PRAVAHANA AND UDDALAKA ON THE TWO PATHS
Brhadaranyaka Upanishad 6-1 to 4)
Counsel on leadership
The sage says that he who knows what makes one the eldest (jyeshta) and the best (sreshta) becomes the eldest and the best among the leaders of his own (people, followers).
The individual who strives to survive (prana) (and does not pursue any personal interest) can become the eldest and the best among his people.He who knows this rule can become the greatest personage among his own people and also among those people whom he desires (yesham) to lead. The sage was advising the trainees on social leadership (6-1-1).
He was putting forth a dictum advanced by the famous Vedic sage, Vasishta.One who realizes the importance of this dictum can become the most excellent person (vasishta) among his own people. Every noble (deva, sva) has his own followers. In every group there is a silent race for the position of the leader.
This leader whose word (vak) is final as it is the best verdict on the issue and as it comes from the eldest and best of the members of that group, that is, from the vasishta, wins the loyalty not only of that group but also of other groups that he agrees to lead (6-1-2).
The sage advises the leader to have the attribute of stability (pratishtha) whether he is established on the plains or on the forts on the hills (durga). (6-1-3)
To be secure, in his position as a ruler of the agricultural plains or as a chieftain stationed in his fortified capital, he has to depend on information given by his chakshus (eyes), observers or spies .
[The term, durga, is not to be translated as uneven ground.]
Having secured the stability (sampada) needed for administration the leader has to know how to attain the prosperity that he desires.
[The translation of this statement as: Verily, he who knows prosperity, for him, indeed is attained whatever desires he desires is imprecise.]
He has to utilize all the reports brought from distant places by his scouts (srotra) and organize them in order to get those desires fulfilled (6-1-4).
[The translation, The ear indeed is prosperity for in the ear are all these Vedas attained is unacceptable. There is no need to introduce Vedas.]
A leader, who knows where he can rest after attaining prosperity, himself becomes the place where the members of his aristocratic family (sva) and the native people (jana) of his realm stay. They must be mentally (manas) with him (6-1-5).
The sage was instructing the leader who was expected to become a Janaka.
[The translation: He who knows the abode becomes the abode of his own people as well as of (other) people. The mind is the abode. He who knows this becomes the abode of his own people as well as of (other) people is not relevant.]
Jana vis--vis Praja
Then the sage deals with the issue of defining who would be the subjects (praja) of that ruler. One who knows how to increase his human and animal resources accepts new groups and herds as his subjects. A king had to protect not only the men but also the animals in his territory.(6-1-6).
Semen (reta) signifies such propagation of the species. The sage does not advocate celibacy.
In the previous verse he was dealing with the issue of accepting the native population (jana) as his own. Here the sage deals with the issue of extending the status of domicile and subject (praja) to other groups, especially the herdsmen. They and their cattle would be given protection.
The role of Vasishta, the best (jyeshta and sreshta) among the native people (jana)
Who among the individuals (prana) who reach very high level was the most suited for the highest position, the chief jurist and interpreter of the constitution, Brahma had to decide. In his view the person whose death or absence would affect the moral fibre of the body politic most adversely should be treated as the one most suitable to hold the highest position, that of Vasishta (6-1-7).
What was the role of the incumbent of this position? He had to be the eldest (jyeshta) and the best (sreshta) person in the country as pointed out earlier if he were to be recognized as vasishta.
Every state was expected to have officials designated as Prajapati, Indra, Agni, Aditya and Brhaspati, It was advised to have a chief justice designated as Brahma. He was required to nominate a highly revered official who was designated as Vasishta. Pravahana, the head of the Royal Academy of Panchala was explaining to his students the role of this official and who was eligible to be selected for this post.
Vak (pronouncement) was the duty assigned to vasishta.
It is not sound to interpret that the discussion was about which of the five pranas, breaths, prana, apana, vyana, samana and udana, was the best (sreya).
The discussion was about which essential sector of the social polity was to be given the highest importance as being the most vital for its survival and growth.
The feudal lords (asuras) who ruled with an iron hand claimed to be senior (jyeshta) to the liberal nobles (devas) and the rich plutocrats (yakshas) were considered to be meritorious and deserving to be honoured (sreshta).
