtira that the latter was born to perform the duties of charity (dana), study (adhyayana) and governance and administration of the subjects whether it was covered by the field of dharma or not.
Bhishma reminded him that when officials who were appointed to bear certain responsibilities they had to undergo and suffer some difficulty and their fame became perpetuated in that. A subordinate but almost equal ruler (samanta) humbly carried out successfully and faultlessly the works and responsibilities assigned to him, Bhishma said. Whether it was an officer who voluntarily ensured that the social laws (dharma) were adhered to or a householder or a king (raja) or a practitioner of jurisprudence (brahmacari), he would not be able to carry out his work in isolation (ekanta). He needed help. Every work had its significance even if it appeared to be a minor one. It is better to do some work than to desire not to do any work for there is no sinner worse than one who does not do any work, Bhishma said.
When a king (raja) obtained the services of persons born in noble families (kula) (to be precise persons who had graduated from good academies) and knew the social and state laws (dharma), he would be deemed to have secured the best wealth and sovereign status (aisvarya). It was expected to work towards the security of his efforts (yogakshema) and facile life (kusala). The king who adhered to the social and state laws (was a dharmika) was advised to obtain for administering his state (rajyam) the services of such persons (even if they were outsiders) through gifts (dana) or force (bala) or through policy of good nature (sunrta).
Scholars who had graduated in different disciplines (vidyas) from good academies but afflicted by poverty were seeking only their careers (vrtti) and getting contented would help the king being established in social welfare activities (dharma). There was no greater gain for a king than the services of such persons, Bhishma pointed out to Yudhishtira.
Yudhishtira wanted to know the different ways by which he could gain a place in the nobility (svarga) and which the best among those ways was and whether there was any sovereign status (aisvarya) superior to a place in the nobility. According to the laws of truth (satya) of the later Vedic times, the person under whom a frightened person took shelter and found security even for a short time was the most eligible to gain a place in the ranks of the nobility, Bhishma said. (He had cited the example of Sibi.) By becoming a ruler of the Kurus and protecting the pious and destroying their enemies Yudhishtira could gain a place among the nobles.
Even as the birds depended on the trees to protect them against the rains the discrete individuals (bhutas) depended on the scholars (dvijas). Similarly the pious treated the king as their well-wisher and lived in safety. The king was expected to be fearless and valorous and aggressive (praharta), humanitarian (anrsamsa) and self-restrained (jitendriya) and affectionate and to give shelter and livelihood who sought his aid. (Santiparva ch.75)
Yudhishtira noticed that while some Brahmanas (jurists) adhered to the duties (svakarma) assigned (yukta) to them others were engaged in activities dysfunctional (vikarma) to these. He wanted to know how the two should be treated. Bhishma said that those Brahmanas (jurists) who had studied all the disciplines (vidyas) and looked at all as equal would become famous as members of the assembly of jurists and scholars (Brahmasabha). These members of the judiciary were expected to have studied all the four Vedas, Rg, Yajur, Sama and Atharva and also Anvikshiki (the science of acquiring and using knowledge), principles of economics (varta) and political policy (dandaniti).
The Brahmanas who had studied (only) the three Vedas, Rg, Yajur and Sama, and were engaged in the duties assigned to them (that is, as teachers or priests) were said to be equal to the nobles (devas). They were superior to the Kshatriyas and equal to the nobles who formed the governing elite but had a status for lower than the jurists.
Those associates of Brahmans (Brahmabandhu) who were by birth (and not by education) Brahmans lost their status by not performing the duties (karma) assigned to their community and became equal to Shudra workers. Those Brahmans who had not studied the Vedas (srutis) and did not teach the Vedas as Srotriya and did not lit fire (sagni) to perform rites for their welfare and also that of others should all be made to pay to the king (raja) the levy (bali) imposed on rich earners or render physical labour (vishti) to the state if they were not rich and had no earnings, Bhishma said.
