BHISHMA AND RAJADHARMA
After the Battle of Kurukshetra, Krshna directed Yudhishtira, the victorious Pandava chief, to learn Rajadharma from the Kuru veteran, Bhishma. Bhishma was a keen student of human nature and of social and political affairs. He was impressed by Krshnas statesmanship but was not a follower of Krshna who was comparatively junior to him. He leaned towards the Pasupatas and the Rudra school of thought. He had stood by the Kauravas though he had a soft corner for their rivals, the Pandavas. He brought to bear his vast experience when he expounded his thesis on the code of functions and duties of the kings.
Ch.56 to 58 of the Santi Parva (Canto of Peace) of the great epic, Mahabharata,contain the kernel of the socio-political thought of Bhishma. These chapters describe his views as recorded by Vaishampayana, a disciple of Dvaipayana (Bhishmas step-brother), and by the later editors of this epic. Some of the concepts advanced in Bhishmas thesis are descriptive of the post-Kurukshetra states rather than are of the earlier ones. Here we trace the concepts relevant to the decades leading to this great battle and to the stalled ascent to the Kuru throne, of the victor, Yudhishtira.
Paurusham and Daivam
In Ch.56-12 of the Santi Parva, Bhishma tells Yudhishtira that a king who desires to please his subjects will honour the devatas and the dvijas according to the prescribed rules (vidhi). He is discharged of his debts to Dharma by this worship of devatas and Brahmans and is then worshipped by the social world (loka) (of commoners).
Bhishma considers honouring devatas and Brahmansas expedient for a king who seeks popularity. He exhorts Yudhishtira to be always persevering in rising (utthana) for without rise, daivam will be of no avail (56-14). The King was expected to respect the socio-economic leaders, devatas, who were mainly technocrats and plutocrats, and follow the advice given by the intellectuals, Brahmans. This was not a call to worship gods or a direction to act as directed by the priests, the ecclesiastical order. Bhishma was not recommending a theocratic state.
Birth in an aristocratic family (whose status is described as daivam), alone would not help the king. He had to make efforts to improve his personal calibre. Rather it is paurusham, personal charisma and talent, ability to lead and dominate others that is supreme and helpful for social ascent, Bhishma holds (56-15). Daivam is not to be construed as implying divinity. The terms, devas and devatas, referred to aristocrats of the core society and the plutocrats and technocrats of the frontier society of the Vedic times and not to gods and demigods.
Bhishma told Yudhishtira who had headed a government in exile in the forest and regained his rights in Hastinapura that it as necessary for him to get the approval of the nobility (devatas) of the forest society who were technocrats and plutocrats and also of the judiciary (Brahmans) if he wanted to ascend the throne of the Hastinapura state of the Kurus. It was not enough to claim that he belonged to its nobility (daivam) by birth. He had to strive for this ascent (uttanam). He should also have the personal calibre, dynamism, as implied by the term, paurusham. Bhishma brought to his notice that it was not easy for him to be accepted as the king of Hastinapura even though he might have won the war.
Social ascent through development of personal talent
Bhishma was aware of the common view that daivam and utthana are the two wheels of a cart. Birth in an aristocratic family and social ascent, that is, are both equally honoured and equally needed if one has to become a successful ruler. In other words, both born aristocrats and those talented persons who have been raised to the status of nobles are treated as equally eligible while selecting a ruler from the nobility.But Bhishma would stress utthana that is connected with 'paurusham as the more important of the two requisites. Birth in a noble family', daivam, does certainly boost ones fortunes. But it is not adequate to rise in social status and gain social influence.
The issue also is whether a king who does not belong to the patriciate, daivam, can succeed.Bhishma holds that he can if he develops his personality and leadership traits,paurusham. This is not identical with the popularity that he gets by honouring the devatas and the Brahmans. This popularity only compensates for the deficiency in dharma, that is, for the inability of the commoner-king to follow the principles of Rajadharma. That is, a ruler who secures the support of the technocrats and plutocrats (devatas) and the judiciary (Brahmans) will not be disturbed even if he does not follow the rules of conduct (dharma) prescribed for a king. Bhishma was pragmatic and was not idealistic or utopian.
The new king is popular rather than domineering
The views of Bhishma have to be viewed in the context of the post-war situation and the urgency to reestablish governments in many states whose chiefs had fallen in the great battle. Bhishma would treat rajan not as one endowed with aggressiveness, rajas, but as one who pleases (ranjana) his people. He envisages a popular ruler who is a towering personage (purusha) but is different from the aggressive ruler of the Atharvan polity.If this personage belongs to the patriciate, it is an added advantage.The new ruler may be from any social class but he must be able to rise above others. Bhishma, it may be noted, held in great esteem Prahlada who was not born in an aristocratic (deva) family and was the son of a dreaded feudal chieftain, Hiranyakasipu. Prahlada had however become a role model for a cultured and enlightened ruler through his personal efforts. [Krshna too held him in esteem.]
Adherence to truth (satya) as
political policy (naya)
Yudhishtira was committed to truth, Satya. Bhishma too upheld Satya as a fruitful and useful political policy(naya) to be adhered to by kings ( (56-16). But he argued that in matters connected with state affairs, truth should not be always spoken (56-20). He was pragmatic. The Pandava was advised to be neither too gentle nor too harsh. Commitment to truth and gentleness may contribute to personal goodness (sattva), but paurusham meant something more. It was a quality expected in a king (and other social leaders) rather than in a common man. It meant ability to dominate others and govern effectively but without being rude or aggressive. It however did not indicate the gentleness that is associated with daivam, aristocracy. Did Bhishma envisage dynamism, paurusham, rather than aggressiveness, rajas or nobility, daivam as the quality expected in the new ruler? Did Yudhishtira fit in his scheme?