The incumbent to the position of vasishta whose pronouncement on any issue was final had to be authoritarian and belong to the influential plutocracy who could extend or withhold aid without compunction.
The importance of pronouncement, Vak
The sage in order to stress the importance of such a high socio-political position told his disciples an episode that took place when this most excellent nominee to the position of vak, the highest authority whose verdict could never prove wrong went on a furlough for a year.
On returning he asked all the other officials of the institution of individuals who were at the level of mere existence (prana), observers (chakshus), reporters (srotras), thinkers (manas) and human and animal resources (praja) about how they had fared during his absence. They replied that they had just been surviving (rather than living a full life) without proper guidance (vak) as dumb animals.
Of course every one of these officials had to play a significant role, the sage pointed out. The issue here is how to decide who among all these officials of the social polity and its body politic played the most vital role. (6-1-8 to 13).
It is easy but simplistic to state that every one of the sense organs is important.
It is not enough to be the most authoritative spokesman (vasishta) of the social constitution or to be an accurate observer of the goings-on in the social environment and ensure social stability (pratishtha) or to be a good reporter on possibilities afar (prosperity, sampada).
It is also not adequate to be a good thinker and planner who provides asylum to all (ayatana) or to work for positive development of human and animal resources (prana) or for the continuance of the society itself through procreation.
The most important official of the body politic, Apa
The highest and the most important official in the body politic was the one who looked after the most fundamental of the needs of all beings, that is, food that is signified by the crops standing in the water in the fields. (14)
Water (apa) is more important and more basic a requirement than food (anna), the sage concludes. This theme runs through many statements of the sages of the Upanishadic times.
Pravahana and Svetaketu
The sage then related the dialogue between Pravahana, son of Jivala, and Svetaketu, son of Uddalaka (a Gautama) and grandson of Aruna. The former belonged to Panchala and was a scholar. Svetaketu introducing himself told his host, Pravahana that he had received instruction from his father, Uddalaka who was a well-known scholar and was known to that ruler.
Pravahana asked Svetaketu, son and student of Uddalaka Aruni whether he had noticed how the people (prajas) there (in that social world) departed in different directions and how they came back into that social world (loka). Svetaketu said that he had not noticed these. (6-2-1).
The subjects (prajas) of Pravahana were not all natives of that country, Panchala. They were not all settled communities. These nomads were not organized groups either. Their pursuits were diverse but they took care to return to their headquarters after their entrepreneurial essays in different areas were over.
The lands of the Kurus and Panchalas were noted for their Gandharva and Apsara orientations.
Members of these Vedic cadres were free to move amongst all the three social worlds, nobles, agrarian commonalty and the industrial frontier society. The areas (loka), which they visited often, were thinly populated and these visitors to those areas did not settle there. Svetaketu had not noticed this too and not probed into the reasons for these visits and for not settling there.
The questions put by Pravahana who had arranged for carrying goods and men across the rivers were intended to acquaint Svetaketu with the lives of the Gandharvas.
Importance of the role of Varuna (Apa)
Pravahana asked him whether he knew in which sacrifice, the water (apa) became the voice of a person (purusha) who collected himself and spoke out (vacha) [as the representative of the people]. Svetaketu did not know. Pravahana was referring to the Vedic official, Varuna (who was said to have his abode in water).
Panchalas were later known for their Apsara orientation, while the Kurus and Madras for their Gandharva orientation.Both orientations were then present in Panchala.
Svetaketu was not acquainted with the role of Varuna, the ombudsman, though he was a descendant of an official who held the rank of Aruna, an assistant of Varuna.
[It is not sound to treat Aruna as the name of an individual.]
Pravahana thereupon asked him whether he knew the paths that led to devas and pitrs, nobles and elders.
Varuna ensured that the commoners performed the sacrifices that were meant to honour and support the three non-economic social cadres, devas, rshis and pitrs.
Pravahana drew attention to the saying that had recommended that the commoners (martya) should (instead of trying to please the sages, rshis) seek to meet and fulfill the needs of the nobles (devas) and the elders (pitrs).