A Brahmana who served summons on behalf of the court on the accused or the witnesses, one who served a noble (deva) and was doing the work of a kshatriya policeman (nakshatra) or officiated at sacrifices for the village (grama) in violation of the rule that only individuals and not groups were entitled to perform sacrifices (yajnas) was liable to be treated as a Chandala who had committed one of the five great sins. A Brahmana who went to and returned from an alien (mlechcha) country where free men (naras) who were sinners lived became equal to a Chandala.
A dvija (Brahmana) who officiated at a sacrifice performed by a Vratya (who did not accept varnasrama dharma) or by an alien (mlechcha) or by a Shudra worker was treated as one who had fallen from his status and as one to be consigned to the ghettoes (naraka). A Brahmana who foolishly profaned any of the three Vedas was deemed to be lower than an insect. [These interdicts might have been interpolated later.] Bhishma said that a Brahmana who functioned as a Rtvig (officer-in-charge of protocol) or as a Rajapurohita (political guide) or a Mantri (minister) or a Duta (envoy) or a messenger was equal to a Kshatriya. A Brahmana who fought as a cavalier or riding an elephant or from a chariot or as a soldier on foot was equal to a Vaisya. If the governor of an agrarian tract (mahipati) did not have funds in his treasury he could force the above persons to pay levy (bali) on their income.
They would not be eligible for the immunities and privileges that the Brahmana scholars and jurists enjoyed. Bhishma said that according to the earlier laws based on personal aptitude, Rta, only those Brahmanas who were equal to chief judge (Brahma) and nobles (devas) were exempt from this compulsory levy.Bhishma said thataccording to the Vedic code, the king(raja) was the owner (svami) of the wealth and means of livelihood (vitta) of all except the Brahmanas. He had control also over the wealth of those Brahmanas whose work was dysfunctional (vikarma).
The king (raja) should not ignore the dysfunctional activities (vikarma) of the vipras (who were scholars propagating knowledge and cultural practices but were criticised for their heterodox methods). But as a patron of those engaged in dharma activities, the king should take them to task for breach of prescribed rules (niyamas) and isolate them, Bhishma said. If a dvija (Brahmana) was found to have committed theft, the learned among the natives (jana) considered the king (raja) to be responsible for that offence. If a scholar in Vedas or a graduate (snataka) became a thief because he had no vocation (vrtta), the king (raja) should bear the responsibility for his livelihood.
If that Brahmana did not change his ways even after that, he should be exiled from the country (desa) along with his kinsmen (bandhus), Bhishma suggested. Performance of sacrifices (yajna), study of Vedas, not teasing others, harmlessness (ahimsa), self-control (dama), adherence to truth (satya), strenuous endeavour (tapas), and offering charity (dana) were the traits of the Brahmanas. (Santi Ch.76)
Yudhishtira wanted to know over whose wealth and economic resources (vitta) the king (raja) had control (prabhava) and how he should function (vrtta) with respect to this aspect. Bhishma said that according to the Vedic laws the king was the master over (owner of) (svami) the wealth and economic resources of all except the Brahmanas (jurists). He could take over the wealth of the Brahmanas too if they were engaged in activities that were dysfunctional (vikarma) to the society. He was advised not to ignore the dysfunctional activities (vikarma) of the scholars (vipras) who were required to teach all persons Vedas and train them in cultural practices like performance of yajnas and were alleged to be heterodox and ignoring the directives not to be associated with the Shudras, the mixed classes and the outcasts for purposes other than the above.
The Vipras who were nearly equivalent to Brahmanas were a cadre of Gandharvas like the young scholars,Vidyadharas. The pious (sadhus) considered this practice of exempting only the Brahmana jurists (Atharvans) and other Brahmanas who did not violate the prescribed rules as eligible for immunity against attachment of their property by the state as a traditional one. Some scholars argued that the earlier kings did not ignore the interests of any section of the Brahmanas. That is, they extended the right to personal property and immunity against attachment by the state to those Brahmanas who were not teachers or priests or jurists.
