KSHATRA DHARMA AND KSHATRA DHARMA
Kshatriya Varna and Nobles, Devas
Bhishma was a champion of Kshatriya Dharma. He held that the Saddhyas, Vasus, Asvinidevas, Rudras, Visvedevas, Siddhas and Maruts were all Kshatriyas. These were not gods. Obviously he was annoyed with the trend to restrict membership of the Kshatriya class to those who belonged to the cadre of Adityas. Many of the above cadres were associated with the other social classes or with the frontier society.
The Prajapatis, whose consent Bhrgu took while drafting the Manava Dharmasastra, did not bring the Vedic cadre of Saddhyas under the scheme of four varnas, classes. They were the earlier Rgvedic model of the highest achievement man was capable of.Bhishma says that they were Kshatriyas whose activity, pravrtti, had raised them to that status where they were not subordinate to any social code. It is not retirement or renunciation, nivrtti, but good performance and fulfilment of ones duties, pravrtti, which had raised them to that high level.
The larger class of nobles
and the Kshatriya class
While the Adityas were able to assert their Kshatriya authority, the other aristocratic cadres, old and new, had not been treated by the orthodox as (twice born) and were also entitled to be rulers, Kshatriyas (the ruling class). Kashyapa who led the council of seven sages during the tenure of the seventh Manu, Vaivasvata, was able to secure for several of them the status of devas or nobles. Bhishma emphasises that they were basically Kshatriyas and were entitled to the status of dvijas. Not all nobles, devas, were admitted to the Kshatriya varna. Many of them were assigned to other social classes and kept out of political power.
The fierce Rudras had been exiled to the forests and the Maruts were treated as Vaisyas and physicians though they were storm troopers. The Asvins who were associated with agriculture and herbs were treated as Shudras. The Vasus were treated as landlords, the upper stratum of the Vaisyas and so too the Visvedevas, the higher echelon of the commonalty. Bhishma claims for all of them (including the Saivaite Siddhas) the status of Kshatriyas. He led the struggle for Kshatriya supremacy and its resurgence after its temporary eclipse caused by the Parasurama campaign. Kashyapa reinstated most of the disbanded Kshatriya troops.
Rajadharma and Asuras, Feudal Lords
Bhishma tells the Pandava chief that when the whole world was a sea of danavas, Rajadharma was outlined as the means to destroy them (Ch.64-11). He was not the first to expound Rajadharma. The circumstances that led to its first enunciation have to be noted. The liberal aristocrats, nobles, had been overwhelmed by the feudal lords and the plutocrats who were both covered by the term, danavas, until this term was used to refer to the plutocrats, yakshas and the feudal lords, asuras, were referred to as daityas. Both these groups were engaged in harassing and exploiting the commoners.
The first authors of the Mahabharata did not agree that the Rudras, the Maruts etc. were remnants of the Asuras. The feudal lords and plutocrats who were raised to the status of Kshatriyas, the ruling class, were as recommended by Kashyapa to be treated as groups belonging to the general society and as having been allotted their rightful position in the social hierarchy. It was not an issue of reinstatement with honour of fallen heroes. Bhishma views them as Kshatriyas of the then present who demanded their proper place in the four-fold social order. against whom a relentless war was to be pursued.
Bhishma told Yudhishtira that Mother Earth had appealed to Kashyapa on behalf of the present Kshatriyas who were unjustly forced to take refuge in the forests and mountains and eke out a living from pasture or as smiths.Bhishma acknowledged that the Kshatriyas of his time were drawn from the ranks of pastoral communities or from those of artisans and that these ranks had earlier been associated with feudal warlords.
Tvashtas, smiths, demanded a status above that of the Kshatriyas. They were intellectuals and founders of the industrial civilisation. It was their alliance with the feudal lords and the plutocrats that gave the latter an upper hand over the liberal patriciate, many of whom were Kshatriyas.
It was this situation when Usanas had consented to guide the Asuras that called for the enunciation of Rajadharma, the rights and duties of the king and the state. It gave the Devas and the Kshatriyas the power needed to overwhelm their rivals, the Asuras. Bhishma recalls the discussion between Mamdhata a veteran of the solar dynasty, and an Indra who had authored a Dandaniti. This Indra held that the state had to be brought under the control of a well-defined code of duties and privileges. The Asura rulers who did not consent to be governed by it were exterminated. The disputation between Mamdhata and this Indra is presented in SantiParva (Ch. 64-16 to 28). Hence he advanced the concept of Rajadharma or Dandaniti.
The views of Indra, author of an Arthasastra
This Indra denies that he has ever met Narayana or had access to that great sage. (It is not sound to proceed under the assumption that the term, Narayana, referred to God Vishnu. Nara and Narayana were two outstanding sages of the later Vedic period. Narada was an admirer of Narayana. The authorship of the famous Rgvedic hymn, Purushasukta is attributed to Narayana.) He says that even if the people follow Dharma, they will not attain the highest goals without an army (asainika). He was against the concept of a stateless society (anarchism) and the concept of a state without coercive power. He did not question the importance of the goals prescribed by the social code(Dharma). But it cannot replace the coercive power of the state nor can it succeed without the latter, Indra holds. He insists that the army is necessary.