For by these two cadres all those who live in this larger social universe (visvam) but are not members of either the patriarchal (pitara) or the matriarchal (matara) societies move along. The Gandharvas and Apsarases did not belong to either of these social systems and they depended on the nobles who formed the rich ruling elite and the elders who had moved to their forest abodes to look after their offspring. (6-2-2)
[It is unsound to treat the terms, pitaram and mataram as referring to heaven and earth.]
Pravahana was trying to find out whether Svetaketu was acquainted with the ways of the Gandharvas and Apsarases. Svetaketu was not.
Svetaketu fled despite the king's request to him to stay back as his guest. He went to his father and reported to him how he could not answer the five questions, which Pravahana who belonged to the college (bandhu, brotherhood) of rajanyas put to him.
Uddalaka, father of Svetaketu, acknowledged that he too did not know the answers to those questions and proposed they should both go to Panchala and live there as students (of Pravahana). But Svetaketu declined to accompany him. (3)
Pravahana and Uddalaka
The Gautama then proceeded to where Pravahana, son of Jivala, resided. Pravahana welcomed him respectfully and offered to give him whatever boon he asked for (6-2-4). Uddalaka Gautama asked Pravahana to tell him the statement (vacha) that answered the questions, which Pravahana had put to his son, Svetaketu (6-2-5).
Pravahana declined to narrate it. For it was a boon that could be granted only to the nobles (devas). It could not be told to commoners (6).
The Gautama told him that he did not seek wealth as he had plenty of gold, cows and horses, maidservants, followers and apparel. He sought what was infinite and unlimited (knowledge) and prayed to Pravahana not to be ungenerous to him.
The ruler asked him to seek the boon in the proper form and Uddalaka who belonged to the Gautama Gotra (clan) agreed to be his pupil in the academy of administration, teertha that the king was running. So it was announced (vacha) that Gautama, a great teacher had become a student of that academy (under Pravahana).
Pravahana requested Uddalaka Gautama not to be offended with him. Even the grandfather of Gautama had been a pupil of that royal academy and had studied under persons who were not Brahmans.
Brahmans (ideologues-cum-activists who were followers of Atharvaveda) were not eligible to learn the answers to those questions but Pravahana would teach Gautama (6-2-7,8).
Aditya presides over samiti, gathering of intellectuals
The nobles (deva) were offering a devout (sraddha) sacrifice. Aditya was performing the role of Agni, the official who presided over samiti, the gathering of intellectuals. Every intellectual who contributed his knowledge to the conference was like a samit, a twig that was cast in the fire (6-2-9).
The allegory compares the rays of the sun to the smoke from the (sacrificial) fire and the day (enlightenment) to the flame emerging from the fire-pit.
It compares the four regions in the main directions to the coal (angara) that is cast in the pit to keep the fire burning and the four intermediate directions to the sparks emanating from the fire.
In other words the nobles are aided in their sincere endeavour by the contributions made by the peoples in the different directions.
Emergence of Raja Soma
Out of these offerings in which both the nobles and the commoners of the provinces in the different directions contributed, King (Raja) Soma arose. [The interpretation, Soma was the king of manes (pitrs) and Brahmanas is imprecise.]
Soma represented the intellectuals and commoners of the larger society while Agni represented the intellectuals and commoners of the core society. (6-2-9)
Pravahana then altered the allegorical picture and instead of the distant social world (loka) of nobles, he introduced the agrarian society represented by rain (Parjanya).
Soma and Parjanya
Here the role of Agni is played by Samvatsara, the year comprising all the seasons. The clouds are compared to the smoke rising from the sacrificial fire and the lightning to its flame. The thunderbolt that divides the clouds is compared to the fuel that is cast in the fire and the rumbling thunder to the sparks coming from the fire.
The nobles (devas) offer King Soma himself in this sacrifice. That is, the sober intellectuals of the larger society represented by Soma were called upon to calm down the agitated core society and encourage its agrarian commonalty to avail of the services of the official designated as Parjanya (rain) and benefit thereby (10).
Prthvi and Agni
Pravahana then presented the picture of the agro-pastoral commonalty, this social world (loka) where the role of Agni is played by Prthvi, that is, the representative of the commonalty. In the deliberations of this council of commonalty (Prthvi), Agni himself appears
[It was a stage when the Vedic official, Agni, looked after the Samiti, the council of scholars and the administration of the commonalty, Prthvi. Under the Mahadeva constitution, the latter was assigned to the official designated as Brhaspati. He was an expert in economy.]