It was in operation even before the system of fourvarnas came into force. If in the state of a king a dvija (Brahmana scholar) was forced by poverty to resort to stealing it would be treated as a major offence committed by the king himself. The highest vocation that the Brahmanas were entitled to was that of legislators and interpreters of the constitution. The kings accepted that their own reputation was affected if these legislators and jurists were accused of theft and hence they took care that these scholars were maintained well.
In this connection, Bhishma cited the stand taken by the king of Kekaya and a forest guard (raksha). The king claimed that in Kekaya there was no thief or miser or drunkard and that every one was generous and performed sacrifices and that there was no Brahman who was not a scholar. The priests were paid liberal fees and the students studied in formal schools. The Brahmans were all engaged in the six activities permitted for them as svakarma, to study and teach, to perform sacrifice and officiate at sacrifice, to offer gifts and accept gifts. They did not mingle with undesirable elements and were gentle and as satyavadis followed the (Vedic) laws based on truth (satya). Hence the forest guard could not accuse him of having neglected his duties.
In Kekaya, Kshatriyas and Vaisyas too were particular in adhering to their respective duties, and did not perform any work that was in the exclusive jurisdiction of the Brahmanas as they had studied the earlier laws that were based on truth (satya) and the new ones based on dharma. The Kshatriyas protected the Brahmanas and never fled from battle. The Vaisyas looked after agriculture, protection of cattle and trade. They were never indolent and were active and followed noble pledges and followed the laws of truth (satya). They adhered to the rules of samvibhaga (proper share in produce), self-control, purity and amiability. The Shudras depended for their livelihood on the three higher classes without grudge, the king claimed.
The king of Kekaya claimed that he looked after the poor, the orphans, the aged, the weak, the sick and the women and protected the dharmas of all the clans (kulas) and honoured the elders who visited his country. He never ate before his guests did. None in his country was a beggar. Of course, the student was required to seek alms for himself and for his teacher. He never disrespected the scholars, the elders and the tapasvis. He stayed awake so that the people of his country (rashtra) might sleep soundly.
The king claimed that he did his duties perfectly and followed the duties prescribed for a grhastha (householder). His political guide (purohita) was a scholar and knew all the social and state laws (dharmas) and was the charismatic chief (svami) of the people of the entire country (rashtram). The king of Kekaya implied that he was but an executive and had consented to function as guided and directed by the Rajapurohita. It is not sound to interpret that the term, svami, meant owner.
Kekaya said that he desired to study the different disciplines (vidyas) and for that purpose was prepared to give donations (dana). Bhishma was not in favour of free education or payment of fees (dakshina) to the teacher. He would offer protection to the Brahmanas in order to uphold the (then prevailing) laws based on truth (satya). He went to the teacher (guru) and rendered him personal service (susrusha) (though he was a king). Hence he was not afraid of the militant (rakshasa). In his country (rashtram) there was no widow for none died young.
There were no fallen Brahmanas and sinners and he himself had taken part in battles and borne injuries. The people (jana) of his country (rashtram) always prayed for the welfare of cattle and Brahmanas and success of yajnas. Hence the king had not strayed from his duties and deserved to be left free by the forest guard who claimed that he could punish any guilty person who entered his area.
While Kekaya (a province in the north Sindhu basin) had opted for the social system of four classes (varnas) and a polity where the king (raja), the head of the state, functioned under the guidance of the Rajapurohita, the forest territory adjoining it was governed by a Rakshas whose social roles were a blend of the roles of a Brahman and a Kshatriya. He commented that the subjects (prajas) faced threat from adultery by free women (nari) who were not under the jurisdiction of any family, injustice by kings and bad conduct of Brahmans.
He was hinting at certain faults in the social polities of many areas including Kekaya which had strayed from the rules prescribed in dandaniti and failed to ensure that the practice of polyandry which it was known for did not deteriorate into promiscuity. Besides the political system by subordinating the executive totally to theBrahman jurists including the political guide, purohita, had deprived the state of its coercive power.