This has to be viewed in the context of the unusual step taken by Parasurama to deprive the Kshatriyas of twenty-one states of their power, an incident pertaining to the period of Manu Sraddhadeva. During this period Purandara was recognised as Indra and Kashyapa headed the council of seven sages. Parasurama was a contemporary of Dvaipayana and Bhishma. He was indicted for this action and exiled from north India,Aryavarta. Kashyapa reinstated the Kshatriya rulers and their troops.
Adideva and Seshabhuta
Kshatra Dharma is the only Dharma emanating from Adideva, Indra claims (64-21). The other Dharmas rose later as residuals (Seshabhuta). Indra seems to advance what may be called Adisesha theory of development of Dharma. Sesha was a Prajapati, chief of the people, of the earlier times, as the Jatayu theory of social evolution in Valmiki Ramayana indicates. (Vide Ch.8. Evolution of Social Polity of Ancient India) Sesha was often identified with the school of thought ofSamkarshana and Ananta. He had the status of Jagatguru, teacher of the social universe. Vidyadharas, a cadre of young and bold students followed him. He might have been a warrior-entrepreneur moving with a spade and basket to gather diamonds and costly gems without digging deep.
Kshatra dharma and Seshadharma
Indra says that the residual (sesha) dharmas are many and are associated with the concept of prasthanam, migration or foray into new territories. What one should do or may do while on the move are defined bySeshadharma. Whatever is not specifically prohibited by the code meant for the organised society of settled communities is brought under Seshadharma and made obligatory for the individuals and groups constantly on the move away from their homes. (Settled communities were referred to as lokas and individuals and groups on the move as jagats.)
Kshatra Dharma is distinguished from these Sesha-dharmas that are connected with the rights of these migrant groups and individuals engaged in bringing more areas under cultivation without digging the soil and collecting gems and minerals without mining. These groups and individuals questioned the rights of exclusive ownership claimed by settled communities. (22) All Dharmas are included in the Kshatra Dharma advanced by Adideva (the first among the nobles) and hence it is considered to be the best. In other words, it was comprehensive and covered the rights and duties of all social groups.
Bhishma's Rajadharma claims its source in Adidevas Kshatra Dharma and not in the residuary powers and rights given to an individual or cadre under Seshadharma. Under Seshadharma, the powers that the recognised social organisations did not have or could not exercise were assigned to the state. The state came into picture where the society could not go ahead.
Rajadharma did not accept this claim which denied the state the right to interfere in social affairs. This is of particular importance as Bhishma was explaining his concepts in the presence of Vasudeva Krshna, who propounded the Pancharatra system along with Samkarshana, the guide of Sesha or Ananta.
Whatever Samkarshana (Balarama) or Sesha (Ananta) might have advocated may cover only the areas not covered earlier by Adideva. In other words, the rights sanctioned by Seshadharma in favour of the entrepreneurs could not prevail in areas where Kshatra Dharma was in force. The followers of Sesha claimed that any individual could set things right and admonish the delinquent whoever he was.
Sesha had his followers among the bhutas, the individuals of the social periphery. They did not belong to the organised sections of the population that were governed by kuladharmas, jatidharmas and varnadharmas, the codes of clans, communities and classes and by those of the regions and economic corporations, desadharmas and srenidharmas. Kshatra Dharma (the comprehensive code) that Adideva advocated according to Bhishma guaranteed protection to all these codes, dharmas.
Indra's Enunciation on
Kshatra Dharma and Kshatra Dharma
Indra whose protg Mamdhata was argued that in the past Vishnu protected the Devas and Rshis, the nobles and the sages, through Kshatra Dharma by defeating the enemies (64-23). If this head of the socio-political academy (Bhagavan) had not thus put down the feudal lords, asuras, the Brahmans and the social worlds (created by him) and AdiDharma itself would not have survived (64-24). [The term, Bhagavan, was earlier used to refer to the head of the academy and not to God.]
The earlier code, the preliminary draft (AdiDharma) outlining the duties and rights of every section of the larger society would have failed if Vishnu had not protected the nobles (devas) and the sages(rshis). These two sectors of the aristocracy, cultural and intellectual, were not engaged in economic activities and were unarmed. Vishnu, a prominent chief of the people (Prajapati) and the head of the academy (Bhagavan), had inspired Sakra Indra to wage a relentless war against the feudal lords, asuras, and put them down. The Adideva who outlined Kshatra Dharma, the duty of the ruling elite to defend all the social codes and all the unarmed sections of the society is praised as Devasreshta, a highly respected noble.