State and Brahmans
Bhishma accepts the traditional view that it is the duty of the king to protect the dharmas of the four classes,'varnas and to prevent the mixture (samkara) of classes'varnas). Yudhishtira was concerned, like many other kings, about the immunities that the Brahmans claimed. Manu Svayambhuva himself was exercised over this issue when he was but a Vibhu, a petty ruler, of Barhismati. Kautilya too could not avoid the problems posed by the immunities and privileges that the Brahmans claimed. [In medieval Europe the question of the relationship between the state and the church loomed large. Modern world too is not free from the problems caused by ambitious religious heads.]
It is essentially an issue pertaining to the limits of sovereignty claimed for the state. Yudhishtira wanted to take an unequivocal stand on this issue and sought the advice of Bhishma. In 56-22, Bhishma states that vipras (scholars) are the best among the people and they are not to be brought under danda. In other words, they are not to be punished under criminal law.
Brahmans as scholars rather than as priests
He suggests that Manus dictum be borne in mind while dealing with the relation between the two classes, Brahmans and Kshatriyas. According to Manu (Savarni), agni rose from apa, Kshatriya from Brahmana and iron from stone. Even as fire (agni) cannot prevail over water (apa), and an iron tool cannot destroy the hard mountain (asmaka), the Kshatriya (warrior) cannot prevail over the Brahman (scholar). (The pen is mightier than the sword.) He would come to grief if he hates the Brahman, Bhishma cautions (56-25).
Manu's dictum made the Kshatriyasa cadre created for the protection of the people and it derived its authority from the Brahmans (24). Hence the Kshatriyas could not afford to antagonize them. The king is advised to honour the scholars, Brahmans, the best among the dvijas (the educated classes), because they are patient like thebhumi (earth, in common parlance), the agro-pastoral commonalty. In other words, the commonalty supported these scholars. In contrast the Kshatriyas had been trying to identify themselves with the ruling classes, the aristocracy. The Vaisyas were then losing their hold over the rural areas.
Brahmans: Jurisdiction only over
But Bhishma does not say that the king might abandon his duties in the face of this situation. If any one works against the three social worlds (lokas), the king should restrain him by his arms (bahu) (56-27). In the expanded state covering the plains, the forests and the mountains, the king who is a Kshatriya, is required to protect the interests not only of the patriciate (divam) but also of the agro-pastoral commonalty (prthvi) and the industrial society of the forests and mountains (antariksham), the three social worlds.
Bhishma acknowledges the authority of the Brahmansto regulate social life as far as the agro-pastoral commonalty (bhumi) is concerned. He does not accept their claim to speak on behalf of the other two social worlds. The relationships among the three social worlds were looked after by the state and by the king. He may restrain any one including the Brahman from working against the new integrated society. Does he allow use of force against the intelligentsia, the Brahmans?
Bhishma and Usanas on Immunity to Unarmed Brahmans
At this stage, Bhishma quotes the views of Usanas, the then authority, on Dandaniti (56-28). Usanas had established a precedent-setting rule as it were. If on the battlefield, the opponent who bears arms is a Brahman, the king should treat it as his personal duty, svadharma, to control him though that Brahman is an expert in Vedanta. The Brahmans of the final decades of the long Vedic era had withdrawn from socio-political activities and opted to master metaphysics and spiritualism as found in the epilogues to the Vedas. If they returned to take part in social and political activities they stood to lose their immunities and would be treated as equal to the Kshatriya warriors. Immunity was granted only to unarmed Brahman scholars (especially the members of the judiciary) who did not take part in violent movements.
Bhrgus had instigated the agriculturists to revolt against Vena. They had also battled against the Talajanghas and the Haihayas. Such movements threatened the sovereign rights of the state. The immunity granted to the intellectuals is circumscribed. Not all Brahmans are eligible for the right not to be killed. The armed Brahman if found guilty, may be killed personally by the king. The concept, svadharma, implied personal rights and duties of an individual. They were not superseded by the rights and duties emanating from membership of a class, varnadharma. It is implied that other Kshatriyas (whether soldiers or administrators) were not entitled to kill (or impose death sentence on) Brahmans.
Bhishma dispels Yudhishtiras doubts about the correctness in killing Brahmans for armed revolt against the state and the king. Bhishma had not disavowed the duty of the king to protect the Brahmans. He suggests (to the officials of the state including the judiciary) thatthe Brahmans found guilty be expelled from the country rather than be awarded corporal punishment or death sentence.Bhishma like Usanas refuses immunity to the Brahmans who bear arms against the king. They may counsel, plead, persuade, but not rebel against the king, it is implied. Bhishma asserts that even a friend, one's brother and ones own son may be banished if his activities are harmful to the (seven) organs of the state (57-5). The king should give the utmost importance to his personal safety. Bhishma cites the example of Sagara who banished his sadist son, Asamanja.(56-33).
Brhaspati on Immunity of
Brahman jurists and counsellors
Bhishma does not support the extreme step suggested by Brhaspati that even ones teacher might be killed if he proved dangerous (57-6,7). In Bhishmas view that teacher did not know what was beneficial (artha) and what was not and had guided the emperor (Marutta?) to go along wrong lines. It may be noticed that the discussion was not about priests who officiated at rituals or about ordinary Brahman teachers. It was about the Atharvanscholars who guided the king on the provisions of the constitution (Brahma) and had the right to punish even the king who violated them. These scholars like Brhaspati, an Atharvan, were economists and political activists too.
Bhishma on Parasurama and Pracetas
Bhishma draws attention to the statement of Parasurama that one must get a good king first and then wealth and wives. If the king is weak or bad, these will not be protected, Parasurama warned. Bhishma, a champion of the authority of the king and the sovereignty of the state, does not agree with this ideologue-cum-activist. Parasurama had become an anarchist because some kings instead of protecting the wealth of the people and the women carried them away forcibly (57-40). Parasurama pointed out that it was the duty of the king to protect all beings, according to Sasvata Dharma (the code which is valid for all times). Bhishma agreed with this stand but did not approve his anarchism.