Such states were bound to suffer economically and face civil war, the scholar-guardian of the forest warned. He attributed the threat to the economy and to the security of the social polity of the new state to the arrogance of the intellectuals, the Brahmans. The new state covered not only the agro-pastoral plains (prthvi, bhumi) but also the social periphery and the neighbouring forest and mountainous areas. The commoners and workers of all these areas had consented to be the subjects of the new state and be assigned to one or the other of the four new classes (varnas) but they resented the Brahmans being given certain privileges and immunities that the others did not have.
The plutocrats (yakshas) of the industrial frontier society who were equal to the aristocrats (devas) of the agrarian core society, the feudal lords (asuras) who had been forced to stay in the small forts and their hinterland, the militant troops (rakshas) who served the above two cadres, yakshas and asuras, and the counter-intelligentsia (paisacas) had found it unfruitful to disturb the subjects (prajas) of the new state who were loyal to its ruler.
In such a new state where the women and the four classes adhered to their respective duties (svadharma), the cadres like gandharvas, apsarases and siddhas demanded greater freedom of thought and movement than the varnasrama scheme promised. The industrial class of technocrats who operated the costly diamond mines (pannagas) and proletariat (sarpas) who too like the above cadres were highly mobile groups would not pressurise the commoners (manushyas) who continued to follow the traditions and practices of their clans and communities and owed but limited allegiance to the new territorial state and consequently limited protection from it.
The new state would be free from internal instability caused by famine and drought and unrest among its natives (jana) who felt that the new concept of citizenship (praja) guaranteeing protection to life and property of those who opted to join one of the four new classes ignored their traditional rights and privileges. The natives would cease to be restless if the Brahmans were found to be modest and not granted special rights and immunities, the rakshasa told the king of Kekaya. He added that in a country where the king followed dharma, that is, the principles of Rajadharma, none would be victim of disrespect and there would be no weaknesses and sufferings caused either by the nobility (devas) or the commonalty (manushyas), the two traditional strata.
As the king of Kekaya always attended to dharma, the forest guard released him and asked him to return to his kingdom. A king who protected the subjects (prajas) and the cattle and the Brahmanas need not fear the militants stationed in the forests or on the periphery. Kings who were led by Brahmans and who protected the Brahmans would win a place in the ranks of the nobles (devaloka, svarga), he told Kekaya. Yudhishtira while recognizing the interdependence between kings and Brahmanas should in the interests of the subjects prevent the Brahmanas from going along the wrong path but grant them what they desired. The king who conducted himself according to this procedure with respect to the peoples of the towns and villages would after enjoying this world of commonalty attain that of the nobility, Bhishma said. (Santi-parva Ch.77)
Yudhishtira noticed that in an emergency, a Brahmana (jurist) might resort to Rajadharma and utilise what he received for performing the duties of an administrator to meet the expenses on his living. He wanted to know whether a Brahmana could follow a vocation assigned to the Vaisyas. Did Rajaniti permit it? Bhishma said that the Brahmana was permitted to live by cultivation of crops and protection of cows. But he was prevented from trading in liquor, salt, sesame, horses, cows, bulls, honey, meat and cooked food. It was permissible to barter grains for cooked food. Barter was an ancient practice resorted to by even sages.
Yudhishtira wanted to know what should be the policy when the subjects (prajas) took up arms and the king became weak and was unable to protect the social world (loka) of commonalty. Bhishma said that Brahmanas and other classes should seek to be secure by following the prescribed duties, charity (dana), strenuous endeavour (tapas), performance of sacrifice (yajna), non-violence and humility. Brahmanas (jurists, in particular) should strengthen the hands of the king. And the king should try to strengthen his position with their support.
If a king who was capable of gaining victory exerted for the security and welfare of the people of his state, especially of its rural areas, the other classes and communities would follow their respective duties and laws (dharmas), Bhishma said. When all the classes and communities were forced by thieves to transgress the limits imposed by their duties and resorted to vocations and practices that resulted in mixing (samkara) of classes and communities, it was open to all the classes to take to arms to protect their respective identities.