It may be remarked here that the highly respected leader, a plutocrat, of the other society of the forests and mountains was called sreshta and was emulated by its members. The Adideva who drafted Kshatra Dharma had a similar status among the patriciate of the core society of the plains. If he had not conquered the asuras, the feudal lords, the dharmas of the four classes (varnas) and the four stages (asramas) would have collapsed following the destruction by the feudal lords of the cadre of judges, Brahmans (64-25). The latter who were expected to guide all to follow these codes would not have been able to do so without protection from the ruling elite.
Indra, an author of Rajadharma (a revised outline of Dandaniti that stressed the need for exercise of coercive power to control the delinquents and the disorderly elements) says that in every epoch (yuga), the original codes (Adidharmas) are activated by Kshatra Dharma. By original codes, he meant the codes of clans and communities that were in force before varnasrama dharma was outlined. Hence the Kshatra Dharma insisted on by Adideva is praised as jyeshta (first in protocol) in this social world (loka) of commoners (64-26).
The laws promulgated by the feudal warlords, asuras who claimed themselves to be senior (jyeshta) to the liberal nobles, devas and which claimed that might was right were abrogated, and the ones outlined by Adideva earlier were accepted, Indra implied. The new laws were based on the views of the meritocracy, sreshta, which governed the conduct of the members of the other (industrial) society.
Indra explains that Kshatra Dharma as advocated and institutionalised by Adideva is superior to the other Dharmas (including those of the class of Brahmans), consists in sacrificing ones life (atmatyaga), compassion to all beings, knowledge of worldly affairs, (that is, of social customs), administration (palanam) and liberation (moksham) (of all beings) from misery (64-27).
But it was not renunciation of use of power. The state is necessary. It needs coercive power. Because of the fear of the king, people will not transgress the limits in lust etc. and will not go along sinful paths. Instead they will follow all the dharmas properly and the pious (sadhu) will preach dharma and good customs, he points out (64-28). Indra establishes the thesis that Kshatra Dharma is the best, ancient and eternal. In short he argues that Kshatra Dharma is AdiDharma that was advanced by Adideva. Resort to Kshatra Dharma by Vishnu was intended to protect the nobles and the sages, devas and rshis, from their enemies, the asuras. (Santiparva 64-24)
Bhishma says that Indra distinguishes Kshatra Dharma from AdiDharma. The threat from the feudal lords,asuras, is said to be to the Brahmans (that is to the intellectuals and jurists who upheld Brahma or Atharvaveda) and to the loka adikrtas, the officials or personages who constituted the social worlds (lokas) as autonomous communities with the right to pursue their respective codes. It is implied that the feudal lords, asuras, were a threat to all the three social worlds, divam, prthvi and antariksham, patriciate, commonalty and the frontier society and their organisers. [In Ch.64-23, the threat was to the nobles and sages, devas and rshis. It could be met by resort to Kshatra Dharma, use of force in defence.]
Kshatra Dharma and Kshatra Dharma
But Bhagavan, the head of the socio-political academy (not God as understood by those not acquainted with the niceties of theVedic social polity), had to step in when the asuras threatened the entire system of three social worlds and also the Brahmans, jurists who were experts in Brahma (or Atharvaveda, the socio-political political constitution). He found that resort to Kshatra Dharma, that is, exercise of the right to defend oneself was not enough.
In 64-25, the threat is not to a specific section but to the Varnasrama Dharma, the system that classified the members of all the three social worlds and those outside them along the four-varnas line. The threat was also to the class of Brahmans who upheld it. Here Adideva is required to take an aggressive approach. Kshatra Dharma is not merely defensive. It is aggressive too, Indra implies. [Indra does not refer to the same personage by the terms, Adideva, Vishnu and Bhagavan; nor does he refer to God.]
Kshatra Dharma is invoked from time to time whenever all the Dharmas are in danger of being destroyed and in order to activate AdiDharma. It is not meant only to use military power to put down the enemies and save the patriciate (devas) and the upper stratum of the intellectuals (the rshis). Its purpose was to protect and maintain the functioning of the original social code (AdiDharma). Kuladharmas, Jatidharmas and Desadharmas were all part of AdiDharma.
Like Seshadharma, Varnasrama Dharma was of later origin. The scope of Kshatra Dharma is wider than that of Kshatra Dharma. It calls for self-sacrifice. It is based not on hatred of enemies but on compassion for all beings. It is meant to protect the socio-economic order and it prescribes the methods for administration (palanam). Kshatra dharma is meant not for exercise of might in self-defence as in Kshatra dharma or to show ones prowess, Kshatriya dharma, but for liberation of all sections from misery.
Indra's support for Kshatra Dharma
Indra treats Kshatra Dharma as an ideology and policy meant for social protection and governance and as calling for sacrifice in the face of the threat from the feudal lords, asuras. Kshatra Dharma of his vision is to be resorted to only when Kshatra Dharma fails to deliver the goods.He insists that Kshatra Dharma, aggressive pre-emptive action against the potential opponent is not new. The activities of Purandara that included an outright war against the asuras and destruction of their forts have to be appreciated in this background.