Bhishma cites also Pracetas Manu on Rajadharma. A teacher who does not teach, a scholar who does not study, a king who does not protect, a wife who speaks unkind words, a cowherd who wants to stay in the village, a physician (napita, barber, in common parlance) who loves the forest are to be rejected like a wrecked ship. (57-45) Pracetas stresses raksha, protection as the main duty of the king. He was the author of an Arthasastra text. Brhaspati, Usanas, Parasurama and Pracetas Manu were all Bhishmas senior contemporaries.
Raksha, Protection as the root of Rajadharma
Bhishma says (58-1) that Brhaspati held protection according to the prescribed code and policy (Niti) as the essence of Rajadharma, the duty of the king or state. He was not endorsing the Dandaniti of Usanas who demanded from the subjects, unquestioned obedience to the king. Bhishma insists that Visalaksha, Usanas (Kavya), Mahendra, Pracetas Manu, Bharadvaja and Gaurasira (a white-haired sage) too held the same view. Bhishmas treatise on Rajadharma follows the stands of these scholars. [Kautilya was acquainted with almost all these schools. He does not refer to Gaurasira.]
Bhishma says that the Brahmavadis (Atharvan socio-political ideologues) who prepared the Rajadharma praised only this objective, raksha or protection. There was a broad consensus on the stand that state was needed to protect the people and that a king who failed in this duty must be removed. Bhishma quotes Brhaspati to assert that exertion (yoga) in this duty of protection (raksha) is the root (mula) of Rajadharma (58-13).
Mahendra who taught this exertion (yoga) secured immortality (amrta) by killing the feudal warlords (asuras) and became popular among the commoners here and among the patriciate (divi). This Mahendra who belonged to the school of Karmayoga had authored Bahudantakam, an Arthasastra text. Though the different socio-political thinkers of that period could not arrive at a consensus on many issues, they were agreed on the main raison dtre for the existence of a state.
Quintessence of Rajadharma
Bhishma states that according to Sanatana Dharma, the traditional socio-cultural code, the duty of the king is to please the people (lokaranjana) (57-11). This code had come into force before the four classes (varnas) had been formed and their respective duties prescribed. [It is not sound to hold that the expressions, sanatana dharma and sasvata dharma meant the same.] The king then belonged to the patriciate and there was no conflict of interest between the elite and the commonalty. There was no threat to either from the frontier society. Hence there was no need to institute a class of warriors. The king had no other major role then than to keep the people happy by coming to their aid when they were troubled by the vagaries of nature. But this restriction tended to make the state superfluous.
Hence implementation of civil law and arbitration of economic disputes (vyavahara) on the basis of truth(satya) was assigned as the duty of the state and the king. He was expected to be straightforward. Bhishma implies that he does not approve resort to expediency. He stresses that a valorous and patient king who always speaks the truth will not deviate from the proper path. Of course he has to keep his counsel secret. [Bhishma was explaining the expectations from the king, to Yudhishtira who was under a cloud for violating his pledge to abide by his duties.]
Codes based on Dharma bypass ones based on Satya and Rta
A correct appreciation of ancient Indian society is possible only if we distinguish amongst the three concepts, Rta, Satya and Dharma. The early and middle Vedic society followed the laws based on Rta. During the later Vedic period supplemented the laws based on Satya superseded them. When the social law, dharma, based on consensus came into focus by the end of the Vedic era, the laws based on Rta and Satya were incorporated in it. Asdharma or social law was outlined and the classes, varnas, were formed and the need for variations in prescription of rights and duties was recognised, the common law based on the principle that what pleases the people at large is good and desirable had to be shelved to the back-burner.
The concept of Ranjana was in tune with the laws based on Rta, which permitted everyone to act according to his aptitude and pleasure and was not in tune with the puritanical laws based on Satya and the laws based on Dharma which called for social compromise. The principle of welcoming what is pleasant and discarding what is difficult and painful may be the law of nature, Rta, but it cannot be incorporated in the scheme of Dharma,which calls for abiding by the concerned social law, svadharma, while pursuing one's chosen vocation, svakarma. The rigid code of ethics based on truth, Satya, had to be diluted.
Rajadharma works within the frame of Sanatana Dharma
But the king had to protect the social laws (dharma) of all the four social classes and ensure that samkaravarnas did not emerge as a result of permissiveness resorted to in the name of Rta. Sanatana Dharma, prototype of Manava Dharmasastra, did not grant permission for any act under laws of expediency (apaddharma). It did not approve the scheme of mixed classes (samkaravarnas). It cast on the king and the state the duty of ensuring adherence by all to the new code that accepted that men are not all alike. But it tried to prevent increase of diversity in cultural orientations and social practices. Rajadharma as outlined by Bhishma does not supplant Sanatana Dharma. It works within the framework of Sanatana Dharma.
Bhishma's concepts of inter-state relations: proto-Kautilyan
Turning to polity, Bhishma advises Yudhishtira not to trust any one except his close confidantes. The king is asked to weigh the merits and demerits of the six policies (shadguna) that were to guide the ruler in his relations with other states and also watch the three stages (vargas), growth, stagnation and decay, with respect to every unit of the state. He had to enrich his treasury even as Yama and Vaisravana (Kubera) did (in the Vedic polity) (57-18). (Were both Yama and Kubera connected with the treasury? It is unlikely that Yama, who was primarily the chief magistrate, had anything to do with the treasury unless it was meant that any one who tried to break into it would be awarded death sentence.)