Yudhishtira wanted to know who would protect theBrahmanas (scholars, jurists) if the Kshatriya ruler ill-treated them. What was the stand of dharma (Rajadharma) on this issue and what led to the harassment of the Brahmanas? Bhishma replied that it was justified for the Brahmanas to put down such Kshatriyas and they could use all means including their knowledge and physical strength and even methods of deception to overcome the latter.
But Bhishma would not approve of any other section of the population coming to the rescue of the harassed Brahmanas (jurists) or in their defence. The Kshatriyashad been permitted by the Brahmanaswho formed the constitution bench to use coercive power and this would be lost by the Kshatriyas (administrators) if they antagonised the upholders of the constitution (Brahma) which vested this power in them. Bhishma was not visualising Brahmanas as a sacerdotal class.
Yudhishtira wanted to know what would be the reward for those who protected the Brahmans (jurists, scholars) when the latter were weak and the Kshatriyas (the army and the executive) too were weak while the other classes and communities harassed the Brahmans. Bhishma explained that it was not the exclusive duty of the Kshatriyas (the executive and the army) to defend the Brahmans (jurists and scholars) forcing the latter to defend themselves against the rest of the society when the state failed in its duty. Every section of the native population (jana) was entitled to take up arms to defend the Brahmans even as they were entitled to defend themselves.
Such supporters of the Brahmans were recognized to be cadres belonging to the punya-jana. Gandharvas, Vidyadharas, Charanas, Tapasvis, Chakshus, Vipras and Siddhas were such cadres of blessed peoples with special privileges granted by the nobles (devas). They were both intellectuals and warriors and ranked higher than the commoners (manushyas) and were volunteers who functioned on their own with the tacit support of the nobles (devas). They however did not rank higher than the Brahmana jurists.
The Brahmans would not be in the wrong if they took up arms to defend themselves or the three lower classes. The commoners, the native population (jana) held that it was highly meritorious to die in defence of Brahmans (Brahmaloka, jurists) and as persons who deserved to be admitted to the ranks of the aristocrats (svargaloka). Those who died so were to be paid homage and were to be emulated by others. (Pracetas) Manu had described them as persons who had won the hearts and appreciation of the social cadre of intellectuals and jurists
Bhishma agreed that depending on the times and the regions, permitted conduct (dharma) varied. It might be permissible in one area or at a particular time, but not elsewhere or at other times. He would not be dogmatic. The editor of the epic would not condemn Utanka who performed the cruel sarpa-yajna which was mass extermination of the workers of the forest. Resorting to violence within the country was not permissible for the Kshatriyas but they could harass the people of another country. When the Brahmans had to defend themselves or when there was threat from brigands or when there was danger to ones entire wealth, it was not wrong to take up arms, Bhishma said, advocating the right to self-defence, though Rajadharma prevented even the army from using force against the people of the state.
Yudhishtira wanted to know whether it was permissible for a powerful Brahman or Vaisya or Shudra to take over the governance of the state in the absence of a Kshatriyacapable of maintaining law and order.Bhishma said that it was not only permissible but also admirable that such a person should come forward to protect the people. They would welcome him as their kinsman (though he was not born in that state). (Santiparva Ch.78)
RTVIGS AND RULES OF PROCEDURE
The traditional state (rajyam) had the anointed king (rajan), a dynamic personage, as the head of its executive. He had to be guided by the Rajapurohita who was an expert in Atharvaveda which incorporated the socio-political constitution (Brahma) of the Vedic times. It is wrong to presume that he was a priest and that the Atharvaveda was a compendium of secret formulae connected with witchcraft.
The authority of this constitution, Brahma, was superior to the coercive power (danda) that was vested in the king by the policy science of the state headed by the king (rajanitisastra). It is wrong to interpret the statement that Brahmadanda was superior to Rajadanda as a claim by the Brahmans, the ecclesiastical order, that their authority (to punish the delinquents) was superior to that of the Rajanyas, the Lords Temporal. It meant that the highest judiciary that interpreted the constitution (Brahma) had more power than the executive to discipline every one and it could overrule the executive.