He disclaims that he is Vishnu or has a mandate from Narayana. Vishnu was later treated as Narayana himself. Purandara Indra was claimed by some to be a Talajangha chieftain, Vishnuchakra. (Bhishma appears to dispute this claim.) He justifies his actions on the basis of the authority and duty devolving on him from Adideva and AdiDharma. It was in a spirit of self-sacrifice and with the intent to protect all the three social worlds and the approved social, economic and political structures that he was engaged in war against the asuras. Mamdhata, the sire of the solar dynasty shared his mission.
BHISHMA'S RAJADHARMA__A NOTE
As pointed out in the introduction to Prologue to Hindu Political Sociology, the studies on Dharmasastra and Arthasastra during the first half of the twentieth century veered round the issue of how far Kautilya who stood by principles of economic determinism departed from ethics and morality upheld by Manu. The scheme of four social classes (varnas) and four stages of life (asramas) and four values of life (purusharthas) was seen to have received a raw deal at the hands of Kautilya. This scheme was identified with the ancient, sanatana, dharma of the Vedic times and the permanent, sasvata, dharma. Manava Dharmasastra though many of its verses were criticised for defending social discrimination. While political activists and economists were seen to appreciate several aspects of the approach of Kautilya, pontiffs and jurists stood by instituted by Manusmrti and followed by other law-books.
In my essays on Hindu Political Sociology, I have brought out several features of the ancient Indian social polity and the changes that it underwent during the centuries immediately preceding the drafting of the Dharmasastra and the Arthasastra. I have said that unless these aspects of social dynamics are grasped and constantly borne in mind it would not be possible to arrive at a correct appraisal of the socio-cultural (dharma) and politico-economic (artha) codes (sastras) of India. Mere extolling of spiritualism, which is claimed to guide the social, cultural and even political and economic aspirations of the people of India, does not help us to arrive at a correct picture of what dharma has been viewed to be. It is imprecise to translate it as religion or as justice or as ethics or as charity, as the scrutiny of the views of the different thinkers of the Vedic and post-Vedic periods, has shown.
I have pointed out that Samkara who belonged to the Rudra school of thought to which Mahadeva, Visalaksha and Pracetas too were attached had proposed the system of a the state being headed by a Rajarshi who was a sober and sagacious thinker (rshi) and also a dynamic chieftain (rajan). Krshna introduced certain important amendments to the Rajarshi constitution that was advanced to displace the autocracy and tyranny of the aggressive king (rajan) who put down his rivals by raw force and captured the seat of power. He wanted the Rajarshi to be self-restrained and aware of the limits of his authority, to be trained in his duties as the head of the executive and also be equally aware of the duties of a jurist. He wanted the king to master Rajayoga, Karmayoga and Buddhiyoga.
His junior contemporary, Kautilya, approved the Rajarshi constitution and stipulated what traits and powers the Rajarshi should have, how he should be selected and trained, what disciplines he should have mastered who were to be the members of the selection committee, and how he should conduct himself and who were the authorities he should be answerable to. The Rajarshi constitution that he advocated plugged the loopholes in the earlier constitution, which were exploited by autocrats like Vena, Marutta, Kartavirya and Bali.
It advocated the institution of a triumvirate comprising, the Rajarshi as the head of the state, the Rajapurohita as the guardian of the interests of the people and of the constitution and the Prime Minister as the chief executive. It may be noted that Manava Dharmasastra whose editors had accepted several recommendations made by Krshna and the school of Karmayoga did not envisage a Rajarshi constitution.
Kautilyan Arthasastra took into consideration the important issue of legitimacy of the regime in the light of the overthrow of autocrats by the incensed masses. It would expect the king (rajan) to succeed in holding on to his position and power on the basis of rational legitimacy rather than traditional legitimacy. In other words, no one would be able to stay in power because he was the son or brother or legal heir of the outgoing ruler. He would be required to establish that he was trained to carry out his duties and would adhere to the rules and procedures pertaining to governance of the state.
Of course there could be conquerors whose charisma set aside these requirements and gave their regimes legitimacy. They had to however fulfil the expectations of the masses and the troops that followed them. Such a leader whom the masses and troops and officials followed was referred to as svami. Neither the rajan nor the svami claimed the divine right to rule. Both resorted to force silence to the opposition to their regimes.
The Rajarshi did not use force to suppress dissent as he was selected in accordance with settled constitutional provisions. The Rajan was a member of an oligarchy, which functioned as an electoral college that accepted his superiority and sovereign right to rule, as he had trounced its other members in battles and bloody feuds whether they were related to him or not.