The king had to watch the ten prakrtis, constituents, five of his own state (amatyam, rashtram, paura, kosa and durga) and the corresponding five units of the state of his opponent. [Kautilya merged the capital (paura) and the rural areas (rashtra) into one unit, janapada, and took the army (danda) away from the fort (durga).] Does this indicate that the Dandaniti schools of polity had not yet developed the elaborate theory of the circle of states (mandala) that we come across in Kautilyan Arthasastra?
In 57-19, Bhishma advises Yudhishtira not to quarrel with the paura-samghas that had been enticed by others. The city oligarchies situated within a kingdom were functioning as autonomous bodies. They established their own relations with other kingdoms or corporations, pauras, without reference to their ruler. The Atharvan polity of this type continued to operate in several areas and no state could claim to be a sovereign state demanding total subordination to its edicts by all the residents within its boundaries.
Yudhishtira is also advised to watch the activities of the friend, the enemy and the intermediate king (mitra, ari and madhyasta). The basis of the Kautilyan circle (mandala) that comprised conqueror (vijigishu), friend (mitra), enemy (ari), neighbouring neutral king (madhyasta) and distant and indifferent ruler (udasina), had not yet been developed by the times of Bhishma. To be precise, Bhishma was behind his times as he expounded the elements of external affairs to Yudhishtira. The veteran statesman was perhaps not fully aware of the advances in political theory and concepts that were taking place then or would not approve them.
Ch. 59 to 130 of Santi Parva may not all be an appendage to 56, 57 and 58, which provide the core of Rajadharma. Though these three chapters have references to probably later times, they are closer to his times. The social polity was undergoing a rapid change. Bhishma might not have kept pace with it. Bhishmas views in these three chapters are similar to those of Manu Svayambhuva as far as commitment to the protection of the four basic varnas. But he does not hold that all Brahmans deserve protection. On the issue of varnadharmas, duties of the members of the different social classes, he distinguishes between the duties common to all and those duties specific to each of the varnas. (classes) is concerned..
The code (60-7,8) prescribes as duties common to allabsence of anger (akrodha), fair division of benefits (samvibhaga), forbearance (kshama), procreation,speaking truth (satyavacanam), purity (shoucha), non-betrayal (adroha), uprightness (arjavam) and maintenance of subordinates (bhrtyabharanam). (especially to all rulers, irrespective of their social class),
Bhrgu has in Manusmrti (6-92) advanced the view that the duties common to all are resoluteness (dhrti), forbearance (kshama), purity (shoucha), self-control (dama), not stealing (asteya), control of sense-organs (indriya-nigraha), discriminating between good and evil (dhi), study (vidya), absence of ire (akrodha) and adherence to truth (satya). Not all may be able to follow this code. It is absolutely essential for a recluse to adhere to this code. Quoting Manu Svayambhuva, Bhrgu says that non-violence (ahimsa), truth (satya), non-stealing (asteya), purity (shoucha) and control of sense-organs (indriya-nigraha) are the duties of all, including those belonging to the four classes. The common laws of dos and donts prescribed and recommended were almost the same in Rajadharma, Dharmasastra and Arthasastra.
Kautilyan Arthasastra (1-3-13) prescribes non-violence, truth, purity, absence of jealousy (anasuya), absence of malice leading to inhumanity (anrusamsyam) and forbearance as the code for all whether they belonged to the four classes or not. Not all members of the larger society had come under the system of four classes and four stages of life, the varnasrama system. Manu Svayambhuva earlier and Kautilya later wanted to satisfy both Brahmanas and Sramanas and hence stressed those traits, which both groups upheld.
Concepts Introduced by Bhishma
Bhishmas stress is on social defence, a concept advanced as a supplement to protection by the state. It attempts to remove the causes of bitterness in social relations.He stresses fair and equitable distribution of wealth. He must have treated the great battle as having been caused by failure to ensure equity (samvibhaga). Bhrtya-bharanam casts the responsibility to maintain ones employees on the employer whoever he is. By insisting on procreation on ones own wife, he ruled out all the social practices that disturbed the family as a social institution. This concept of social defence has to be read in the context of the social anarchy that prevailed before the battle of Kurukshetra and again after that. (Vide Vol.3. Hindu Social Dynamics)
Brahmans as Friends, Maitras
Bhishma agrees says that the Brahmans have to study and teach Vedas. They have to be humble and perform sacrifices and may accept gifts. They should share food with the guests and eat only what remains. They might marry only if they could get wealth without being required to do physical work. Such a Brahman householder was called a maitra. (Ch.61). Bhishma does not want the Brahman to be a liability to the society. He wants the Brahman to curtail his needs and be able to protect others from his position as a householder.Protection (raksha) is not the duty of the king only. Every individual is expected to protect the weak in his own way. The concept of social defence leads Bhishma to suggest that a Brahman should prefer to be a householder capable of protecting others and not despised as a social parasite.
Social defence is not self-defence. It is based on mutual aid. The Brahman householder is a friend in need and his own needs are minimal. The subtle shifts in emphasis while specifying the duties of a social class (varna) are pertinent and needs to be attended to. Many modern scholars have failed to be rational in their interpretation of the social structure of ancient India and the relations among the different classes, as they have not traced these subtle shifts that are part of the theory of social dynamics, lokayatra.
Duties of a Kshatriya
A king as a Kshatriya is allowed to perform sacrifices and read the Vedas (irrespective of the class in which he is born). He may bestow but not accept gifts. He must protect the subjects, punish the thieves and be valorous in battle.These are what he is expected to do. But what is obligatory is the duty to protect. Even if he only protects, his duty is completed. In other words no king may be pulled down if he protects the people, though there may be many shortcomings in his ancestry or conduct. But protecting the subjects is not enough.