The state (rajyam) ruled by the king (rajan) had five sectors (angas, indriyas or prakrtis)ministry that controlled the bureaucracy (amatyam), the rural areas (rashtram, rajyam, desa, janapada), the fortified capital (durga, pura), the treasury (kosa, rajyalakshmi, sura) and the army (danda, sena). They were controlled by the king (raja) who claimed traditional legitimacy or by the 'svami who claimed legitimacy by conquest or purchase or by the dynamic social leader (purusha) who enjoyed the confidence of the masses (prakrti) and hence had rational legitimacy to rule them.
In the improved form of the traditional state, in addition to the political guide (Rajapurohita) whom the king would not dare to disobey there were some officers designated as Rtvigs. Like the Rajapurohita they belonged to the unit, Rajaprakrti that controlledthe other five units, which were known as Rajyaprakrtis.The Rajaprakrti had also the kings close associates,sahayas, as its members. Yudhishtira wanted to know from Bhishma why the post of Rtvig was created and what were the special traits and character (sheela) expected in that official and what were the categories among the Rtvigs. (79-1)
Bhishma said that according to the rules the Rtvigs were required to ensure that every act of others including that of the king was in accordance with the prescribed practices (achara). The Rtvig was an officer in charge of protocol. The Rtvigs were from the educated classes (dvijas) who had studied the Vedas (Sama etc.) and the chants (chhanda). Bhishma gave primacy to Samaveda and the chants that cast a spell on the audience. Of course, he expected the Rtvig to know all the three Vedas. But unlike the Rajapurohita he was not an expert in Atharvaveda, that is, the socio-political constitution that subordinated the coercive power of the king (Rajadanda) to its superior authority (Brahmadanda). He could only supervise the work of the executive (including that of the king) to ensure that there were no procedural lapses. (79-2)
The Rtvig had to know the import (mimamsa) of theVedas which were the basis for social laws (dharma). The Rgvedic hymns while dealing with the events pertaining to the social, cultural and political history of Ancient India and the careers of their dramatis personae dwelt on the lessons to be learnt from them. It was only by applying dialectical methods (of samkhya) to those hymns what was dharma and what was adharma could be determined. The Rtvig must have knowledge of these methods.
Bhishma said that the Rtvig had to be always loyal to one person only and uphold the interests of that person. (He might have been appointed either by the king, raja, or by his political guide, purohita.) He had to be bold and friendly in his approach and promote good mutual relations (among the officials of the eighteen bureaus) and treat them all equally (3).
The Rtvig was an officer who insisted on every free man (nr) who had placed his services at the disposal of the state, doing his duty. Nrs (naras) were commoners (manushyas) but had parted company with their clans and communities. They had a status above the commoners but below the gandharvas. They had been drafted for manning the army, the police and the other wings of the administrative machinery. They were however not eligible to be appointed as officers or ministers as they were not backed by their clans (kulas).
Bhishma advised the Rtvig not to harass any man (nr) but to speak out the truth (satya). He advised the Rtvig not to levy interest on delayed payment of dues to the state. The Rtvig might recommend payment of dues by easy instalments, if the defaulter was in difficulty. He should however never betray the interests of the king. He should not stand on his dignity (abhimana) but should be modest, firm and self-controlled. (79-4) Bhishma added that such traits were expected in the political guide (rajapurohita) also. Rajapurohitas and Rtvigs were political functionaries and not priests.
The Rtvig should be able to distinguish between good and bad, be staunch in his adherence to the laws based on truth (satya) and not harass any discrete individual (bhuta). The term, bhuta, was used to refer to such a person in the social periphery. The bhutas were not organised communities and had no traditions or holdings to fall back on. At times they banded together to form volunteer groups to carry out the wishes of their charismatic leaders (isvaras). Bhishma did not want them to be declared as defaulters in the payment of their dues to the state.