In the ancient Indian context, the head of the state had to get the approval of the house of nobles (devas) for every one of his steps. The western Indologists and their Indian adherents were misled when they interpreted the term, devas, as indicating gods and inferring that the ancient Indians were polytheists. I have pointed out that the enormous influence that the liberal aristocrats (devas) enjoyed in the social polity after overcoming the aggressive feudal lords (asuras) gradually weakened during the early post-Vedic period and they had to share power with the commoners (manushyas) and also with the covetous plutocrats (yakshas).
Besides, they had to acknowledge the growing influence of the intellectual aristocracy that had risen from the vast free middle class of gandharvas and with the jurists (Brahmans). The latter cadres took over the roles that the sages (rshis) played during the Vedic times. The early post-Vedic state headed by the Rajarshi, accepted the Rajapurohita as the intermediary between the new nobility comprising cultural aristocrats, intellectuals and jurists and plutocrats and technocrats and the executive. A critical scrutiny of the different chapters of the great epic, Mahabharata, indicates that rulers and aspirants torulership could not overlook the influence of the houses of aristocrats, plutocrats, technocrats, jurists and intellectuals.
It was also necessary for rulers and their associates to get trained in the different academic centres and learn about the orientations, customs, practices, traditions and laws of different sectors of the population of the country though they might be rulers only small territories. Not all kings could preside over the legislature or the bench of justice. Several stereotypes that have been floated about the powers and roles of the kings have to be cast aside, if we are to develop a systematic theory about ancient Indian social polity, I have urged.
The statuses, roles and powers of the personages described as raja, maharaja, samrat, viraj, chakravarti, svami, prthvipati, bhumipati, bhupala, parthiva, nrpati, indra, narendra, rajendra, mahendra, isvara, mahesvara, lokesvara, deva, devata, prabhu, vibhu etc have to be correctly presented. They are not to be all treated as referring to king or as a ruler enjoying divinity, I have pointed out in my works.
Even as the Rajarshi institution has not been studied in a systematic manner and has been cloaked in plaudits and extravagant claim about its efficacy, the concepts, Dharmarajya, Dharmaraja and Rajadharma have not been appreciated correctly. The evolution of these concepts and their relations to the Vedic officials designated as Yama, Mrtyu, Daksha, Pracetas, Varuna, Dharma, Prajapati, Indra, Agni etc. have been discussed in the essays based on the Mahabharata. Crucial to the discussion on these concepts is the relation between the socio-political constitution (Brahma) based on the Atharvaveda drafted by Angirasa and Atharvacharya and amended by the sages of the Upanishadic times who were guided by Badarayana and Jaimini and the social legislation (Dharma) introduced by the first Manu, Svayambhuva, drafted by Bhrgu and his colleagues and finalised during the tenure of and approved by the seventh Manu, Vaivasvata.
The Vedas and Upanishads had not envisaged the scheme of four social classes (varnas). These classes whether they were purely social or were socio-economic came into existence as a result of conscious efforts made by the social activists and ideologues of the later Vedic times. The free middle class of gandharvas was classified into jurists-cum-intellectuals and warriors-cum-administrators, Brahmans and Kshatras while the commoners (manushyas) who were lower than the gandharvas in rank were classified into owners of property and property-less workers, Vaisyas and Shudras. The members of the new aristocracy were permitted to join one of the classes other than Shudras.
The social classifications that were in force before the four varnas were recognized have been brought out in my works. Devas, asuras, gandharvas and manushyas, Devas, pitrs, rshis and manushyas, Devas, rajanyas, vipras and manushyas were some of these four-fold social classifications to which the larger core society of the agro-pastoral plains was subjected before the system of four socio-economic classes, varnas, was set in motion.
The social classifications where the aristocrats occupied the highest position derived their validity from the provisions of the socio-political constitution, Brahma, while the varna classification was granted this validity by the new social legislation, Dharma. While the rights, privileges and immunities enjoyed by members of the different classes and the Vedic officials were incorporated in Brahma, the new legislation, Dharma, undertook to prescribe the duties of the members of the new classes, the specific vocations that they had to follow for earning their livelihood.
The laws covering exigencies indicated what duties from among the prescribed ones that might prefer to perform and what duties they were permitted to perform though not prescribed and what they were prohibited from doing. This four-fold paradigm, prescription, preference, permission and proscription covered their choice of occupations and also marital choices. In short Dharmasastra became highly accommodative of diversities and personal aptitudes.
Neither the earlier socio-political constitution (Brahma) nor the later social legislation (Dharma) was a compendium of religious edicts or a treatise in ethics and morality. Both were concerned with secular interests of the different strata and sectors of the population. Dharmasastra could be overruled by the Vedas, especially by the Rgveda that incorporated the socio-cultural constitution of the Vedic era and the Atharvaveda, its socio-political constitution. The provisions of these constitutions had to be examined using dialectical methods (samkhya) to determine what according to them dharma was and what was adharma.