In other words there is no enlightenment resulting from these deliberations of the commonalty. as smoke and in place of flame there arises only dark night.
Chandra (Soma), that is, the representative of the unified and larger intelligentsia is cast as fuel (one who offers his own possessions) to keep the fire burning and it results in the non-Kshatras (Vaisyas) coming to significance as sparks. The nobles present the recommendations of the official in charge of agriculture (vrshti, rejuvenating rain) for consideration in the deliberations by the commonalty. When these are taken into account, the agriculturists are able to produce the food-grains needed (for food, anna). (6-2-11)
The role of the social leader, Purusha
The ruler of Panchala then presented the picture of the social leader (purusha, man) performing the sacrificial rites. His open mouth or utterances are compared to the twigs (samit) arranged in the pit and the individuals at the subsistence level (prana) to the smoke and authoritative directions (vak) to the flame rising from the pit.
The findings of the observers (chakshus) are compared to the fuel put in the fire-pit and the reports of the scouts (srotras) to the sparks emanating from it. In this fire the nobles offered food (anna) necessary for all beings and it resulted in the production of semen needed for reproduction of the species (6-2-12).
Emergence of Purusha, a rank superior to Viraj
Pravahana then presents the picture of the women (yosha, offspring of Usha a proud lady who occupied the first place among the thirty nobles after Viraj, Prajapati and Aditi, in the Vedic polity) who were performing a similar sacrifice.
Here the vagina that receives the semen is compared to the twigs placed in the pit and the hairs around it to the smoke that hides it and the womb (yoni) to the flame. The act of intercourse is compared to the fuel and orgasm to the sparks.
Out of this act, a sacrifice, man (purusha) emerges. He lives till the end of his tenure. Purusha was a political rank and had tenure of twenty to twenty-four years. Purusha was superior to the overlord, Viraj who had tenure of ten to twelve years. On completion of his tenure, the ruler who had the status of Purusha returned to his original status as a commoner (13).
Mrtyu subordinate to Agni
The insentient commoner (corpse, as interpreted by many) is placed under the jurisdiction of Agni.
This official is visualized as performing a fire-sacrifice. In this prosaic event that does not require resort to allegory, a twig is a twig, smoke is smoke, flame is flame, smoke is smoke, coal is coal and spark is spark.
In this fire pit, the nobles (devas) cast the Purusha (whose tenure of leadership is over) and out of this the class of resplendent persons arose.
The status and role of retired social leaders
The nobles (devas) did not want the social leaders (purushas) to fade away unsung and unhonoured and neglected after their retirement. Their talents were to be availed of and they had to be assigned respectable positions in society. Pravahana, a scholar-king, advocated that the nobles should intervene to maintain these aged and experienced social leaders. (6-2-14)
Ascent of retired social leaders and Constitution of the Judiciary
Those members of this cadre of retired social leaders (purushas) who are still in this social world of commoners (manushyas) and those who have gone to their forest (aranya) abodes lead a life (of austerity) following sincerely (sraddha) the rules based on truth (satya).
They in due course rise to the level of the social world of nobles (deva-loka) and then to the cadre of administrators headed by Aditya. Rising above this level also they join the ranks of the enlightened (vidyut).
From there the leader (Purusha) who is also a thinker (manas) is ushered into the judiciary (Brahma-loka). There these enlightened leaders-cum-thinkers stay till the end of their lives. They are not required to return to the commonalty (6-2-15).
Pravahana traced thus the new scheme of social ascent and constitution of the judiciary.
The northern path
He was explaining this scheme to Uddalaka Gautama and other students with the aid of the above allegory of sacrificial-pit.
Pravahana points out that not all retired social leaders, (Purushas) rose to the judiciary, Brahma-loka. The passage to Brahma-loka or academy of judiciary was known as the northern path.
Soma head of the intellectual aristocracy and the social world of retired elders (pitrs)
There were many who were engaged in performing sacrifices (yajna) and giving liberal donations (dana) to the needy or in strenuous exercise (tapas) to discover new ways or create new things or conquer all the social worlds (lokas). (These persons were liberal householders belonging to rich and powerful families.)