A king is expected to take part in battles, conquer the world, because he is a Kshatriya. While these are what he has to do as an individual, as a king he has to ensure that all his subjects (praja) are established in their respective duties (sveshudharma-vyavastha). He has to do all works according to Dharma (Rajadharma) and with devotion and sense of balance (samanishta). He has to himself follow the code and ensure that every one of his subordinates and subjects carried out his prescribed duty. (60-19, 20)
Palanadharma and the king
The kings main duty is administration (paripalanam) as he is also Aindra (60-20). The king took over this duty, which was that of the official designated as Indra in the Vedic polity when the new state, which was recommended by Manu Vaivasvata came into existence. The king was no longer the dominant member of the oligarchy of Rajanyas with his power externalised in order to ensure that he did not harass the commoners.He was trained to be an administrator and he took over the duties that Indra, the head of the liberal aristocracy, performed earlier.
Bhishma has in his view the situation where the king may not be an anointed Kshatriya and also may not be a member of the nobility and is hence debarred from performing sacrifices and reading the Vedas. Similarly, though he may be born a Kshatriya, his personal orientations may be against wars. Bhishma does not recognise rajas, aggressiveness, as a trait essential in a king, rajan. In his view, a Kshatriya is one who prevents pain (kshata). Palanadharma, administration, is thus the main duty of a king.
Vaisyas and Cow-Protection
The Vaisyas are permitted to study (Vedas etc.), bestow gifts, perform sacrifices and obtain wealth by pure means. Bhishma asks them to treat protection of cows as their duty. He is prepared to make it their exclusive field. Possession of cattle-wealth had been a bone of contention between the Brahmans and Kshatriyas. Bhishma suggests a way to end this contention.Vaisyas. A Vaisya may plead inability to do physical work. He should however undertake the responsibility for the protection of the cows. In return he may get one-sixth of the milk and a cow and two calves every year as wages. The state was unable to maintain the pens and pastoral economy had to be rescued from vandals. (Vide Foundations of Hindu Economic State on Kautilyas steps to regulate rural economy) Agriculture, animal husbandry and trade were the three main vocations open to the Vaisyas.
Vaisyas: exclusive control over pastoral economy
Bhishmas offer raised the Vaisya to the status of a Kshatriya ruler who was paid one-sixth of the grains produced as wages for protecting the people. (The contractual state envisaged by Manu Vaivasvata introduced this system of tax as wages. Vide Foundations of Hindu Economic State, an analysis of Kautilyan Arthasastra.) This offer makes Rajadharma post-Vaivasvata. Bhishma had to take into account the changing orientations. The Vaisyas who were essentially a part of the upper stratum of the core society did not like being kept out of the political structure.
While the Kshatriyas are given the exclusive right and duty to protect men and ensure that every individual performed his duty, the Vaisyas are now associated with them and given control over the pastoral economy (60-27). This solution offered by Bhishma lifted the Vaisyas far above the level of the Shudra working class and narrowed the gulf between the Kshatriyas and the Vaisyas. Incidentally it tended to keep the Vaisyas out of the agrarian economy.
Bhishma expounded his theory of Rajadharma, duties of the king, soon after the Kauravas were routed and when he was in his deathbed. But most of what he said was recorded only a few decades later and much that had found its way into Santi Parva could not have been what he told the Pandavas. Yet it needs to be recognised that the reigns of Parikshit and Janamejaya, which followed the exit of the Pandavas from the scene, were a period of transition and rapid social change. The new enlarged society and the expanded state were vexed by contradictions that had slipped into the socio-political codes adopted by the then administration. These contradictions were primarily economic in their implications. Bhishma was aware of the opposition to the Vaisyas and to the new bourgeoisie that was then sweeping the country.
The Vaisyas were dubbed as moneylenders and condemned as usurers. They were on the threshold of the new patriciate, which was a conglomeration of aristocrats and plutocrats. The plebeian revolt against Vena was the revolt of the unchecked exploitation of the tenants and the tillers by the landlords. The latter were assigned to the class of Vaisyas and most of the armed feudal lords and the cadre of plutocrats who controlled the industrial economy were treated as Vaisyas rather than as Kshatriyas.
The enlarged Vaisya class controlled the paurajanapadas, the urban and rural assemblies.Bhishmas thesis on Rajadharma tries to regulate their conduct and rights. With the integration of the two societies, core and frontier, and the virtual dissolution of the erstwhile traditional patriciate, an enlarged class of workers, Shudras, emerged. It pervaded the non-urban areas, agrarian as well as industrial.
Autonomy of the Vaisya landlords of the Janapada
Bhishma suggests that a Vaisya landowner may charge one-fifth of the crops as his share in the produce in addition to his personal requirements.A similar proportion is prescribed for fish and horns of animals. Agriculture, horticulture, fishing and river economy, animal husbandry and hunting were brought under the supervision of the new class of Vaisyas. Bhishma however allowed one-sixteenth only as profit while selling costly animals maintained by them.
Bhishmas state was not an economic state unlike that of Kautilya. Yet he could not ignore economy. The prescription of one-fifth of the produce as the share of the owner appears to be a pre-Vaivasvata system when the state had not entered the field of economy claiming a share for itself in return for protection guaranteed. It was an acceptance of the claim of the landlords that the rural areas were not to be subjected to tax by the king. The janapada, which the Vaisya landlords dominated, was autonomous.
The Pre-Vaivasvata Five-fold Analysis of Income
The pre-Vaivasvata system had envisaged that a self-dependent householder should allot one-fifth of his income for each of the purposes, dharma, artha and kama, socio-cultural activities, current economic needs of the family, and sex and pleasure. He was required to assign one-fifth for the welfare of his children, other kinsmen and dependants, svajana, and the remaining one-fifth he could use for pursuit of other economic objectives and progress and fame, yasa. Where the lands were effectively in the hands of the tenants and the tillers but without ownership rights, the tiller or the tenant had to assign this last part, yasa, to the owner who was a Vaisya. The tiller was described as a Kshudraka and the tenant as a Vaidehaka as the Kautilyan Arthasastra (the earlier version of which belonged to the period of Janamejaya) indicates.