This issue leads us to examine whether the term, dharma, has been interpreted in the same manner down the ages. It is noticed that the social laws that prevailed during the early Vedic times recognized the tendency of every individual (and every species) to function in a way that was natural to him. This principle was referred to as Rta. But it led to the society being constrained to accept that there was an inevitable struggle for survival and that only the fittest would survive. It acknowledged that the mighty would prevail over the weak and that the latter in their own interests obey the mighty or be wiped out.
These laws based on Rta that refused to examine what was just and what was not and yielded to the claim that might was right and gave no importance to sentiments of compassion were replaced during the middle Vedic period by the laws based on truth, Satya. The latter laws too had no place for compassion for the weak. They were puritanical and asserted that right was mightier than might. As the Upanishadic sages explained the laws based on truth (Satya) were not against the basic principles upheld by the laws based on freedom for innate traits and aptitude that Rta insisted on. The surrender to the mighty was not the alternative to be consented to. Truth should and would prevail and not the might of the mighty who scoffed at compassion and justice. Satyam eva jayate, na anrtam, the sages asserted. But the advocates of truth and non-violence too had no patience for compassion towards the weak and the guilty.
It was at this stage that the concept of dharma as a compromise between rta and satya was floated. The new laws recognized that every individual should be free to pursue the course of life and vocation that were in tune with his natural traits, svabhava. The concepts of svadharma and svakarma were founded on the concept of svabhava, which was seen to be amenable to be brought under the scheme of three innate traits, gunas. One was sedate, sagacious and gentle (satvik) or aggressive and dynamic (rajasik) or was inert and inane (tamasik). Social reorganisation should be effected on the basis of this classification, Krshna insisted, when he advocated that every one should adhere to his svadharma and not seek to perform the duties and vocations assigned to another. Resort to paradharma was perilous, he warned.
The sages of the Upanishadic times were not so enthusiastic about the new liberal scheme of dharma as they were about the then prevailing puritanical laws based on truth, satya. They refused to accept that the laws based on dharma could be different from those based on truth, satya. They demanded that every one, especially every educated person should speak the truth and only the truth even while going along the path prescribed by the social laws, dharma. Satyam vada, dharmam cara, they advised.
The dilemmas experienced by rulers and chieftains like Yudhishtira who was slated to take over the reins of administration as a dharmaraja have to be examined and solved in the light of the liberalism and compromise between the two approaches, permissive laws based on Rta and puritanical laws based on Satya, that the advocates of Dharma advocated. They were for pragmatic but morally and ethically correct and sound solutions.
Manava Dharmasastra directed the members of the three higher classes to perform sacrifices (yajnas), study Vedas and offer charity (dana).The uneducated and poor workers, Shudras, could not be expected to perform any of these three duties. They were directed to render personal service to their masters who belonged to these three classes, Brahmans, Kshatriyas and Vaisyas. The Brahmans were required to earn their livelihood by officiating as priests at the sacrifices that were performed by others, by teaching them Vedas and by accepting gifts from others. They were not wage earners. The Kshatriyas were required to protect others and earn their livelihood as soldiers while the Vaisyas earned their livelihood through agriculture, animal husbandry and trade.
Later all artisans and artistes and those who were employees in the above three vocations were included in the class of Shudras. In other words, Arthasastra restored to the Shudras their status as commoner-workers (manushyas) and freed them from the duty to render personal service to others (as dasas) whether the latter were mighty or educated or were rich. They would not be attendants (paricarya) or nurses (susrusha).
This major change took place when the social polity no loner remained predominantly agricultural and rural and took under its fold the industrial economy that was till then confined to the frontier society of the forests and mountains and new integrated and expanded janapadas were brought into existence.
Yudhishtira and his brothers were witnesses to the emergence of these new janapadas. Was the then existing social code, dharmasastra, able to meet the challenges posed by this socio-economic expansion and integration, they wondered. The new polity could not afford to have a state surviving on voluntary contributions made by the commoners at the sacrifices (yajnas) which were expected to meet the needs of the non-economic classes like the leisure class of nobles (devas), the retired elders (pitrs) and the scholars (sages) and the weak among the commoners (manushyas) and the discrete individuals (bhutas) of the social periphery who had no clan or property to fall back on.
Economic considerations compelled the advocates of dharma not to expect support for these strata from the institution of yajna. Yajna was becoming too costly as the host had to surrender one fourth of his wealth and also offer fees to the priests. The alternative was to encourage charity (dana), which did not require expenses on rituals and payment of fees to the priests and did not prescribe the quantum that the donor had to part with.
Bhishma, the veteran statesman and socio-political thinker took into account these aspects when he prescribed sraddhayajna and manasyajna as alternatives to the costly Vedic yajnas and consented not to expect too much from the poor for the upkeep of the non-economic cadres. This could partially meet the objections raised by the Pandava chieftain.
Yudhishtira did not favour the state depending on tributes (bali) collected from the people who acknowledged its sovereignty or on taxes (kara) collected from the subjects (prajas) who wanted the right to be heard in its administration and extended protection to their lives and property without payment of separate taxes for that purpose.