The Rtvig should be free from likes and dislikes and have all the three traitsknowledge of the codes (sastras), good character (sheela) and birth in a noble clan, kula, to be precise, graduation from a prestigious academy, kula. He should be pure (sukra) and committed to non-violence (ahimsa) and have adequate knowledge (jnana) in all fields. He must be qualified to occupy the seat of the chief justice, Brahma. That is, he must know all laws. One who had these qualifications deserved to be honoured by all. (79-5,6)
The Rtvig, a post in existence since the Vedic times, was in charge of internal content, stability and peace(santi). He was also required to look after the needs and comforts (paushti) of the king. He had to ensure that the kings rivals and foes did not harm him and that the king did not do any improper deed or failed to do the required duty (abhichara). He attended to the security of theRajaprakrti. The Rtvigs were expected to act in unison and adopt a soft approach. It is noticed that while reviving this post, rather while adapting the institution of Rtvig, a socio-cultural functionary, to the needs of the new state, Bhishma visualised it as a training ground too.
The Rajapurohita might be selected from among these officers of protocol (Rtvigs) who while ensuring smooth functioning of the bureaus also ensured that no individual or official who lacked protection by his clan or community was harassed by the authorities collecting the dues from him. The post of Rtvig was a step leading to the post of the chief judge, Brahma. The latter was an expert in the socio-political constitution (Brahma) and was assisted by three Vipras who had each mastered one of the three Vedas, Rg, Yajur and Sama. Rtvigs and Rajapurohitas were not priests or theologians but were scholars in Vedas and were state functionaries.
The Rtvig was a vigilance officer. He was soft-spoken but firm. He was not an ideologue which a Brahmavadiwas or a partisan. He was satisfied with being respected as a scholar. It appears that he was not paid directly from the state treasury or by the king. He had to be paid fees (dakshina) by the citizens and by the heads of the bureaus for the peaceful and honest settlement of dues from them to the state. These prescribed (vidhi) fees were too high, Yudhishtira complained. It was claimed that the fees followed the Vedic prescriptions and were not newly imposed. Fees had been prescribed for every step and this appeared to be harsh and unnecessary, he felt. (79-7)
Yudhishtira also argued that the fee (dakshina) to be paid according to the state code did not accord with the amount prescribed in the code (sastra) dealing with the social laws (dharma) to be followed during emergencyapad) (79-8) The order issued in accordance with the state code (sastra) was too harsh (ghora) and it was beyond the means of the individual (nara, bhuta) to pay that amount. This Vedic order was said to be obligatory for every person who was dedicated (sraddhavata). That is, performance of sraddhayajna had been made obligatory for all without taking into account the capacity of the individuals and the householders to pay, Yudhishtira complained. He wondered how a poor but dedicated person could afford to pay huge fees (dakshina) and perform the sacrifice (yajna). (79-8) He was not impressed by Bhishmas advocacy of Sraddhayajna as a practice that followed the spirit of the Vedic sacrifices.
Bhishma warned him against speaking ill of the Vedic injunctions. He clarified that the payment of fees to the official (Rtvig) was part (anga) of the sacrifice (yajna) offered. It was not possible to arrange a sacrifice without paying fees. The Vedic polity where the nobles (devas) formed the governing elite required the commoners to voluntarily sacrifice a portion of their earning by performing yajnas in the open. What was offered in the yajna was shared by the nobles (devas), retired elders (pitrs), sages (rshis), commoners (manushyas) (especially the weaker sections among them who were later assigned to the class of Shudras, workers) and the unorganised sections of the social periphery who lived as discrete individuals (bhutas). The state (the king) was not a beneficiary then.
Bhishma revived the practice of voluntary sacrifice (yajna) as an alternative to the feudal system of compulsory levy (bali) and to the post-feudal contractual system of prescribed tax (kara). Yudhishtiras complaint was that the high fees charged by the officials (rtvigs) increased the burden on the householders. Bhishma explained that the rate of one-fourth of the earnings to be sacrificed included the fees to be paid to the official which he was eligible for in lieu of salary. The Rtvig had to ensure that every thing was in order. (79-10, 11) [Bali system required the householder to pay one-fifth of his income to the king. Kara system reduced it to one-sixth of the income. Bhishmas yajna system kept it at one-fourth as it was the practice during the Vedic times. He wanted a strong, efficient and honest administration and that needed funds.]