Vaisya landlord as investor
Unlike the patrician, deva, who took half of the produce from his lands and allowed the tenant-tiller to use the other half as ardha-sitika, the Vaisya landlord could take only one-fifth of the produce as his rent. This protected the interests of the Shudra workers in the different fields of the enlarged agro-pastoral economy. The landlord was the investor and was entitled to one-fifth of the produce in return for his investment in kind. Bhishma does not allow the Vaisya to become a profiteer. The landlords and traders are to be brought under the rules prescribed in pursuit of the policy of samvibhaga, equitable distribution of gains of endeavour.
A Shudra has to serve the higher classes, varnas, it is said. But Bhishma adds that he may gain and possess wealth with the kings permission (60-29). Bhishma states that Prajapati had described the servants of the varnas as Shudras. It was not a reference to the three classes, Brahmans, Kshatriyas and Vaisyas. He was referring to the arrangement that was in force before the four-varnas scheme came into existence. Devas (nobles), Brahmans (intellectuals), Kshatriyas(administrators) and Vis (commonalty) were the four classes then. (Only the nobles owned lands then.)
All those persons, who served them as dasas, were assigned to the class of Shudras. Prajapati Mahadeva had allowed the Dasas all the rights that the Shudras had.In other words he permitted them to serve any one for wages without being constrained to serve only particular masters as bonded labourers. Bhishma knew that members of every class including the Shudras had their personal servants, Dasas. As Kautilyan Arthasastra indicates not all Shudras were Dasas and not all Dasas were Shudras. Dasas were earlier loyal servants of the liberal nobles, devas, and dasyus were the mercenaries employed by the feudal lords, asuras. Shudras were the lower rungs of the commoners, manushyas.
Attendant (paricharya) and nurse (susrusha): Liberation of Dasas
Bhishma also notices that in some versions of the social code it had been said that Dasas should serve the higher among the varnas. If this rule of hierarchy were to be followed strictly every class would be subordinate to the class or classes, superior to it in rank. Bhishma does not approve this notion. He modifies the concept of dasa first to paricharya and then to susrusha. He allows the higher varnas the services of personal attendants who performed ancillary work (paricharya) and nurses who rendered susrusha. These services were not obligatory unlike the work to be done by a dasa who was in servitude.
The subtle distinctions made by Bhishma are highly significant. They were an improvement over the policy of liberalisation set in motion by Prajapati (Mahadeva). But neither was so bold and so humanistic as the movement for the liberation of all types of bonded labourers and restoration to them of the status of Aryas, free citizens, initiated by Kautilya, a junior contemporary of Bhishma.The state under Bhishma was yet to gain the authority that the state as envisaged by Kautilya had as the guardian of the interests of the weak.
Shudras entitled to property
To the argument that the Shudra should never acquire wealth (sri), as he is then likely to dominate others, while conceding this possibility, Bhishma states that it would not be improper if he collected wealth for 'dharma and if he is permitted to do so by the king. Bhishma wanted to grant all persons including the Shudras the right to have personal property. But unlike Kautilya Bhishma he could not overrule the resistance by the higher classes to this step. He hints that the rule prescribed by Prajapati (Mahadeva) that all Dasas would be elevated to the status of Shudras who worked for wages did not permit the Shudras to become owners of property.
Only the Vaisyas and other higher classes had the right to own property. They feared harassment at the hands of the owners who had not been admitted to the higher classes or varnas. The latter were preventing the state from extending the right to property to all citizens.
Bhishma would not like the powers of the state to be curbed by the higher classes. Rajadharma asserted the authority of the state to override the social codes (60-31, 32).
Shudra worker to be protected by his employer
When a Shudra is not owner of property and when he is not able to get a job, he is to be protected by some one. But Bhishmas state refuses to accept this responsibility. It asks the three higher classes (who have prevented him from being the owner of the means of production and denied him the opportunity to become self-employed) to undertake the responsibility to feed him and to give him at least the old clothes. They are not ready to give the Shudra the right of ownership. Bhishma suggests that the property of the Shudra may be shown as being held by the employer as a trustee(60-37). .
He had advocated the principle of bhartru bharanam. Some have interpreted it wrongly to mean that the employee should support the employer if the latter becomes poor and needs support. The income of the worker, Shudra, was liable to be taxed though meagre and if he defaulted, that is, did not render service to the state(in lieu of paying tax in kind)when required, the master would be proceeded against. Bhishma notes that the Vaisya andKshatriya employers extorted the labour of the Shudrato the disadvantage of the state, which too had a right over his service. Bhishma tried to curb the excesses of feudalism. But unlike Kautilya he was not successful.
certain Yajna rites
Bhishma allows a Shudra to perform grhasanti, sanctification of home. It was however not an elaborate function. It was recognition of the economic freedom he had secured. The shudra worker had a share in the crops and had his own independent home in the land where he worked as a tiller. He was not so poor that he needed to be fully exempt from the rules of sacrifice (yajna). He could give 256 handfuls of grains and become eligible (purnapatra) to be honoured and taxed as an independent householder.
As he was a sharecropper, like the employer who belonged to a higher class, he too had to contribute to the sacrifice performed or offered. Bhishma was dealing with a pre-Vaivasvata and pre-Prthu polity that had not yet replaced voluntary sacrifice (yajna) and compulsory levy (bali) by tax (kara). Bhishma was however unable to convince the higher classes that every one was entitled to offer voluntary sacrifice irrespective of his social status.