The state too should survive on voluntary donations (dana) from the commoners. It would be run by persons who had their own resources and did not expect payment for the services rendered by them or wages for the work that they did. It would be a social welfare state run by persons who rendered voluntary service and used voluntary contributions made by the subjects to meet the needs of the weaker sections of the population.
The priests and teachers were permitted to charge fees for the professional services that they offered and administrators were allowed to retain a small portion of the gifts for running the administration. A social welfare state had to be a minimal state. This led to the strengthening of the roles of the clans and communities and freeing them from state control.
Dharmarajya was not dependent on economic resources or economic activities of the subjects. It had to ensure equal opportunities to all the subjects of the state whether they were its natives or not. It had to be an egalitarian polity also.
Before Manusmrti which was based on what Bhrgu and his colleagues like Narada remembered from the teachings of the first Manu, Svayambhuva, came into force, the members of the three higher classes were exhorted to strenuously endeavour to widen their vision, skill and knowledge and contribute through tapas to the development of the society and civilisation in addition to that of their own personality. This exhortation endorsed by Krshna too is not reflected in the extant texts of the Smrtis.
Dharmarajya, the social welfare state, eschewed exercise of coercive power over its subjects and functioned as an agency to promote the welfare of the weaker sections using the voluntary contributions received from the haves. The donors were not to expect anything in return from the beneficiaries or from the state or from the communities for the service that they rendered. Yudhishtira who was trained to take over the reins of such a state as Dharmaraja, the head of its executive as well as its legislature wanted that its purposes should include giving fillip to the development of the knowledge, capabilities, sociability and cultural traits of the people of the state.
Emphasis on tapas, self-effacement and pure compassion was needed for this purpose in addition to commitment to truth (satya) and harmlessness (ahimsa). Dharmarajya should not need an army even to defend its people. It was to be a demilitarised polity with a decentralized administration and a self-sufficient but predominantly rural economy spread over a small territory (rashtra) far different from the powerful and aggressive economic state and vast empire that Kautilya envisaged.
Bhishma who was requested by the Pandavas to expound the principles of Rajadharma did not fully dissociate himself from the stands taken by Pracetas Manu, who had authored an Arthasastra, Usanas, the chief exponent of Dandaniti, and Brhaspati who envisaged an economic state. If Yudhishtira was inspired by the stand that Yayati took, the counsel that Indra, author of a politico-economic text, Bahudantakam gave the great emperor, Mamdhata, impressed Bhishma. Bhishma was not an idealist or a Utopian. He was for a honest administration which needed the king being guided by a political counsellor, Rajapurohita, and being constantly watched by the Rtvig, a minister for protocol. These were not ecclesiastical posts.
Kautilya retained the post of Rajapurohita and gave him more powers and responsibilities but dispensed with the post of Rtvig. He had other agencies by which the bureaucrats were kept under watch. Bhishma was for a cabinet of eight senior ministers of whom five were exclusively in charge of economic affairs and three with political affairs. Bhishma was not as thorough as Kautilya was in describing how the state was to be administered though he was acquainted with the principles of economic determinism that Kautilya is noted for. Bhishma could give useful hints and ensure that the king did not get entangled in difficulties.
Valuable as his counsel was, it was not tuned to the creation of a social welfare state, Dharmarajya, of Yudhishtiras vision or a strong economic state that Kautilya could bring into existence. Bhishma outlined Rajadharma, the duties of the king towards his small agrarian nation, rashtra, but did not expect too much from the king, as in his view none of the Pandavas had the qualities necessary to be a Rajarshi. Even Mamdhata who united the entire country, a samrat. was but a governor of a rural province, a parthiva and not an emperor.
Every one of Bhishmas utterances as recorded by the chroniclers has been scrutinized in this work to find out what he said. Only after assessing its impact on the Pandavas, any comparison with the views of Dharmasastras and Arthasastras should be made. This essay does not extend its ambit to attempt this comparison. Bhishma wanted his student, Yudhishtira, to retire from social and political affairs while Kautilya was searching for a dynamic personage who would emerge as the head of a confederation of states, chakravarti. Krshnas teachings to Arjuna were more encouraging than Bhishmas counsel to Yudhishtira. The latter could become a sober administrator with no personal ambitions.
The Period of Transition to
the Larger Social Polity
The Vedas dealt with socio-political themes of the century and a half that ended with the reigns of the great emperors, Yayati, Mamdhata and Bharata while the great epic, Mahabharata dealt with the next century that ended with the ascent to the throne of Hastinapura by Parikshit after the battle of Kurukshetra and then by Janamejaya. The early Vedic era was marked by the laws that recognized the rights of every one to pursue a course of life in tune with his natural aptitudes (svabhava, rta). These laws led to the recognition that in the intense struggle for existence only the fittest would survive and that the mighty would prevail over the weak. These permissive laws were first supplemented by and then superseded during the middle Vedic era by puritanical laws based on truth (satya).