Bhishma said that while (huge) fees were prescribed for the rich they were not applicable to the poor. They could pay only a full pot (purnapatra) (of grains), full dues, according to their capacity and would be deemed to have become fully eligible for the status they aspired for. He refused to be lenient to the three higher classes. They should follow the rules he directed (79-12). The workers who led a hand-to-mouth existence were not required to pay any fees to the Rtvig. The full pot was sent to the granary without any question asked about the workers income. He was however not free not to pay anything at all to the state.
Bhishma noticed that there were murmurs among the scholars, Brahmanas, who had to be content with the honoraria they received. They were not subordinate to the king and he could not expect them to surrender to him by way of sacrifice (yajna) or levy (bali) or tax (kara) any portion of their earnings. They claimed that the Vedic official, Soma, who had jurisdiction over the intellectuals of the forest, was their King (raja). If the Brahmans had received any article that was of no use to them, it was not improper for them to sell it and pay their dues to the state by way of yajna.
Only the articles useful to them need not be handed over to the Rtvig who decided who should pay and how much he should pay and what he should pay. The Rtvig could prevail on them to do so without acknowledging their subordination to the king (79-13). Brahmans were not allowed to retain what they did not need. Bhishma told them that a sacrifice performed from the proceeds of sale of articles that could not be used by them as scholars (Brahmans) became famous far and wide. The sages (rshis) who followed social laws (dharma) had expressed such a view with respect to the validity of such sale for charity (dharma).
He said that the threethe host who performed the sacrifice (puman), the sacrifice (yajna) and the intellectual authority (Soma) to whom the sacrifice was offeredwere correlated with one another in the code of procedure (nyayavrtta). It ruled out the intervention of other persons (parapurusha). The intervention of the officers of the state would do no good to them or to the performer of the sacrifice. (79-15) He directed the Rtvig not to interfere in the type of sacrifice that the Brahmanas chose to perform or to collect any fees from them, it may be inferred.
The above exemption from scrutiny granted to the Brahman scholars who acknowledged none else than Soma as their king (raja) could not be extended to others among the three higher classes. Whatever was offered voluntarily by those engaged in physical labour was welcomed as praiseworthy. The Rtvigs need not proceed to examine whether they had paid the dues in full. Hence what the great persons (mahatmana), Brahmanas, contributed should be voluntary and not tainted by forcible extortion, Bhishma advised (79-16). He then offered to tell Yudhishtira what expectation from yajna was the best, according to the Vedas (79-17).
Bhishma said that the learned who could distinguish between the desirable and the undesirable treated harmlessness (ahimsa), speaking truth (satyavacana), not resorting to harassing any (free) man (anrsamsa), self-control (dama) and compassion (ghrna) as features of tapas (that is, traits of a tapasvi). They treated non-torturing of ones body as another aspect of tapas. (79-18) Bhishma kept in mind Yudhishtiras plan to give up rulership and go to the forest to become a tapasvi. He indicated that the latter was not suitable for that career.
Bhishma asserted that the claim that the Vedic prescriptions (vidhis) were not authoritative (apramana) and to disregard and violate (abhilangana) the (social and political) codes (sastras) and to create disorder (avyavastha) everywhere was to invite self-destruction. He asked Yudhishtira to heed to what according to rules were to be treated as belonging to the hotr priests officiating on behalf of the noble (deva, patron). (79-19) He was addressing Yudhishtira as Partha to indicate that as a descendant of Prthu, he was but a commoner and had to obey the hotr priest.
He pointed out that chitti, chittam and jnanam were the three components of yajna, of which the most sacred (pavitra) was, offering of and gaining of knowledge. To but live is the status (pada) reached by all insentient beings (mrtyu). To live in an upright manner is the status a Brahman (jurist) attains, Bhishma said. (79-20, 21)