Shudras entitled to perform sraddhayajna
He argues that every one is entitled to perform sacrifices, which require dedication, sraddha. Bhishma says that 'sraddhayajna is the greatest of allyajnas. It calls for dedicating oneself to a particular cause of his enlightened choice. It has to be judged not on the basis of how much of his wealth or earnings one parts with voluntarily but on how far he is dedicated to the cause for which he makes sacrifices. Bhishma counsels that even those who are entitled and bound to offer sacrifices, perform yajnas, should exhibit dedication, sraddha.
Bhishma points out that the plutocrats, devatas, who had been accepted to be on par with the aristocrats, devas, have consented to abide by the orientation behind voluntary sacrifices offered to them instead of paying the compulsory levy, bali. The concept of 'sraddha, dedication, meets the expectation that plutocracy, daivatam, had. The beneficiary should neither seek nor need the benefit accruing from the act of sacrifice. That act should be valued for the dedication behind it and not assessed in terms of its material worth. (Was this a special sacrifice that Manu Sraddhadeva had recommended?) (40, 41)
Devatas, honoured guests at sraddhayajna
Sraddhayajna was open even to the poorest of the poor. In formal sacrifices, yajnas, who is to be the honoured guest and recipient of the offerings and who is the humble host who is required to honour that personage are significant factors. Should the guest be invariably of a higher rank than that of the host? Traditional sacrifices witnessed nobles (devas), sages (rshis) and elders (pitaras) being requested to be present and receive the offerings given by the commoners (especially the Vaisyas, landlords and traders) of the agro-pastoral plains. If they were not present it meant that the host had earned his wealth by improper means and could be punished by the rulers.
When the expanded state and the larger society came into existence, the residents of the forests were permitted to invite the devatas, the plutocrats and technocrats who dominated the industrial economyto witness the sacrifices performed by these residents. Bhishma extends this privilege of inviting the nobles (of the lower ranks) to their sacrifices to the workers, Shudras, of the agro-pastoral core society. The aristocrats might hesitate to receive offerings from their poor servants.
The householders among the three classes, Brahmans, Kshatriyas and Vaisyas who had personal property may continue to offer formal sacrifices, which were indeed costly as the host had to part with one-fourth of his earnings for the maintenance of the three non-economic cadres, nobles, sages and elders. The workers, Shudras, may perform sraddhayajnas instead of offering bali and invite the rich, the plutocrats, to be present and witness their humble and voluntary act that did not cost them much. [During the last three centuries the workers who have been assigned to the class of Shudras have been constrained to return to the practice of offering bali to the invisible deities. For the cadre of plutocrats (devatas) has withered away even as the cadre of nobles (devas) vanished soon after the era of the Upanishads.]
Sacrifices and Vipras,
Drawing attention to the practices among the scholars, Vipras, Bhishma states that higher (economic or political) status need not be the criterion for determining who should honour whom as the guest and recipient of honour. These scholars belonged to the independent intellectual aristocracy and were the highest among the new cultural aristocrats, devas. The latter were known as visvedevas and were but rich commoners. The free intellectuals, vipras, were superior to them though not superior to the traditional nobles. These vipras were superior to the other classes with the traditional aristocracy (devas) and the order of sages (rshis) having withered away and the practice of retirement to the forests as senior citizens, pitrs or pitaras, being neglected.
These vipras performed yajnas mutually, honouring one another. These vipras deserved to be honoured by the state and all ranks of the society as the successors to the traditional elite (devas) that had withered away and are to be held as beyond the pale of state regulations. (It is not sound to treat the two terms, Vipras and Brahmans, as identical. The Vipras were scholars who had voluntarily given up their life as householders and were teaching the masses and officiating for them at the sacrifices performed by them.)
The Offspring of the Vipras and Vratyas
These scholars, Brahmans, who had opted not to settle down in any kingdom and had not adopted or had given up the stage of life of householders, grhastasrama, could not be fined or whipped for any act of deviance or delinquency. They could at best be requested to leave the territory of the ruler whom they had offended. The orthodox had denied many of them the right to perform traditional sacrifices and barred others from attending the unorthodox pattern of mutual sacrifice performed by them.
Many of these Vipras were pronounced to be Vratyas and banished from villages and towns. The householder priests did not officiate for them and the revered viprashad to officiate as priests for one another..The Vipras (who were declared as vratyas) were alleged to have had sex with women of lower social classes (varnas) and procreated offspring by them. This was cited as the reason for their being avoided by the trained and anointed Brahman priests. These alliances were not treated as marriages. Bhishma condones these sexual relations when he says that these offspring of Vipras who are not householders should be assigned to the classes (varnas) of their mothers.
Vipras (scholars) were superior to Devas (nobles)
These Vipras were not to be treated as members of the social class of Brahmans for whom all the four stages of life, asramas, were obligatory. They were like the nobles, devas, who were not known to have got married or to have brought up their offspring by their consorts as theirs. The 'devas had no families. TheVipras too had no homes and no families. Bhishma says that they were greater than the devas, the nobles, and that their words of advice are useful and are to be listened to. They are not to be avoided as having violated the codes pertaining to sexual relations. He acknowledges that the vipras who were dubbed as vratyas gave good counsel.
These Vipras claimed that all the four classes had earlier been Brahmans and had equal status. All of them had the right to perform any type of sacrifice,yajna, these Vipras held . Bhishma took a radical and revolutionary stand on this issue. It was against his concept of social equity to deny theShudras the right to perform sacrifices. Like the Shudras, the Vipras too were not dvijas (twice-born). Bhishma would treat the wandering Vratyas who were intellectuals and had refused to undergo the initiation rites as Vipras. The Vratyas were later treated as heretics. But Bhishma could not get his views accepted by all. (42, 43, 44)
Bhishma and Prajapati on Sacrifices
Bhishma notices that Prajapati (Mahadeva?) had permitted only the dvijas, the Brahmans, the Kshatriyas and the Vaisyas who had been duly initiated in Brahmacharya stage of life (asrama), to recite the hymns of the three Vedas (Rg, Yajur and Sama), while performing sacrifices. But manas-yajna where the (Vedic) hymns and the formulae (mantras) are not actually recited but their contents are kept in mind and their intents are followed is open to all the classes,varnas. He was pointing out to the orthodox Brahmans the futility of their attempt to prevent theShudras, the Vipras and the Vratyas from performing sacrifices as prescribed by them.