As Kautilya, a samkhya dialectician, recognized, only by application of samkhya methods one would be able to know what according to the Vedas dharma was. The laws of dharma were formulated first during the decades that witnessed the emergence of the great rulers, Yayati and Mamdhata. These laws which were based on a broad consensus among the different social sectors of the later Vedic era were a compromise between the permissive laws based on natural tendencies, rta, and the puritanical laws based on the principle of truth (satya) which asserted that right would ultimately prevail and not might. The Upanishadic sages however while upholding the laws based on the principles of truth (satya) and harmlessness (ahimsa) refuted the allegation that they were against the laws based on rta or those based on dharma.
The concept of dharmarajya, a state based on the values included in dharma was upheld by Yudhishtira. The classical Vedic constitution provided for an aggressive chieftain having the trait of rajas (rather than gentleness, sattva, or inertness, tamas) as the king and head of the state (rajan). He was elected by a college of similar aggressive chieftains. Often such election was marked by violent conflicts among the rajanyas. He was however unable to overrule the officials, Adityas, who were aristocrats (devas) and the sages (rshis) who were members of the two houses, sabha and samiti or the chief of the people, prajapati, who convened the two houses.
The king had neither executive or legislative powers and had no hold over either the state army or the state finances. The neo-Vedic constitution of the expanded core society of the Upanishadic times retained five of the eight Vedic officials and ignored the existence of the king (rajan) but acknowledged the need for a head of the state. The latter was aware of the need to honour the judiciary and function under the framework of the socio-political constitution, Brahma.
The Janaka of Mithila, Ajatasatru of Kasi, Pravahana of Pancala and Asvapati of Kekaya who were influential rulers and knew the provisions of the new constitution, Brahma and the status and qualifications of the chief of the constitution bench, brahmasabha, were subordinate to its overriding powers. They were not heads of the legislature, dharmasabha, either. But they were not characterized by the predominance of rajas in their traits. They were sagacious and were entitled to be revered as scholar-kings, rajarshis.
The Rajarshi constitution first presented by Samkara, a political thinker and head of an academy, who belonged to the Rudra school of thought to which Visalaksha, Sthanu, Pracetas Manu and Mahadeva were affiliated was amended by Krshna who headed a school of karmayoga and given a definitive formulation by Kautilya, a contemporary of Bhishma and Badarayana. The Rajarshi had to be guided by the political counsellor, Rajapurohita, who had a rank closer to Brhaspati, the chief of the civil polity and Prajapati, the chief of the people but lower than that of Brahma, the chief of the constitution bench and had to acknowledge the overriding powers of the house of nobles (devas).
As Kautilya pointed out, the Rajarshi was selected from among the trainees by a three-member bench comprising the Rajapurohita, the retiring Rajarshi and the Prime Minister who in many areas had the designation, Indra and was also head of the house of nobles. He was not the head of the executive or of the legislature or of the judiciary though he was competent to hold all these posts.
As Krshna noticed, the retiring Rajarshi could however be elevated to the post of Rajapurohita by the new Rajarshi with the consent of the retiring Rajapurohita and the house of nobles if he was well acquainted with the provisions of the constitution. Neither of these two high authorities of the state belonged to the sacerdotal class or to the nobility. Neither was answerable to the house of nobles or to the commonalty. This lacuna in the Rajarshi constitution was exploited by autocrats like Vena and Marutta and was plugged by the Prthu constitution which was inspired by Manu Vaivasvata and by Kashyapa and other members of his council of seven sages and by Sanatkumara, counsellor of the agrarian king, Prthu.
While the head of the state was also head of the executive, he could not decide the policy of the state. It was outlined by Brahmavadis who were Atharvan ideologues-cum-activists and were associated with the high judiciary that guarded the constitution and the king could not but carry out that policy. The emergence of Yudhishtira as Dharmaraja has to be studied in this context.
During the later Vedic period, before the post of Manu was created, the head of the constitution bench was designated as Brahma and the council of jurists was known as Brahmaloka. Dharma was the designation of one of the members of the board of ten chiefs of the people, prajapatis, who were also legislators, maharshis.
Dharma who knew the social laws outlined by this legislature which represented diverse sections of the larger society could be elevated to the post of the head of the constitution bench as Brahma or to that of social administrator and determiner of social policy that Manu was. Manu was not a king though he might have earlier functioned as a king.
For instance, Manu Vaivasvata (Sraddhadeva) who outlawed the concept of matsyanyaya, the law of the fishes by which the rich and the mighty sponged on the poor and the weak, was Rajarshi Satyavrata of a Dravida region before he was selected for the post of Manu by a council of seven sages to succeed Chakshusha.
This chapter on Kshatra Dharma, Kshatra Dharma and Rajadharma has to be read in full as any attempt to summarise it wuld result in missing the theme of Bhishma as a political grammarian.