These persons passed through darkness and night to the social world of the elders (pitrs, pitaras) who had moved to the forests and placed themselves under the jurisdiction of Chandra (Soma).
(They became vanaprasthas staying in their forest abodes after retirement from worldly activities.)
They served the needs (like food) of that social world. There the nobles (devas) advised King (Raja) Soma to make use of their sober intellectual services as he deemed it necessary.
Role of the retired elders on their return to commonalty
When they had no more to contribute to that intellectual aristocracy they moved to other lower social cadres governed by the Vedic officials, Vayu and Vrshti until they returned to the agro-pastoral commonalty, Prthvi. There they guided the careers of the social leaders (Purushas) who were engaged in performing sacrifices under the guidance of Agni, the head of the intelligentsia.
Then uniting with their consorts they brought forth, another generation of social leaders, Purushas. Thus Pravahana explained to Uddalaka Gautama the rise and decline of the section of the intelligentsia that was capable of encouraging materialistic progress (6-2-16). This was known as the southern path.
[The interpretation that this section deals with repeated return to rebirth in forms determined by the deeds of the past is unacceptable.]
Tat savitur varenyam
Pravahana then introduced Uddalaka to the chants and rites that were correlated to these two paths (6-3-1 to 5). These chants were concerned with the fulfillment of the desire of the leader to become the highest ruler who held the ranks of a king (raja), a wealthy charismatic chief (isana) and an overlord (adhipati).
The ruler of Panchala, the country known for its Apsara and Gandharva orientations concluded his counsel drawing on the phrases of the famous Gayatri chant. The wind (vata) blows sweetly for those who follow the code based on rta. The rivers pour forth honey. May the medicinal herbs (oshadI) be gentle and sweet!
This prayer (tat savitur varenyam) was made on behalf of the commonalty (bhu), addressing that adorable Savita the head of the cultural aristocracy (sun, in common parlance);
Bhargo devasya dhimahi dhiyo yo na pracodayat
The students were asked to meditate on the discernment of that great noble (bhargo devasya dhimahi) and pray for the night and the day to be sweet and for the gentle conduct of the dynamic (raja) ruler of the agrarian tracts (parthiva).
Similarly they prayed that their patriarch (pita) who had a place in the aristocracy (dyau) be kind to them. This prayer was made on behalf of bhuva, the frontier society of the forests and mountains.
[This term is not to be interpreted as indicating atmosphere.]
The students were advised to pray that the noble (deva) might inspire (illumine) their understanding (dhiyo yo nah pracodayat).
This would lead to the tree (under which they sat for instruction) being favourable (sweet) to them and so too Surya (Aditya, sun, in common parlance, the general and head of the administration) and the cattle (in their abode) would be beneficial to them.
The teacher then repeated the entire Savitri hymn addressing all the three social worlds, commonalty (bhu), frontier society (bhuva) and nobility (sva). (6-3-6)
After this evening prayer he lay down to sleep and woke up in the morning to worship the rising sun (aditya) praising it as the one lotus flower and praying that he might become a lotus flower (pundarika) among the commoners (manushyas). He prayed that he might emerge as a Gandharva, a free intellectual-cum-warrior.
This passage would make one wonder whether the famous Gayatri chant was composed when the channels of social ascent from the level of commoners, manushyas, bound by social and economic ties to that of Gandharvas who were free men and were intellectually superior to the commoners and were next only to the cultural aristocrats, devas, were open. But they could not rise above that level. (6-3-13)
Uddalaka, son of Aruna, conveyed this message to Vajasaneya Yajnavalkya and the latter to Madhuka, son of Paingi. Madhuka conveyed it to Chula, son of Bhagavitta, and Chula to his disciple, Janaki, son of Ayasthuna, and Janaki to Satyakama, son of Jabala.
Satyakama told this to his pupils with the instruction that they should not reveal this to any one other than their sons and pupils. The materials used in this rite are then enumerated .
The section (6-3) though it draws on the concepts enunciated in the previous two sections may be a later appendix and so too the section 6-4 dealing with procreation ceremonies.