It is not that the nobles (devas) and the chiefs of the other people (itarajana) of the frontier society of forests and mountains (antariksham) who had the status ofdevatas did not love those who performed manas- yajna (60-45). The Brahman priests might refuse to officiate at the sacrifices that the uninitiated, the Shudras (workers), samkaravarnas (mixed classes), vipras and vratyas.. But it was a vain effort to thwart the right to manas-yajna, which every one had. would like to perform and refuse them permission to recite the Vedas.
The nobles accepted tributes
from all and helped all
But the Brahmans (jurists, in particular and priests and teachers in general) could not prevent the nobles (devas) of the core society and the chiefs (devatas) of the other society from sympathising with these groups and accepting their tributes and helping them in return. It was a transitional stage in social dynamics and social change when these aristocrats and plutocrats (devas and devatas) had not yet been absorbed in the scheme of four varnas and were not governed by the code known as varnasrama dharma. They had not given their assent to the privileges claimed by the orthodox Brahman priests. These priests wanted to retain their exclusive privilege, the teaching of Vedas and drawing on these for performing and officiating at sacrifices.
Sraddhayajna and manas-yajna were open to all. They were superior to the sacrifices that were performed in the presence of agni (civil judge, fire, in common parlance). The Prajapati notices that yajna is not a personal affair.The nobles, devas, performed yajna without expecting any personal benefit. The sacrifices, yajnas, performed by them were intended to protect and benefit all.
Sraddhayajna superior to
Domestic and personal sacrifices
The Brahmans too are expected to do so. They have to perform sacrifices on behalf others also. But the fire (agni) used in these public sacrifices made on behalf of the commonalty was not so sanctified as the personal fire in which all that one has is given away without expecting anything in return. Sraddhayajna (performed by a Shudra or by a Vipra) is superior to the sacrifices performed by the Brahmans on behalf of others for in the latter the Brahman priest does not sacrifice any possession of his own. But the sacrifice of ones own body in addition to all his possessions without expecting anything in return is the best, according to this Prajapati. Mahadeva is said to have performed the greatest of all sacrifices, sarvamedhayajna, in which he gave up his all, including his body and the merits he had gained from his acts of total selflessness. Bhishma was a follower of this Vratya, Prajapati Mahadeva.
The Four Stages of Life and
Activity and Renunciation
Pravrtti and Nivrtti:
The stage of Sanyasa not obligatory
Bhrgu, the chief editor of Manava Dharmasastra adopted a liberal approach, compared to the orthodoxy and regression of some of the earlier Brahmarshis and of some of his own colleagues. Bhishma, while outlining Dharma from the point of view of the state attempts further liberalisation. He appears to be heterodox. He declares that all the four stages of life, asramas, are obligatory only for the Brahmans (Ch.62).
Valmiki, the author of the other epic, Ramayana, and a statesman who held the rank of Pracetas in a polity headed by a Purusha, emphasised only dharma, artha and kama and omitted the fourth value of life, moksha. Sanyasa (renunciation), the fourth stage of life, was needed only for those who aimed at liberation from the bonds of life. Bhishma, though he remained a celibate throughout his life, emphasises the importance of the stage of householder, and discourages resort to sanyasa, the fourth stage of life. (Ch.63)
Dealing with pravrtti and nivrtti, activity and retirement, which mark the stages of grhastha and vanaprastha, the second and third stages of life, he says that the Kshatriyas are expected to give more importance for the former. He permits them the (first) stage of formal education (brahmacharya), and also the (third) stage, retirement to the forest abode (vanaprastha). [Most Kshatriyas had not gone through the stage of formal schooling. They were not dvijas (twice-born).]
The Shudras too are permitted these. They are not prohibited from getting initiated as 'dvijas. They are not required to spend their entire life as labourers. He had permitted them to have property. They could perform certain types of yajnas, sacrifices. They are not born only to serve others.
Workers and right to renunciation and retirement
It may be noted here that the complaint that the workers, Shudras, have always been given a raw deal and have been exploited and discriminated against since thousands of years is not to be conceded without proper scrutiny. The alleged exploitation is a recent development.For most of the historical period, there has been little to choose between the class of warriors and that of workers. And so too there was little difference in conduct between the agricultural landlords and their employees. Both belonged to the class of manushyas.
Sanyasa should not be used to run away from the obligations one has to his family and community. The authority of the state overrides that of the scriptures and their spokesmen, the Brahmans. Of course, Bhishma was not for renunciation even after fulfilling these obligations.The state had a vested interest in activity, pravrtti. Renunciation of economic activity by an individual affected its income adversely and its power. For only a rich state can be a powerful state.
A Vaisya required the permission of the state to wind up his business and retire. Not only those scriptures that had prescribed nivrtti and institutionalised the four stages of life including retirement and renunciation as a duty but the Vratyas and theSramanas who propagated renunciation, nivrtti, were interfering with the economy. Kautilya made this condition applicable to all the four classes.
Bhishmas state intervenes to restrain indiscriminate resort to retirement and renunciation, vanaprastha and sanyasa. [He advises that usury, trade, agriculture and hunting need not be despised. The concept of non-violence, ahimsa, had been advanced at the cost of the economy and the interests of the state. He found no practical use in reciting scriptures. But Bhishma was not an atheist. He believed that ones traits were determined by ones experiences in the previous births.]